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SIYE Time:14:30 on 17th November 2017


Trix
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Humor
Warnings: Death, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 133
Summary:

"But now old friends are acting strange..." - Joni Mitchell.

Voldemort is dead; Harry and Ginny are in love and living the dream. What's not to like, right? Then, a sudden rash of strange incidents piques Harry's anxiety. After years of war, are people just having difficulty adjusting to peace? Or is someone out there playing dirty 'trix'?

The story is set three months after the end of 'The Prevailing Counterpoint', and builds on characters and events elaborated therein. TPC is probably not required reading if you accept that Dumbledore and Snape are dead; that Lupin, Tonks and Fred are alive, and that Slytherins are fundamentally neurotic.


Hitcount: Story Total: 28951; Chapter Total: 315
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Well, this chapter has been a huge change of pace to write. For starters this marks a new dawn in my operation... er, I mean a new Dawn (Dawn M. to be more precise) in that this is my first chapter to undergo the real Beta experience. Thank you DM!!

Secondly, our colourful SIYE personality, RighT3rantZ (with whom I consulted extensively on this chapter) had expressed an interest in contributing a character to the story, so in this chapter and chapter 17 you will meet West Indies Wireless commentator, Oenomaus Nises. Those experiencing difficulty understanding the Patois dialect are advised to pull up a deck chair, pour a cold beverage (pineapple-y, with maybe some other... ingredients) and just go with the beat.

I admit that this chapter may be a little challenging because you get not only Patois, but also Creole and French speakers wandering through. Oi! Fortunately everything that you need to know gets repeated back a little more comprehensibly.

Anyway, how you enjoy!





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Chapter 16. Mist and Vault (April 11, 1998)

Chaotic.

Hair-raising!

Proper European vocabulary barely suffices to describe the scene of frenzied, half-naked revelers sweeping past in a wavering stream of torchlight; limbs and voices attuned to a flow of euphony and syncopation whose volume and power could easily thrill and shock the delicate ears of those of us accustomed to the sedate melodic traditions from Mozart to McCartney; Armstrong to Aerosmith.

In their urgency, Harry and Ginny blotted out the bizarre distractions and, in a well versed operational synchronicity that served them so well, focused on the challenge of finding a way through the throng. Both instinctively cast mild repelling spells outward to bolster their friends in the lead.

Daphne blinked in surprise as the living mass of humanity parted slightly in oblivious response to the magic. Recognising the opening, Neville and Terry took protective places on either side of her and, in a moment, the three had moved forward into the muddy, teeming street, leading the way toward the place Daphne had last seen her partying friends.

The group hurried along the fairly short distance to the nearest intersection and then veered northward, away from the chaos. They soon felt the ground beneath their feet change in texture, indicating that they had ventured onto what might have been trampled savanna. After a couple of minutes, the dim shapes of the sporadic nearby shrubs had begun to rise higher, now reaching past head-high.

Ever observant, Harry and Ginny studied the landscape, noting the tactical cover afforded by the vegetation, but most of their attention was caught by something beyond normal senses. They felt an increasing sense of power — a raw untamed magic of plant and stone pouring around them, swelling to a force comparable with the most hallowed halls of Hogwarts. Countering a momentary, near-panicky sensation that felt like a pondersome weight lodged on her chest, Ginny’s hand found Harry’s. Sensing each other’s discomfort, they both worked together to steady their laboured breathing into a slow, deliberate pattern, and forged their way onward, keeping pace behind Daphne, Terry and Neville, and ahead of Ryan, Ron and Hermione.

Here on the edge of wilderness, the chaotic rhythms and swarming dynamic they had seen in the village had faded low into the background. As the shrubs rose to full-height trees, the crowds continued to thin, leaving now only a sparse few people, all of whom seemed to be drifting in a languid, respectful trance.

In a darkness that was growing again in the absence of torchlights, Harry thought to check the sky. He had just begun to locate those few stars that were able to pierce the mottled night above, when suddenly their progress brought them into the even deeper shadows of a broad tree canopy. Those few remaining worshippers standing between them and their goal seemed to note their presence and urgency, and moved respectfully to the side.

Ahead of him in the deep gloom, Harry heard Daphne give a small gasp and stumble to her knees.

Lumos!” Harry’s wandless spell raised a single luminescent orb to hover above him, cutting through the murky gloom. The light shone downwards, revealing… bodies.

Daphne knelt trembling; her shoulders stabilised by Neville and Terry. A short distance away, Zabini and Auclair lay sprawled in the dirt. To one side, Fred was hunched down on all fours, his forehead resting on the ground between his hands; a little ways off, George seemed to be reclining in an awkward, three-point pose, as if he’d been abruptly caught in the act of tumbling to the ground.

None of them were making even the slightest move.

Warily, Harry adjusted his Lumos to project deeper into the darkness, past huge serpentine roots, toward the base of the great Mapou tree. He first set his eyes on Page and Summerby. Neither of them moved from where they were standing stock-still, but their eyes were open and Harry was relieved to see his friends’ pupils dilate in response to the magical light. Noticing that both were staring off to the left, Harry’s gaze swept that way, to see a...

Skull!

A hard jolt of fear raced through his chest, but then Harry breathed in relief, recalling that here, in this land, the painted image before him now was merely a symbol of respect for revered ancestors of times long past. After his initial shock, the symbol seemed almost benign, and conveyed little of the lust for horror and devastation that festered behind the symbol of Death Eaters and other morbid European cults.

Within a moment, Harry’s fear had progressed past fear and relief to a powerful sense of curiosity. Indeed, he realised that, for the first time in his life, he had come face to face with a magical practitioner completely outside of the European witchcraft and wizardry traditions. After all, the person before him was no witch, but rather a Mambo; a powerful sorceress of the famed Haitian Vaudou mystique.

Unsure what to say, or how to approach a revered Magical leader, Harry reached deep into his aura, and bent out a soft pulse of humility; of friendship. A hand grasping his told him that Ginny was echoing his strategy.

Glittering in the light of Harry’s Lumos, the Mambo’s eyes, embedded in the no-longer-terrifying skull mask, watched the pair emotionlessly.

Daphne struggled to her feet and appeared to be about to try to say something, a foolish instinct to break the ominous silence, but Harry shook his head and she closed her mouth.

The mysterious sparkling eyes observed the exchange, briefly scanned Ginny (who had remained still and observant throughout), then fixed themselves on Harry. A voice emerged on the heavy evening air, saying simply, “Seyè Potter ak Dam Weasley. Nou vin.”

There was a pause, followed by a simple translation. “You have come.”

The spoken English was accented, yet urbane in the same manner as Langlois’s — a gentility that seemed incongruous coming from a figure that Harry could now see as barefoot, and adorned in oddly coloured tatters. He pushed these pointless observations away behind his Occlumency walls (which he knew were being actively probed) and focused on the most critical point. “You know us?”

“Of course.” The Mambo laughed — a melodious, oddly asexual sound, perhaps a female’s contralto profundo. “You have come. And thus, now the others must go.” Her hand swept slowly around at their various friends standing (or strewn about) nearby.

“Go? Us?” It was Hermione who spoke, but she, Ron, Ryan, Terry and Neville all wore similar expressions of confusion and alarm. “Surely you don’t expect us to leave Harry and Ginny here? Alone?”

The Mambo gave Hermione a dismissive glance, and her voice emerged again, more firmly. “My reckoning is with Sir Potter and Lady Weasley. All others must leave this place. Those who are fit to walk must bear away these fools with them.” She gestured at Zabini, Auclair, and the twins, who all suddenly twitched to life again, with George finally completing his abrogated face-plant.

Recognising the authourity in the Mambo’s voice, Terry and Neville moved forward to help their intoxicated friends. Page and Summerby snapped out of their trances and did the same.

Ron, Hermione and Ryan looked inquiringly at Harry, but he shook his head. “Please do as she says, and please make sure everyone gets safely back to the hotel.”

Finally processing the implication, Daphne’s eyes went wide. “Huh? You’re not coming? Harry? Ginny-Gin?”

Ginny shook her head. “We’ll join you later.”

“But...”

“No buts.” Harry turned away from Daphne. “Get a hangover potion down every throat that needs it, and put everyone to bed, okay?”

Daphne stared for a long moment, then snapped to attention, burst into action, and began issuing directives.

Harry, Ginny and the Mambo all seemed to briefly note this ensuing semi-coherent process; for a moment their eyes followed as the group lurched unsteadily out from the shadows and back onto the path. Then the three magical beings resumed their intense focus on each other.

They stood in motionless silence for an indeterminate time, seemingly feeling out each others’ power. A light wind stirred, driving off the high clouds to release a moon that cast bright jagged shadows around them, carved by the odd angles of the ancient tree.

At that moment, the Mambo’s eyes flashed, and she raised her hand in summons. “The path is open to you.” She raised her arm in a gesture of invitation.

Harry’s and Ginny’s eyes widened as the great tree trunk appeared to grow immeasurably more vast. They stared at the twisting knots on its rough trunk, watching as a dark portal opened to release the slightest hint of a wafting ghostly luminescence.

“Behold the path.” The Mambo’s hand descended slowly to draw their attention to the ground, to a glowing strip that had formed beneath their feet, leading into the tree’s archway, beyond which it was lost, evanescent, in the glowing mist. “Your journey may be wondrous or perilous. It is yours alone. I neither compel nor hinder you; I shall merely show you the way.”

“How…?” Harry ran a hand through his hair as he gazed into the aperture. “Why have you opened this path for us?”

“I was summoned to this point by Kalfou.” The Mambo stood motionless, her mouth rigid even as the words drifted upon the night air. “Kalfou guides the inflections of your cross-roads. He offers you choices and chances that Ghede does not. He may lure you to misfortune and injustice, yet if you advance with open eyes and step with care along the sides of the path, he may also advise you in evading such fates.”

“Ghede is, uh, the loa of death...” Ginny frowned for a moment as she tried to recall some of her recent Vodoun reading. “Kalfou is, I think, the loa of fate and opportunity.”

The Mambo gestured upwards with her hand. “Kalfou arrives by the light of the moon. You may accept his path only while this moon is high and clear.”

“Er...” Ginny glanced toward the moon and an approaching cloud bank, glinting in the silvery light. “Harry, I think she means that it’s now or never.”

“I suppose so.” Harry nodded. “Do we enter?”

“That’s why we’re here, yeah?” Ginny searched his eyes. “It’s been one twist of fate after another trying to get us to this point. Would seem almost rude to turn away after all that.”

“Uh huh.” Harry pursed his lips. “So, we go.”

Without further hesitation, they clasped hands and began to approach the impossibly massive trunk and the gaping hole therein. The Mambo’s face barely seemed to register their choice, yet as they passed her, the sorceress reached across and pressed something into Ginny’s free hand — a small cloth pouch, thin and worn, marked with patterns that couldn’t be descried in the low light.

“Gris-gris,” the tall woman said, slipping into Creole. “Pou chans.”

“A talisman,” Ginny murmured to Harry by way of translation. “For luck.”

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know whether the situation called for luck, or fear, or anything else really. Years ago, a strong part of him had sworn that his life would be his own, and that fate and destiny would have to bend to his will. Yet somehow, it seemed that fate and destiny were still occasionally able to assert themselves and force his hand before he could wrest them back into line.

Just as fate seemed now to have steered them into non-distinct, diaphanous mists.

As they continued to walk, they realised that their feet were no longer treading upon any soft, moist subterranean soil, but rather they were stepping soundlessly across something that was neither stone nor sand nor earth. Indeed, there was no longer any true earth upon which to stand, just as there was no moon or sky to gaze up toward. There was merely mist, and a path. And the path led them inexorably onward; leaving no way to turn back. It seemed as obvious to them now that there was no way to return to the archway or the tree, just as today has no route back to yesterday.

Harry paused for a moment to gaze around, open-mouthed. “Where are we?”

His voice seemed real to Ginny, as did his hand in hers. That much she understood, but to his question there seemed no answer. She shrugged.

Harry resumed his slow pace forward, but a moment later he and Ginny both halted. The path beneath their feet flickered and faded away.

“Uhhh...” Ginny bit her lip. “What now?”

It was Harry’s turn to shrug. “I reckon we wait.”

Holding hands, Harry and Ginny gazed off into the mist, glancing in different directions, yet saw nothing other than a swirl of softly glowing vapours. Silence fell about them, but for the faint sounds of their own breath.

They waited.

Nothing happened.

They waited a while longer.

Still nothing.

Forming a rearguard to watch over the others as they steered Auclair and the variously intoxicated Flying Circus members out from the shade of the Mapou tree, Ron found Hermione’s hand and grasped it. This was a modest gesture, yet in a way slightly extraordinary. Despite the darkness; despite the fact that everyone else around was far too preoccupied with finding a sketchy trail over the rough ground, this was public affection and, as far as he was concerned, it was on full display.

The youngest of six brothers, awkward and gangly, Ron had long been conditioned to expect brassy humiliation for being even slightly sappy. Thus, he had mastered the art of insensitivity. The best things in life are often inconvenient, however. Opportunities require adaptations. And thus, there had been circumstances in the past year that had nagged at him, hinting that his defensive skills might be interfering with the one thing he prized most highly — his relationship with the Hogwarts Head Girl at his side.

Although Hermione had made overtures to him that even he could recognise, Ron was starting to grasp that the last thing he could afford at this rather tenuous stage of his maturation was to take ‘anything’ for granted. Consequently, he had taken to being more observant… and less reactionary. Thus, it had not escaped his attention how here, in the midst of an urgent situation with neither Harry nor Ginny to lean on, the two people everyone turned to for key decisions were Hermione and… Ryan Jenkins…

The Slytherin...

Self-consciously, Ron glanced around and spotted the younger boy patiently coping with Fred’s drunken stupour; pulling Ron’s brother back to his feet, all the while fielding questions from the others.

For a moment, an acidic, unfocused anger seemed to prime Ron’s veins, but then he remembered whose hand it was that Hermione was currently holding. He thought of those fingers (small, yet strong; warm yet firm) and squeezed them. Hermione squeezed back. Ron exhaled.

Despite the low light, Ron saw his girlfriend flash him a smile — quick but glowing — before turning to answer one of Daphne’s fretful queries.

Ron sighed, happy for a moment to have his insecurities assuaged. He didn’t even flinch when, by dint of responsibility, Hermione had to free her hand in order to properly steer the group down the dimly lit path.

Ron scrunched his face for a moment as his girlfriend briefly conferred with Ryan on the best route.

Ron exhaled again and remembered the hand.

It had not been easy for Ron to deal maturely with the fact that Hermione spent such a large amount of time with this young prodigy of Harry’s, always working together on Merlin-knows-what secret project. Fortunately, Ron’s gradual acceptance of that research acquaintance was aided by knowing that Ryan had a girlfriend of his own — one that the boy seemed fairly loyal to. It further eased Ron’s mind that the conduct he always observed between Hermione and Ryan was dominated by serious, humourless (and frankly quite boring) professionalism — pretty unlike any sort of tryst he’d ever observed (even from Percy). For that matter, they acted like a pair of Ravenclaw study mates. Non-Lovegood Ravenclaws at that! And as there was no way that Ron would ever stoop to being jealous of some pseudo-Ravenclaw who was always…

UHRRRKK!

A nauseating blast of stars flooded his head, and it took Ron’s scrambled mind a moment to realise that he’d apparently zigged when he should have zagged, and had slammed straight into someone whose build was far more rugged than any pseudo-Ravenclaw.

“Sorry.” Ryan, who had stopped to peer back toward the Mapou tree, grabbed Ron’s arm to steady him. “Look up there.” The younger boy gestured back up the path. “Harry, Ginny and the Mambo all just disappeared.”

“Huh??” Ron stared up at the now-empty copse.

“What?” Hermione’s hand rose to her face in alarm as she squinted in the low light, scanning the old tree. “They… they’re gone!”

“How odd.” Ryan deliberated for a moment, then released Ron. “I’d better go back to look around. You two catch up with the others and get them back to the hotel. I’ll report in later.”

“Absolutely not, Ryan Jenkins!” Hermione stomped her foot. “You’re not about to go back there without us. There’s too much strange magic in this place, and not a single person among us has enough experience with Vodoun to risk prowling about all alone.

“Yeah, no way!” Ron shook his head vigourously. “All three of us will go check it out. Or, uh, maybe Hermione and I should go back to the tree while you keep an eye on the drunks.”

An eyebrow might have twitched in the darkness, but Ryan rarely showed overt skepticism or disdain, and knew enough about impetuous Gryffindors to generally try to keep the peace. He paused, expressionless as he thought over the options, then shook his head. “No. Let’s all return to the hotel, like we promised Harry.”

“But...” Hermione bit her finger uncertainly.

“Errr...” Ron felt a surge of self-doubt, wondering if his words of protest might have unintentionally endangered Harry and Ginny.

“No buts.” Ryan’s tone solidified into something forceful and decisive. “It’s not worth our risking some big foul-up while Harry and Ginny are preoccupied with other things.”

Hermione’s teeth clamped down hard on her finger, then slowly released it. “I guess you’re right. We’ll all get ourselves back to the hotel and hope that they know what they’re doing.”

“Since when does Harry not know what he’s doing?” Ryan asked, turning pointedly back down the trail.

“What the hell are we doing??” Harry scowled into the whispy nothingness.

Ginny blew a lock of hair from her forehead but said nothing. However long they may have been here, alone in the darkness, she still felt a sense of vague anticipation, pulling her onward. There was no longer a path to direct them, but she nonetheless gave a slight tug on Harry’s hand, urging him further along into the vague nothingness. Surprisingly, after a little while, they were rewarded with a subtle shifting of the vapours — a breeze, moist but cool; oddly more akin to Britain than the sticky Caribbean spring. What drifted up to them, borne along on the chill draught, nonetheless came as a complete surprise.

"Miss Weasley, do you lead your waltzes with the left foot or right?"

“Huh???” Ginny’s eyes went wide. “Luna? Is that you?!”

Please do not stumble, my dear friend!”

“Hey!” Harry blinked. “That’s… Isn’t that what Luna wrote in-?”

Esteemed professor, glorious icon and champion of the downtrodden, many voices rise up and beseech you – never stagger from your wise and true course...”

“Luna! It really IS you!” Harry’s agitated gaze darted to and fro across the dim, featureless netherworld, searching for the source of the voice. “Errr… it is you, isn’t it?”

Silence.

Despite holding themselves with rapt attention, everything had once again fallen still, except for Harry’s and Ginny’s bated breath.

After a long moment, Harry exhaled loudly. “Well blimey. Is she here or is she not here? Luna??”

“She’s not here.” Ginny shook her head perplexedly. “We must have imagined it, just like we’re probably imagining this strange tunnel.”

“But it was something we were meant to hear, right?” Harry scratched his head. “It must somehow be part of this experience that the Mambo led us into. I mean, why else would I ever go randomly pondering Luna’s eccentric pronouncements? The Mambo must have had some odd reason for pulling out some of our memories.”

“Er… I don’t think that’s quite the way to look at this, yeah?” Ginny tapped her forehead. “The Mambo’s magic was strong, but I can’t imagine she got through our Occlumency shields.”

“But her magic, or the magic of this path… Kalfou, or whoever… Something might be making us want to revisit some memories.”

“Yes, I assume so.” Ginny nodded slowly. “But why would we come to Haiti just to remind ourselves about Luna’s quirky journalism?”

“Heh — sure beats me.” Harry shrugged. “But I wonder what Luna was trying to tell us in the first place. And I wonder why this tunnel would tune us to it. There must be some message tied up in-”

“Harry, look!” Ginny pointed off into the distance. They squinted; their eyes trying to cut through the disorienting mists to focus on something tangible. Gradually their sight adapted as they moved closer. After a few more seconds of pondering the odd shape, they both recognised it.

“My old Weasley Christmas jumper! The green one.” Ginny chewed her lip in puzzlement, then angled her head. “It’s draped on… what?”

“That’s one of the old chairs from Dolwyddelan.” Harry began walking briskly in the direction of the vision.

Before he could reach it, though, Ginny gasped, grabbing his hand and pointing.

Obliquely away from the chair, and resting on a shelf that neither of them had noticed before was a gaudy pendant. Ginny reached over and picked it up.

“Oi.” Harry’s jaw dropped. “That’s Tracey Davis’s ward amulet.”

“Merlin!” Ice in her veins, Ginny let it clatter back onto the shelf. “These are all of their protections, Harry. Teri’s sweater; Tracey’s amulet. They’re lying about, discarded. Abandoned.”

Pallour creeping over his face, Harry’s throat quivered. Unable to find his voice, he mouthed a single, plaintive syllable.

Why?

“Oh Harry...” Sensing his dire concern, Ginny took a step toward her fiancé, her hand firmly in his. “This is just a vision, right? It’s not necessarily real. Surely it’s something we’re supposed to be learn-”

Protego!” Harry leaped past her, landing in a defensive crouch.

Perfectly attuned to her partner, Ginny found herself swirling about, shield up, eyes scouring their surroundings for whatever had triggered Harry.

It may have been that both of them had lost some of their defensive acuity compared to the previous autumn, but peace had not completely blunted their keen battle instincts. Priming their powers, they scanned the shadows, seeking near darkness, ready for anything.

From an indeterminate point somewhere to their left came the faintest rustle. Ears pricked, they turned ever so slowly…

FVAAAFVHHSKRRK!!

A horrible whooshing scuffle and clatter pelted against their shields like some sort of hellacious hail.

A living, squeaking, clawing hail.

“Shite!” Ginny’s face wrenched in revulsion as her eyes adjusted to the swarm writhing at their shield fronts. “Rats?!”

Foul, foam-mouthed, red-eyed beasts, launched by unknown crazed compulsion, smashed headlong into the magical barrier. Stunned, quivering vermin piled up along the periphery; new ones leapt madly over the fallen; writhing, glaring.

Suddenly, the rodent swarm was overcome by hissing snakes flying headlong through the dark. Then came fat insects, shooting out like greased, droning bullets. Then other filth — indescribable, unspeakable, all somehow compelled by rabid, shrieking fury.

“Impulso!” Dropping his shield for an instant, Harry thrust a shock front outwards, pushing past Ginny’s strong barrier. In a fiery wave, it swept the wall of crazed attackers far back into the darkness.

Clatters, pops, thuds and rustles subsided into the distance. Then silence fell about them again.

Hearts pounding, the pair stared, straining their every sense.

They saw nothing. Indeed, all had vanished — not only the savage vermin, but also the chair and its jumper; the shelf and amulet. Gone. None remained but the cold, swirling mist.

Holding their shields at bristling strength, the pair turned back to back, and began slowly circling. Seeking any clue that might reveal the next (presumably inevitable) threat, they progressed soundlessly through a well-practised perimeter search, moved around and outward in a slowly expanding spiral, looking for…?

Oi!

Ginny froze. Harry locked hands with her.

Having sensed rather than seen, Ginny’s eyes swept the darkness, trying to pin down some sort of… presence. Her gaze darted to the right. “There!”

With barely an instant to shift their shields, they found themselves inundated by a piercing staccato of magnesium-bright flares, streaming down in dizzying jerky arcs, striking with deafening bangs and whistles.

Maxime umbra!” Harry added a deep shading tint to their shield to cut the glare, while Ginny cast a nonverbal Silencio to blunt the appalling racket.

Panting, they paused to take stock.

The flares, vicious by most appearances, barely seemed to graze their shields. “Diversionary tactic?” Ginny wondered.

“Yeah.” Harry nodded. “But, divert from what?”

“That.” Ginny pointed.

Even as the last of the flashes died away, Harry’s and Ginny’s eyesight remained so stained with residual smears and splotches that Harry opted to raise a soft Lumos lamp while Ginny held her shield. Senses adjusting, they eyed their assailant.

About twenty feet away, seemingly guarding a dark stone vault, stood a tall man; very thin, yet with the contours of sinewy muscles gleaming in the low light. The left half of the man’s hairless head and chest, plus left arm and leg, all gleamed crimson in the low light. Everything else (his entire right side, his clothing, his lips and eye sockets) were all painted pitch black.

Harry and Ginny stared as the figure stood motionless, hands still raised high, likely from his spell casting. Finally, silently, he lowered his arms and opened his eyes to reveal bulbous robs; glaring and stark against the black skin.

“Red Bokor?” Harry whispered to Ginny.

Ginny’s eyes widened in agreement. Indeed, rarely had a raw guess seemed so obvious.

As the sorcerer examined them, Harry and Ginny avoided his eyes, instead choosing to gauge their surroundings, studying the huge arched portal to the obsidian vault behind him, from which came odd, nondescript flickers.

The inevitable Legilimency probe came and failed. The Bokor’s gaze narrowed, and finally he cleared his throat, revealing a thin, reedy timbre that reminded Harry vaguely (and rather unpleasantly) of Voldemort.

“I have no quarrel with you, Majiseyen Blan. However...” The Bokor pointed imperiously back in the direction they had come. “You must leave.”

Harry shook his head. “Nor do we have any quarrel with you, honoured Bokor, but our path of Kalfou leads us past you.” His hand gestured toward the dark vault.

The Bokor was unmoved. “Kalfou is not your friend, Blan. What you would see in there would break you. Fiendish lies and terrors await. I will not let you pass. You must go back.”

“There is no way back.” Harry frowned. “Only forward.”

“Not true.” The Bokor raised his hand. “I shall open a path for you to return to your friends… to your life. To find this path, you must only turn away from here.”

Ginny’s brow crinkled. “I’m not turning my back on anyone who attacked us.”

For the first time, the Bokor’s mouth became visible, sliding into a grin through which teeth appeared — gleaming white against his blackened lips. “Those spells were only simple dissuasions, bel famn. Playful tricks to turn you back from a perilous fate.”

Harry stared at the Bokor for a long moment, then finally he shook his head again. “Maybe we should listen, Gin’. We have no idea what we might gain by pressing on. We’ve trespassed on a ton of boundaries Langlois set for us. And, don’t forget about that little match we have in the morning…”

Ginny turned and stared, her mouth opened to protest, but in the instant it took for her eyes to settle on Harry’s face, his words began to ring true. She had to admit that they didn’t know what they were chasing. It truly might be a needless risk. And they could, indeed, be risking an international incident that might jeopardize the match. Finally, she nodded. “Okay. We go.”

Harry lowered his head in deference to the Bokor. “We shall go. We’re sorry to have disturbed you.”

The sorcerer nodded slightly.

Turning about, Harry and Ginny began to retreat back the way they had come. They had gone less than two steps, before a hair-raising instinct spun them around again.

Protego!” Ginny’s shield, never fully extinguished, was back to full strength even before they fully saw the sickly brownish spell spewing toward them.

For once, however, Harry’s magic did not turn to defence. In the heat of the moment, instinct seized him and, grasping Ginny’s hand, he raised their arms high, crying, “Aspello!”

With an instantaneous nod of recognition, Ginny pulled all power from her shield and poured it into the monstrously effective Grindelwald-era expelling force. A blinding golden light issued, tearing the Bokor’s deadly hex to shreds, and lashing everything else with a magical wind stronger than the most mighty earthly tempest. His shocked howl cut short, their adversary skidded back on his heels, and was swept away into unknown darkness.

Surveying the suddenly vacated path to the vault, Harry was about to emit a relieved chuckle, when he realised that something was wrong.

Something was missing. He spun about, eyes scouring the surroundings.

“Ginny?”

Harry was alone!

“Ginny, where are you?” He shook his head in bewildered denial. Ginny had to have been present for the full Aspello incantation to have worked so well. That spell was THEIR magic — they had only ever managed it when casting together, working as one.

“Ginny??”

No answer — not even an echo.

Working a hand through his ragged hair, Harry could think of only two explanations — Ginny had Apparated away (but it seemed highly unlikely that she would intentionally abandon him mid-spell), or else in the half-dazed moment in which Harry had admired their handiwork, she had somehow already surged onward through the obsidian archway that rose up before them.

“Ginny, are you in there?”

Still utter silence. Lighting his lumos and staring as far as he could into the nondescript nothingness on all sides and behind him, Harry finally resolved to pass through the arch. Racing into the flickering light, he finally heard something. A voice.

But the voice was not Ginny’s.

“Mister Harry, no! Stay back!”

Harry’s blood ran cold as he stared down at a hard stone floor in front of him. There, trembling, was a small figure struggling up, blood gushing from a vicious cut on her hand. Harry gasped as he recognised her. “Teri?”

“Please stay back.” Her weeping eyes latched onto his pleadingly. “Don’t go near the smoke.”

Harry ignored her plea, rushing forward to catch her wounded hand. “It’s okay Teri. Hold still. I can close the cut.”

“It was the smoke, Mister Harry.” The girl’s eyelids drooped; her muscles began to slacken. “Please don’t go near it.”

“Stay with me, Teri. Don’t pass out.” Harry strove to close the cut, but his best spells were unable to staunch the torrential bleeding that poured down over him, filling the strange netherworld so deeply that it swirled about his ankles.

Harry hoisted the girl up, clear of the liquid. For a moment, she seemed to revive slightly, enough to point obliquely to one side.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry followed her gesture, then turned to stare. Over to his right, he saw a large mirror, shattered, with a deep scarlet stain running the length of a jagged edge. Harry was just about to wonder why Teri had (apparently) broken the glass, when he realised that it was not in fact a mirror, but more of a window… a window looking into some dark, whispy medium.

Smoke.

Indeed, the smoke was seeping ominously through the fissures; pouring downwards, piling upon the inky fluids at their feet. Fluid and smoke seemed to be swirling together — the beginnings of a mesmerising vortex that appeared to be taking the shape of… of...

Harry swayed; unable to complete his thought. The entire scene rippled nauseatingly before his confused eyes, and he felt himself stumbling, falling... then suddenly Teri seized his hand.

Or perhaps not Teri? Was it Ginny?

Unable see or hear coherently, and unable even to recognise the aura of his benefactor, Harry gripped the small hand fiercely, accepting from it whatever strength he could borrow. He tried to call out, but instead choked as a powerful salt taste flooded into his mouth, burning his cheek and tongue. Coughing violently, Harry finally staggered up from his knees, opened his eyes... and peered into those of a young girl.

No, not Teri. No, it was not Ginny, yet he wanted to cry out in joy because he could finally again sense that Ginny was near. Somewhere…

But who was the girl holding his hand, staring at him with dark curious eyes? It was certainly neither Ginny nor Teri, yet the face was vaguely familiar. He shook his head. “I… I know you?”

Yes, Harry did know this face.

He recognised the face from a single ragged photograph that he had first seen only yesterday. Rubbing from his face what he understood now to be sand and seawater, Harry blinked twice to clear his vision, and confirmed who it was who must have just now helped to save him from drowning in two feet of murky water.

“You. You’re… Lorraine?”

After the imperative instinct had been satisfied — helping the girl lift Harry’s head and torso above the predawn Caribbean swells — Ginny steadied her swirling senses, and stared around herself in utter bafflement.

We’re on… a beach?

We’re wading, fully clothed, in the sea?

Her eyes focused on the three people in her immediate vicinity.

Harry and I are wading in the sea, along with Langlois and some small girl who must be, presumably, his daughter??

“What the…?” Unable to rationalise what she was seeing, Ginny shook her head. “What the hell is going on??”

Now shouldering much of the weight of a still-staggering Harry, Langlois eyed Ginny bemusedly. “Ah? And you are expecting me to answer that, mademoiselle?”

“Papa! Papa! Regardez ma main!” The girl, Lorraine, waved in the air with a tiny, and completely intact hand, catching an early orange glow of the eastern sky. “C’est tout guéri! Comment peut-il être?!”

“Je ne sais pas. Mystères et miracles, ma chère.” Langlois threw his spare arm over his daughter’s shoulders as she hugged him fiercely, but he turned his attention back to Ginny. “A night of mysteries; a morning of miracles, yes?”

Ginny stared at him, uncomprehending.

Langlois looked her over, noting her confusion. He nodded. “I’m sure you are weary, Miss Weasley, so I will not pry overmuch into your… rather eventful… night. But given your obvious disorientation, I will perhaps at least offer what little I know of it.”

Ginny nodded, wide-eyed.

Langlois smiled. “I may begin about five hours ago, when your colleague Mr. Jenkins reported how you disappeared in the company of a Mambo. After fruitlessly scouring both the village and the sacred north hills for hours seeking you and Harry, I was just returning home to attempt a brief nap before resuming the search, when ma chère Lorraine greeted me at the door crying that she had just experienced a vision of the Red Bokor attacking you.”

The girl at his side pulled herself tightly to him. Langlois threaded his fingers through her wet hair and continued. “After I understood what she was trying to tell me, I let her drag me all the way down here to the shore where, obviously, we found you.”

Ginny stared, speechless.

Langlois shrugged and continued. “When we arrived, you were both standing in the surf, perfectly motionless. Yet as Lorraine ran out to you, our exhausted Mr. Potter — in the moment before he collapsed into the waters — burst into a frenzy of action, seized my daughter’s hand and… presumably… cast spells of some sort…?” He gave Ginny an inquiring look.

“I...” Ginny shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean.”

Langlois scrutinised her for a moment, then nodded to himself. “Well, nor do I. All I can say is that when we set foot in the water early this morning, my daughter’s hand was as raw and maimed as it has been for years, but now…?”

“C’est completement guéri!” The girl waved her hand again, then held it still to look at it herself. “C’est parfait!”

“Oui chère, c’est parfait.” Langlois smiled at his daughter. “As you can see, all of the accursed wounds that even our Mambos and Houngans could not help are now erased, and the hand is as unmarked as a baby’s. Mr. Potter is an accomplished healer, perhaps?”

Harry coughed. The others turned to him expectantly, but his head lolled forward, giving no sign that he was in any shape to converse.

“He came perilously close to drowning, I fear. I will not make him speak.” Langlois adjusted Harry’s position to better support his head. “Yet you, mademoiselle Weasley, appear to be growing more cogent. Have you any notion of how you came to be out here, bathing in la Baie Carènage?”

Ginny tried to summon her scrambled memories from the moment after she and Harry had cast the Aspello, but all she was able to assemble was a vague blur of unsettling dreams or nightmares — an oppressive pall of loneliness and desolation... physical exhaustion... and there were random images of Quidditch, Quidditch, more Quidditch… followed by a ghastly blur of sheer, panicked confusion and despair.

Oddest of all, the final vignette that Ginny recalled from the bizarre vision was hearing Luna Lovegood’s voice again, making another inscrutable pronouncement. Yet this time, Luna was saying something that Ginny had never heard before. Echoing through her mind, the words had reached her in the deepest of darkness, but had somehow (despite their obscurity) managed to bring to her a strange glimmer of hope. And somehow now, even as the spreading dawn seemed to erase more and more of the faint shreds of the troubled dream, Luna’s final words seemed to resonate stronger.

Sometimes the rooster makes a bad decision better.”

Stepping out onto dry sand, Ginny realised that she had spoken aloud the remembered words, and that Langlois was watching her, listening intently. Then she remembered that he had asked her a question.

Pulling her thoughts back to the present, Ginny shook her head. “Sorry, I remember little. Ryan apparently told you how we left the hotel to retrieve some drunk friends, then encountered one of your Mambos. After that, she, well, invited us to walk some sort of magical path leading straight into the Mapou tree. From then onwards, it seemed mostly like a jumble of random visions... although the Red Bokor did not act like a vision.”

“Non, mademoiselle.” Langlois shook his head. “In some manner or other, your confrontation with the Bokor must certainly have been real. My Lorraine announced your peril with great clarity and urgency. She has entered training as a Mambo, and I put my full faith in her fearful conviction that you were in grave danger.”

Standing by, barely noticing as Langlois cast drying charms on each of them, Ginny chewed her lip. “Danger? From the Bokor?” She shook her head. “I don’t know. It seemed to me that my greatest fears came after we drove the Bokor away.”

Langlois raised his brow slightly. “And should I be so bold as to inquire about those fears?”

“Fears...” Ginny pulled her wet stringy hair from her face, looking thin and strained. “I felt… emptiness. Desolation. I think I was frightened most by, well, fear itself.”

Suddenly Lorraine had Ginny’s hand and was staring up at her with eyes of impossibly deep brown. The girl’s face was expressionless as she whispered, “Ce n'est pas lui, mais qui sait-il.”

“Ehhh?” Langlois gave his daughter a long questioning gaze then scratched his head thoughtfully. “It is not him, but who he knows?”

After glancing at Langlois, Ginny bent lower to address Lorraine face to face. “It’s not the Red Bokor I should fear, but someone that the Bokor knows?”

Lorraine nodded.

“Who?” Ginny squeezed the girl’s hand. “Can you describe who it is that he knows?”

Lorraine was in the process of shaking her head when a second voice nearby rasped, “It was the...” Harry coughed to clear the last of the seawater from his lungs.

“Harry!” Ginny reached for him. “What was it?”

“The smoke.” Harry opened his eyes, bloodshot and haunted. “It was the smoke behind the glass.”

“I swear, Red, we were set to go to bed early and all. Just one drink! But we w-w-”

Zabini’s protestation was cut short as he retched again into the vanishing basket. After a harsh tremor, he mopped his brow, and tried again to steady his voice. “We were Shanghaied. Bloody locals bought us drink after drink, and every glass never went empt-”

Ginny turned away from her fellow Chaser as he reconvened his discourse with the basket. Blotting the sounds out of her mind, she focused wearily onto the somewhat healthier young woman in front of her. “So Daphs. Are you going to give the sods some hangover potion, or are you going to let them suffer a while longer?”

“Nada, Ginner-G.” Daphne shook her head. “I already gave them a double dose. If I let them have any more, they could get, uh, kidney damage? Liver? Something like that?”

“Oi!” Ginny gaped. “Still spewing after a double dose of potion?!” She bit her lip. “How… uh, how are Fred and George?”

“Thing One and Thing Two?” Daphne suddenly looked a bit drawn. “Umm, would you believe they’re even worse? Not even able to get full sentences out of them yet without, uh, you know...”

Ginny’s face fell into her hands.

“Uhhh...” Daphne gave her a worried look. “Don’t beat them up too badly, ‘kay? Your brother Ronald was in there unloading on them for nearly fifteen minutes. Loudly! I swear, if they weren’t so busy being sick, they may as well have tried to slit their own throats.”

Ginny lifted her head a bit; her eyes peering through slightly spread fingers. She was about to reply, when she was preempted by Grant Page entering with Harry. Page held up a small bundle of roots — so fresh that dirt still clung to them. “It’s not much, but these may help.”

His face expressionless, Harry shrugged. “Lippia Alba roots from the morning market. I gather there’s no absolute cure for a Spirit Rum bender — it’s a lot harsher than Fire Whiskey — but the locals say that chewing these roots should help reduce the effects.

“Chew and spit. Don’t swallow!” Page held one root down to where Zabini’s fumbling hand could reach it.

“Pfehhh!” Zabini’s horrified face emerged. “That! That tastes like… like...”

Page grinned. “Like fresh fertilizer, mate?”

Zabini stared, aghast for the split second he could hold himself upright before hastily thrusting his head back in the basket. However, by the time Page (chuckling) had stepped out to find the twins, Zabini was finally finding a bit of strength. A moment later, he was able to put the basket aside, teeter to his feet and accepted a water glass from Daphne. He downed it, gagged slightly, then hung his head in misery. “To bloody bleeding hell with this crap. Let’s just go home.”

Harry and Ginny stared at their captain, glanced at each other, then slowly sighed. “No.” Harry shook his head. “We came here to play Quidditch, so Quidditch we’re going to play.” Reaching for Zabini’s broom, Harry held it out to him. “Take this out to the pitch and see if you can stay on it, yeah?”

For a long moment, Zabini regarded the broom as if it had venomous fangs, but he finally wrapped his fingers around the handle and accepted it. He gave Ginny a pitiable look, but she merely raised an unwavering eyebrow. With a long, slow breath (either a deeply pained sigh, or else an attempt to calm his roiled esophagus), he shouldered the broom and trudged from the lockers, out into a hot, sticky morning.

Ginny met Harry’s eyes and held them. Her hand found his, and held it. She slumped wearily against him, her forehead finding its place between his chest and shoulder. After staying that way long enough to find a measure of inner strength, she finally straightened up again and turned toward the door, muttering something under her breath.

“Uhhh...” Daphne scratched her head. “Did G-girl just say, ‘pluck’?”

Expressionless, Harry shook his head.

“Well my esteemed witches and gentlewizards back home in old Britannia, this is Septimo Aurrera welcoming you live to Souvenance Haiti for a special Wizarding Wireless Network broadcast of an international Quidditch matchup that everyone has been talking about for weeks. I must admit only a limited knowledge of this country but, if this morning is any indication... the place certainly is hot. Whew!”

“It nuh so much di heat as di Nyabinghi drumming makin dem torrid wynds blaw, ya knuh?”

“Sorry, what’s that? Er, my apologies everyone for neglecting to introduce my stand-in partner, Oenomaus Nises — special sports commentator from West Indies Wireless, who is helping me to bring you this morning’s match between the Haitian National Junior squad and The Great Zabini Flying Circus. Your friend and mine, Richard Auclair, could not join us for the broadcast because he’s, er, well, feeling a bit under the weather and-”

“Him a takin a hard secon’ look at all dat Spirit himma imbibin las night.”

“Heh. Uh, yes, he does have a bit of gastric distress.”

“Causa him jink plenti nuff Spirit Rum. ‘imma mek fi quite a pard in di festivities of di people. ‘imma diggin dem gud holes wit his token of dem midnyte ravuhs.”

“I- I-, uhhh… Uh, yes, he was drinking rum. Right. So there you have it folks — poor Richard took in a bit too much of the local colour last night, and is indisp-”

“Him an a few of yuh Flying Circus boys too. Dere it mek too many Europeans singing sum bad Reggay laas night inna di Ancient Goat, an it a guh mess wid di Quiddee match todeh.”

“Well Oenomaus, what you say is true. From what I gathered from locker room chatter early this morning, virtually everyone on the Flying Circus lost a lot of sleep last night for one reason or another and, most worrisome is the fact that Circus captain Blaise Zabini, and Beaters Fred and George Weasley looked a bit unsteady out there in their pre-match warmups. One wonders just how much of an effect that will have on their performance today, especially given the unusual heat-”

“It nuh so much di heat as di Nyabinghi drumming. Dat a powa drummin inna fi wi yaad dis mawnin. Lisin ta dat wawkin beat, das da hearthbeat riddim of da people. Dere naw one who cud beat fi wi drummas an fi wi Quiddee squad laas year wen di drummin gon gud.”

“Errr… Okay let’s call that your opinion… Ladies and gents, Mr. Nises is suggesting that the local Nyabinghi drummers are giving the local Haiti squad an insurmountable advantage in the match, but please don’t turn off your wireless sets just yet, because this match isn’t over. In fact, it’s not even started yet, and I’ll remind you that The Flying Circus is coming into today undefeated, having knocked off two Premier League squads. But all that said, I must admit that in several very important ways, the Haiti squad matches up well against Blaise Zabini’s mates. And then there is, as Mr. Nises says, the-”

“Di drumming yea. It nuh beautiful? Knuh fi nuttin, I see yuh fut tappin, mon.”

“Well, kind of catchy yes. Of course, The Flying Circus has played to larger, louder crowds, so I don’t believe that-”

“Di drumming nuh noise. Das pure powa. Nuh forget dat Spaniard.”

“Uh, right. It’s power, not noise. Let me adjust our audio a bit so that listeners can hear a bit of the rhythm that’s echoing throughout the stadium. It is indeed… strangely spellbinding.”

“As surely as di European pyrat Columbus cum wit an age of pejoration ta mi people... It. Pure. Powa!

“And there you have it, Quidditch friends. The power of music, and… Oi! Time’s getting away from us Oenomaus! Three minutes ‘til Snitch time. Would you care to share a very quick assessment of the Haiti National Junior Squad for our listeners?”

“Yes I! Gaby feel dat beat. Christelle shi suh quick. Josué an Wilky mek dem Bludgahs bim bam bim, yuh knuh? But den there’s Emmanuella, an shi suh di shayka of dat group. Wen a chaser fi go defend her next move, they defendin next tuh nuttin. Though Jean-Laurent sometimes an even betta shayka. Jovenel Timalice, imma da Seeker. Maybe nuh gud as Potter, but yuh cyant forget when he at im own turf, im avin dat advantage. All dem yungins rise up from di shantys and di tenement yawds fi Haiti. Dey as tuff as yuh eva see.”

“Uh, so Timalice is, er... tough?”

“Tuff?? Him amazing ‘mazing mon but him, like, kinda weird.”

“Uhhhh… yes. So there you have our analytical breakdown of the Haitian National Juniors — feels the beat, so quick, bim-bam-bim, the shaker, better shaker, and amazing but weird. Sort of. And now let’s turn our attention to the pitch, where-”

“Tut tut, Spaniard! Put away yuh headache potions — no jink dat til afta yuh hear di drums rise up fi di match There nothing like it beneath Damballah an di Rainbow!”

“What are you talk-…? Oh. Oh my!”

“Di beat shi rises. Shi di beauty an di grace an di powa!”

“Oh Merlin, it… it’s… there are no words. What a drum crescendo, folks!”

Harry stared out at the hazy morning horizon — distant villages and cities; the mountains and the sea. Harry stared as the drums rose in his ears and in his mind.

He stared. He saw. And yet he was blind.

Harry’s blindness was not in his eyes. With those, he could still gaze down over a green pitch that sprawled below in stark contrast to the denuded surrounding hillsides. He could marvel at the stands full of extraordinary fans bedecked not in the home squad’s purple and black, yet rather in every tint and tone of the spectrum. Yet from the moment he had emerged from the lockers earlier, Harry’s key sixth sense — his magical awareness — had been dulled to nearly nothing. To him, the absence made it seem as though so much of the real colour and depth of his world had been stricken from sight.

He was pretty certain that the problem was the mesmerising Nyabinghi drumming, whose pulses and undulations buffeted him like waves of power. He made a mental note, upon his return to Hogwarts, to take a bit of time in the library and the Room of Requirement to try to understand the effect, but next week’s research was not going to help him today.

For the time being, Harry could only assume that the drums were anointed with powerful charms, and the resulting music was producing ominous pulses of magical incoherence that happened to neutralise some of his most unique skills.

Having tried concentrating, and even tried flying high enough that the sound had receded into a distant throb, Harry found himself resigned to a change of plans. For today, it seemed that he was unlikely to see the Snitch with anything other than his eyes.

With that in mind, he retooled the weak shield he’d erected against the bugs (which were every bit as dense as the previous day) and began running through his final few flying exercises, doing his best to ignore the tiny Haitian Seeker who, even now, was already beginning to dog him.

“Oh, for Circe’s sake, Blaise — give me those!”

Scowling, Ginny grabbed the goggles from her fellow Chaser. Grimacing at the pungent perspiration inside them and the greasy exterior surface where he’d been pawing at them in misguided attempts to defog them, she cast quick wandless charms to dry them and repel moisture. She handed them back, shaking her head. “Should work better for a while, but would you stop sweating so bloody much?”

With force of effort, Zabini raised an eyebrow then turned away, inaudibly grumbling something that was probably not chaste gratitude.

Ginny paid him no attention; she was busy scanning her Circus-mates, gauging that the boundary between those who were not bothered much by the heat (herself, Page, Summerby and Harry) versus those who were flailing miserably (Zabini and the twins) was perfectly correlated to hangover severity. She had just resolved to track down her brothers to also help them clear off their eye-wear (and perhaps dish out a bit of cheer) when the half-minute-warning drum roll sounded.

Piff. Time to line up for the Quaffle…

Turning to take position, she couldn’t help catching, from the corner of her eye, a disturbing glimpse of Fred (the most sure-handed Beater she knew) nearly lose the grip on his bat at the end of a routine Bludger volley.

Groaning in exasperation, Ginny cast the slightest glance high above to where her fiancé had stopped to watch the Snitch release. He waved slightly; she nodded back… and in that moment, she felt a flicker of emotions she could never before recall having experienced in the waning seconds before a match.

She felt like a little girl.

She wanted to go home.

She could really use a hug.

But she wasn’t about to get one. Ginny put on her game face, waved Summerby and Zabini into position, and prepared to race toward the soon-to-be-released Quaffle.

“Weasley bringing up the Quaffle on the match’s first offensive. Let’s see what she opts to...”

“Red haired lady very gud. Shi cud be di best.”

“Er yes, Oenomaus, Ginny Weasley was recently ranked by Seeker Weekly as the top new recruit heading into the upcoming British Irish Premier League season. That said, let’s see what she’ll do here to start the match. She’s raced into a bit of open space a bit right of the goals and… snappy pass to Summerby, who flips the Quaffle to Zabi-”

“Dis a naah guh to wuk todeh, mi likkle Circus.”

“Well, let’s see about that, shall we? Zabini laterals the Quaffle back to Summerby. Back to Zabini, who — Oi! He dropped it!”

“Captain Bini ave drunk fingas. Data a bad move cuz di Quaffee guh straight inna Jean-Laurent's grip, and yuh red-haired lady too far out front fi get back inna time.”

“True! Zabini’s bobble caught Weasley off guard, and she’ll be hard pressed to catch Linto. MY, he’s fast! Even faster than he was in last year’s tournament!”

“Him strikes like Damballah. Yuh Page-Keepa cyaa stand inna fi him way, Spaniard.”

“Linto’s coming in all alone on goal. Page out to cut down the angles, and — oh crap, what a move!”

“Linto, him strikes like Damballah. Purple and Black ave di lead; yuh Page-Keepa him stung. Him nuh realise dat Damballah brings di rain.”

“Errr, right. This is to say, folks, that Jean-Laurent Linto just blew past Grant Page for an open shot into the center goal. Haitian Juniors have taken a ten to nothing lead.”

Harry grimaced. Seeing Zabini bobble an easy pass on the very first play of the match could hardly be a good omen, but he was even more concerned by another unforeseen problem. The twins.

Of course, he meant ‘the Weasley twins’. After all, the big Haitian beaters, Josué and Wilky Marasse were looking sharp, and seemed primed to pose every bit as much of a problem for The Circus as scouting reports had hinted, but prior to this morning nobody could have guessed that Fred and George would be so… messed up.

After the hard start to the day, they had both emerged from the lockers determined to make a go of the match… but intent and reality did not always align. Indeed, on the opening drive, each of the two Weasley twins had misjudged at least one Bludger volley and had needed pure luck (nudging the Bludgers with last-ditch flails) to spare their Chasers from hard, blind-side hits.

Harry shook his head. Between his old Gryffindor days and his Flying Circus experience, he could never recall a match where half the squad was playing so poorly.

This had all the makings of an ugly match...

To Harry, this meant only one thing. He was going to have to bear down on the Snitch, find it, and grab it. Soon!

Directing his attention up and away from the second attempt at a Flying Circus offensive, Harry scanned the quieter corners of the pitch, tapping into the instincts he’d relied upon in his early days as a Seeker — sniffing out that vague hint of excitement that he’d always felt when his eyes began honing in on the Snitch’s path.

He obviously couldn’t rely on aura perception for that. Any magical force patterns were still being obliterated by the surges and undulations of the Vodoun drummers. However, once or twice already, Harry thought he may have felt a weak, niggling sense of Snitch.

His gaze drifting up pitch, about 20 degrees to the right of Page, Harry suddenly felt two very different jolts at very nearly the exact same time. Visually, he had just chanced upon his first glimpse of fluttery gold, glinting momentarily in the hazy morning sun, but at the same instant, he was struck, subliminally, by the bizarre feeling that someone was… leering at him.

Indeed, as Harry moved his focus discreetly away from the Snitch sighting, his eye was caught by the startling sight of his opponent, Jovenel Timalice, sneering — a lurid grin lighting his wide mouth. In that moment, in that light, the tiny Seeker actually looked almost like a goblin — wide flickering eyes set high on his oversized bald pate; his small torso dispersing to long, thin arms and stubby legs...

Eyes locked, each Seeker seemingly sizing up the other, nobody made a move toward the Snitch. Finally, turning his gaze deliberately away from where he’d sighted the Snitch, Harry began moving obliquely toward the ball, trying to sense it with his mind.

Suddenly, his senses were flooded with a strange buzzing — a distraction every bit as powerful and disorienting as the magical drums.

Still grinning, Timalice moved smoothly into a position perfectly between Harry and the Snitch.

Battling to regain his focus, Harry descended twenty feet, and began to carry out a random weaving pattern that he’d been practising to unsettle opposing Seekers.

Effortlessly, Timalice adjusted, remaining in a perfect bisection of Harry’s path to the fluttery golden orb, that was now bobbing less than a hundred feet away.

Tired of the gamesmanship, Harry glared straight at Timalice; glared straight through him toward the Snitch, daring the tiny Seeker to race him for it.

Timalice, however, remained perfectly still… except for his vile little mouth, where a grin was oozing subtly into a thin smirk. After several bristling seconds of bizarre standoff, Timalice winked and began moving casually off to the side.

Harry glanced to where the Snitch had been.

And, of course, it was gone.

“Loraj is wheeling about wide and slow as she collects the Quaffle from Doubye and assembles another Haiti offensive. Let’s take this little breather to catch our listeners up on the flow of this match which, needless to say, has not been favouring The Flying Circus.”

“Nuh? Yuh nuh tink yuh Circus feels happy dat it behind by a hundred an thirty points?”

“Now, there’s no need to be sarcastic. Instead, perhaps you could offer your thoughts on what it might take for The Flying Circus to get back into this match, Mr. Nises?”

“Well Spaniard, dem fall suh far behind by making all dem deh passes an letting di drunken monkey drop di Quaffee all di time. Now dem run sum plays dat smart but boring. Smart red-head lady nuh let weeney Bini touch di Quaffee. Dat makes di plays smarta but dull. Dem don’t score but at least dem nuh catch pon dem arses wid Bini dropping di Quaffee.”

“Yes, I actually agree with that. The recent conservative play by Weasley and Summerby has ended that rash of quick breaks by the Haitian Juniors, but with The Flying Circus essentially playing short-handed on every offence, they’ve managed very little scoring of their own — just two goals for Weasley and one for Summerby. It’s very difficult to make passes look sharp and random when only two people are passing. However, with Zabini having dropped the Quaffle eight times, well…”

“Red lady ave been inna Jean-Laurent’s face pretty gud. Linto meets his match this time, but who cya stop Loraj? Surely nuh di grease-fingered captain, nuh?”

“Right — Linto has been held to five scores, seemingly content to dish off to Loraj, which is what he does right now, while Caristil streaks up the left wing. Weasley pushes Linto way off the play; Summerby is blocking Loraj. Let’s see if she’ll pass to-?”

“Caristil? No, shi nuh need fi pass to Gaby cuz of dat Bludgah.”

“Blud-? Ai Caramba! Summerby takes it square between the shoulders. Ginny Weasley dashes over to help, leaving Loraj and Linto in the clear. Loraj to Linto — left side. Linto draws Page out; tosses to Loraj. Score! Haiti with a 170 to 30 lead. My, what a lopsided match!”

“Red lady did asking fi a time out, Spaniard. Shi looks shi very upset.”

#@&*&%*#@!!!”

Her arm around the Summerby (still woozy from having his breath knocked out), Ginny shook her free fist at the officials. “How many bloody times do I need to signal to get a stoppage?!”

“No blood, right? No fall off broom?” The crew chief shrugged casually. “This is Haiti, fi. If not life threatening, we wait until Quaffle changes possession. Then we blow the whistle.”

A red pulse flashed across Ginny’s face, signaling of a potentially catastrophic detonation, but Harry slid in beside her and placed a calming hand on her arm. As she defused, he turned toward the crew chief. “How much time do we have?”

The Haitian official looked at Summerby. “Your boy need a healer?”

Summerby shook his head, suppressing a wince as he did so.

“Very good.” The official glanced at his watch. “Five minutes.”

Ginny still looked like she wanted to scream several more vulgarities, but she bit her tongue and nodded her assent.

With Zabini running behind on every play, Ginny had assumed temporary captaincy, and hurriedly waved in the other Flying Circus mates. When the officials had dispersed, she turned on her brothers, hissing, “Six inches!”

Fred and George stared, their expressions a blend of guilt and confusion.

“Don't you understand?!” Ginny glared at them. “Six inches! That much higher, and that Bludger would have caught Keith in the back of the head, and we’d be picking him up off the pitch right now. You two have anything to say for yourselves?”

“Er, kind of fortunate, right?” Fred shrugged uncomfortably. “Do we get a bit of credit for a little stroke of good luck?”

It wasn’t very funny. Nobody laughed. Ginny stared at him; part of her wanted to do something very un-sisterly… but as acting captain, she opted to take a long drawn, deep, and not very pleasant breath.

George shook his head. “Gin’, we know we bollixed it, but you can count on us to try really really hard to get our act together, okay?”

Fred swallowed. “We promise, Snap. The last thing we need today is for another younger sibling to read us the riot act.”

Ginny stared at the pair for a long moment, assessing their seriousness, then nodded. “Listen. Part of the problem is that you’re both still half-skunked, but the real issue is that you have class competition. You’ve got to stop spreading yourselves so thin, trying to be the aggressors. Forget trying to take out Linto and just protect our hides. Play the Bludgers defensively, and keep them away from us, yeah?”

The twins nodded earnestly.

Ginny regarded Zabini for a moment and rolled her eyes. “Blaise, no wonder you’re dropping everything — your goggles are all fogged again.” She winced as she took the greasy eye wear from him and repeated her moisture repellent charms. “Keith and I are going to handle the Quaffle, but we need you to get your big body out there and block block BLOCK!”

Taking the goggles back, Zabini could do little more than purse his lips and accept the only role he seemed fit to accomplish.

Finally, Ginny turned to Harry. “Snitch?”

Harry clenched his jaw in frustration. “I’ve seen it a couple times, but Timalice is annoying the snot out of me. He keeps getting in the way, but refuses to chase for it.”

Ginny nodded seriously. “Yes, well, this has gone on long enough. Next time you see the Snitch, you throw caution to the wind and go. I don’t care if we’re behind by more than one-fifty. I don’t care if you tip off Timalice and he grabs it first. Just get it over with, a'right?”

Harry gave a long glance at a scoreboard that showed them with a 140 point deficit… but then he looked at his mates — Zabini pale and trembling; the twins haggard and soaked in sweat; Summerby fighting through short, pained breaths. Harry nodded and extended his fist for Ginny and the others to bump. “Right. Let’s end this, mates. Win or lose, we’ll go down swinging.”

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