Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc as well as ideas from other sources of Wizards of the Coast, Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Mind War

Smoke and Mirrors

Chapter 1

Harry glanced at his tall companion. "Wands out?"

"Shucks, where's the fun in that?"

Harry smirked. Wolfe liked to get a workout from fighting vampires, only resorting to using his wand when every other available option had been exhausted.

They'd been at this for three weeks. Harry, Wolfe, Khan and Mordecai would be sent into the compounds revealed by the captured Velkowski to secure them one by one. They'd function as shields for the Rangers who weren't quite as accomplished fighters, Rangers like Wortelgraaf and the half-goblin Docmor the Diligent, who both specialised in Curse Breaking. Their task was to sweep the compound for booby traps.

They hadn't encountered any opposition in the other compounds, which had all been deserted by the time they arrived there. Anastasiou, the vampire overlord, had ordered them evacuated. A wise decision if you were an impartial observer. But Harry was hardly an impartial observer, and it gave him even more incentive to kill the vampire, for all this patrolling had kept him away from Ginny for three whole weeks.

"Set your goggles to night vision," Wolfe said.

"Way ahead of you."

"Good"- Wolfe drew his wand- "And wands out!"

Harry frowned behind the goggles, but he knew better than to question Wolfe in a battlefield situation, and drew his wand.

"Any problems?" Khan's voice sounded in his ear-piece.

"Infrared," Wolfe muttered, staring into the bushes ahead of them. "See that?"

Harry knew that the images from their goggles made their way back to screens in the nearby Cruiser, and someone else was seeing what Wolfe was seeing.

"Three lower body temperatures, undead. One warm one," Khan's voice sounded. "Easy pickings!"

"Too easy!" Wolfe and Harry said at the same time.

"Too easy," Khan agreed from his station in the Cruiser. "I'm sending out a detection pulse."

Harry and Wolfe waited for Khan's findings.

Khan's voice returned. "Three more on your right flank, seven behind you, all undead."

"Fourteen against two. Not fair," Wolfe muttered.

"There should be at least three dozen of them for it to be fair," Harry said, grinning.

"Don't get cocky, kid. If there are a couple of centennials among them, this could get nasty. You'll kill half, and I'll kill half?"

"Let's make it a contest. The wizard counts double…"

"Quit the chatter, the net is closing!" Khan warned.

"Kid, let's get out of here," Wolfe said suddenly. "Something stinks. Apparate to the Cruiser!"

Harry nodded and Apparated, or rather tried to Apparate, but nothing happened.

"Great Maker, we're in trouble … Incoming!" Wolfe screamed, as a small round object flew towards them. Wolfe raised his off hand and banished it, keeping his wand free to fight. The object flew back the way it had come, and a green glow washed over the bushes. Soon, the leaves would start falling from the dead bushes, because that had been a Killing Curse. They were throwing Curse Capsules.

"Magical Object Detection," Harry ordered his goggles, and soon he saw several more round objects light up his screen. "Lumos Solarum!" he bellowed, channelling a good deal of power into his spell.

The anguished shrieks of vampires met his ears, as well as some of Wolfe's swearwords. His spell had produced enough light to overload the Vision Enhancement Goggles temporarily, so Harry quickly shoved them onto his forehead. "Wolfe, we have to go left."

"No, they've seeded the ground with Curse Capsules. Even I can't jump over them. We go right, straight through them!"

"Wait, I have an idea!" Harry said. "Cover me for ten seconds." This was a spell Merlin had taught him in the Mirror Realm. He concentrated on his center and unlocked the power deep inside him. He was dimly aware of Wolfe's magic, banishing the incoming Capsules. He stirred his wand in the air, deepened his concentration and felt the wind around him, bending it to his will. Soon the wind speed picked up, and dust began to swirl upwards. He'd created a cyclone.

He directed the cyclone to the vampires' hiding place and let it sweep through the bushes, plucking the shrieking vampires off the ground.

"Potter, are you doing that?" Khan's voice asked.

Harry grunted in affirmation. Speech would probably break his concentration. He directed the cyclone towards the vampires and the lone wizard on his right, and soon they too were helplessly caught in the whirlwind. Then he forced the tornado to go forward to sweep up the remaining opposition, but those vampires were beating a hasty retreat.

"Get 'em!" Harry gasped, and Wolfe took off after them. "Help!" he called into his broadcaster.

"On the way," a female voice answered. Someone had taken over for the Pakistani wizard, meaning that he was on his way.

Moments later a tiger landed next to Harry and transformed into a man. "Lumos Solarum!"

The ten vampires inside the whirlwind howled in pain, as the light washed over them, but it wasn't enough, because the dust and debris gave them a modicum of protection against the light.

Occasionally, a vampire drifted to the edge of the vortex, causing his limbs to stick out of it, blackening at the touch of light. But at this rate it would take too long. "Can't hold out much longer!" Harry said in a strained voice. He blinked his eyes, trying to keep the sweat out of them.

Khan quickly filled his Curse Capsules with the sunlight spell. "You can drop the tornado… I'm ready for them."

Harry ceased his efforts and the tornado dissipated, causing the wizard to come crashing to the ground. The toasted vampires managed to land on their feet. The tornado had left them a bit dizzy, and it would take a while before they could orient themselves. Before they could do so however, they were faced with the burst of sunlight from Khan's capsules. They burst into flames and crashed to the ground, twitching for a minute before going still. Then they began to rapidly decompose.

Harry was on his knees, catching his breath as Khan's hand clapped him on the shoulder.

"Nice work, kid!"

Harry glanced around and saw the wizard already tied up and ready for transport. He wasn't looking very well, with cuts and bruises all over his face, caused by the debris that had battered him while he'd been tossed around in the cyclone. "Wolfe?"

"Here!" Wolfe appeared out of the bushes, levitating a large vampire behind him. "I spared the Alpha. He could know something."

"Good work, Wolfe."

Wolfe nodded. "You okay, kid?"

"Give me a minute."

"Take the Body Bind off that vampire," Khan ordered

Wolfe waved his wand, causing the vampire to briefly go limp. Then it began struggling in thin air, before realising the futility and stopping. "What do you want?" it asked.

"What do you want?" Khan replied. "We are willing to offer you safe haven and a supply of plasma, if you tell us everything you know. You will be collared and registered at your local Ministry, of course."

Harry knew that only five percent of all vampires managed to control their bloodlust enough to be valuable parts of the magical society. Unfortunately, the rest couldn't suppress their desire to hunt and wouldn't make due with pig's blood, so they had to be destroyed. This one was obviously one of the latter, which was why a collar was a necessity.

"I know nothing!"

Khan glanced at Wolfe, who was concentrating on the vampire, and proceeded to ask, "Why the ambush?"

"I know nothing," the vampire repeated.

Again Khan looked at Wolfe, who replied with a brief nod.

Khan pointed his wand at the vampire's heart and muttered a spell, shooting a stake through it and ending the vampire's existence. Then he looked at Wolfe. "Well?"

"We're on the right track. They've been delaying us to get Yamato out of here. They barely managed."

"Shouldn't we have kept him alive for further interrogation?" Harry frowned.

Wolfe shrugged. "This one didn't know anything we already didn't. And it wouldn't have co-operated anyway."

"So can we go back to Concordia now?" Harry asked eagerly, prompting a knowing smirk from Khan.

"Yes, others will be taking over for a while."

Harry grinned. He'd finally get to see Ginny again. The prospect made him shiver in anticipation, but he also felt a slight unease settle over him. What if Ginny had changed her mind about him? What if she'd met another man in his absence? He shook his head and scolded himself for those thoughts. Ginny loved him. She wouldn't do that, would she? These thoughts were silly, he'd only been away for three weeks!

He pondered this as they made their way back to the Cruiser. He couldn't talk to Ron about it because he was Ginny's brother and he didn't have an objective view on this. Harry glanced at Wolfe. Wolfe had had problems very similar to his own. Maybe he was the one to talk to. On the other hand, Wolfe didn't seem like the confidant type. "Uh, Wolfe? Do you have a minute?"

"What is it?"

"Well, it's about Ginny."

Wolfe's face darkened. "I'm sorry about putting her in danger. I know it isn't easy for you to be working with me," he said, not meeting Harry's gaze. "Frankly, I've been wondering when you'd bring that up."

Harry was momentarily confused before he realised what Wolfe meant. He'd never really confronted Wolfe about that, but he'd more or less forgiven him. And they'd been amicable enough over the past three weeks. Harry hadn't known that it still bothered Wolfe. "Oh, I wasn't talking about that. I just need some advice. You know, I haven't seen her in a while. What should I do?"

"Gee, kid. I think you ought to ask Caleb about this, or Valentina."

Harry frowned. He didn't know the older Rangers very well, and he wouldn't feel at ease asking them his question. "I don't think so."

"But why me?"

"Well, you and Galatea are a lot like Ginny and me in some ways."

Wolfe smiled. "So I've been told. Okay… shoot."

"It's simple really. Ginny's been sort of tense around me. I guess it's a bit my fault too. I just want to be absolutely sure of my feelings before I start anything with her."

Wolfe digested the information before he laughed out loud.

"What's so funny?" Harry frowned.

"What I'm about to say." Wolfe chuckled, stepping onto a circle that had come down out of the belly of the Cruiser. They stepped on and it carried them up into the cargo compartment. "It seems to me that you're just afraid of messing things up with Ginny. You glow and float when you kiss her, for crying out loud! How can you not be sure about your feelings for her? Follow your heart in this!" Wolfe chuckled again and shook his head. "I sound like Galatea and Hermione!"

"I don't float every time…" Harry muttered, blushing.

Valentina Malkova, a Fourth Class Intel field operative cleared her throat. "Potter, Wolfe!"

"Yes, Valentina?" Wolfe asked.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. You won't be going home any time soon."

Harry sat on top of a crate. "What?"

"Ranger Carey has found evidence of Tetsuo Yamato's activities in Japan. That conflicts with the information you've gathered here."

Wolfe shook his head. "The vampire…"

"Maybe the vampire believed what it was thinking. However, Anastasiou knows about your gift, and he probably knew that you'd be here, hence the ambush. Does it not fit in his character to plant false leads?"

Wolfe snarled and punched the hull of the Cruiser. "Why us?"

"Ranger Carey had been investigating something really important over there. Wolfe, I assume you've heard of Hitomi Ito?"

"Yeah, she's a Mind Reader too!"

"She disappeared two weeks ago, and there is some evidence that suggests that Yamato has something to do with it."

"Is Yamato doing this on his own, or is he working for Anastasiou?" Harry asked.

"Good question. We don't know. Anastasiou had to loosen his grip on some of his associates in the wake of our operation. He's licking his wounds, so to speak."

"All right, but why do we need to go to Japan?"

"Because Carey has been attacked by skilled assassins. He was seriously injured and barely got away. Luckily, he was wearing a Portkey that brought him straight to the Medical Wing in the Citadel."

"But is Gavin going to be okay?" Wolfe asked, surprising both Harry and Malkova with his show of concern.

"He is already up and about. You will rendezvous with him in Hokkaido. The Boreas will be your base of operations."

"Not that I'm complaining," Harry began. After all, that particular Cruiser had a luxury interior. "But why the Boreas? Isn't it reserved for the transport of dignitaries?"

"The Zephyrus is undergoing a major overhaul, and all the other Cruisers are booked. Besides, you might be working in Japan for a while," Malkova explained.

Harry groaned with frustration. Now he'd be apart from Ginny even longer. For the first time, he felt a few pangs of regret at having become a Ranger. "How long is a while?"

"Several months!"

Harry shook his head. Arguing wouldn't be of any use. "Who else will we be working with, besides Gavin?"

"Ranger Gravenstein will be doing backup monitoring duty from the Cruiser, but her main task is to be our diplomat to the ruling council of the Japanese wizarding society. Ranger Rosaria will be looking after your health, and Ranger Docmor will be the lead Intelligence Ranger. He will also function as caretaker of the ship until one of our artificers becomes available."

Harry knew that Doc was a backup Artificer Ranger and knew a great deal about magical devices and how to fix them. But he wondered why there wasn't a real Artificer Ranger available.

"Why are all the artificers tied up?" Wolfe asked, voicing Harry's question.

"Next to the overhaul of the Zephyrus, they are also working on a second project. But I haven't been told what it is." Malkova shrugged. "Any other questions?"

Harry and Wolfe shook their heads, and Malkova went back up to the bridge, leaving Harry and Wolfe with the stunned and restrained captive whom Khan had placed in a special cell.

"Why the both of us?" Harry asked, reclining in some netting that served as a hammock. It swayed slightly as the Cruiser lurched into motion. "That's overkill."

"Is it?" Wolfe asked with an enigmatic smirk of his face. "There is a reason why you're going. Think!"

Harry frowned. Why would they both be going? He couldn't think of a reason. Okay, so the mission was important and a Mind Reader had disappeared. That alone was a worrisome development. A Mind Reader… Wolfe was one! He could be a target as well.

"Very good." Wolfe nodded, handing Harry a biscuit from a box. "A treat."

Harry scowled but took the biscuit anyway because he was starving. "Why didn't you just tell me?"

"You wouldn't have learned anything that way."

"Yeah, but it's not fair. You read Malkova's mind."

"No, I didn't!" Wolfe frowned. "I don't read people's minds all the time. I just read yours to follow your train of thought to your conclusion."

Harry took a bite out of the biscuit. It tasted like the chocolate biscuits Mrs Weasley used to make. He closed his eyes, remembering how Ginny had fed him one of those biscuits in the summer between his fifth and sixth year at Hogwarts.

The Weasleys, his family. A sudden thought struck him and his eyes flew open. "Wolfe, what about your sister and Charlie? They'll be prime targets."

"Commander Ironheart will do anything to protect them. I'm sure he'll take the necessary steps."

Harry relaxed and closed his eyes again, Wolfe was probably right about that. They were safe in Concordia. "Hey, Wolfe?"

"Hmmm?" Wolfe too was lying in the netting, his eyes closed.

"How are you coping with being apart from Galatea?"

"I'm not. I'm going crazy."

Harry sighed. At least he wasn't alone in his misery.

*

They remained on site for another six hours, allowing Wortelgraaf and Doc to gather evidence under the watchful eyes Khan and Mordecai, while Harry and Wolfe were kept in reserve. Then, the Cruiser took them to the second largest island of the Japanese archipelago, where they would meet up with Gavin.

The Cruiser landed on a small plateau in the mountainous region, and Doc, Wolfe and Harry got out. The winters in Hokkaido were long and severe and even though it was early September, a chilly wind lashed across Harry's face.

Doc took out a flat device of about five by seven inches. It was the tracer that would lead them to the other Cruiser, which was hidden somewhere in the forested valley below. "Come on, boys!" They descended into the woods.

"How much do you know about the Japanese wizarding society?" Wolfe asked Harry, as they made their way through the trees.

Harry shrugged. He didn't know all that much. "Is there anything I should know?"

"I'd say so. Being the Boy-Who-Lived and a Ranger will only give you a bit of an advantage here. Their government is different from the British Ministry. There are five major wizarding clans that are considered nobility, and they are basically the ruling class."

"I thought nobility has been abolished in Japan, as a ruling class with power," Harry said.

"Only among the Muggles," Wolfe said. "Purebloods still call the shots here. Everyone in the ruling council is a pureblood."

"That's stupid."

"That's the way things work. Most senior positions in the government are held by purebloods. It's much like the Muggle Samurai era, actually."

"I don't know anything about the Muggle Samurai era," Harry replied.

"Maybe I should have Heidi explain to you how things work."

"So that's why she came along!"

"Yes."

"We're being followed," Doc interrupted.

Wolfe glanced around. "That can't be. I would have noticed." He looked at Doc "How do you know?"

"These big ears aren't just for decoration." The half-goblin said.

A giggly female voice suddenly addressed them seemingly coming from nowhere. Harry didn't understand Japanese, but apparently Wolfe understood.

A small smile appeared on his face. "Under an Invisibility Cloak, Yuriko-san?"

A disembodied head came into view some twenty feet to her right. It was grinning from ear to ear, and soon the rest of the cloak slid off to reveal a Japanese woman in black clothing. "You are not as sharp as you used to be, Wolfe-san."

"What are you doing here?" Wolfe asked. "Don't tell me Makioka-sama is so paranoid he has you looking for Rangers now."

"You have lost your sharpness!" The woman frowned. The playful light had disappeared from her almond shaped eyes. "My father is no longer in charge of the Emperor's spy net. Someone else is. I am here on my own business."

"And how did you find us?" Doc frowned, his hand was resting on his wand.

"That would be my fault," Wolfe said. "Master Lei had a special relationship with her father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Commander Ironheart is aware of that relationship. She knows this is a Ranger drop zone."

"Our location has been compromised?" Doc asked worriedly.

"No. I trust her!" Wolfe said, looking straight into the woman's eyes. Harry knew Wolfe had read her mind to be absolutely sure. "Something is brewing in the Japanese wizarding government."

Yuriko nodded. "I need your help."

"Is there any place we can talk?"

"What about your headquarters?" she asked.

"I can't take you there." Wolfe frowned.

The playful light in her eyes returned. "I had to try." She pulled a pin out of her hair. "This will take us to a secret home my family has kept for decades. No one knows about it. It is secure."

"We need to notify our contacts about our delay … Doc!"

"On it," the half-goblin replied. He went about setting up a connection to the Boreas.

"Wolfe-san, your companions will be welcome in my dwelling. However, I would be a terrible hostess if I did not inquire about their identity."

"Sorry about that." Wolfe nodded in Harry's direction. "Ranger Fifth Class, Harry Potter!"

The woman looked taken aback for a moment, before bowing deeply. "Potter-sama, an honour to meet you. I am Makioka Yuriko, of the Ninetails Clan."

Harry blushed. "Um, likewise." He wasn't sure how to address the woman. "Wolfe's trust and esteem is hard to earn. You seem to have both, and I am always honoured to meet such a person."

The woman blushed deeply, causing Harry to look at Wolfe for an explanation.

"Harry's unfamiliar with the usage of titles," Wolfe said.

"Ah," she smiled. "It would be most proper to address me by my family name, since I am not a close friend or relative. The proper title to address me with would therefore be Makioka-san."

Harry nodded, although he still had a few questions. Why did the woman add 'sama' instead of 'san' at the end of his name? "I understand, Makioka-san. But why did you call me 'sama,' instead of 'san'?"

"Because of who you are. She considers your social rank above her own. You are possibly the greatest wizard in the world, so that isn't really surprising. I'll explain it to you later, or perhaps, Yuriko?"

"It would be my delight," Yuriko answered. "I am aware of the difficulties foreign wizards often experience when dealing with our society." She looked at Doc, who had finished the transmission to the Cruiser. "And what of your other companion?"

"That's Docmor the Diligent," Wolfe said.

Yuriko looked even more surprised than she did when she was introduced to Harry. "That is a goblin name."

"My father is a goblin," Doc said evenly. "My mother is a witch. I am the first half-goblin in known history."

Yuriko blinked. Then she remembered to bow.

"Charmed," Doc replied.

Yuriko held out the hairpin. "Hold this pin, please."

Doc, Wolfe and Harry all touched it. Yuriko muttered a few words, and again Harry experienced the nauseating feeling caused by Portkey travel. He soon found himself in what he recognised as a Japanese house, like the ones he'd seen on television, whenever the Dursleys had allowed him to watch television. He saw cushions around a low table on a wooden floor, and all the interior walls were made of paper. Harry knew that many Japanese Muggles lived in modern houses, though there were still a few who lived in houses like this one.

"Remove your shoes and be seated. Please, excuse me for a moment. I will be right back!" Yuriko said, and skipped into another room.

Wolfe took off his boots, and Harry and Doc followed his lead. Then Wolfe gestured Harry and Doc to be seated.

Harry wanted to sit at a certain spot, but Wolfe shook his head. "The hostess sits there. Take any other spot."

So Harry did. From where he was sitting, he had an excellent view of what was happened in the adjacent room. Yuriko had lighted several lamps, and her shadow was being cast against the rice-paper walls. The shadow left very little to the imagination. Harry's mouth fell open as he regarded the womanly curves that had been obscured by her previous outfit. She pulled an additional pin out of her hair and it all fell loose, nearly reaching the floor. Mayumi also had hair that long.

A hand whacked him across the back of the head, snapping him out of it.

Harry glared at Wolfe, but Wolfe shook his head. "Don't stare," he whispered. "Once the door is closed, you pretend not to see or hear the events transpiring behind it. You simply ignore it."

Harry fixed his eyes on the table instead. He was beginning to see what Wolfe had meant about having to learn all the customs. "Sorry!"

"It's okay. Master Lei slapped me across the head lots of times."

"You know, that explains quite a bit." Harry grinned.

Doc sniggered.

A few minutes later, Yuriko appeared in a kimono of shimmering red and orange silk. It had some interesting patterns on it, some of which were moving. It was a wizard's kimono!

Harry was pleasantly surprised by her appearance. In her black clothing, she had looked bland and unremarkable, like the most average of average of women. Now she looked quite pleasing to the eye. He guessed it had to be a trick of her trade, having many faces…

Yuriko bowed and twirled around. She explained about her outer kimono, the uchikake. It bore the Clan colours, and moving patterns that were representations of the Ninetails Clan symbols, which were a bit -but not quite- like the family shield in western heraldry.

Then she guided them through a short and informal tea ceremony, and discussed the workings of the Japanese wizarding society. Among the things she explained was that sincerity was valued, but that it was not the same as honesty. Most Japanese wizards were more concerned about what people wanted to hear than telling the truth. Telling the absolute truth might bring embarrassment to all parties involved, and was therefore dishonourable.

Apparently, among the Japanese wizarding nobility, it was all about appearance. Fudge would have fit right in!

"I'm sorry to have to bring this up," Wolfe said. "But one of our own was attacked by assassins not so long ago. Do you know anything about this?"

Yuriko took a sip from her tea. "You believe Yamato is behind it?" Harry noticed the complete absence of a title. He assumed it meant that Yamato was a very hated individual.

"Isn't he?" Wolfe frowned.

"The way I understood it, the Ranger was attacked because he endangered the interests of the Imperial family," Yuriko said simply.

Harry was surprised to see Wolfe's mask of composure break. "I don't mean to offend you, but are you sure?"

"I understand the implications and your concern, so I do not take any offence."

"Wolfe, what does this mean? Have we come to Japan for nothing?" Harry asked worriedly. He'd seldom seen Wolfe react this way.

"I apologise for our leaving," Wolfe said, quickly getting up. "But we have to go, now!"

Doc and Harry followed Wolfe's lead again.

"May we have a Portkey that will take us back to the departure point?"

Yuriko nodded and went to get such a Portkey while the Rangers pulled on their boots and donned their cloaks. She returned with the hairpin and told Wolfe the word that would trigger the return trip. Soon, the Rangers were in the forest once more.

"We should be on the Cruiser's scopes right now. Someone will Portkey here to take us to the Cruiser," Doc said.

"Wolfe?" Harry asked. "Why would Gavin's investigation endanger the Imperial family's interests?"

"I don't know. But if the Emperor is dabbling in issues he doesn't want the Order to know about, we're in trouble."

"Did Yuriko know which Imperial interests?"

"She didn't know. She deduced it from a number of factors, and that's why she couldn't be more specific. It may have something to do with Yamato, and it may not. However, if it does, we're facing off against the leading wizarding family in Japan."

Harry understood. If they were up against a legitimate power, things could get really ugly.

*

Ginny yawned and stretched out on her bed. Her legs bumped a grumpy-looking Crookshanks, who yowled discontentedly.

"Well, why aren't you sleeping on Heidi's bed, with your girlfriend?" Ginny scolded him, but smiling at thought of the fit Heidi would throw if she saw Crookshanks' ginger hairs all over her silk sheets.

Crookshanks had officially moved with Hermione, but he still often travelled up to the sixth tier of the city to be with Heidi's cat. Even though she'd been sterilised after bearing an unexpected litter fathered by Crookshanks, he was still very fond of her. Ginny hadn't known that cats could get emotionally attached to each other. Maybe it was different with wizarding cats.

Ginny rolled herself to the edge of her bed and swung her legs off the edge, sticking her feet in a pair of fluffy pink slippers. She hated the colour and the fluffiness, but they were nice and warm. She threw on her canary yellow dressing gown, which clashed horribly with her slippers and shuffled out of her room, formerly Hermione's. The door to Galatea's room was open, and she heard strange noises coming out of it. She poked her head inside and identified the sounds as someone violently throwing up. "Galatea…are you okay?"

"Non!" Galatea moaned.

Ginny knew something was terribly wrong. The common language at the school Galatea had attended had been English, and her English was much better than Fleur's. But the fact that she'd responded in her own language meant that something was very wrong indeed. Ginny hurried into Galatea room and through a side-door into the bathroom.

Galatea was on her knees, in front of the toilet, shivering. Her eyes were puffy and her normally pale face, even paler right now, looked tearstained. She wiped her sweaty face with the sleeve of her dressing gown.

"Good Lord, Tea, what's wrong?" She helped Galatea up and led her to her bed. "Binks!" she yelled.

Seconds later a house-elf zapped into her room. "Yes, Mistress Ginny?"

"Don't call me that…and please get me a bucket."

The house-elf disappeared for an instance and reappeared, clutching a bucket.

"Thank you." Ginny took the bucket and handed it to Galatea.

Binks stood by, wringing his hands nervously and casting concerned glances at Galatea. Ginny gave him a small nod, signalling that he was excused. He bowed and retreated from the room, unobtrusive, like house-elves were supposed to be.

All of the sudden, Galatea burst out into tears. "He'll hate me… He'll think I want to trap him… He won't want anything to do with me again…"

Ginny sat down next to Galatea and put her arm over her shoulder. "Calm down, what are you babbling about?"

Galatea took a couple of deep breaths and slowly calmed down. "I-I'm pregnant!"

"And it wasn't the plan." Ginny understood. "How did it happen?"

"I used the Birth-control Charm." Galatea began.

"That isn't nearly as reliable as the potion," Ginny said. She knew for a fact that the Weasley legions had completely ignored the charm. Ginny knew that Ron was a bit bothered that he and she were living proof of that, even though her mum had always reassured them that she'd never regretted having them. It had never bothered Ginny that much, because her life had turned out pretty well after all.

"I know it is not as reliable as potion, but my aunt had trouble conceiving. Many part-Veela have this problem, even though my mother did not. But I avoided using the potion for this reason."

Ginny understood. The Birth-Control Potion was so heavy-duty that one out of fifty witches using it became permanently sterile. If difficult conception was indeed a problem that some part-Veela had, it had been a good idea of Galatea's not to use the Potion. In fact, many witches only used it after they'd decided not to have any more children. "But what happened? Did you forget to reinforce the charm?"

"After my fight with Max, over what he did to you, I stopped performing the charm. But I forgot to reapply it when we got back together again. But he'll think I'm trying to trap him with a baby!" Galatea wailed.

"Keep it down, some people are trying to sleep," Gudrun grumbled as she entered Galatea's room, rubbing her eyes. Her annoyed expression changed when she saw Galatea's tearful face. "Problem?"

"I'm pregnant."

"Ouch … Unplanned, I presume?"

Galatea nodded.

"How far along?"

"I think I conceived three weeks ago."

"So five weeks counting from your last menstrual period. Why didn't you tell us!" Ginny asked.

"I don't want to burden you with my problem," Galatea replied. "I'll deal with it by myself."

"No you won't!" Ginny burst out. "Are you crazy? You're taking care of Heidi's cat in while she's gone, aren't you?"

"Yes!"

"Not anymore, you're not. You can't clean out the litter box anymore. Don't you know that feline faeces have a parasite that could make its way into your womb and seriously threaten your pregnancy? No, I'll be doing that."

"But Annabelle only trusts me." Galatea pointed out.

"I don't think she cares who cleans out her litter box. Now it's been three weeks, right? So it's about time for your first check-up. Have you found a caregiver yet?"

"I have a better question. Will Wolfe want to keep the baby?" Gudrun said, causing Galatea to start crying again and earning her a glare from Ginny. Gudrun grimaced as she realised her mistake. "I'm sorry. Of course he'll want the baby. Besides, I think abortion is illegal in Concordia, unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother."

"That won't be a problem!" Galatea said with determination. "I'm keeping this baby no matter what, and if he doesn't want it, I'll-I'll…" Her lips started quivering again. "What am I going to do?"

Gudrun beckoned Ginny to follow her out of the room, and Ginny gave Galatea's shoulder a little squeeze before following Gudrun out.

"What?" Ginny whispered, after they'd taken enough distance from Galatea's room.

"We have to figure out what to do with Galatea. She'll drive us nuts with her mood swings. I hear it's much worse with part-Veela."

"Come on, she's our friend…" Ginny paused. There was something odd about the look on Gudrun's face. "What's your problem? Don't you consider her your friend?"

Gudrun was suddenly very interested in her slippers. "Aw, she's nice enough… Too damn nice, too damn perfect and sometimes I hate her guts for that, and I had my sights set on Wolfe before she came along and claimed all his attention, and being an empath she knows it!" Gudrun hissed. Then her face brightened. "Wow, I needed to say that. Sure, I'll help out."

Ginny blinked. "You're jealous of Galatea?" They could hear Galatea making coughing noises as she hurled into the bucket.

"Not right now!" Gudrun grinned.

"Oh, you're no help at all. I guess I'll ask Hermione. She'll know what to do."

*

Hermione removed the goggles from her head. "I've magnified the image of the embryo. Do you want to see it?" she asked Galatea.

Galatea smiled and took the goggles, placing it over her own head. She started at the image for a while and her lips began to tremble again.

Gudrun rolled back her eyes and shook her head. Ginny just gave Hermione a goofy smile and removed the goggles from Galatea's face. Tears dripped out of the goggles, and Ginny wiped them clean with a tissue.

"How am I going to tell Max?" Galatea sniffed.

While Hermione pondered this, Gudrun spoke. "Simple. You just tell him, 'Max, I'm having a baby and you'd better be happy about it, or I'll have Ginny Weasley make sure that you never reproduce again!' "

To Hermione's surprise, Galatea chuckled at this. Talk about mood-swings. "Seriously, though. We need to find a way to break the news to him carefully."

Gudrun checked her chrono and looked at Ginny. "Come on, my young apprentice. We're running late!"

Ginny looked at her own magical chrono. "Hermione, we have to go. I'll be done at eight tonight. Shall we talk then?"

"No, I'll be helping out in Command and Control. Double duty, but I'll be done at ten. Can you come down to the house then?"

Ginny nodded and then followed Gudrun to the maintenance bay.

"Okay, Galatea. What would be the best way to tell Max this?"

"Tell Max about what?" Commander Ironheart asked as he walked into the room. "If it's none of my business I won't pry…Oh dear!"

Hermione couldn't help but scowl at the Commander. "Honestly, Mind Readers!"

"I couldn't help it. She's practically broadcasting," Ironheart said defensively. "As for telling Max, that may have to wait."

"But he deserves to know!" Hermione argued.

"I agree, but he needs to concentrate on his work right now. Something is up in Japan, and I'd appreciate it if you could save Max the additional distraction for another month."

"Another month? Will he be away that long?" Galatea's eyes began to tear up again. Hermione was awed by the extreme mood swings. But she'd read that part-Veela women had more intense mood swings than ordinary witches.

"I'm afraid he may be away for up to three months," Ironheart said.

"Three months?" Galatea shrieked. "Noooo!" she wailed, reminding Hermione of Moaning Myrtle.

Ironheart sighed. "I can't forbid you to tell him. I just said I'd appreciate it if you didn't." He took Galatea's hand. "Congratulations. I'm sure Max will be thrilled once the shock wears off."

"You think so?"

"I know so. He's even talked to me about having children with you."

"He did?" Galatea smiled and began to sob again. But this time it was because of relief, Hermione was sure.

Hermione went to get Galatea some water while leaving Ironheart to reassure Galatea. She returned with a glass and handed it to Galatea. "Drink this, and be sure to drink a lot of water from now on. Otherwise all the vomiting will leave you dehydrated."

"I'll let Vassily know not to expect you at Combat Training for a while, you can't do that in your condition. And I'll tell Irina to put together a new duty roster for the Medical Rangers. You can no longer go on missions."

"Thank you!" Galatea said gratefully.

"Now, Ranger Hermione, I believe it is time for my physical?" Ironheart said.

"Yes, it is!" Hermione said. "Will you be okay?" she asked Galatea. "Can you make it home?"

"I'm pregnant, not lame!" Galatea answered.

"All right. I'll check up on you when I'm done with my shift."

***

A/N: Thus ends this chapter. I'll try and make future chapters more interesting. Please remember that my ego likes lovely reviews, oh noble readers, which inspire me and consequently speed up my writing. (I am not blackmailing for reviews, Condor5, just stating a fact :-)

Oh, and if you thought Existence after Life was intense…