November 5, 2020
Due to some issue with this website, Chapter 142 is not displaying. I have reported this but have not heard back. The next chapter is available on the ff.n app and on ao3. Please do not try to contact me to let me know, as 60+ reviews and dm's on the subject is getting old. I will remove this note when the problem has been resolved.
My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Basically, it's American Harry Potter. Except there's no school, no wands, and if you use magic improperly, it can drive you insane and possibly destroy the world. No pressure or anything.
UPDATE: Work on the sequel—Strangers In Dallas—proceeds apace. Chapters will be uploaded to my website and available for preview to patrons. Thanks for your support.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.
and the Resurrection Game
Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Chapter 3: Speaking of Harry Black
29 July 1994
4 Privet Drive
Lily frowned menacingly at the misshapen eggs in the skillet in front of her. Her breakfast of choice was Eggs Benedict with a side of bacon, but she no longer had the benefit of a house elf, and even before her marriage, cooking had never been her strong suit. Her own mother, the late Rose Evans, had been a rather good cook, but neither Lily nor Petunia had ever been interested in learning the skill. Hence the skillet full of rubbery scrambled eggs and burnt bacon. With a sigh, she transferred the food to three plates which she levitated over to the table with a flick of her wand.
James was already at the table, where he was reading that morning's Daily Prophet. He'd offered to help with the cooking, but Lily wanted to get the hang of it herself before teaching the Pureblood (who would be cooking for himself once school resumed) how to use the stove. He had mastered the electric toaster already (which he'd pronounced the most wonderful thing in the world), but Lily figured he'd need to be able to prepare more than toast by the end of August.
In response to her call, Jim came down the stairs in Gryffindor-themed pajama bottoms and a black t-shirt. She'd taken him clothes shopping a few weeks earlier, and Lily had been surprised that her normally outgoing son had taken to wearing lots of black. He also looked like he was still half-asleep, but none of the Potters had slept well in recent nights. With a loud yawn, the boy sat down at the small table and poured himself a glass of orange juice. He preferred pumpkin juice, but that simply wasn't available in the Muggle world. When he'd first asked a Muggle shop girl, she'd laughed at the idea that it was even possible to juice a pumpkin. And to be honest, Jim didn't know how pumpkin juice was made either. As he took a sip of orange juice, he opened the sports section of the Daily Prophet … and immediately almost choked on the liquid.
"What's the matter?" James asked in concern. Jim coughed for a few seconds to clear his throat.
"Have either of you read this?!" he exclaimed.
"I picked it up just before you came down," James replied,
"I read the news before I started breakfast," Lily added. "It seems Elias Hucksteen has just been elected Governor-General of the American Wizarding Confederation. He seems rather disagreeable, but he can't be any worse than the people running our government."
"I don't mean that!" Jim snapped. "I'm talking about the sports section!"
He slapped the paper down on the table and turned it so his parents could see the headline.
NOVICE DUELIST HARRY BLACK DOMINATES PARIS TOURNAMENT!
Below the headline, there was a moving picture of Harry's incredible come-from-behind victory over Albert Yaxley.
"Harry beat Yaxley's kid?" James said with an odd sort of pride. "Good for him!"
Jim was less pleased.
"Yeah, he beat Yaxley and won the tournament, along with a 100 Galleon prize! And he used a Wu Xi Do move to do it!"
"Really?" Lily asked. "How can you tell?"
"Pfft! Look at the picture! He's been practicing the Tide Flows and Recedes technique! I've been doing that for a year already!"
"Jim, calm down," James said. "Why are you so upset?"
"Aside from the fact that Wu Xi Do is my thing and Harry's using it to win tournaments, there's also the 100 Galleon purse! I'm sure I could have beaten him if I'd been there, and we need 100 Galleons a lot more than he does!"
"Now Jim," Lily said. "You have enough to work on this summer without gallivanting off to France for something as silly as a dueling tournament. And you shouldn't be the one to worry about money. We'll be fine. We just need to … tighten our belts a bit."
The boy fumed silently for a moment while his parents looked at one another, concerned at his outburst. Neither of them knew whether his response was genuine jealousy over his former brother's success or the remnants of the Imperius which James had cast on him months before. They'd discussed trying to remove it, but Lily had never used the curse before in any capacity, and James was so inexperienced at it that he feared accidentally damaging his son's mind even more. And obviously, asking someone else to repair James's use of an Unforgiveable was out of the question.
After a few minutes of sullen silence, Jim finally spoke.
"Can I borrow Godric for a week or so, Dad? I'd like to owl a letter."
James crooked an eyebrow. "A letter? That will take a week? How far are you sending our poor owl."
"Um, basically halfway around the world. I just wanted to ask Remus Lupin when he's coming back to Britain."
James nodded and gave his son permission to send Godric off on a journey that might take a week or more, even for a post owl. The boy nodded and returned to his rubbery eggs. He did not mention that he had another reason for wanting to reach out to his mentor.
A raven-themed reason.
Meanwhile at Hogwarts …
"I see that congratulations are in order, Severus," Minerva McGonagall said cheerfully to her colleague as she sat down for breakfast. He looked quizzically in her direction.
"Really? And what for, dare I ask?"
"I believe Minerva is referring to the remarkable performance of one of your Slytherins, my boy," said Dumbledore, who sat between the two. He passed over the Daily Prophet sports section with its headline about Harry Black's extraordinary performance.
Snape scanned the article with mixed feelings. On one hand, he was justifiably proud of the success of a boy he'd considered a protégé. But on the other, he worried about the fact that the victory came at the expense of Corban Yaxley's son. He did not know the elder Yaxley even though they had both been Death Eaters back in the day. Indeed, he had not known that Yaxley (who was several years ahead of him during their school days) was a Death Eater until his exposure after the Dark Lord's fall. But he did know that House Yaxley was a cadet house to House Selwyn, and he was concerned that Harry was making some formidable enemies at a young age. Privately, he wished the boy would consider keeping a lower profile, as Snape himself had endeavored to do.
And then, as if reading Snape's mind, Dumbledore spoke again.
"Oh, and on an unrelated note, I have something for you."
With that, he produced a faded envelope which he handed over. Snape recognized the handwriting at once.
"The letter I spoke of many months ago that Damocles Belby left for you," Dumbledore said quietly. "I've reminded you twice of its existence, but you never came by my office to pick it up. So I thought I'd finally hand-deliver it."
Snape nodded as he took the missive, even as his own thoughts about "keeping a low profile" echoed in his head. When he left Belby's tutelage as one of the youngest Potions Masters in centuries, Snape had been on the cusp of international fame, at least within the Potioneers' community. Had he stayed on the continent and made use of the connections that Belby's reputation offered, he could have written his own ticket and become successful (and probably quite wealthy) on his own terms. Instead, he allowed himself to be seduced by the prospect of obtaining the Prince Lordship into supporting Voldemort, thus dooming himself with his own greed and hubris.
Luckily, at that moment, Flitwick spoke up from further down the table with some additional insights about Harry's proficiency as a duelist, and Snape quietly put the letter away in his pocket for later. Albus noticed but decided not to raise the issue again.
Meanwhile at the Burrow …
When Harry announced that he, Neville, Theo, and Justin would be jetting off to France for a "boys-only holiday," the girls who'd been taking Summer lessons with his study group decided that it was only fair for them to have a "girls sleepover" of their own. Molly Weasley was delighted when she heard the girls discussing the matter and volunteered the Burrow, as there would be no "responsible adults" at Potter Manor. Sirius, who'd overheard the comment, started to object but then sheepishly admitted that she was probably right.
On June 27, the girls in question—Hermione, Amy, and Sue Li—flooed to the Burrow where they were joined by Ginny and Luna Lovegood (who lived nearby). Space at the Burrow was at a premium, but Arthur had already borrowed a tent from his assistant, Perkins, which he'd erected the night before in the back yard. Enchanted with an Undetectable Expansion Charm, the tent had several rooms and was more than spacious enough for five witches.
Sue had agreed to provide the music in the form of a battery-powered CD player, complete with a mixtape from her sizeable collection of Muggle artists. The player, remarkably, worked perfectly fine so long as it was outdoors and far enough away from both the Weasley house and the magical tent. To Hermione's delight, Sue's father had modified a pair of communication mirrors so that one would totally absorb all the sound produced by the player and then transmit it to the other mirror inside the tent in a good approximation of Dolby sound, and Hermione peppered the Ravenclaw with questions about the spellwork involved.
As for the playlist, while Sue had a passionate love for industrial and goth-punk (she also insisted that The Cure's Disintegration was the greatest work in the history of Muggle music), for a girls-only sleepover, she decided to go with a "girl power" theme and so had burned a CD full of contemporary female Muggle singers like Madonna, Whitney Houston, Tori Amos, Lauren Hill, and Cher. The Pureblood girls were alternately enthralled and scandalized by the lyrics, but they all loved the singing. Privately, Ginny was simply glad that her mother couldn't hear the music inside the tent, or she was sure the words "scarlet woman" would be used. Then again, she might use the same phrase anyway if she could hear how she and the other girls discussed the classmates they found "fanciable."
The other girls also took the opportunity to get to know the Ravenclaw a bit better. Sue Li was both a Halfblood and mixed-race: Chinese and British. Her father was Gordon Li, though Sue was certain he'd changed his name from something traditionally Chinese when his family moved to Great Britain. Sue's grandmother was a Pureblood Chinese witch, while her grandfather was a squib who nevertheless had received a magical education at Shamballa. He had told Sue tales of the famous wizarding city when she was a small child, but she'd never been there herself. Sue's mother was born Erica McMillan, a cousin from the poor relations of the Noble House of McMillan, which Sue's family proudly had nothing to do with (that was why the Ultimate Sanction never affected her). Gordon and Erica had been sorted into Ravenclaw together and married soon after graduation.
The next morning, the girls crowded around the magically expanded kitchen table for breakfast. They were joined by Arthur, Ron, and the Twins (both of whom had been threatened by Ginny with a horrific revenge if they did anything to disrupt the sleepover). While Arthur and Molly chatted amiably with the young witches—and Arthur peppered Hermione and Sue Li with questions about Muggle life to Ginny's embarrassment—the three boys were focused on the Daily Prophet instead.
"Bloody hell!" Fred exclaimed.
"What is it, son?" Arthur asked even as Molly lectured the boy on his language. In response, Fred simply held up the front page of the sports section to show the headline and the animated picture of Harry's finishing move.
"Our ickle snakey friend just won his first dueling contest," Fred added. "And in impressive fashion, it seems."
Ron leaned over and looked closer at the moving picture.
"Huh," he said approvingly. "Tide Flows And Recedes Technique. Form needs work, though." Then, the boy returned to his eggs and sausage without any further interest.
The girls, on the other hand, were very interested, and all five of them crowded around to read the article. Discomfited, Fred handed the paper off to Hermione and then struggled to get through the gaggle of witches to move to another chair on the other side of his twin. While the girls giggled in excitement, he leaned in towards George.
"Does Harry Black have a harem now or something?" he whispered. George just shrugged.
"I dunno, Brother Mine. If he does, are you offended or just jealous?"
A brief discourse on Le Quartier Magique
and the History of Magical France
Le Quartier Magique was one of the Wizarding World's largest magical communities to be concealed inside a Muggle city. While not nearly as large or as populated as Shamballa, it was five times the size of Diagon Alley and its adjacent magical alleys. Between the Magic Quarter and the various magically concealed side-streets located elsewhere in the city, Paris was home to about 9,000 wizards (almost a third of France's wizarding population) and about as many magically aware squibs. Largely, this was because French magicals, while respectful of the Statute of Secrecy, historically remained closer to the Muggle world than most magical nations. Sometimes, this was to their detriment. Gellert Grindelwald, for example, was known to despise Magical France precisely because he thought it "a nation of blood traitors," and he tried on two separate occasions to utterly destroy Paris for it.
Much of France's relaxed attitude towards Muggles could be traced back to the French Revolution. The Statute of Secrecy was still new, and French Muggleborns and Halfbloods who maintained connections with their Muggle kin were often swept up in their revolutionary fervor. Meanwhile, the more reactionary Pureblood wizards who still supported both the Ancien Régime and entrenched bigotry against those of "impure blood" fled France rather than risk the guillotine. For example, almost the entirety of the House of Lestrange left for Britain, and no one in France seemed to miss them. In time, the Muggle Revolution faltered, leading to the Reign of Terror, the rise of Napoleon, and, eventually, restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. But by that point, the notions of liberté, égalité, et fraternité had taken hold among French magicals, as had the lessons of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. In 1804, the newly created Assemblée Magique ratified the French Declaration of Wizarding Rights. Decades later, the ICW would incorporate many (but not all) of its principles into its own charter.
Among the principles of the Declaration (one of the principles that was not adopted by the ICW) was that magic belonged to all of les gens magiques. Consequently, it was declared illegal in France for any individual wizard or family of wizards to maintain exclusive ownership of any ley line convergences, all of which were declared the property of the Assemblée to be used for the benefit of all French wizards and witches. And so it was that most of the ancient wizarding manses, some of which had stood for a thousand years or more, were torn down, and the ley lines which fed them were altered by geomancy according to the Assemblée's dictates. Others were left untouched but converted to other purposes. Beauxbatons, for example, was originally the opulent ancestral home of the wizarding branch of the House of Montmerancy, but by 1810, the notorious Montmerancys were all dead or in exile, and L'Academie Magique was relocated from its previous home in the Pyrenees to the former Montmerancy estate.
But the most impressive achievement of the Assemblée Magique was the divergence of no fewer than six ley lines so that they intersected at La Rue Fantastique, which was then just a hidden magical side-street comparable to Diagon Alley. Fueled by the raw magic of the ley lines that had been harnessed by powerful Arithmancy and complex runic arrays, the side-street was expanded into a town hidden within a city. Le Quartier Magique covered an area of nearly ten square miles contained within a space that represented less than 1000 square feet on a Muggle map. But while it was certainly possible for a wizard or witch to live their whole lives inside the confines of the Magic Quarter, most of the inhabitants were far more cosmopolitan than that, and Parisian magicals generally took pride in the fact that the Quarter was but one neighborhood within the City of Lights, one of the great cultural centers of the Muggle world. And while the Quarter prided itself on its fabulous hotels, museums, and restaurants, most Parisian magicals were happy to also take advantage of the amenities and entertainments available in Muggle France.
All of which goes to explain why there was a small kiosk across the street from L'Hotel St. Germain where one could purchase, among other things, tickets to Euro Disneyland Paris.
Le Quartier Magique
10:00 a.m. (local time)
As Malcolm Finch-Fletchley finished his purchases at the Euro Disney kiosk, he was surprised to see Harry Black sitting alone at a table in a nearby outside café. In front of Harry sat a butterbeer and a croque monsieur, neither of which had been touched. The boy was looking in his direction and clearly hoped Malcolm would join him. Intrigued, the Muggle elected to do so.
"Mr. Black," he said while taking his seat. "Might I ask what has you out here all alone?"
"The others are inside watching the Open Class prelims." Harry hesitated. "I … was hoping to talk to you alone, Sir Malcolm. About some financial questions. And … other things."
Malcolm ordered a cup of coffee and a croissant before answering. "Well, I'm not meeting Justin and Barbara for a while yet. Until then, I'd be happy to answer your questions about finance. And other things, I suppose."
The Slytherin finally took a sip of butterbeer while composing his thoughts.
"To begin with, I know from Lord Malfoy that he has … is diversified the right word?" The Muggle nodded. "Right. He's diversified his assets so that he has substantial holdings in the Muggle world. And I know from Justin that your family plans to use House Prince as a way to invest your Muggle wealth within the Wizarding world. I was wondering if you could … I don't know, explain to me how all that works. I've suddenly become a very wealthy wizard but, as far as I've been told, there's not much to do with that wealth except just stick it in Gringotts Bank and let it collect dust."
"Good for you. I commend you for your interest in spreading your wealth beyond the magical community. Because frankly, Wizarding Britain is shockingly backwards in monetary matters, often in ways that defy my comprehension."
The Muggle considered the question as the waiter returned.
"Okay, let's start with Gringotts Bank. First of all, it's not a bank, at least not in the traditional sense. It offers very few of the services a Muggle bank would provide but also provides a wide variety of services that a Muggle bank would not offer and, in many countries, legally could not offer. You can store currency and other things there for a small fee, which is sort of like a safe deposit box, but really is more of a glorified storage unit. Money you deposit with Gringotts does not draw interest. Gringotts does not offer traditional mortgages nor indeed any other form of secured loan. They do offer very short-term unsecured loans at usurious interest rates with legally sanctioned violence as the penalty for default. And as the Goblin Treaties allow all that, they are effectively government-sanctioned loan sharks."
Malcolm paused to take a sip of coffee.
"Likewise, there are no Muggle banks that have the authority to enforce contracts on behalf of one party or another when they're not even a signatory. Muggle banks do not maintain staffs of cursebreakers who are sent around the world to locate and loot tombs, claiming any relics inside on behalf of the bank. And most of all, Muggle banks do not verify one's lineage, they aren't responsible for resolving inheritance disputes, they don't execute wills as a matter of course, and they certainly don't certify in a legally binding manner that individuals are entitled—regardless of age—to claim seats on the nation's ruling legislative body! In the Muggle world, inheritance matters are handled through the judiciary, but Wizarding Britain has, for reasons that elude me, simply … delegated all those vital responsibilities to the Goblins … while also maintaining a continually hostile and bigoted relationship with them. It's really quite baffling."
Harry nodded slowly as he absorbed all that. All this time, he had taken the concept of "Gringotts Bank" for granted, but now he wondered exactly what Gringotts was and why the wizards put up with it.
"So how are you handling Justin's money?"
"The Prince money we're leaving in place for the moment. We've discussed with Severus the possibility of investing in a new apothecary in Hogsmeade and hiring some of his former students who have been unable to secure work as potioneers with existing firms due to … blood status." Malcolm's voice dripped with condescension on those last two words.
"We've also quietly opened a small vault—in Barbara's name since Justin's somewhat unique status elevates her to being considered a squib—and had about 10,000 pounds converted into Galleons to store. Mainly so that we can try to figure out how the hell the exchange rate works. That's another thing. Unlike Gringotts, Muggle banks do not have a monopoly on the printing of currency, nor are they responsible for setting the rate of exchange with other currencies. And then, there's this."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a single galleon and then a gold money clip from which he removed a wad of cash. He handed them both over to Harry, who noticed that the money clip bore the crest of the Dukedom of Forgill.
"Which of those is heavier?" the Muggle asked.
Harry hefted one item in each hand. "The money clip by a little bit, I think. But they're pretty close to the same."
"I concur. Now what interests me is this: I am assured by the Goblins that the Galleon is pure gold, whatever that means in magical terms, while the money clip is 24K gold, which is as pure as Muggles can make it. And yet, the Galleon is worth about £5 sterling, while the money clip retails at £750 and, if melted down, would still be worth about £400 as just a lump of gold. In theory, one could simply convert £5 into one Galleon, melt the Galleon down into gold, and then sell it for about £400. Multiply that by, say £10,000 converted to Galleons, and you could make millions through currency manipulation."
"So why has no one ever done that?" Harry asked, amazed at the implications of this.
"Well for one thing, Galleons can't be melted down. I know, I've tried. And with a blowtorch, no less. All it got me was a hot Galleon and an angry owl from Gringotts advising me that attempts to manipulate the integrity of Gringotts-issued currency would invoke 'severe penalties.' Understandably, I won't be trying that again until I find out more about how wizarding economics work."
He chuckled. "Which is why I put up with Lucius Malfoy's eccentricities. In the meantime, we're focusing on looking for investment opportunities, though we're taking it slow as we don't want to step on any Ancient and Noble toes, as it were."
Harry thought for a moment. "Sir Malcolm. Are you aware of the fact that the Wizarding World has no commercially available magic that functions as video-recording technology? That is, of a sort that's comparable to TV cameras?"
Malcolm snorted. "I am aware that they have the Wizarding Wireless—so-called because it doesn't actually have any wires in it at all. And that the most common form of entertainment consists of sitting around said Wizarding Wireless while listening to news reports, insipid radio soap operas, and appallingly bad music."
The discussion suddenly gave Malcolm a flashback to the first time he had heard Celestina Warbeck singing "A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love," which he'd first assumed was a deliberate parody of Shirley Bassey since the tune was obviously cribbed from "A Foggy Day In London Town." He shuddered at the memory.
"As far as visual recording goes, I know that omnioculars sell for 30 Galleons, don't have sound, can't hold more than two hours of video footage, and can't store that for more than a week. Have I forgotten anything."
"Speaking hypothetically," Harry said casually, "if someone invented a kind of magical video camera capable of floating under its own power, moving at the user's direction, and recording up to twelve hours of both video and sound that can then be transferred to a storage medium, would that sound like something you'd be interested in investing in?"
Malcolm studied the boy carefully while rubbing his chin. "Hypothetically? Yes, I very much would be interested. Do you have a hypothetical prototype?"
"Hypothetically, yeah. We're hoping to have several ready by the Quidditch World Cup so that we can record the matches and perhaps resell them. Of course, I have no idea about the legality of recording the Cup without permission, so we're taking it slow."
Malcolm chuckled. "From what I've seen, wizarding intellectual property rights are absurd, but if you don't object, I'll consult with Lucius about it."
"No objections from me. If we're going to have this ready to go by the time the Cup starts, we'll probably need all the help we can get."
"Understood, I hope I speak for Justin when I say I look forward to working with you."
Harry's eyes widened slightly at that, and he hesitated before responding. Malcolm noticed.
"Perhaps," the Muggle said gently, "this might be a good time to segue into those other things."
Harry nodded and took a deep breath. "Forgive me for being so direct, Sir Malcolm, but … what do you think of me? As a person, I mean?"
Malcolm nodded and chose his words carefully. "I must admit … when we first met, I didn't much care for you. In fact, I disliked you rather intensely. So much so that we forbade Justin to participate in your summer lessons program and only allowed him to come visit the Zabinis if we could come along. But then, when I met you at the airport, I felt none of that prior dislike. And over the past few days, my views have done a complete 180. I now find myself quite impressed with you and quite grateful for the positive influence you've had on my son. Barbara feels exactly the same way."
He paused to take a sip of coffee.
"Can I assume that magic was involved in my altered feelings?" he said mildly. Harry grimaced.
"You can. I … don't know what it was exactly. It's … been an issue … well, for a long time. And if it's all the same, I'd rather not get into the details. But … I went through … some stuff at the end of last term, and now it seems to be dormant. Or at least resting."
"Seems to be?"
Harry shrugged. "There's no practical way of testing it except for walking up to a Muggle to see if he snarls at me."
"Hmm," said Malcolm thoughtfully. "Then I suppose we shall treat this Sunday as a test of sorts."
"Sunday?" Harry asked.
"Yes," the man said as he reached into his pockets to pull out a brown envelope. "It was supposed to be a birthday surprise from Justin, but I suspect now you'd want to know in advance what you're getting into. I purchased tickets for our entire group to Euro Disney."
Harry's eyes widened, as Malcolm continued.
"I understand if you have reservations about going in light of what you just told me. But if you think this phenomenon is now dormant, this might be a good way to find out for sure. If you can make it through a day at a Disney theme park just jam-packed with Muggles, I would think that solid evidence that the effect has ended."
The boy's eyes lit up. The Dursleys once took Dudley to Euro Disney while he got left behind with the cat lady for three days. He'd dreamt of seeing the park for himself.
Harry smiled and thanked his future business partner for the generous gift.
Elsewhere in Le Quartier Magique …
"Seriously," Alexander Nott deadpanned. "You got remarried? And didn't even let me know in advance?"
"To be perfectly frank, boy," sneered Alex's father, "I assumed that if you came, you'd have caused some sort of ridiculous spectacle. And I would not see my bride embarrassed on her wedding day by your childishness."
Alex laughed. "Oh, I would never have come to your wedding, Father. I'm just astonished I had to read about it in the newspapers! You could have at least sent me an owl."
"Ha! I wasn't sure you knew what owls were! You haven't sent me one since last summer!"
"No, I haven't. That damnable Ultimate Sanction might have made me hate Theo, but it did nothing to affect my contempt for you!"
Tiberius snarled and his hand twitched towards his wand. Alex did likewise. But before spellfire could erupt, a silvery voice called out, instantly seizing the attention of both men.
"Boys, boys, boys," cooed Narcissa Nott. "Please do show some decorum. We are all family now, after all."
"Biologically, I suppose," Alex muttered without taking his eyes of his father. "And not even that in your case."
"Tosh, dear boy," she continued. "My cozy little Parisian apartment has several bedrooms. Why don't you withdraw to one of them and calm yourself? We can discuss these matters later over dinner."
"I regret, Lady Nott, that I have other plans." Alex lifted his chin defiantly. "I'm only in Paris to watch some of my friends from school in the dueling tournament at the St. Germain. I will be staying with them. I found out about your presence here merely through happenstance."
Then, he took a step forward towards Tiberius. "And I have also found out that Theo No-Name is in Paris as well. I hope for your sake, Father, that you have not chosen Paris as a honeymoon spot as part of some plot against him. Your Unbreakable Vow still stands."
"As does yours, brat!" Tiberius responded "And do not presume that your Heirship will protect you from my wrath if you continue to defy me!"
"Tiberius!" Narcissa said sharply. Then, she put a hand on her new husband's shoulder and all the fight seemed to drain out of him. She turned her gaze towards Alex.
"Alexander, I assure you. We had no idea that Theo No-Name would be in Paris at this time. We chose this as our honeymoon spot because I happened to own this apartment here in the Magic Quarter. We have no intention of acting against your … former brother and his friends."
Alex glared at her for her reference to his "former" brother, but she turned back to Tiberius and kissed him on the cheek.
"Tiberius, darling. Why don't you step into another room for a few moments and let me talk with your … with our son."
Tiberius quivered. "Of … of course, my love."
Alex shuddered at the display, while his father stiffly exited the room. Narcissa regarded Alex almost indulgently, as if his outbursts had been nothing but a child's tantrum. She moved closer to him.
"Oh, Alex. You must not provoke your father so. Despite your anger, we are still a family. Indeed, now that I am a part of your family, I hope I can provide a … mediating influence between you and your father."
She reached up and gently caressed his cheek. "It's been so long, hasn't it, since you've had someone to call Mother."
Suddenly, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away with a snarl. "My mother was Christina Fenwick Nott. And she is irreplaceable."
He took a step back and regarded the witch coldly. "And you should probably be warned: The Durmstrang Dark Arts curriculum includes learning how to resist your allure!"
Narcissa's gentle motherly façade fell away to be replaced with an icy mask. "You do not know of what you speak, Alexander."
The young man sniffed disdainfully. "Once again, I wish you happiness in your nuptials. May you be exactly the kind of wife my father deserves. Now, if you will excuse me, my friends are waiting for me."
Without another word, he turned and stalked towards the door to the apartment. But before he could grab the handle, Narcissa spoke again.
"I do wonder, Alexander, whether your resistance to my charms is truly the result of a Durmstrang education. Or perhaps there is another reason."
Alex did not respond nor even turn around. He simply yanked the door open and departed. Narcissa sighed petulantly.
"A pity," she thought to herself. "Turning the Nott Heir right now would have greatly simplified things later."
Then, she placed her hand gently against her stomach. "It is fortunate that before too long, another option for Tiberius's Heir will present itself."
That afternoon back at Hogwarts …
If Severus Snape was more open about his feelings, he might have admitted to Dumbledore his trepidation about reading what Damocles Belby had to say to him and about him. In his shame over his actions as a Death Eater, Snape never sought to speak to Belby prior to the man's death just a few years after the Dark Lord's fall. He'd been too afraid that someone he respected so much would condemn him for his sins and, worse, for his wasted potential. While Dumbledore assumed that the letter contained praise from the deceased Master, Snape was less optimistic and almost frightened of what message Belby might have left for him from beyond the grave.
The envelope sat unopened on Snape's desk for most of the day as he continually found excuses to procrastinate. Finally, late that afternoon, he simply ran out of things to do. Then, annoyed at his own timidity, he took a moment to analyze his own feelings and use his Occlumency to organize and fetter them. Reluctantly, he sat down at the desk and opened the envelope. Inside were four pages of parchment in Belby's familiar handwriting, along with a much smaller mini-envelope that was about 4x6 inches in size. On the front of the mini-envelope were the words "Read the letter first." With a shrug, Snape set the smaller envelope aside and began to read Damocles Belby's final words for him.
When he finished the missive, he read it again … slowly.
After finishing his second read-through, Snape leaned back in his chair and rubbed his hands across his face. He picked up the smaller envelope to open it, but then he hesitated. For nearly a minute, he simply stared at it, as if opening it up might be like opening Pandora's Box, a decision that for good or ill could never be undone. The former Death Eater took a deep breath before setting the small envelope aside. Then, he summoned a bottle of firewhisky from his quarters along with a glass big enough for a double-shot, which he promptly downed without hesitation.
After the burn had faded from his throat, Snape read through the last paragraph of Belby's letter one final time before wadding the entire thing into a ball which he threw towards the center of the room. "INCENDIO!" The letter was incinerated in midair, leaving only a fine ashy powder to land on the floor, and even that was quickly vanished.
"Honestly," the spy thought to himself as he reached for the bottle once more while glaring balefully at the tiny sealed envelope. "Sometimes, I think the life I've led is just … ridiculous!"
That night, back in Paris …
For Harry and his friends, the Open Class finals were electrifying: 16 teen duelists, most of whom were as far above the Novice Champion as he was from the average Hogwarts First Year. Of course, that would change in time. By virtue of winning the Novice Championship, Harry would automatically advance to Open Class when next he set foot on a dueling floor. And to succeed at that, Harry would need to nearly double the list of competition-approved spells he had memorized. He was quite looking forward to it.
But that was for the future. The rest of Harry's summer was booked up, and he would have until Christmas at least to prepare himself for Open Class competition. For now, he was content to watch and learn from his future peers. Giles Yaxley was every bit as fearsome a competitor as Harry had anticipated, but there were others just as impressive. Petrovich and Zedescu from Durmstrang. St. Yves, Machado, and Delacour from Beauxbatons. And even the two Americans, Sinclair and Madison, who had both just graduated from the Blacksburg Magery Institute, Wizarding America's equivalent to West Point or Sandhurst.
Fleur Delacour (Blaise's mysterious "acquaintance") made it to the semifinal round before unexpectedly losing 3-2 to Olga Zedescu. It was very unexpected in Harry's eyes. While Zedescu was an imposing and aggressive duelist (Harry found the way she snarled her incantations to be quite intimidating), Delacour was far more graceful and precise. Indeed, after Delacour won the first two rounds handily, Harry had expected her to move on easily to the finals. But then, the girl's dueling coach, who Blaise helpfully identified as Fleur's mother, Apolline Delacour, called for a time-out. There was a brief exchange between mother and daughter, at the conclusion of which, Fleur looked decidedly angry. Whether that anger was why she proceeded to go down in three straight rounds to her Durmstrang rival was unclear, but Harry had his theories. The first two losses were subtle enough to pass without comment, but when Fleur very deliberately stepped into the path of a Disarming Jinx that she should have dodged easily, Harry couldn't help but notice.
Giles Yaxley also went down in the semi-final round, and so Harry had no personal knowledge of either of the two finalists beyond what he'd picked up from gossip. Olga Zedescu was a Romanian dueling prodigy and the daughter of an Auror from Bucharest. The American, Randolph Sinclair, had obtained the rank of Mage-Lieutenant in the Junior Regimental Officer Corps before graduating from Blacksburg the previous term. He would be among the fourth generation in the Sinclair family to serve as an officer in the Confederation's wizarding military. The duel between Zedescu and Sinclair was fast paced but still took a good ten minutes to complete, with Zedescu finally defeating her American rival.
But while all eyes were on the gold and silver medalists, Harry's attention remained focused on the girl from Beauxbatons who he was pretty sure had just deliberately thrown a semifinals match.
After the conclusion of the Open Class finals, everyone moved from the Grand Ballroom to one of the hotel's restaurants, which had been reserved for a reception for all the Open Class and Novice competitors. As a minor celebrity due to his own championship, Harry found himself with no shortage of people who wanted to make his acquaintance and even get his autograph.
"I wonder if this is what Jim feels like whenever a new Boy Who Lived book comes out," he thought to himself even as he placed his signature onto an Official Tournament Program™. He made his way through the throng to approach Fleur Delacour, although he wasn't completely sure why. On one hand, he felt an odd attraction to the older girl, but at the same time, he found something about her to be mildly off-putting. He was only slightly surprised when Blaise suddenly appeared right next to him, apparently eager to make the introductions.
"If I may, Harry," he said before turning to Delacour. "Mademoiselle Delacour, please allow me to introduce Hadrian Remus Black Lord Wilkes. Harry, may I present to you, Mademoiselle Fleur Delacour of the Paris Delacours."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mademoiselle Delacour. But please, call me Harry."
She looked down at him (and Fleur Delacour was at least five inches taller than Harry) in bemusement.
"Ah, but of course!" Delacour said with an exuberant smile tinged with a hint of smugness. "You are zee leetle boy who won zee Novice competition! To be so talented at such a young age! Très magnifique!"
Harry winced slightly at being referred to as "zee leetle boy" but decided to let it pass. Almost. He also noticed that Delacour had not invited him to use her first name.
"Thank you. And your own performance was most impressive. I felt sure you had Zedescu all taken care of, but regrettably, she was able to make a comeback."
The smile faded slightly. "Zo she was. I 'ave dueled Zedescu before. She eez…" Fleur paused and gestured with her hands as if struggling for the words. "She eez … la plus formidable. As you progress from Novice to la Classe Ouverte and become more experienced, you shall learn never to underestimate any opponent."
"… I'll try to remember that," Harry said archly. "Of course, one thing I've truly enjoyed about attending this tournament—aside from winning my own bracket, of course—is having the chance to meet great duelists such as yourself and learn from your experience and techniques."
Fleur's laugh glittered. "Comme vous etes charmant! Please! Ask your questions, s'il vous plaît!
Between them, Blaise stood silently, and he looked back and forth as if suddenly aware that he was standing between two predators, but he no longer knew who was hunting whom. Harry took a half-step closer so that only Fleur and Blaise could hear.
"You're very kind, Mademoiselle Delacour," he began with a respectful bow of his head. "But mainly, I was simply curious about your last round. Why did you step to the right and move directly into the path of Zedescu's jinx? You'd done a flawless job of reading her moves up until then. In fact, it almost looked like you had to change direction to move into the path of that spell that otherwise would have missed you completely."
Now, it was Fleur's turn to take a half-step closer to Harry, and while her smile was still charming, there was a flash of something dangerous in her eyes that made Blaise swallow hard.
"Tu es sérieux?" she exclaimed. "Do you mean to accuse me of … comment dites-vous en Anglais … throwing zee match? Absurde!"
She laughed again, and as she did, both Blaise and Harry felt something unnatural wash over them. It was something that would have turned most young men their age into babbling fools. Blaise, who had known Fleur Delacour for years, was prepared for it and trained to resist it.
And Harry … was simply Harry. For just a few seconds, his eyes seemed to glaze slightly, but then, he shook his head once sharply before studying the French girl again with a more discerning and cautious eye.
"Absurd?" he said quietly. "Perhaps. But I really do think that you intentionally threw the match with Zedescu."
Then, Harry gave the girl his most intimidating smile. "Just as I also believe that your English is much better than you would have me believe."
Fleur's own smile faded instantly.
"Oh, and by the way," he continued, "that thing that you're doing? I'd appreciate if you stopped."
With that comment, the girl's eyes widened in surprise. "Zat … thing I'm doing?" She glanced quickly at Blaise who merely shrugged his shoulders as if to say "don't look at me. I didn't say anything."
"Yes," Harry said amiably. "That thing. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. So please stop it. Or I might mistake your intentions, Mademoiselle Delacour. And I'm sure neither one of us would want that."
Fleur said nothing at first, but over the next few seconds, her strange aura receded, and in response, Harry's heart rate returned to normal. Then, she turned to Blaise and smiled. It was the first genuine smile Harry had seen on her face all day.
"Well, well, well," Fleur said in flawless English laced with a barely detectable French accent. "My congratulations, Blaise. Your friend had my curiosity. And now … he has my attention."
Then, without another word, Fleur turned and disappeared into the crowd.
"Let me guess," Harry said before taking another sip of champagne. "You can't say anything else until your Mum has read my cards, right?"
Blaise nodded as he watched Fleur Delacour rejoin her mother and leave the reception.
Meanwhile nearby …
Theo had just snatched another few deviled eggs off a server's tray when he heard a faoiliar voice behind him.
"Careful, Theo," Alex said. "You always get sick when you eat top many deviled eggs, no matter how much you love them."
The Slytherin turned around in surprise, almost choking on the hors d'oeuvre he'd just popped into his mouth. He swallowed quickly and downed his champagne before finally addressing his former brother.
"Alex! I didn't know you were here. Was it because of … the wedding?"
Alex scoffed. "Of course not. They didn't tell me in advance either. Olga Zedescu and Stanislav Petrovich are good friends of mine, and they invited me to the tournament as their guest. I didn't know you'd be here either, but I'm glad to see you, even if …"
He trailed off lamely, and Theo nodded in sympathy.
"So … the Ultimate Sanction is done," Theo said. "Where does that leave us?"
The older boy took a deep breath. "Well, you're still expelled from the family, so you're still legally Theo No-Name. I'm under a vague yet persistent compulsion that stops me from recognizing you as my brother or even showing any overt signs of affection."
He laughed bleakly. "I … hated you for all those months. For no reason except stupid magic and a cruel idiot's pettiness. And then, it ended one day, and suddenly, I didn't hate you anymore. Ever since, I've been waiting to meet up with you somewhere and pull you into a big hug. But now that we're both here, I can't quite bring myself to do it. How awful is that?! To curse one of your sons so that he can't even hug his own … his former brother."
Theo shrugged. "What can I say? We're descended from an unspeakable prick. Will you think bad of me for saying I hope Narcissa kills him during sex?"
"Yes! That means I'll be stuck alone with her! She's been my mother for less than a day and she's already tried hitting on me!"
"Yeah. By the way, I'm pretty sure she's got veela allure, which explains why Father is acting like he's going through puberty again. It's disgusting."
"Veela ... allure?"
Alex grimaced. "There's a ... a thing you can do. Most wizards consider it dark magic, but not necessarily. I guess it kind of depends on whether you consider Veela to be people or not. Anyway, you can harvest certain organs from a live Veela and use them to make a potion that can make a witch supernaturally attractive. That's how Narcissa got her hooks into Father, I suppose."
Theo nodded. "So, um, you don't think Tiberius is going to try for another Heir, do you?"
Alex shrugged dismissively. "Honestly, I hope he does. He can't Sanction me, and I don't even know if I'd mind getting kicked out of the family. But it'll be a while if they go that route. At least nine months to give birth, and then, it has to be a male, and then, it'll take a few years to show magic. I'm pretty sure I can finish my Mastery by then, and after that, the bastard can disown me for all I care."
The reunion was interrupted when Giles Yaxley, who was one of Alex's classmates, walked over.
"Nott, old bean. Father is taking me, Albert, and some of our friends out to Le Chabanais to celebrate our part of the tourney being over. You're welcome to join us."
Alex demurred. "Thank you for the invitation, Yaxley. But I have already made other plans."
"Eh. Your loss. You know how those French birds are though, what!" Then, with a rude laugh, Yaxley turned and left.
"Friend of yours?" Theo asked.
Alex sighed. "No, but he's not really an enemy … or at least not yet. I'm hoping to keep it that way until after graduation."
"Well, he invited you do dinner with his family, so that's something. Is Le Chabanais a good restaurant?"
Alex coughed and blushed slightly. "To be honest, it's not really a restaurant at all. More of a … well, a bordello."
Theo's eyes widened. "I'm not sure whether an invitation to a place like that counts as a sign of friendship or not."
Later in the Delacour Suite …
Fleur scrubbed angrily at her makeup while her mother gently combed her hair into tightly woven French braids.
"Something troubles you, daughter?" Apolline asked, although she already knew the answer to the question. Fleur had been angry since "losing" her match against Zedescu. She had already removed her dueling clothes and was now wearing form-fitting jet-black trousers and some rather specially enchanted boots, though her top consisted of the witch's equivalent to a Muggle sports bra. The rest of her ensemble for the evening was on the bed waiting for her.
Fleur glared at her own reflection in the mirror. "I could have beaten her, Mama," she said with quiet intensity. "You know I could have. Her and the American both."
"Could have? Yes. But should have? You know better than that, Chérie."
By now, Apolline had finished braiding her daughter's hair and simply rested her hands on the girl's shoulders.
Fleur rose angrily. "Do I, Maman? I have done everything you and Papa have asked. I never went out for Quidditch. For seven years, I have strictly maintained a class placement between 10th and 15th, though I could easily have scored much higher. I have the skills to be a champion duelist, but I have never been allowed to finish better than fourth. I'm seventeen and not even permitted to date. It's not fair!"
With a huff, the girl rose from her chair and snatched up the black long-sleeve top and pulled it on while her mother looked at her sadly.
"No, Chérie, it is not fair. But you know why it is necessary. You know what secrets we Delacours hold and why, and that one of those secrets is you. You and your sister. You cannot draw too much attention to your abilities or we shall all pay the price."
The mother picked up the last item of clothing from the bed, a small black cloth, which she held out for Fleur.
"We both know, Fleur, that you deserve a place in the sun. But the family needs you. France needs you. And so, for a while longer at least, you must continue to hide in the shadows."
Fleur said nothing to that. She simply snatched the black balaclava from her mother's hand and pulled it on over her forehead.
Meanwhile, there was a soft ding from the mirror that sat on the nightstand. Apolline picked it up and tapped it twice while, behind her, Fleur angrily pulled on a pair of black leather gloves. A man's voice could be heard emanating from the mirror.
"They've just entered Le Chabanais. You've got two hours, three at the most."
Apolline turned to her daughter and nodded. Fleur sniffed disdainfully before pulling the balaclava all the way down to cover her face and then adjusting the enchanted night vision goggles that came with it.
"Allons enfants de la patrie," she muttered ruefully under her breath as she headed for the balcony.
Moments later, a shadow as black as night climbed onto the balcony ledge before jumping easily from one balcony to the next. Within seconds, Fleur had made her way to the gap between balconies where the hotel's exterior glass lift ascended and descended. After a short wait, the lift stopped on the fifth floor, and she took the opportunity to gently step onto its roof. The lift resumed its ascent, and soon its hidden passenger reached her destination, a recessed area at the top where the machinery that powered the lift was concealed. Carefully, she braced her hands against one wall and her feet against the one opposite. Moments later, the lift began its descent, and Fleur Delacour was left suspended in midair atop a 10-story lift shaft.
Unperturbed, Fleur turned her attention to the far end of the hotel where a large flagpole bearing the flag of Magical France strutted out perpendicular to the building. She pointed her wand at the end of the pole. "CARPE RETRACTUM!" Instantly, a thin rope shot out of the end of her wand to wrap around the pole. She jumped away from her position in the open-air lift shaft and allowed the magic of the conjured rope to reel her in towards the flagpole, which she caught easily with her free hand. Effortlessly, she pulled herself up and then tightrope walked along the flagpole to the edge of the building before dropping down onto the balcony below.
Instantly, Fleur Disillusioned herself. Her jet-black infiltration suit should have made it impossible for anyone to observe her activities, but she was not one for foolish risks while on the job. The "easy part" of the evening over, the girl knelt at the door connecting the balcony to the hotel room and cast several spells to reveal the runes which maintained the high-level security wards for which the top floor suites of L'Hotel St. Germain were renowned. It took nearly ten minutes to bypass them (which, by Fleur's standards, was a frightfully long time), but after that, she was inside.
Before stepping too far into the room, however, Fleur reached up to her goggles and tapped them three times. Instantly, every magical or enchanted item in the room was lit in a soft glow. The girl smiled. As she'd expected, her target would have placed his strongest defenses on his most valuable possessions and, in the process, given away the location of those possessions to anyone with the means to sense magic directly. It took only a few more minutes to neutralize the protective wards and open the closet door. Hanging inside was just what she was looking for: a long coat of the kind favored by British Aurors and hit wizards. And still affixed to the lapel was a brass badge that read "Corban Yaxley, Director, Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
Fleur carried the badge over to a nearby desk and set to work. After half an hour spent carefully removing the back of the badge, she produced a sheet of parchment bearing a very complicated rune sequence, which she proceeded to etch onto the piece she had removed with silvery tool created especially for that purpose. The etching took another hour, and when she finished, she pulled a small mirror from a pocket and tapped it three times.
"Sparrow to Nest. Ready for transmission test."
"Proceed," said the male voice that had spoken to Apolline earlier. Fleur set the mirror aside and spoke directly into Yaxley's badge.
"'Allo, 'allo, all you British chaps," Fleur said in a parody of a British upper-class accent. "This is Corban Yaxley, Death Eater and all-around baddy, speaking to you live from his overpriced hotel room in beautiful Paris, France! I can't answer your call right now, as I'm probably out murdering a Muggleborn or something."
"Communication received loud and clear," said the voice from the mirror. "Though I'm not sure that a Death Eater's hotel room is the right place to engage in such levity, my dear."
"Well, Papa," Fleur said crisply. "Since I am the one risking my life by breaking into the Death Eater's hotel room, I think I shall be the one to decide whether levity is appropriate, non?"
There was a pause. "You're mad at me over having to throw the dueling tournament, aren't you, pumpkin?"
"Furious," she answered drily, "but not so much that I'll go off target during a mission. Now hush, so that I can finish this. It's been a long day, and I wish to have a hot bath and go to bed."
There were a few seconds of deep laughter. "That's my little Mata Hari. I'll make it up to you someday, I promise."
Twenty minutes later, Yaxley's DMLE badge was back in one piece and hanging once more on the man's long coat. Fleur took another ten minutes to search the rest of the suite, just in case. Her thoroughness was rewarded when she discovered a locked and magically sealed attaché case, which she opened without difficulty. There appeared to be little of any interest, mainly security arrangements about something called a "Triwizard Tournament," whatever that was. Fleur reviewed it all as thoroughly as time would permit. Others would analyze the intelligence later from her Pensieve memories.
Ninety minutes after that, Corban Yaxley and his two sons entered their suite, all in varying degrees of intoxication and, in Albert's case, flush with the experience of having lost his virginity at fifteen in Magical Paris's most famous brothel. Naturally, there was no sign that anyone had been in their rooms in their absence.
Fleur Delacour had been thoroughly trained in espionage, after all. Like her mother before her.
Next: Harry's Marseilles trip wraps up with an eventful visit to Euro Disney, and then, the Countess lays her cards on the table. The next chapter is scheduled for October 25.
UPDATE! Next chapter to be uploaded on October 31. It is complete and being edited by my Discord followers, but it ended up being 3k words longer than I'd planned.
AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. At the $5+ level, you get free previews of Strangers In Dallas. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.
AN2 (What the Sinister Man is reading):
That Glorious Strength by the always interesting Lomonaaeren: In 1945, Tom Riddle reveals both his Gaunt ancestry and his Parseltongue to his fellow Slytherins … who don't really care very much that the orphaned Halfbood son of a Muggle and an inbred squib from a destitute old family can talk to snakes. He still has dirty blood, after all. Forty-five years later, Headmaster Riddle of the Fortius Academy shows up at 4 Privet Drive to invite Harry Potter to his school … and to his revolution against the Purebloods.
AN3: Special thanks to my Discord editors: Alexs, Aza, Bob, ciccj, Crookshanks, Dr. Nemo, durlic, Espresso Patronum, haDEs, kean, Krisni, Mr Störtebeker, obber, Priest Of Judgement(Pivosh), ProgKingHughesker, Pyunik, RamsesZwei, Rena Downs, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, skyrmion, the lemonduck, TNT, and vaibhavi. Thanks, guys!
AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 15,370. Followers: 16,092. Favorites: 14,277. Communities: 229. Discord followers: Over 3692! Go Team POS!
AN5: "You had my curiosity. Now you have my attention." is an anachronism from the 2012 film Django Unchained. When I gave a tweaked version to Fleur as a line, I'd thought it was older than that, but apparently not. Oh well. Blacksburg Magery Institute is from the Alexandra Quick series. I do hope Inverarity does not object to me suggesting that POS perhaps shares a universe with AQ. Fleur's "'allo, 'allo" was a brief homage to, well, 'Allo, 'Allo!
AN6: Wear a mask! And if you're of age in the U.S., register to vote! And then, do it!