Harry was immediately interested in this phantom character. While whoring and gambling were beneath one with his refinement, he was always attracted to an existence without any real responsibility. Regardless, the person wasn't present and so asking more about him would be pointless and counterproductive given Mister Malfoy's obvious opinion regarding him. Lucius seemed displeased with the conversation and beckoned Harry away.
"Well then, I think we have a general idea as to what we need. I'll just leave the actual design to you, Yaxley. I must demand however that the result be both powerful and aesthetically pleasing. He may well end up as our art's ambassador and his weapon must naturally reflect that. Only the absolute best will do. Now come along, Harry. It'll soon be dark and we need to get you home."
Harry put up no protest, both stifled by the dirty atmosphere in the forge and wholly unwilling to be in Knockturn Alley after sunset. The road was deserted when the two emerged from the shop. Lucius put a hand on the younger wizard's shoulder and Apparated away. They reappeared at the Evans estate's front door in Surrey. Harry said farewell to his trainer and entered the mansion, unable to contain his anticipation. He walked over the threshold envisioning hot scented baths and being waited on like a king in his juvenile mind, all independence learned during the school term cast aside.
Chapter Ten: An Unannounced Visit – A New Focus
Disclaimer: If you've seen it before, it belongs to J.K. Rowling. Otherwise, it's mine. Naturally, I'm making no money off this. Am I the only one that finds these things to be extremely repetitive and pointless?
On December the twenty-ninth, several days removed from Yule, a certain dandy caricature materialized above the cobblestone street in Diagon Alley. Harry had been unable to sleep several nights ago and had searched out his mother's old experimental Charms notes in his closet and started rummaging through to see whether or not they contained anything to occupy his time. He had been delighted to come across some rudimentary instructions pertaining to Portkey design. Since then he had experimented vigorously with making small ones, using them to move between rooms and wings and his grandmother's estate, using his mother's old wand in order to avoid being annoyed by the Ministry and its inane regulations. He didn't want to have to bother Lucius with clearing whatever legal mess that he might get into otherwise, seeing as the aristocrat was already preoccupied with dealing with his own clan's issues well through the New Year. Once he had broken the short distance model down to a science, he made an attempt at a stronger one charmed to take him to Diagon Alley. Since he couldn't visit Draco, the young prodigy decided instead to drop in upon another companion. Only when he arrived, he noticed that he was not standing upon anything solid.
Harry squeaked like a little girl upon realizing that his Portkey had deposited him close to ten feet in the air. He waved his arms about in distress as he made the inevitable descent to the ground. He didn't meet cobblestone, but instead landed on something almost as hard. His human cushion was dressed in an old and worn red training tunic with white embroidery. The robe was tied with a heavy rope that was inlaid with large brass bells that would jingle noisily as the enormous strongman walked. He had long spiked blonde hair that cascaded in an unkempt mess near to his waist and blue eyes that held an almost electric potential. Overall he was a most intimidating sight, and he wasn't at all pleased about having somebody resting on him.
"Oi! Get the bloody 'Ell offa me, ye prissy lil' wanker!"
The man's breath reeked like cheap liquor, and he was dirty and uncouth all around. Harry viewed his very presence as revolting. The young dandy scrambled upright and backed away as though the man were carrying the plague. Without even stopping to apologize, the young aristocrat picked up his things and bolted around the corner. The man was as much a powerhouse magically as he was physically. Harry could sense the energy teeming outward when they were connected. Little did he know then that he and towering blonde miscreant he had crashed onto would soon cross paths once again.
Once he had moved a good distance, Harry shuddered and sanitized his clothing with a quick spell. He was dressed as eccentrically as usual with his ensemble highlighted by his trademark cape and gaudy hat, but now he had a Lucius-ish cane to accompany his cape as well. The Malfoys had sent him the walking stick as a Christmas present. The wood was an elegantly stained and scented cherry topped with a gold strutting peacock head that matched his cape clasp exactly. The cane also had an inner compartment in which Harry could store his wand. By doing so the young wizard could use the walking apparatus to do spellwork. Beyond these accessories he wore a matching pearl bracelet and necklace and a jade green silk robe embroidered with gold thread in a lotus blossom pattern that was tied with a luxurious red sash. His cloth shoes were likewise embroidered in gold. His long hair was plaited and his nails manicured and scented. Having his attendants to make him up in the morning was something that he had devoutly missed during the school term. He hadn't looked anywhere near so handsome in months.
He needed a moment's thought to recall his destination but reached it quickly once he remembered the way. His extravagant look drew more than a little attention as he marched down the alleys alone but he never stopped moving long enough to bask in it. There weren't very people out shopping on this cold late December morning anyway. Outside the Changs' little apothecary a small Chinese girl was sweeping snow and other debris away with her back to the handsome young noble. He watched her work a moment and then moved to where his shadow covered her and got her attention.
"Excuse me. I hate to impose, but…"
The girl turned with a smile. She couldn't be much older than six or seven, but Harry thought her to be quite the pretty little creature. At least, she would grow up to be quite attractive someday. Cho's parents were blessed. They might not have much money, but they were extremely wealthy in the more important sense. Having two such beauties as progeny could only mean good luck later on down the line.
"I'm sorry, but our shop doesn't open until noon on weekends."
"No, no…I'm here to see your sister. Please tell Cho that I'm here."
Cho's little sister regarded him with a quizzical expression.
"I don't even know who you are. She's busy tending the herb garden anyway."
Harry grinned idiotically and cut his most ridiculously overdramatic pose.
"But you're mistaken. You do know me, everybody does. I'm Harry Potter."
The little Chang stared at Harry a moment and then glared.
"You're a liar! You're not Ha Li Po Te! He's a great wizard, not a girly weirdo like you!"
Harry was quite flabbergasted at this response. Nobody had ever been so direct in insulting him. Still, to be compared to a girl was much more generous compliment than he could have hoped to hear. It showed that this girl understood and appreciated his natural beauty and refinement that surpassed any dirty common male, or at least so the somewhat delusional young aristocrat thought. She stood there with her hands on her hips and an impish scowl on her face. The gesture might have been intimidating were she taller than the dandy's belly. He kept smiling as he responded.
"I appreciate the compliment, but I really am Harry Potter. Please bring Cho out here and she'll be able to clear up everything."
"You can't trick me, you cheat! I know what I'll do. I'm gonna go and get my parents and they'll hex you all the way into Knockturn Alley. You'd better run away while you still can!"
With that the girl threw down her broom and ran into the shop yelling in rapid Chinese. Harry was a bit spooked and actually did contemplate leaving, but he had nowhere to go and didn't even think to make another Portkey to return home. He sighed and stood in place twirling his peacock-headed cane absentmindedly. Soon enough the entire family came out. Cho and her parents all recognized that Harry was authentic. Their mother rounded on the youngest daughter and berated her with a waspish tone. Cho eyed her school roommate's new walking cane with distaste.
"Now see what that temper has done, you little bitch! You've insulted an honored guest!"
"Quick, kowtow and apologize to our visitor."
That was Mister Chang speaking. Harry really didn't want to see such a pretty little thing made to kneel to him. He was actually impressed that she had stood up to him. Not many were willing to either at home or at Hogwarts. Besides, he had no patience with conventions and halting this pardon ritual would mean circumventing one.
"I was really to blame, she didn't know. Please let it slide on my account this time."
Mrs. Chang seemed unconvinced and reluctant but was compelled to let the matter go.
"Please come inside and relax at any rate. We already have tea on the boil."
Harry was led into the shop. The bottom level looked much the same as when he had shopped there when purchasing his Hogwarts supplies months ago, except that there were some herbs growing in indoor pots now that the weather had turned too cold to keep them outdoors. The young dandy thought the medicinal aroma to be quite nice and invigorating. The ingredients didn't stink like those in Professor Snape's potions laboratories. Suitable ventilation could do wonders. He was led upstairs into a bedroom and made to sit down on the kang while a delicious smelling tea simmered on the nearby stove. This brick sleeping platform was covered with cushions and an interior pipeline connected to the heating stove to keep it warm and toasty. This heating sensation could have easily enough been generated through magic but the pure natural aspect made this much cozier. This was what hardheaded purebloods like Lucius and Draco would never understand. Sometimes Muggle inventions like these old Chinese warming beds could surpass anything done with spells.
Cho's sister was ordered to serve the tea while the Ravenclaw Seeker and her younger brother sat next to Harry. Little Ping Chang didn't seem to mind the task, still being quite thoroughly humiliated about having caused such a ruckus outside earlier on, not to mention having snubbed wizarding Britain's hero. On the contrary, the girl seemed pleased to be granted an opportunity to redeem her unseemly behavior. Meanwhile their parents quickly excused themselves to go to the nearby grocer's and Disapparated away.
"You've got our entire house at sixes and sevens now, Harry."
"I'm sorry. I only wanted to visit you. Lounging about at home was getting boring."
As much as it saddened him to admit it, that was somewhat the case. Four months ago the young dandy wouldn't have even entertained the notion that there could be anything better to do than lounging about his quarters and passing the time idling with his attendants. A term spent at Hogwarts had changed matters. Harry was now getting quite acclimated to being an active person and mingling with various other people on an everyday basis. He still loved his girls dearly and would have them alongside him all the time were it possible, but being Muggles they didn't really understand his magical world well enough to keep conversations very interesting beyond the usual catching up. His previous decadent living practices were now something he could appreciate only in measured doses. That much had become clear over the past week. He sighed inwardly at this realization. As he became more and more a grown wizard, this invisible river separating him and his beloved attendants could only grow wider and deeper.
"Well, you should have at least owled. I hope you've had a nice Yule though."
Harry closed his eyes and shook his head, the motion causing his intricately plaited long hair to sway about like a willow branch in a brisk wind. His tone became much more serious than usual. There was another reason driving his need to escape home and call on somebody. The old lady's condition was now becoming very depressing. Her health had continued to deteriorate while the young prodigy was away at school and now she could hardly spend more than an hour or so upright and then had to return to bed. Despite his advanced magical abilities, he was unable to cure her. Not even Merlin could circumvent death and so Harry was powerless. The entire situation was grave and vexing.
"My grandmother's health keeps getting worse. Things haven't been so upbeat this year."
"I'm so sorry to hear about that. Maybe you can tell me what presents you got instead."
Most observers might have thought Cho's changing such a serious topic into something so materialistic to be exceedingly callous behavior, but not Harry, and she understood him well enough to know this. He was quite pleased to be able to stop thinking about the depressing topic at hand, and as mercurial as his moods were he perked up immediately and grinned broadly.
"Several things, though I especially appreciated yours..."
She had sent him the book that she had been reading when he met her on the Hogwarts Express back in September. The entire thing was in Chinese. The present was meant to represent a rather subtle challenge, something not uncommon in Ravenclaw House. He would have to learn the language in order to read the book. Translation spells were always rather inaccurate, especially when going between two languages as dissimilar as English and Cantonese. And so he would answer by making time to learn. He needed new pursuits to challenge his mind anyway, as the school curriculum wasn't doing so. Becoming multilingual was paramount in becoming a real intellectual. He only knew two tongues at the moment: English and the Latin that his grandmother had ordered him to learn as a child. Knowing the latter had an unintentional bonus in making his spell tomes much easier to comprehend. The young aristocrat had also picked up some rudimentary French through his maid Christine over the years, but he could hardly be described as skilled there.
"…I also got an Invisibility Cloak, but the message that came with it was rather vague."
"Those are really expensive, I think. I can't imagine who would buy you one."
"Apparently it once belonged to my dad. I only wish the sender had signed their name."
Cho's little sister replenished Harry's tea bowl again, smiling as she handed it back to the young aristocrat. To think that mere moments ago she was berating him as a liar and a cheat almost made him chuckle. He was quite delighted that his name carried so much respect in this household the demure little imp would go into such a terrible temper due to an imagined slight upon it. He had never once chosen to be a celebrity, but he wasn't at all averse to enjoying the splendor that came alongside it.
"And then you would have had to respond with an even more expensive present."
"Not in this case, as the person was only restoring my own property to me. I should have liked to have been able to thank them, though."
Conversation continued in that vein until Cho's parents returned. Her mother then called her into the kitchens to help her prepare a large and sumptuous lunch, leaving Harry alone on the kang with her two younger siblings. She gave him an unreadable look as she departed. Mister Chang had already gone downstairs to prepare the shop to open. Their Sunday business hours would commence soon.
"Tell me all about how you beat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, big brother."
Harry drained his tea and turned to regard the speaker. Cho's brother hadn't said anything up to that point, rather starting awestruck at the richly dressed dandy as he and the eldest child made small talk. He was a handsome and delicate-looking boy who had long black hair much like the young prodigy's own, except the Chang progeny's was tied up in a bun rather than hanging in a long plaited ponytail. The Chinese boy certainly didn't appear to be the sort that could be at all suited to the physical rigors involved with tending and maintaining an herbal apothecary. He thought it rather deplorable that such a meticulous child would be calloused and spoiled due to manual labor. And the boy had called him 'big brother.' Harry had no biological siblings, but were he to have a younger brother then this boy would be the sort he would want to have. The handsome child was much worthier to be his relation than Petunia's ignorant boar hog at least.
"That story isn't all its cracked up to be, little one, and I don't even know your name."
"Chang Paoyu is my name. Tell me another story then."
Harry was no adept with the Chinese language, but he did know what that particular name translated to. He supposed it came due to the ornate jade necklace that the boy wore. The stone was inscribed with several ideograms that the young dandy didn't understand but he could comprehend that the intricate little bauble was extremely valuable. A child in the Chang boy's economic station would not be expected to have something like this. Harry assumed that it was an heirloom or something similar.
"…Precious Jade. That seems most suitable. I'll have to tell you my grandest tale."
Harry began talking about his encounter with Albus Dumbledore at Gringotts, embellishing his recounting in the true Gilderoy Lockhart style. According to his tale, accentuated by the proper dramatic hand motions, he battled the old archmage in a duel that lasted hours and drew all the goblins to watch in amazement. And in the end a beaten Headmaster surrendered his wand and begged mercy, and the magnanimous boy prince accepted and the two had been close comrades ever since. Paoyu Chang seemed to be Harry's own mirror in gullibility and took this most ridiculous tall tale as the gospel truth.
"Wow, that's so awesome! You're the greatest and strongest ever."
"Not to mention the most handsome and captivating."
Harry took yet more tea and sent a smile and a wink at the younger sister, who seemed both amused at the young hero's energy and creativity and annoyed with her one year older brother over his being such a believing simpleton. She smirked back and rolled her eyes at the excited boy bouncing up and down on the kang. Suddenly the boy became sullen and quiet. Such a rapid mood change was another similarity to the dandy Harry.
"I wish I could be more like you. I've always been rather weak."
With his usual cavalier attitude, Harry had the urge to help this handsome child.
"You can be, and we'll start with your look. Image is everything, you know."
Harry stood up and removed his peacock feather hat and cape. He tapped each clothing article with his cane and shrank them to suit the much smaller Paoyu Chang. He had been planning to purchase a new cape soon anyway, or he might perhaps turn out his new Invisibility Cloak and wear it that way. The material shimmered like a rainbow and suited him quite nicely, and it wouldn't do at all now to allow others to marvel at it. True beauty was mean to be appreciated. He had no interest at all in actually making his dad's cloak serve some practical purpose. The hat was something he had created on Halloween night using his broken coronet and it could be reproduced with any old thing.
"…There we go. Now you can look like a real hero."
The other boy stood and tried to put on the cape. Harry sealed it with his own golden peacock adornment. Draco had sent him a much nicer and more ornate cloak clasp encrusted with emeralds as a Yule present anyway. He had given the Malfoy heir an enchanted silver dagger that he had run across at some expensive boutique in return. The shopkeeper had said that it was enchanted, at least. The prodigy had only been attracted to its inlaid ruby grip. Harry placed the hat on Paoyu's head as well, but observed that something still wasn't quite right. The other didn't seem to notice, though, and was as happy as a clam at high tide as his mother announced that the meal was ready and called them in to eat. He pranced out into the small dining room in a hilarious attempt at imitating Harry's walk.
"You really shouldn't indulge his imagination. Paoyu's a pain to deal with as he is."
"No harm done. Improving his style can only be a good thing. Here, these are yours."
Harry removed his pearl bracelet and the matching necklace. They were expensive adornments to most people but not even worth mentioning to one who bought rare gemstones on random shopping sprees. Ping Chang looked at the items with a raised eyebrow and eventually shook her pretty little head in the negative.
"I can't accept these. I don't even know you very well, and it would be improper."
The young dandy was displeased but dared not push the issue as he was a guest and it would be rude. He tailed the younger girl as she went into the next room. They all sat down to lunch at the small kitchen table in the little nook that served as the dining area. The meal was delicious. Harry had only eaten Chinese cuisine on one or two occasions growing up, but the taste was much better than he remembered. The young aristocrat particularly appreciated these little wonton dumplings that had crab meat and cream cheese packed inside. Mrs. Chang told him that they were called Crab Rangoon when he asked. He would simply have to request that the cooks back at the Evans estate add the dumplings into the regular meal rotation. The group made small talk about Hogwarts and various other topics as they ate. Quidditch was among them, much to the honored guest's disdain. When asked what team he supported, Harry evasively named the Tornadoes as they were the only team he knew. The young dandy was eating his chicken and eggplant soup when Paoyu let out a cough and slumped down against the table with a dazed but placid expression.
"I'm getting a bit tired now, mum."
Harry watched as Cho's mother bit her lip and turned to her younger daughter.
"Help your brother into bed while I make his potion."
Mrs. Chang then sent Cho look that the Ravenclaw seemed to understand.
"Come with me, Harry. I'll show you our rear garden and we can talk some."
That was what the young dandy had wanted to begin with and so he went along without any complaint, though he did cast another look towards the suddenly ailing Paoyu as he started down the stairs, his peacock-headed cane slung over his shoulder. Cho led him out through a downstairs door into a very compact rear yard. The area was a genuine enclosure, a little box created by tall brick building walls on each perimeter boundary. No windows peered down into the area except those in the Chang apothecary, creating an ideal little romantic retreat. On one side the white plum was in blossom, and on the other a lone peach tree stood bare on a small island located inside a medium-sized lily pond. Underneath its branches sat a little red bench and the two Ravenclaws traipsed across several stepping stones to reach it. Once seated, Harry took a long moment to glance about the little garden, sighing as he took in its quaint splendor.
"This certainly is gorgeous, much better than even the orchards on our grounds."
"I think so too. I love to sit out here under the tree and read during the summer."
Harry stretched his arms and leaned back against the tree trunk with a contented smile.
"Your mum and dad are really nice too, and your brother and sister also."
Cho rolled her eyes and glared jokingly at her uninvited houseguest.
"And about that, you sure did a great job corrupting Paoyu…"
And then the look became much gentler.
"…Thank you so much. You have no idea how much meeting you meant to him."
"He did seem quite enthusiastic. He'll be a classroom terror when he goes to Hogwarts."
Cho winced as though slapped and closed her eyes.
"That's the thing. He isn't going to be able to go to Hogwarts due to his condition…"
She sighed and continued at his nonplussed expression, tears in her obsidian eyes.
"…Paoyu was born with severe magical anaemia. You saw him almost collapse at the table right then. That's not an isolated event. The magic in his body destroys his red blood cells and hampers the ability to make more. Concentrating his magic only hastens the symptoms. As it is he tires very easily and even doing simple spells could outright rupture his system and kill him. He can't remain active longer than an hour or so without rest and restorative potions. He can't even leave the house or mum's supervision. The most he can do is come out and mess about in the garden with me or Ping on some days."
Harry passed several moments staring dumbstruck at nothing. Under those constraints the boy certainly would not be able to attend school or even be a wizard at all. And his heart went out to Cho as well. How wretched her existence had been, having to cope emotionally with her brother's debilitating illness at home and then getting bullied at school as well. There seemed to be no righteousness in the world that such a sweet and gentle person had been tormented so.
"That's terrible. I don't even know what to say. I'll do anything I can to help."
"That's sweet, but there's nothing you can do. His condition has no permanent treatment. Mum spends all her time brewing his blood restoratives and Pepper-Up Potions. I do what I can to help out when I'm not at Hogwarts, but Ping's too young and inexperienced to go anything while I'm at school and dad has to tend to the shop all day. The ingredients are costly too, even at the wholesale price dad gets through the dealers. It's a good thing we have mum to brew the potionsrather than having to pay some other person or else I don't think we'd be able to manage at all, and eventually they aren't going to be enough..."
Harry was no expert with science or medical magic, but he did understand how magic worked well enough to see the inevitable situation. Magic grew stronger within the body as a wizard or witch advanced in age. Soon enough Paoyu's magic would outstrip the ability to combat the condition and he would wither away and die. Not even the extreme solution would work. Binding the boy's magic would only hamper his ability to channel it. The raw energy would still lie dormant in his body, eating away at him. The young prodigy spoke so that his companion wouldn't have to put it in words.
"His mana counts will multiply as he gets older…that would…be a big problem."
The tears were coming down now. The young prodigy didn't know what to do in this situation. He had dealt with her crying happy tears on several occasions but had never had to deal with emotional pain like this. He couldn't even control his own outbursts.
"…The Mediwizards say…they say…they say he won't live long past his teens."
The young dandy thought it so wrong that people shriveled and died, especially ones as young as Cho's adorable younger brother. As bad as his grandmother's health was, the old woman had at least been allowed the opportunity to live a long while and to see her children grown and grandchildren born. Harry hesitantly draped an arm around his companion's shoulders and let her shed her tears against him while he spoke in what he hoped was a soothing tone.
"It's going to be all right. We'll come up with some way to help him."
That seemed to be a doomed vow, but 'impossible' was a concept that simply meant nothing whatsoever to Harry James Potter. Even as a newborn he had been doing things that supposedly couldn't be done. With the proper will anything was possible. That was how magic essentially operated, at least within his inexperienced reasoning. He surreptitiously grasped his cane and in a rare sneaky move tapped the crying girl's shoulder, silently casting a Cheering Charm. He put very little power behind it so that she wouldn't realize that he had used a spell on her. He couldn't bear seeing her so lost in hopelessness and despair. Her tears gradually stopped and she raised her head.
"I'm sorry about this, Harry. I wasn't meaning to make a bloody mess all over your robes."
Harry snorted and tapped his own robes, cleaning the tearstains with ease. He would rather keep the robe and never clean it again, but to hold onto priceless teardrops that were shed over another would be perverse and wrong, like polluting something sacred.
"Nothing to worry about. As rough as his lot seems he's still quite lucky to have someone like you shedding precious tears over him, and your sister too. With two angels watching over him like this something will happen to save him, at least that's what I think."
She cocked her head and stared at him as though he had lost his mind, but then seemed to let the odd comment slide. The young dandy had said still stranger things in the past. He was being sincere in what he said, and only hoped that he would have somebody like her to shed tears over him when he reached the end. To have beautiful girls' tears create a great river to sweep him away into eternity, that would be the ideal way to die.
"You've done every bit as much to help him without even knowing it."
Harry unconsciously threaded a hand into the girl's glossy black hair as he stared without blinking at the white plum blossoms across the garden. Only a little sunlight entered the secluded little enclosure. The resulting image could only be described as sublime.
"But I've only just now met him. Surely that can't be put on the same level as your care."
She moved about and stared into his eyes. At that moment a light snow began coming down. The raven-haired prodigy watched the dropping ice crystals gather in her hair.
"It can, because you represent hope and beating the odds. You survived a Killing Curse cast by the strongest evil wizard to exist in centuries. Seeing you in person gives us all hope that he'll somehow come through this like you did that night. That's why Ping got so upset when she thought you were an impostor, ridiculing everything we believe in."
They passed several hours talking about anything and everything. Cho was pleased to hear about his opportunity to take his two OWL's early. That was what helped to distinguish true Ravenclaws relative to mere grasping bookworms like Hermione Granger. The latter would have been green with envy that somebody else had been granted a chance to excel and not her. People in his illustrious House mostly didn't begrudge one another at all. He also learned more about her post-Hogwarts plans. She wanted to become a Mediwitch and get into medical magic research, so that she could devise ways to assist her brother and people like him. Quidditch was only a hobby that she didn't intend to pursue beyond school despite her natural talent. Her dream was what had motivated her to tough it out and return to Hogwarts this year despite having been alone and miserable all through the last. The young aristocrat became even more solidly entrenched in his conviction to help her along in any way that he could. A bird soaring in the sky overhead brought his mind back to something important. He reached into his robes and withdrew a small velvet case tied with a gold ribbon and handed it to Cho.
"I wasn't sure whether or not you all celebrated Yule at home, so I decided to wait and give this to you in person."
She looked at the box and then back at him with a smile.
"We do, actually. We take any chance we can to be happy and celebrate, but it was considerate to assume that we might not."
"I saw this while I was out Christmas shopping and knew it was made to be yours."
The necklace was pure platinum, a raven on a chain with a deep blue sapphire lodged inside its grasping talons. She was quite speechless as she laced it around her neck and the young dandy clasped it. He was going to ask her to come to the upcoming Ministry Ball as his date and also to come to Surrey and spend the week at his estate but reconsidered the idea. With Paoyu's illness and Cho's being away so much at school as well as their mother's constant work in keeping the condition at bay and Mister Chang's troubled with bringing in enough gold to keep meals on the table and meet his son's heavy medical expenses, the child aristocrat imagined that they had precious little time together. Harry was unwilling to burden them even more, seeing as he got to be around her almost all the time at Hogwarts anyway and the term started again in about a week.
"This and my Firebolt…you have to stop spending like this, Harry."
Harry's lip curled in annoyance. He always hated hearing such mundane talk. She kissed him on the cheek upon noticing his indignant expression, at which point he sighed in exasperation and crossed his arms. He couldn't remain irritated with her at all.
"Don't worry so much. It's not as though I'm going bankrupt."
"But you're squandering your inheritance. Promise me, no more expensive presents."
He was compelled to acquiesce, as much as he hated to. He got the vibe that she wouldn't accept the next one he bought. As spoiled as he was, Harry couldn't understand why she would be so bothered by his spending habits. He had never been through lean straits as she had and so seeing Galleons thrown away needlessly didn't upset him as it did her. Regardless, the setting sun told him that it was time to take his leave. They went back inside and upstairs where gave his regards to the ailing boy, exhorting him to be kind and compliant with his mother and sisters and to keep his chin up. As he recharmed his Portkey and departed, he made up his mind to owl his goblin account manager at Gringotts and request that a sizable monthly sum be added to the Chang vault at his expense. He might not be able to cure Paoyu's illness now, but he could at least do something to alleviate their income burdens in the meantime.
New Year's Eve came about slowly. Cho's sadness and tough situation had kept him quite thoroughly depressed upon his return to Surrey. He had shared his troubles with his grandmother upon calling on the old lady, and she had thoroughly agreed that sharing his resources to help them was the proper thing to do. He had sent Disenchantment to the bank with his letter immediately upon waking the next morning. Now there wasn't much time remaining until the Malfoys would be arriving to conduct him to the Ministry. He would be traveling in their carriage in the proper pureblood manner. He was really in no mood to attend a dry social event, but there was nothing he could do about it.
"Stop wiggling around, Harry. Let me get these robes on right."
Harry whined at Kim in response as she tried to get him into his Twillfit and Tatting's dress robes. At least that horrid tailor had been graced with enough aesthetic sense to place some gold embroidery on the abominable garment, though it was still most unattractive. He sincerely hoped that these dress standards weren't a litmus test indicating how austere and Victorian high magical society was.
"I can't help it. They're so droll that my body naturally resists wearing them."
"Don't be ridiculous. I still can't believe how built you've gotten."
The image in his large vanity mirror did display his rather altered body. Four months' hard daily training under Lucius Malfoy's exhaustive workout regimen had produced visible results. He wasn't cut out to be an exercise model, thank Merlin, but he wasn't small or weak either. His attendants had all been quite impressed, though he couldn't comprehend the reason. He thought that he had been rather handsomer in his previous state. They always came to watch him train in the mornings as well, which made him a bit nervous. As much as he liked attention, he wasn't accustomed to doing strenuous exercise with such an attractive audience.
"And you still have those natural good looks too."
That was Sophia, who was plaiting his hair. He could always count on his girls to appeal to his sizable ego and cheer him up. Kim got his robe on and Alyssa tied it with the gold sash that he had brought out. He also put on a gold necklace encrusted with a ruby. The repressive dress code at this bloody dance wouldn't allow him to get away with much accessorizing but he intended to do the most that he could. All the gold matched with the trimming on his robes and with his cane, so it couldn't be deemed improper by their ridiculous standards. The buxom girl ran her hands lasciviously across his waistline while she straightened the sash. The gesture wasn't overt enough to get her into trouble but still made the young dandy's cheeks heat up.
"You sure are growing up quickly. I mean, you've not even been in school a year and you're getting invited to big social events."
Harry rolled his eyes and almost spat in disgust.
"It's because I'm the bloody Boy-Who-Lived. I don't mind the recognition but I'd rather people saw the person rather than the title."
"But tonight they will. That's why you have to look your very best."
"Even my worst is better than their best, and I only care to dazzle you all."
Melody shook her head with a laugh.
"Such talk…mind your grandmother's wishes and make a good impression tonight."
"I shall do as you command, melodic mistress."
The maids weren't used to Harry's new random sarcasm, so that statement met with some raised eyebrows. Sophia made the last touches on his hair and he was ready to go. And right on time as it happened.
"Some'zing is headed 'zis way. Come and see, 'Arry."
Harry puttered over towards his bedroom's balcony door and stood next to his platinum blonde French attendant, looking outward at the darkened skyline. Something was indeed on a collision coarse with the estate's grounds, approaching on the northwestern horizon through the air and beginning its descent. It was an ornate carriage drawn by no less than six silvery winged horses. Pegasi, and very gorgeous ones at that. Harry had never seen the mythical creatures until now, though he had once ridden in this very same buggy. He had been unconscious at that time, however, collapsed due to magical exertion.
"How exquisite. I must have a carriage like that."
"I can't see a thing."
"Same here. I think you're getting delusional, Christine."
Harry didn't even need to look at the heraldry emblazoned upon the side to know who the carriage belonged to. The green and silver coloring scheme gave the mystery away at once. He wasn't surprised that Kim and Alyssa wouldn't be able to see it. Lucius would have made certain that his traveling buggy was charmed to remain invisible to Muggles. What was curious was that Christine could. The young aristocrat had long been a bit suspicious that the French beauty was a Veela. The way that her very presence melted men into absolute buttery goo had always struck him as strange. Her being able to see through the magic was the evidence that he needed to conclude. He was a bit annoyed with her about having concealed something like this, and relieved that nobody had ever angered her enough to make her turn into a bird. Her slip was pretty obvious, so maybe she had decided that now was the right time to let him know about her magical heritage.
"Well, that's my escort. I'd best be headed downstairs. Keep me in your prayers."
"Enough with the melodramatics, Harry. One night's not gonna kill you."
Harry grinned and grabbed his cane, not even listening to hear who made that comment. He glanced over at Christine, giving her a long look that said they were going to need to have a talk later. He then heard an Apparition crack outside and saw Lucius Malfoy standing on the porch and striding towards the main entranceway. Without another word he waved goodbye to his attendants and started downstairs to meet the waiting aristocrat.
(End Chapter Ten)
Author's Note: Two months later…yeah, I know I've been neglecting my Harry Potter stories to indulge my new Naruto habit. This chapter was originally going to go all the way through the formal, but I decided to wait and devote an entire one to the dance, and spend some time with Cho and her family here. I felt that I'd been placing Lucius and the Malfoys in the spotlight a long time, and I wanted to shine the spotlight on some other characters as well. There's a reason for Cho's brother and his illness, and I might as well come right out with it. I need some reason for Harry to need to go after the Philosopher's Stone later. He's not the Gryffindor golden boy here, and doesn't have the reason of saving the stone from Snape to motivate him.
I have started a forum for discussion regarding my works or whatever else. Link's in my profile. Can't think of too much else to say here that doesn't involve spoiling things in future chapters. Hope you all enjoy this belated update, and please review.