He sat in his office having his traditional afternoon tea. Usually, he found his mind wandering about this time of the day and preferred to just relax and let his thoughts drift over the events of the day, his work, family, friends, and people he had lost and missed. Anne – his secretary – knew not to disturb him with anything or anyone but his family and pure disasters, so the time just after the closing of the French bourse was his to stress down. Sometimes he walked out of his office, to the busy streets of Paris, to have his tea (or hot chocolate – in winter time) in the nearby café, letting the city sounds accompany his drifting thoughts. What is the use of living in the most wonderful city of the world and not letting its beauty ease one's pain?
When Harry regained his concentration he found himself leaning back in his office chair, feet propped up on his large desk, cradling his half-empty cup of cold tea and staring at a stick which was enclosed in a glassed frame that hung just to the side of his seat. The stick was made of yew wood, thirteen and a half inches long, with a well-used grip. The glass cover said in bright red letters, – "Break only in case of emergency!" Lately, Harry found himself fighting the urge to grip the stick and play, but thankfully, the bright red letters were warning enough.
When asked, Harry said that during his high school years he used to earn his pocket money working as a magician, and that the "wand" was given to him as a souvenir, by his friends, for being the best magician in England. Very few knew that Harry had a similar frame in his home study, that one with an eleven-inch holly stick. Those who did know merely thought that Harry had probably won this magician competition a couple of times in his early years. When asked by his friends or colleagues to show them few tricks, Harry would say that his hands were no longer quick enough and that there was no emergency in sight. Then he would sigh, take out his holly fountain pen out off his shirt-front pocket, and play with it between his fingers.
Today was a good day. – The CaC was up one-point-two percent, and the sky was bright with the autumn afternoon sun, which was the perfect illumination for the reddening fall and the bright green lawns of Paris gardens. And there lay his destiny – he and Grace were to meet in Palais-Royal. Grace had the day off and would pick Min up from kindergarten so they could walk the streets, shop a little, have tea, and bring Min home before going out for dinner. After all, Min was already seven years old, and today was Grace's anniversary! Yes, technically it was their anniversary; but she was his wife, and women usually had prerogative over weddings and anniversaries...
Palais-Royal was the actual place where Harry met Grace. He had Hermione and the damned goblins to thank for it. He was quite successful in avoiding the whole magical world. No one thought to look for him in Muggle Paris, and he hadn't used his wand for a year since the end of the war. And then there was his house in Place des Vosges. The Black family had been decaying for decades. Not one of them remembered that the family member who immortalized the family motto – "Toujours pur" – was pure a Frenchman, who had, in fact, tried the purifying thing on a grand scale until, according to the best French tradition - he was parted from his head.
Harry managed to find a charm to hide his magical signature so owls and tracking spells or devices wouldn't find him. He was congratulating himself for successfully covering his tracks when Griphook suddenly appeared in his hotel room, nearly giving Harry a heart attack.
"I just came to inform you that one of your properties is just about five hundred yards from your hotel, and you have a staff of three house-elves to serve you there," said Griphook. "Right, and you need to (preferably) read and sign few documents regarding the management of your estate," he continued before Harry had a chance to say a word, and deposit a very large case full of parchments in front of Harry. When the case was opened, it was obvious that it had been charmed to be even larger inside than it appeared from the outside.
A little (expensive) help from the goblins made the house visible to Muggles but Unplottable, untraceable, and invisible to all magical creatures, except – naturally – goblins. It was Harry's most thorough research project ever – to find means to hide from the goblins; but to no avail. He was genuinely surprised that the goblins hadn't won one of their rebellions and gained control over the Wizarding world long ago. Griphook just smiled (a very discouraging feat from a goblin), and remarked that money makes the world go round.
Harry had goblins cases appear in front of him on his desk, their parchment-wrapped arrows appeared on his lap in the Metro, their parchment envelopes appeared on his café table. "I gave you my power-of-goblin in order to make you my representative and get rid of all your coursed parchmentwork," he yelled at Griphook, but apparently Gringotts was bind by the rules of the International Federation of Wizarding Banking, which was in fact a subcommittee of the goblin administration, and was forced to deluge Harry with parchmentwork. After much debate, Griphook agreed to Harry's demands and promised to send him documents written only on Muggle paper only and send it only to his home study desk.
Then, while plagued with goblin paperwork asking him for all kinds of instructions and authorisations, Hermione suddenly came into play. Harry had a hard enough time keeping out of contact with her, and enough pangs of guilt about her losses. After all, running away and hiding was not a very Gryffindorish behavior. Every time Harry signed a paper he heard Hermione's voice in his head lecturing him – "But you can't sign this when you don't understand it!"
But we were thinking about Grace - Harry was sitting in a lovely café in the back of Jardaine du Palais-Royal, trying to silence Hermione's lecturing voice by reading his new book on the basics of economics, wearing the obligatory grimace on his face, when a lovely young woman from the next table remarked that one could see that he really related to his book. Harry only remembered her shining smile, her dark black hair, and bright blue eyes. After few long, awkward moments he just had to buy her a cold beer, and then insisted on walking her to her small student apartment in the north end of the city. About a month later Grace came to visit him at his house; she stayed the night, being too tired to take the Metro home, and never really left.
She had been born to a rich old family from the southern United States, near Montgomery, Alabama. She came to Paris to work on her Master's in International Law and Political Science and to run away from her family.
"You can't imagine the life of a humanitarian in a family of southern traditionalist rednecks," she said once, when he mistakenly called her a Yankee.
"I think I can imagine quit a lot," he said glumly, an image of a great black dog with bright blue eyes running around in his head. Harry told her he was a first-year Economics student, since he didn't want her to think of him as a playboy, living off his family's money. He didn't actually enroll in the university, but with this lie he started to learn and his real life began.
I just can't describe in words how I miss your – my whole family. Also, how afraid I am, thinking that one day I might meet one (and then the whole) of them. First you Put a few small lies around you to make your life a little more comfortable. Then you create more elaborated lies to defend the first ones. Finally you find yourself hiding from yourself and from all these lies that come back to haunt you.
Dobby died to save Ron's life and then Ron died to save Hermione, and I can no longer look you or Hermione or Winky or anybody else from the family in the eyes. I can't even look in the mirror. The only difference is that I can't seem to be able to hide from Winky as opposed to the Weasleys and myself. She came here and stopped me from drinking and takes such good care of me that my eyes fill with tears whenever she leaves the room.
But enough of my whining. How is everybody? Did Hermione receive her own department in the research centre? Did Gin finish med school? I know about the twins' plan to expand their business to foreign countries, since I'm one of the shareholders of WWW. I also know about Bill's promotion and wedding (wasn't it actually your wedding? Sorry for asking – please forget I have said anything at all…) from my contacts at Gringotts.
The goblins are another kind of creature I don't seem to be able to hide from. Is Arthur happy with his position as Vice-Minister for Muggle-Wizard Relations? I believe nowadays that must be the most important office in the whole Ministry!
Just one last thing before I wrap up this letter and look for a sneaky way to send it to you. How does one tell a Muggle that he's a wizard? How did Ginny do it? Wasn't she afraid to lose her love?
Her name is Grace, and I'm so afraid I can't sleep at night...
Today I'll tell her, Harry decided while standing in front of his desk. I'll surprise her and take her to the opera in Sidney – I still remember the password to Dumbledore's charmed seats, and after that I'll have no choice other than to answer her questions.
Or maybe later during the weekend, he thought to himself as He stood in front of the glassed frame reading the red inscription. He then sighed and walked out of the office to meet his wife and daughter.
It was roughly a fifteen minutes walk. He walked the sunny streets, thinking of the life he'd made with Grace. "Neither can live while the other survives," the curse had said. Harry had survived and Tom hadn't, and Harry was doing his best to make the only good part of the damned curse come true, ever since. God knows that the price for fulfilling the other parts was too high.
Formal economic knowledge came quite easily to him. It was much more structured and logical then the chaotic knowledge he was used to in the Wizarding world. Naturally, he skipped over the entire formal math studying by using a practical, easy-to-use charm Griphook had taught him, which kept his numbers correct and in line.
The main problem Harry had to overcome was getting a grasp of the actual value of money. True – Harry was filthy rich, but the problem was that Harry had never had to use his money to live on. When he was a child he had lived off the scraps the Dursleys allowed him, having no money of his own at all. Later on, his life in Hogwarts and with the Order came to him without a price tag – at least a monetary one. If the Order or Harry himself needed anything at all, someone would get it and Harry's vault would cover the cost, without any noticeable dent and without Harry giving it a thought.
Harry first confronted the problem during Grace's twenty-second birthday. He knew (well – Hermione once told him) that jewelry was always a good present for a woman, so he picked out a nice necklace from the Black family vault – after checking it carefully for curses and obvious charms. He was shocked when, upon proudly presenting it to Grace, she recoiled from him, cried, and accused him of trying to buy her off. Apparently, the necklace was something that would have been more at home in a Royal treasury than around the neck of a Sorbonne student, however rich her family was.
After lot of groveling on Harry's part, he presented Grace with another necklace, this time from a nearby shop. She did receive the original one a year and a half later on their wedding day, when Harry introduced her to his house jewelry vault in which he had gathered a selection of a few of the less ostentatious pieces of jewelry he could find in the Black and Potter vaults, together with his grandparents' wedding rings. Grace was speechless.
The second event was even less entertaining. It happened when Harry decided that he needed to play with a little real money to fully understand his studies. He walked into the nearest bank branch with a bank draft for the equivalent of five hundred thousand Galleons and shortly thereafter found himself detained in the uncomfortable and unwelcoming offices of the French tax agency, being questioned regarding money-laundering offences. To his great relief, when he entered the investigations room he found his old friend and mentor Griphook sitting in the corner, apparently invisible to the other men in the room, laughing hysterically at Harry's predicament.
A few minute later an elderly French equivalent of a gentleman entered the room and announced, "I am the French representative of Mr. Evans' business. Mr. Evans came lately into a handsome inheritance, both here and in other countries. The Evans family was a long-time member of French society. You will find a certain Robespierre to be the most prominent member of the French branch of the family. Yes, I know – "Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!" He had an obvious panache for the death part. "I assure you that Mr. Evans' affaires are in perfect order. I have all the documents you have requested. No, Mr. Evens certainly takes no offence – you were only doing your work properly. Have a nice evening."
Harry kept walking the streets, stopping only for a short moment at the florist shop at the Passage de Vivienne to buy fresh flowers for Grace.
Turning the corner into Palais-Royal he could see Min playing in the sandbox and Grace standing nearby laughing with her. They were so pretty together – Grace showing her first stages of pregnancy. He must tell her tonight. "Ehm, I have something important to tell you tonight, but right now we need to hurry up. The opera in Sidney starts in forty-five minutes. We'll have plenty of time after the show to talk about the secrets I've kept from you for ten years. Are you dressed? Then hold this—" Yep, this was going to be easy...
You can look into my eyes all day long and only see love there. Neither I nor any other member of the family blames you for our losses. I am thanking you for finishing this horrible war in a much shorter time than anyone imagined would be possible. Without your courage and sacrifices I probably would have lost more members of the family, or maybe our family would have lost me. I'm only sorry that we've lost you, and for no good reason. Now I have two children, who won't look me in the eye, and between the two of you, I have to say – you didn't do anything to be ashamed of. I've even forgiven Percy, but he doesn't seem able to forgive himself. I'm afraid the fact that he can't ask for your forgiveness is not helping at all.
Why won't you come and visit? And bring your Grace with you. We'll help you expose her to the Wizarding world slowly and in a supportive company, and we do have experience in the process. I can even promise to hold George and Fred on a short leash for a while, but I believe that you are much more capable than I am in that matter.
Yes, I did have my weddings (note the plural form). Bill married Fleur and she is expecting a baby girl soon. Ginny will finish med school in three years (It's a five-year program, even with her credentials from St. Mungo's Healer's Program) She too is expecting a baby in the summer.
And then there is Hermione. She came for a visit two weeks ago and told us that her Johan had finally proposed. Later that evening she disappeared for a long while. I went looking for her and found her sitting in Ron's old room holding your old Firebolt and crying. Johan didn't know what had happened or what to do, and I didn't really know how to explain. She needs you, Harry. She deserves all the happiness in the world, and she can't make her peace with the past while you are missing.
I know you hate people telling you what you ought to do, but you can't lie to the world and to yourself forever. One day you'll look back and find that the life you had was not truly yours and that you can't bring back the years.
Love you always,
Harry saw Grace pointing in his direction and Min's little figure was running as fast as she could to his arms. "Papa! Mom and I saw the most wonderful toy store right here. They have all kinds of dolls and puppets and sweets, and then in the back of the store there's a secret door with a room full of the most wonderful things: sweets that dye your hair in all colours, and sweets that will turn you into a bird, and toys that move by themselves, and pointed hats that make you look old and wrinkled like a real witch, with little brooms to fly on, and books with pictures that move!"
"Did you really?" asked Harry, with a little dread in his voice.
"Flowers? For me?"
"Happy anniversary, love."
Min wrinkled her nose as they kissed, then decided it had been going on for too long and pulled at her father's arm.
"What did you say about the shop?"
"She certainly didn't get this kind of imagination from you," said Grace. "She disappeared on me in the shop and came back with one of the owners. There are two of them, and they are the most identical twins I have ever seen, with amazing red hair and wearing the most ludicrously colourful clothes! They were talking in turns — it reminded me of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I had a nice talk with one of them, to tell him I like their shop. It's really unique, and I like it. Especially these days, when all toy stores looks like some version of Toys-R-Us. He said his name is George, and that they're here to bring fairy tales back to life. I think you'll love their shop. You should go and have a look."
Harry did love the WWW shops, and the little witch hats had been his idea, to boot. He knew, of course, about Fred and George's plans to open new shops in major foreign cities, but he should have checked where and when it would be happening. Now he would have to fight the urge to go for a visit. Even after the twins moved back to England, Fred and George were not people whose lack of attention to detail Harry would be testing any time soon.
"Yes, I'm sure, but not today," he said hastily. "Let's all have some hot chocolate while the sun is still up. I know a secret place, where they serve the best chocolate in Paris, right here in the back of Jardaine du Palais-Royal."
"It's not a secret place, Papa. It's where you met Mummy"
"Is it really? Let's go there than, and than go back home. We still have a long night to enjoy."
They did have the best chocolate in Paris. Chocolate is a bit like wine in that regard. Its quality is derived directly from the company one keeps while drinking. At home, Harry sat at his desk, pondering. Today had been a close call and a reminder that he wouldn't be able to hide for ever. The door Min had seen in the shop and Grace hadn't, was both a cause for rejoicing and rather frightening as well. It meant Min was magical! As did every wizard and witch, Harry lived with the certainty that his children would be magical, as he was — along with the ever existing dread that maybe they wouldn't be. Min had actually shown signs of magic before, but none as clear as this. And the thought that there was a Weasley involved...
He sat there quietly, thinking about his daughter's bright future and about the countdown clock that was now posted on the wall of his secret world. Harry just sat there staring at his framed wand, reading the red warning and absentmindedly caressing Fawkes' feathers.
"Love? Can you stop molesting your peacock here and come kiss our daughter goodnight?"
"Here I am, love."
"And Harry, take a look at Min's light switch in the morning, would you? Last night I had to switch it off three times for it to stay, and sometimes lately I've found the light in her room turned on in the middle of the night."
"I will, love," he said and entered Min's bedroom.
"So — what kind of story shall I tell you tonight?"
"Tell me about the young child who fought a dragon!"
"Well, you know that dragons can fly, and quite fast, and they can breathe fire, too, but they're very large and slow to turn and can't see well in the dusk. So this kid—"
"I'm not afraid of dragons."
"And you shouldn't be. That dragon from the story wasn't bad; she was a mother and was worried for her eggs. Just promise me that next time when you see a dragon you won't go near it without me."
"I promise, Papa."
"Good night, sweetheart," he said. "Dream about fairy tales, and we'll try and make them come true for you." He kissed her forehead turned the light off, waving his pen at the switch and mumbling incoherent silent words before leaving the room.
Harry wandered into the bedroom, where Grace was getting ready for dinner. He leaned against the doorway and watched her brush her hair. "Do you sometimes miss our first years?" he asked.
Grace smiled at him in the mirror. "What is it? Are you having we've-been-together-ten-years syndrome?"
"Maybe I am," he shrugged.
"We've had all kinds of different times together, but in my eyes it's all been good. I liked being carefree, innocent students, but I can't imagine our life without Minerva. I'm happy with both of our professional accomplishments and especially proud of the help we give each other in our personal and professional lives. You know, most of our friends and colleagues don't have that."
Dinner at Le Grand Vefour was delicious as ever, and to Harry's knowledge had been that way for centuries.
"Harry, how far in advance did you plan this dinner? I hear you need to make dinner reservations months in advance."
An elderly waiter, dressed in traditional black and white and wearing his traditional detached face refilled their half-empty wine glasses.
"Well, I've been thinking about this evening for a couple of years now, but I made the reservations just a few weeks ago. The owner here was one of my first clients, and I know he always keeps a table set aside for really important guests who show up without notice. You wouldn't expect him to deny Princess Caroline of Monaco or the President of the Republic a dinner, would you?"
This was almost the truth. Actually, the restaurant had been owned by the Black family under several different names since the Palais-Royal was built in the mid-seventeenth century. Harry was so impressed when he'd first had lunch there with Griphook that he declined the goblin's suggestion to close the loosing restaurant; instead Harry invested enough capital of his own to enable a much-needed renovation—and aid in the survival of the restaurant during the recession years to help it retain it's place as one of Paris' most desirable and profitable dining houses. After that, the old goblin had stopped questioning Harry's business instincts.
"Yes, I remember you telling me about him. You were so clueless and innocent in the beginning that I was thinking your clients would eat you alive and you'd lose all your family's money."
"Well, thank you for your confidence in me," Harry said in mock indignation, but with a small smile on his lips and in his eyes.
When the time had come for Harry's "graduation" (Griphook supplied the formal credentials and took care to have them filed properly), he was surprised to discover that his "playing" money had more than doubled during those fifteen months. He was terrified when he was asked by some of his friends, and then by some of their friends, to "play" with their money, too. This was the foundation of what later became the Fawkes Investment House.
"Honestly, I still have this necklace you tried to give me for my birthday, just two months after I met you, as testimony.
"Maybe clueless but certainly not innocent," he said darkly.
"Well, I still remember our first time—"
"You know, it was my first."
"Of course, I know dear, but you were trying to hide it so eagerly that I never said anything."
"Come, Harry, let's go partying and pretend to be young and carefree for the night. Maybe we can even find ourselves a nice dark corner for good old times' sake."
"We need not pretend to be young, love," he said. "But I thought you were pregnant—?"
"I'm not that pregnant," she complained, "and this is something to remind us of those first years you're so fond of remembering," Grace said, with the wicked smile Harry loved so. "I can't really believe we were never caught."
Harry just shrugged, smiling to himself as he signed the check, twiddling his pen between his fingers.
They were dancing and drinking (non-alcoholic drinks, in Grace's case) in a new and hip dance bar near Place de la Bastille. Harry was trying to catch his breath when a sudden warm, dizzy feeling came over his mind. Instinctively, he cleared his mind and pushed the feeling off, watching Grace's bright, genuine smile curiously.
"And the queen graces us with her presence," Grace said, looking across the room.
"What?" Harry asked, confused.
"Miss Gabrielle Delacour. The queen of Paris' night life. Co-queen, actually, since she has an older sister just as beautiful, but I've heard that her sister went and married an English peasant, leaving Gabrielle to rule over Paris by herself. Haven't you heard of her? She's so beautiful men are literally lost for words in her presence. I think this place is owned by her family. She was one of my students at the Sorbonne. Her father is a highly placed civil servant, so she took Political Science a few years ago. I was thinking she was just a shiny credit-card with a pretty face in the beginning, but she's actually very bright. Wait here."
"What?! Wait a second — Grace —"
Grace disappeared into the crowd and Harry was left alone with a sinking, cold fear in his stomach.
"Here, meet my husband Harry. Harry – this is Gabrielle." Grace was back with Fleur's younger sister, looking immensely pleased with herself.
"Harry Potter?" Gabrielle exclaimed in delight. She stood there looking at him with wide grey eyes.
"Harry Evans, nice meeting you," he said, hoping his voice was steadier than his heartbeat.
She took stock of his dark brown hair and dark blue eyes. He noticed the oh-so-familiar glance at his forehead. "Sorry, I mistook you at first for someone I haven't seen for a very long time," she said.
His scar had been a headache, quite literally so, for many years, but since Tom died it was no longer active and was now vulnerable to both glamour charms and Muggle makeup. He had gone a little farther, changing his hair and eyes, to ensure he would not be recognized by any but very close friends.
"Think nothing of it. It happens all the time. I'm really glad to meet you," he said, trying to regain his composure.
"Why, Harry! You're the first person of the masculine race I've ever seen, who's able to talk coherently with Gabrielle without a cooling-off period," Grace teased.
"Is that so?" he asked with a smile, looking at the blond. "Are you some kind of a mythological wood-nymph creature?"
"No," she answered with a dazzling smile of her own. "I'm related to the sea sirens, but we gave up our fins many centuries ago."
They walked out into the clean, cold air outside the club after inviting Gabrielle for a visit.
"Thanks, Harry. I'm having so much fun tonight. I love you so!" Grace said, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him, her desire shining in her eyes. "What do you think of that small alley for the night's finale?"
Just then a crushing sound came from the alley. In a split second Harry turned around, pushing Grace behind him, and pointed his pen into the darkness.
"Miiiaaww," said a gray cat that stepped out of the alley, and strolled unconcernedly away, down the street, to the sound of Grace's chuckle.
"A wee bit jumpy, are we?" she teased him. "And you certainly seem to believe that the pen is mightier then the sword," she added dryly.
"That depends on the sword," he said evenly, thinking about his sword - Gryffindor's sword - which was now lying on his study desk at home. He had shrunk the sword and used it now to open Gringotts' letters. He smiled to himself, imagining Hermione's shocked face if she were ever to find out about this. 'It's not like someone can steal the thing', he thought. 'As long as I'm alive, I'm the only one capable of wielding it, and I can summon it to my hand from wherever in the blink of an eye. At least it's being put to some productive use.'
"I was so happy to see Gabrielle tonight. I love seeing old friends. Did you ever go to visit your friends in England? Don't you miss them?" Grace asked over her shoulder as she walked to the edge of the road and waved to a passing cab, which ignored her bluntly. He was so surprised by her words that he could only stand there and try to fight his tears.
He stood in a wide, well-lit London suburb street, smiling in admiration at the clever and elaborate Spellwork protecting the nice, well-kept house. With a wave of his pen he lit up part of the wards, granting him access to the house.
He silently entered the master bedroom and carefully Levitated one of its inhabitants to the nearby guestroom, covering him with a bedspread and sealing the room with a Silencing Charm. Back in the master bedroom, he gently touched the sleeping young woman to wake her up. She woke with a start, reaching for her nightstand. "Ssh," he whispered to her. "There's no danger here tonight."
"Harry?" she asked silently, afraid to believe her ears.
"I'm here for you," he said with a soft smile.
"Harry!" she said, hugging him with all her love and her fright and her sorrow.
"I know," he said softly, hugging her back.
"Harry!" she said in horror, covering herself with the blanket as she belatedly realised that she had worn nothing but her perfume to bed that night.
He chuckled and left the room in search of tea. They would both need some that night, and he didn't want to use his wand without a good reason.
"Johan?" she asked, entering the living room wearing a long tee-shirt.
"He's asleep in the guest room and won't wake up until morning," he said. "We need this night for us."
When they sat down together on the couch, her tears broke out. He just sat there, holding her, caressing her back, listening as her sobs slowly diminished. Finally she looked up at him, wiping her tears away.
"I don't know if I'll be permitted to live now that he's gone."
"Sure you are, otherwise his death was for nothing."
"I've failed you all. I couldn't prevent all this death."
"No, you haven't. Without your planning and preparations, none of us would have had a chance."
"I couldn't even keep his child."
"You were badly wounded. You'll have more children, and no choice but to let Molly spoil them."
They sat together in silence, slowly sipping their tea.
"You're going to disappear again in the morning, aren't you?"
"Yes. I am."
"Why won't you stay?"
"Because I still can't forgive myself — but your life is starting again in a week's time and you don't have a choice any more."
"Thank you, Harry."
And with one last hug he was gone.
It was nine years later, and all Harry had to remind him of his past were Molly's letters.
I heard the most amazing thing today. As you probably know, the twins opened a new store in Paris. It is located in the King's Palace, or something like that. I tried to look it up on the map, but this city is just full of those– Big Palace, Small Palace, Justice Palace, Flower Palace – I couldn't find it to save my life. But I digress.
I was talking with George, who told me about a beautiful little girl who walked into the store one afternoon. You know how their new stores are separated into Muggle and magical parts by a door which only magical people can see?
Well, that girl was certainly a witch, and her mother a Muggle. George had to bring the child out of the magical part for her mother to find her. He said the child was amazed by the magical creatures and told him that her father had told her all about dragons and unicorns.
George said that she had amusingly wild black hair and the most beautiful, brilliant green eyes. Her name was Min Evans – just think, Harry, she could be related to your mother!
Tell me, who on earth would call a young girl by the name Minerva these days? The poor girl...
Love you always,
I just couldn't think of any other name, at the time. You know the old cat was as much my mother as you are, though she wouldn't have hugged me for all the treasures of Atlantis. Grace put up a brave fight, and we finally settled it that she gets to decide all by herself the names of any future children we might have. Maybe I'll be able to suggest Brian as a middle name.
Min is so wonderful, Molly. Sometimes, when I can't sleep, I just sit in her room and watch her breathe. She is smart, and quite powerful. She can switch her bedroom light on and off at will, and she can summon small objects to her hand. I had to charm her room, the kitchen, and the dining room to damp her magic to keep Grace from finding out, and to keep Winky sane.
Is it normal? I don't know what to do. Should I help and instruct her? I believe she could get the hang of some small, day-to-day charms even before she gets her first wand. How do you bring up a witch? We have a few friends with young children to talk with and consult about raising children, but none of them are magical. I tried asking Griphook, but he just said that we should have bought Min her first battleaxe when she was five, so I gave up on him in that regard.
And then there is Grace. First I was afraid to tell her I'd been lying to her for a year, so I waited until I was afraid to tell her I'd been lying to her for two years. Now I don't know how to explain that she's been living with a character I've invented for more than ten years, even though all the character's feelings are mine, and true. You were right, you know – these years haven't been truly mine.
And now the countdown on my secret world's walls is coming to a stop.
"Wake up, Harry. You were having a bad dream."
He was covered in sweat and all tangled up in the bedclothes.
"What was it, dear?" Grace asked in concern, helping him to untangle himself.
"I don't remember," he said, the image of gray, ghost-like figures standing around him in an old, dark cemetery, calling him a liar, while a cold, high-pitched sound of laughter came from a distance, linger in his mind.
"I'll get you some tea."
He sat up when she'd gone and looked at the picture of his parents standing on his nightstand. It was the picture from their wedding, and the only one he had at home; he'd had to find a charm to stop the picture from moving. He touched the picture lightly with his pen and watched them spin in their happy dance, feeling like he would have been a big disappointment to them. When he heard Grace's footsteps coming back up the stairs, he touched it again and the picture froze.
"They're so pretty," she said, taking the picture from him and studying it. "It's so sad you don't remember them at all."
'I do remember – the exact moment of their death,' he thought to himself, sipping his tea. Actually, he needed Dementors in order to truly remember anything from that long-ago horrible time, and he had seen to it that none of them survived. Even his boggart didn't turn into a Dementor any more.
The days passed by, filled with work, laughter, love, and fear, all interlaced in his day-to-day life. Harry loved his routine - it brought no danger with it, but the life of a parent is never completely routine:
"I saw Fantasia on DVD with Valerie today."
"Oh, did you like it?"
"It's wonderful! Valerie said she wanted to learn ballet."
"Does she really? Would you like to learn ballet with her?"
"No, I want to learn to be a magician! But I'll be a good magician and do all my spells right."
"Right..." Sometimes your kids just leave you speechless...
"It's your wife on the phone." Anne entered his office carefully, reluctant to disturb 'Harry's down-time', as these afternoon hours were known in the office.
Harry tore his gaze from the frame on the wall, trying to concentrate on her words.
"Your wife?" she repeated gently, and added, "Sorry," before leaving the room.
Harry picked up the phone. "Grace? Are you well?"
"Yes, Harry. It's that fat peacock of yours. He looks a little plucked this morning, and he's leaving a trail of ash behind him, wherever he goes. I took him to the vet and he said he has no idea what's wrong with him, but it's surely not any kind of peacock known to science."
"I'm coming home to help. See you." He hung up the phone, apologised to Anne, and hurried away. Damn! He should have remembered Fawkes' burning day. It always managed to surprise him every five years or so.
"Here I am," he said as he hurried in the front door a short time later. "I'll take care of Fawkes. I have a vet friend who knows how to treat him."
"Thanks, hon," Grace said, and kissed him briefly on the cheek.
"I'll take him through the garage."
"Come, friend," he said, carrying Fawkes to the basement. "Sorry, mate."
Fawkes eyed him reproachfully and let out an accusing chirp.
"I know! I'm so not with it these days. Can you still flash, or should I call Griphook for you?"
One more chirp, a bit more sympathetic, and Fawkes was gone with an impressive flash of fire.
"What was that?" Grace said, appearing at the top of the stairs.
"Just a light bulb gone off – I'll take care of it. My friend picked Fawkes up and will bring him back in few days." He hugged her and added, "Since I'm already home, let's pick Min up together and go out for a walk."
The walk took them to Place du Trocadero. They took a long look around the Marin museum, and then let Min try her new rollerblades with the "pros".
Harry turned his gaze from the fountains just in time to see Min lose control of her blades and slide into the road, just in front of a passing bus.
He had never felt so useless in his life, not even when he saw Ron rise, trying futilely to raise his shield in front of the green light rushing toward Hermione's back.
All of a sudden, with a loud crack, Min appeared on the other side of the street, sitting panting on a bench.
"What the hell was that"
"I don't know. Just be happy she's safe," Harry said, and for the first time he could totally understand Molly.
And the reason you are surprised is—? Please remember that the poor girl has one of the most powerful wizards in history (not to mention loving, rich, handsome, and hardheaded) for a father. It sounds like little Minerva is gaining impressive control over her magic. All but a handful of children of that age are limited to very rare expressions of purely accidental magic until the age of about ten. Hermione's mother once told me that Hermione used to turn her morning milk into chocolate when she was about nine years old, and look how she grew up. Maybe you should get Min an early permit for a wand. Or maybe you could train her from youth to be totally wandless. I really believe that an axe is not such a good idea, Harry dear.
Truly, I don't know if I'm the right person to give advice. You know I couldn't let my kids out of my sight, and would have gone to school in their place if I could.
Maybe you should seek professional counseling, or at least ask Hermione or Ginny? Oh, yes – you'll have to tell Grace about Min being magical in order to do so, won't you...?
Please don't let it drag on for too long. You need good advice, for your daughter's sake.
"We need to have guests more often," Grace said as she bustled about happily preparing for company.
"You're right; it's just that I'm busy with work, and your work and pregnancy takes a lot out of you, too."
"We always have excuses and so rarely invite anyone here."
"And I like hosting so much!"
"We truly don't spend enough time with our friends."
"You're defusing me, aren't you?"
"Nevertheless, this is too much fun to give up. What was—" she began, seeing an envelope appears on Harry's desk out of the corner of her eye. "Oh, nothing, I'll get ready," she added and went to their room. "By the way," she called from the stairs, "Gabrielle called me this afternoon. She invited us to dinner at their house, on Friday, two weeks from now. She said her sister is going to be in town with her husband, too."
Harry looked after Grace as she hurried up the stairs. This was not good at all. The short meeting at the dark and noisy nightclub was one thing, but no veela was going to miss the fact that a man sitting across the table from her was unaffected by her charms, and no glamour was going to fool a seasoned curse-breaker.
They were hosting "old" friends that night. Katy had been Grace's roommate before Grace moved in with Harry, Gerard taught at Grace's law school, and Nadine had come to know Harry during his money-games days, and was now his partner at Fawkes Investments.
"I hope you don't mind me inviting a guest," said Gerard. "This is Karen. She just started her Master's in Commercial Law. She came to this lovely city from sunless England and is quite lonely these days. You can actually talk to each other with your cute little accents and feel at home."
"Hey, you told me you had one of these framed "wands" at home, too," said Nadine, examining the wand framed on the study wall. "It's a bit different from the one at the office."
"So you just wave this stick over your hat, say "Abracadabra", and pull out the rabbit?" Karen asked with a laugh.
"Well, I find all kinds of magical hats to be extremely stupid looking, and I'll avoid saying those words if I only can, but making rabbits is actually quite fun," Harry said jokingly.
"Very funny," said Gerard.
"You're from Surrey, too? Little Whinging! What a small world. Did you know the Dursleys from Privet Drive? My mother and Mrs Dursley lead the local gardening club. That poor woman! She and her husband had a nephew, who was living with them and was locked up in a criminal institute during the school year. He died there in a fight a long time ago. Then, last year, their son Dudley got himself killed, too. Apparently he'd been practicing petty theft and a little drug trafficking since high school, and lately he'd got caught with the "big guys". Poor woman, she's got no luck at all, but the best kept front garden in all of England, I daresay."
"Yes, a very small world," Harry said softly.
And then things started to go really wrong.
With a small pop, Griphook appeared in the adjacent study. "Sorry for interrupting," he said upon seeing the crowd of people. He turned around and disappeared in haste, and with a louder crack.
"Bugger!" said Harry.
"What was that?" shouted Gerard.
"A monster!" screamed Karen.
"Where's Min?" shouted Grace, starting toward the stairs.
'This is without doubt an emergency', thought Harry, and he smashed the glass covering his wand. Gripping the familiar handle, he felt the rush of power through his body, while the wand, unused for so long, emitted a fountain of sparks. Naturally, this drew all eyes in the room to Harry.
"Immobilus," he said in a clear voice, sweeping his wand around the room. Everyone but Grace immediately froze in their places, floating in the air, looking at Harry with wide eyes full of amazement and fear.
"It's all right, love," he said to Grace with a calming voice. "Everything is going to be all right. I'll explain everything to you soon—just stay calm, say nothing, and help me get them out of here first."
"Obliviate," he said, and made another sweep of the room with his wand. The looks in everyone's eyes turn dazed, and then all the guests smiled and sat down at the table.
"Who are you? What are you? What did you do to them?" Grace screamed.
Harry rolled his eyes and called, "Immobilus!" again. "Love, what part of 'Say nothing' did you miss?" he asked with a smile.
At that moment, Fawkes appeared in the room in a flash of fire, circling in the air and singing his soothing song. The look on their guests' faces turned from fear to amazement.
"Ten points for dramatic effects and none for common sense, dear friend," Harry said dryly. "Please make yourself invisible, thank you very much." He turned back to Grace to find her, too, staring at the large bird with a smile. "Shall we try this again? This isn't something they need or want to remember."
"Obliviate." Once again they looked about with faraway gazes.
"I'm so full, I'm sure I'll sleep great tonight," Gerard said.
"I had huge fun, we should try it again soon," said Karen.
Finally they all had gone. One door had closed—but the gates in the wall of Harry's secret world were now wide open.
He sighed and turned to face her, his face a study in guilt. She looked at him as if he were a stranger, shaking her head slightly. He waited. Finally she spoke.
"Who are you?"
"Just the Harry you know, but a little bit more. Oh—and it's Harry Potter, by the way."
"What are you?"
"A wizard – a magical person. Oh, and Min is a witch, too."
"How many times have you done this—this memory thing on me?"
"Never, love; besides, you know my wand's been in the glassed frame forever."
"I don't know what—or who—to believe any more," she said, thinking furiously. "Is that what your pen is? A small wand?"
"Yes, actually it is. It's nice for little things here and there, but not for anything impressive."
"So the pen truly is mightier than the sword."
"You should see my sword, then."
With a flash, Fawkes reappeared in the room and landed in Grace's lap.
"And what are you?" she asked, caressing his feathers. "You're certainly no peacock."
Fawkes gave her a reproachful look. He rose and continued to circle the room, singing his song.
"He's a Phoenix," Harry said. "He had his burning day just a few weeks ago, which I'd forgot all about, as usual. Remember the ash trail?"
"Then—tell me, Harry—Gabrielle did recognize you the other night?"
"Where did you meet?"
"I pulled her up from the bottom of a lake in the middle of the winter up in Scotland, while in high school. She and her sister were very grateful after that."
"You had sex with Fleur?" Her eyes flashed.
"You're kidding, right? You know well enough that I didn't. Besides, she's much too much of a woman for me! And her 'English peasant' is much more of a man than me..."
"Is she a witch?"
"Gabrielle? She is, and she's half Veela too. That's why men loose their mind in her company."
"They're a kind of fairy."
Grace hugged her arms to herself. "I'm so afraid, Harry. I can't believe I'm afraid of you."
"I can understand. I've feared this moment from the day I first met you."
"What, Wait," she said suddenly. "Who was that who walked into our dinner?"
"Oh, him. That was Griphook. He's a very old friend and a goblin. He's a monster only when you try to steal his gold."
"What about our son? Will he be a magician too?
"Wizard, my love, and he should be. I really hope so. For the most part, children of a witch or a wizard will be magical, too, but not always."
"Will we have to call him by some stupid wizard name?"
That made Harry laugh. "No, dear. We can call him whatever we like, but I'd love it if you'd consider giving him Brian as a middle name".
They sat there for a very long time in silence. Harry was not about to rush her, and Grace had a lot to think about. But then something occurred to him.
"Love? Will it help you to talk to a woman I know who knows both worlds and will be able to understand what you're going through?"
"Maybe it will," she whispered after another long silence.
- Can I speak with Hermione, please?
- Yes, I know what the time is. I'm sorry – it's rather urgent.
- It's me.
- Yes, I know what the time is.
- Look – Grace knows. Can you come?
- She's my wife.
- Now, if you can.
- No, no Portkey. I just can't concentrate enough right now to key you through the wards.
- I'll send Fawkes.
- Yes, he's with me.
- On its way. Bye.
Harry hanged up the phone and nodded to Fawkes. With a last trilling note, the Phoenix disappeared in a large blaze of fire.
"Showoff," mumbled Harry to the sound of Grace's quiet chuckle. He met her amused look and felt a little bit better.
Moments later Fawkes flashed back, a young woman with large brown eyes and a mane of wavy brown hair holding tightly to his tail. She was wearing a simple, light-blue dress with darker blue robes over it and definitely looked a bit old-fashioned.
"Harry!" she exclaimed, beaming. She ran to him for a hug. Then she looked around.
"So—where are we?"
"Place des Vosges," said Grace dryly.
"You were hiding in Paris" asked Hermione.
"You were hiding?" asked Grace.
"Let's start from the beginning," Harry offered. "Hermione, this is Grace, my wife. Grace, this is Hermione, my oldest friend. I would have said 'best friend', but I don't know if she's willing to be that any more."
"Ah. And what did you do to her" Grace asked sarcastically.
"I let someone kill her husband and then I disappeared for twelve years, reappearing for just a few hours in the middle of one night, some nine years ago, only to disappear again," he answered, looking at his feet.
"Are you magical, too?" Grace asked Hermione.
"Yes, I'm a witch. I gather you're not?"
Grace just nodded.
Hermione turned to Harry. "You waited for her to be pregnant before telling her about you being a wizard?"
Harry said nothing but continued to look at his feet.
"We have a seven-year-old daughter," said Grace, looking at Hermione. "Harry says she's a witch too," she added.
Hermione just stared at Harry silently.
"I think we have a lot to talk about, you and me," she finally said to Grace. "Harry, will you go out for an hour or three and bring us back some fresh croissants?"
"Thank you," he mouthed. Head still lowered, he walked out to the street.
That seemed like the longest night he'd ever lived through. He walked down Rue Francs Bourgeois looking at all the old renovated building fronts among the small, lively cafés and bars. To the left was Rue du Bourg Tibourg where the Mariage family had been dealing in tea for four centuries. Once he had found a note in their books insisting on cash while dealing with the Black family from Place des Vosges. The note was three hundred and fifty years old. How very appropriate, he had thought to himself. Harry respected tradition and took care to always use cash when buying his tea, and he never told them of his heritage. After all, they were the best tea merchants in Paris and he didn't want to be erased from their client list because of something the Blacks had tried to pull four hundred years ago.
His legs took him across the river to the islands. There in front of the small bridge between Ile de la Cite and Ile St Louis was one of his most beloved cafés in the city. It was located midway between Grace's and his work places and was their usual meeting place. Curiously enough, it overlooked the main entrance to the French Ministry of Magic. It had been located there since the days when the Romans used Warlocks to hunt down Christians. It had been hidden deep underground when the same Christians, in turn, had hunt down and destroy all things magic, building their biggest and grandest center just above. The Ministry gates were hidden behind the Deportation Memorial – the clinical name the French Muggles gave to the memorial for the Jewish Holocaust during World War Two. The memorial had been built while the Ministry was in disarray, which was quite fitting since the German occupation of France had come about so effortlessly largely due to the French pureblood Ministry's aiding Grindelwald.
Harry did his best to not think about Grace having her talk with Hermione, nor about its possible outcome, nor, for that matter, about the talk Hermione would no doubt insist on having with him—the one he could no longer avoid. He sat on a bench overlooking the Seine, in the cloud-free winter night, watching the night passengers and the river boats as they passed by.
"I'm really not the one to hassle and this is truly not the night to try me," he spoke in a low, even voice to the shadow that stopped in front of him, not even looking up. To his great relief, the shadow moved on.
With the first signs of morning light, Harry made his way back home.
"Awake so early?" said the young girl from the bakery around the corner. "Is the young mademoiselle sick?"
"Just having fresh croissants for breakfast," he said with a shallow smile.
"And with that?" she asked, passing him the paper bag with the croissants.
"That will be all for this morning. Thanks, and have a good day."
He walked into the house, stopping just to the side of the living room entrance. As an afterthought, he looked in the mirror and waved his wand in front of his face.
"And then he looked him in the eyes and said, 'I don't know; I think Hermione does, though—why don't you try her?' without a flinch. That was the first House point he ever lost. Some days, when I'm especially depressed, I think that if he'd only killed the greasy snake that day, he would have saved Gryffindor a whole lot of House points—and old England lots of blood," he heard Hermione say to the sound of Grace's laugh.
Harry gave a polite little cough and entered the room, saying, "Warm croissants, anyone?" He stood there facing two pair of eyes that stared at him, one blue and one brown.
"That's what you really look like?" Grace asked.
"I was wondering where Min got her beautiful eyes from."
"That was my mother. I'm just a trustee."
"So what are we going to do with him?" Hermione asked Grace, a faint smile on her lips.
"I'm really, really, wholeheartedly sorry," he said with a pleading note in his voice, not even sure to whom he was apologising.
"You really hurt me, you know," said Grace.
Harry said nothing.
"And I feel deeply betrayed."
"But between the Harry I've come to know and Hermione's stories, I can't really be afraid of you. You've behaved shamefully, but you've got a good advocate here—" she indicated Hermione— "and maybe you even have good excuses."
"You know, magic isn't all bad," Harry said. "It's useful and it's interesting, and it's quit a lot of fun. You should try it for a while."
"Well, what am I supposed to do—ask Hermione to take me for a ride on her broom?"
Hermione chuckled. "Actually, I'm rather afraid of brooms, and I fear that a ride with Harry is not advisable for novices."
"You mean you guys can actually fly on a broom? What else? Can you take a rabbit out of the hat?"
"Oh, believe me, you've seen nothing yet, love."
"Ooo, making rabbits is so much fun!" enthused Hermione. She swirled her wand above an empty fruit basket, and soon enough, a pure white rabbit showed its head from within. "Pity it won't last for more than a couple of hours" she said, handing it to Grace.
For a brief moment she reminded Harry the young exited girl she once was.
"I have another idea, let me take you to an opera in Sidney this morning. We have those excellent seats, and then we'll have our talk."
"Dumbledore's seats?" asked Hermione. "I've heard about those. It's a lovely idea. Could you give me the password one day?"
"Will you come, love? I'll ask Fawkes to take us there."
"I can stay here and look after Min if you need me," Hermione offered. "Then, Harry here and I will have our little chat..."
"Take Fawkes to Australia? I'm still not used to him not being a peacock," Grace said, shaking her head ruefully.
"Yes, it's not a problem at all. It's a bit of a bumpy ride, but we'd be there in a flash."
Fawkes gave a reproachful chirp from his perch in the corner of the room.
"Sorry, mate, I thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Harry to the laughter of both Grace and Hermione.
"I'll just need to call Johan and tell him where I am. Can I use your phone?"
"Sure, it's in the study to the right. We'll go up and dress."
They'd made it halfway up the stairs when Hermione's voice came from the study.
"Harry! Is that the sword of Gryffindor?"
"So? Just wave your hand in front of the cop's face and say, "You don't need to see her identification. We're not the people you're looking for. She can go about her business," with that deep, severe voice of yours and it will be okay."
"I've told you already – I'm a wizard, not a Jedi knight. Show the cop your driver's license, if you please."