Royal Flush

Chapter 1

Even though there were absolutely no similarities with her current situation, Hermione was surprisingly reminded of standing outside the Great Hall of Hogwarts her very first day almost seventeen years ago. She had never felt so completely out of her element as at that time, reciting spells she wasn't sure she believed in, waiting to be sorted, wondering how that was going to happen. Now, after almost eighteen years in the wizarding world, her current location was as much a sensory overload as her first view of actual ghosts. For the first time since she thought she saw his face on the TV screen, she wondered if she might be mistaken. It was almost impossible to believe that Harry Potter, savior of the wizarding world, and missing for the past nine years could be hiding out here!

No, she thought, even though those green eyes could belong to anyone, I would recognize that scar anywhere. And so, because of that unmistakable lightning bolt shaped scar, Hermione found herself wading through crowds of muggles in what she thought had to be the highest concentration of neon lights in the world. The problem was, now that she was in Las Vegas, she had absolutely no clue where to begin searching.

She knew that the strong magical energies emanating from Hogwarts interfered with muggle electricity. Conversely, she wondered, was there so much electricity in this city that magic could be similarly disrupted? She wondered at what point she had become so much more comfortable with magic that electricity seemed to be such an intimidating force. Maybe it's the city, she decided. After all, I still use electricity in my flat in muggle London.

Still, the task ahead was daunting. In her opinion, there seemed to be more casinos on just this one street than there were rooms in Hogwarts. Not to mention the countless thousands of hotel rooms many of those casinos had. Plus, she didn't know which casinos, if not all of them, had the game she saw him playing. In fact, the obstacles in her path were starting to seem so overwhelming, she wondered again if it had been a bad idea coming here alone, with no plan.

Still, she just couldn't ignore that small spark of hope that had flared up when she caught that split-second glimpse on the telly, that first glance in nine years of her best friend. That spark of hope was all that was keeping her from screaming in frustration, that kept the tears threatening to fall behind her eyelids, that had her looking into the night sky, pleading silently for some help. Any help at all.

She could not have been luckier if she drank a gallon of Felix Felicius. It was at that exact moment that she was looking into the sky that her eye caught a flash of movement through the glare from the neon lights. She never would have noticed it if she hadn't been looking in exactly the right spot. Here! Here was the proof she had been looking for! The proof that she wasn't crazy, that she didn't waste a whole month of holiday, leaving her home and traveling halfway around the world on a wild goose chase.

The tears started spilling out of her eyes now, but they were tears of relief rather than frustration. She didn't give a damn about the tears as long as they didn't block her vision. Not that all the glare from all the neon lights in the whole city could distract her now. She was hardly aware that she had started running down the strip, bumping into people left and right, as she followed her target. She desperately wished she could get close enough to get its attention. Finally it slowed down and landed on the awning of one of the casino's parkways.


If an owl could look startled, Hermione thought, that's the face it would make. Though Hedwig was definitely surprised to see Hermione, she seemed happy enough. With a loud hoot, the owl flew off the awning onto Hermione's waiting arm. It took all of her self-control, but she managed not to crush the beautiful white owl with a hug. She managed to get by with stroking her feathers.

"Hello, girl. It's been a long time since I've seen you." (Hoot) "Is Harry around? Is he doing ok?" (Hoot) "Can you take me to him?"

Though Hedwig looked nervous when Hermione mentioned Harry's name, whatever the owl was about do got interrupted by a voice from behind Hermione.

"Well, if that ain't the damnedest thing." The speaker was tall man with light brown hair and blue eyes wearing jeans and a t-shirt that said "chicks dig scrawny pale guys." He was definitely not scrawny, Hermione noticed, as he held out a piece of bacon that Hedwig accepted. He scratched the owl's head as he continued.

"You see, I've never known ol' Hedwig here to respond to anyone but her owner if they didn't have any food in their hand."

"You, you know her owner?" Even though he was obviously familiar with Harry's familiar, Hermione could hardly believe that she was lucky enough to find the answers she was looking for in less than an hour in this city.

"Know him?" The man started laughing. "That bastard cleaned me outta twenty grand just last night!"