A Boon for Bill
a HP fanfic by canoncansodoff
A/N: Apologies, as usual, for the long delay between updates. This one weighs in at 16,000+ words, so you could always divide by three and imagine that I'm giving you three chapters all at once. And yet, this next day or two still needs to be divided into Parts 1 and 2…gee, you'd think I was writing screenplays for Peter Jackson, or something.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc. , etc.
Chapter 17: The Day After (Part 1)
4:20am CET/3:20am GMT, Thursday, August 1
Coquelles Eurostar Terminal
Having satisfied the hand-signals of the French trainmen, Steve the lorry driver reached a dash-mounted valve and engaged his spring brakes. The railway worker acknowledged the pneumatic whoosh! of released air with a curt nod, then turned his attention to the trailing vehicle. A small bus pulled up alongside the lorry, waiting to carry Steve up to the club car at the head of the shuttle train.
This was all routine, and part of the same biweekly delivery routine for as long as Steve had been hauling English cheese to Belgium. Drive from Wellington to the coast. Use the Eurostar to cross the Channel. Change sides of the road and continue on to Brussels. Unload the lorry at the distributers. Lounge about during twelve hours of enforced rest time. And then make the reverse trip home. Except that this round trip had been anything but routine.
As Steve reached for the driver's side door handle, he glanced up at the photograph that was securely clipped onto his sun visor. It was bewitching, and almost enough for him to abandon his routine, and set off in search of the photograph's subject.
Steve was realistic (and sober enough) to know that even if he found the girl that he'd stand no chance when compared against her handsome fiancé. And he knew that even making the attempt would put his ownership of the picture at risk. Following this same line of thought, Steve reached up and pulled the photograph from the visor and tucked it safely into his jacket pocket. There was no way he was going to risk losing that picture to one of the trainmen during their underwater transit.
7:15am CET/6:15am GMT
Hermione's first reaction once she realized that her boyfriend was no longer in bed was to sit up and look about his bedroom. She found him at the writing desk, sitting on a French provincial style chair whose wooden back slats were thin enough and spaced widely enough to give her a very nice view of his lovely bare bum.
The rustling of the bed linens drew her boyfriend's attention. Harry glanced back over her shoulder and returned Hermione's smile.
"Good morning, luv," he said. "Sleep well?"
"Yes, I did actually," the Muggleborn replied. "So why are you out of bed so early?"
Harry pulled the pin-up calendar from the desk drawer and held it out for view.
"Woke up and spotted this on the floor," he replied. "Figured it be better to get it out of sight."
"Don't most lads stash their porn underneath the mattress?" Hermione quipped.
"My porn?" Harry protested. "Seemed like you were just as interested in some of the pictures."
"Well, it was your birthday present, and we're in your room," Hermione teased. "So…sneaking peeks while I was sleeping?"
"Not when I couldn't remember which month featured Molly," Harry admitted. "And not that it really matters…those alternative pics are gone."
Harry tossed the pin-up calendar Frisbee-style towards the bed.
"It's back to the magical Pirelli girls," he explained. "Thought it might be a duration effect, but when I use the Marauder's oath, the pictures didn't change." He held out a single page of parchment and added, "Only thing that did happen was this letter popping out."
Hermione frowned as she quickly flipped through the calendar pages. "Any explanation in that letter?" she asked.
Harry nodded as he rose from his desk chair and walked back towards the bed. Slipping underneath the duvet, he offered Hermione the letter and said, "The Twins wrote that they needed that limited duration spell to bring everyone on-board with the idea."
Hermione took the letter and glanced at the page. "And what idea was that, exactly?"
Her boyfriend shrugged, and replied, "Pairing their apology about going on a wild tracking-charmed hair chase with the idea that I unintentionally showed them mine, so it's only fair that I got a glimpse of theirs?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow. "They're only talking about pubic hairs, I hope?"
"As far as I know," said Harry.
There was a pause in the bantering as Hermione quickly skimmed through the letter.
"That's interesting," she declared.
"They apologize for not being able to convince the older members to go full monty, even though that's exactly what they did."
"Yeah, I didn't get that part either," Harry replied. "It's like they thought there was a Praetego spell covering their bits."
Hermione scrunched her nose. "Maybe they did have that spell working, and it just didn't fool the camera lens."
"What do you mean?"
"Magical visual effects can work two different ways," the Muggleborn witch explained. "Either the magic physically alters the appearance of the targeted object, or it messes with how the object appears within the eye of the beholder…like a notice-me-not charm."
"Difference between conjuring a physical black screen or creating the illusion that there's a black screen in place?" Harry asked.
"But if was just an illusion, then how do you explain the electrical shocks when we touched blacked-out naughty parts at the Burrow?"
"I know, that's why it's interesting," Hermione explained. "Can't imagine McGonagall posing in that group photo without thinking that at least her nipples were shielded from the camera's view."
"Me neither…do you think that the Twins knew and were pranking her?"
"I'm more interested in learning whether Tonks knew," Hermione declared
"Why is that?"
"Remember her pink lightning bolt?"
Harry paused to consider his response. "Is this a boyfriend-test kind of question?"
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"For her sake, she better have known that she was putting it all on display for you."
"And that would be better because…?"
"Because if she didn't know that her fanny would be on display, then…"
Harry thought for a moment.
"If she thought that her bits were screened from view, then there would be no point in doing a special trim just for the picture."
"Which would mean…"
A breath caught in Harry's throat. "Which might mean that the lightning bolt trim is how it normally looks down there?"
Hermione chuckled, and nodded in agreement. "About as subtle as getting a tattooed snitch for your tramp stamp."
There was a lull in the conversation as Harry's eyes glazed over. His girlfriend glanced at the duvet tent that was growing over his lap and shoved his shoulder hard enough to nearly push him out of bed.
"What?" he protested.
"Quit perving on Tonks!"
"I wasn't!" Harry declared. "I was perving on you."
"You were getting hard at the thought of me getting a tramp stamp?"
Harry shook his head vigorously as he reached under the covers and squeezed Hermione's thigh. "No, I was thinking about catching your snatch…erm, I mean…snitch!"
"You're such a…"
"Lad, I know," Harry confessed. "And you love me anyway."
Hermione pushed his hand away as she let out a deep breath.
"We should get going," she decided.
"No time for me to chase after your snitch?" Harry pouted.
"Didn't you catch enough last night?"
Harry waggled his eyebrows as he lightly dragged a fingernail up his girlfriend's thigh. "Well, yes…but it's no longer last night. It's this morning."
"And it's late enough in the morning for my parents to be up and about," Hermione replied.
The boy-who-persisted called out the name of one of the Delacour's house elves. The diminutive servant popped into view on his side of the bed, causing Hermione to pull the covers up to her neck.
"Can I be helping you, Monsieur?" she asked.
"Yes, please…can you tell us what Mr. and Mrs. Granger are doing right now?"
The house elf glanced towards the wall that was shared with the adjacent hallway.
"Right now, Mademoiselle's parents are in their bedroom, practicing baby making, and testing whether stamina potions work on Muggle men."
Harry barked out a laugh as his girlfriend blushed.
"Thanks for that information," he said. "Would you be willing to let us know when they stop their practicing and testing?"
The house elf nodded. "Of course, Monsieur."
"Harry!" Hermione gasped. "You can't ask her to spy on my parents while they're…"
"Practicing their baby making?"
"It's not a problem, Mademoiselle," the house elf insisted.
"But what," Hermione sputtered, "…what if my parents called for you and asked you where I was right now, or wanted to know if we had been…practicing?"
The servant smiled. "I would tell them that you are sleeping alone in the adjacent bedroom."
Hermione chewed on her lower lip. "So you would cover for us, but not for my parents?"
The house elf smiled. "Does Mademoiselle's parents need to hide the fact that they are sharing a bed and practicing making babies?"
"Good point," Harry noted. "So you'll let us know, then?"
The house elf replied, "Yes, Monsieur," and popped away.
Harry ducked under Hermione's arm, rolled his naked body on top of hers and framed her face in his hands. He dropped his lips down for a quick kiss, and asked, "So do you wanna practice some…Quidditch?"
Hermione thought about their running joke about euphemisms for sex…then tossed away that thought and tossed the duvet off of the bed. The teen-aged witch always had loved watching her Harry chase after the snitch, and she didn't want anything to block her view.
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
A quieter-than-normal alarm clock woke Albus Dumbledore from a fitful night of poor-quality sleep. It took a moment for him to realize why the alarm had been so soft-spoken; the charmed device was still sitting in his private quarters, while he himself was still sitting at his office desk in the adjacent room.
The old wizard stretched out his one good arm, and twisted his back in a futile effort to gain comfort. He reapplied the cushioning charm on his chair, self-applied a breath freshening charm, and wiped his spectacles clean using a bit of beard.
He didn't like what he saw once he put those now-cleaned spectacles back into place.
The night before, there had only been two remaining marked locations of tracking-charmed pubic hairs within England…Heathrow and Hogwarts. But now there were four spots, and it appeared that at least one more spot that had been on the Continent was now moving back towards the British Isles.
Dumbledore would have admitted (if only to himself) that the odds of any of the tracking-charmed hairs leading to Harry Potter were remote, but there were other reasons for the hunt. He needed to retrieve and destroy all of the physical evidence that would link him to (at a minimum) obtaining views of Harry Potter's underaged bits. And the Headmaster also wanted to get the Order Members who had most vigorously protested his viewing of Harry's pubic hairs out of his hair (by getting them out of the country). So it still made sense to still send Alastor Moody and his group off to the Continent; they could still track down any black dots that were there (once they got there), while he disposed of the hairs still left in Britain (or returning to Britain).
The Headmaster's musings turned towards two Order members who weren't tracking down tracking charms. Dung Fletcher hadn't reported back on the Dursleys' status, but this wasn't the first time that the thief had failed to check-in. That his new DADA professor had yet to respond to the previous night's Patronus message was far more worrisome. The concern that Severus had been incapacitated by death or serious injury drew Dumbledore's gaze up towards the shelf of (mostly) broken gizmos and charmed devices that had monitored Harry Potter's status, and he wished that he had something like that to track Snape's health and welfare. A device comparable to Molly Weasley's clock would have also been handy, but there'd never been a need to employ a magical device to track the locations of Hogwarts staff when there were portraits and house elves who could do the job just as easily.
With a brief burst of inspiration, the Headmaster opened a desk drawer with his one good hand and retrieved the scroll that contained a magically-updating "To-Do" list. A quick review of the first two or three feet of parchment failed to find a bullet item to "Find a DADA professor for this year." That had to mean that the wizard set to teach DADA in one month's time was still alive. And it also had to mean that nothing had happened to Severus Snape that would have kept him from serving Hogwarts in that capacity (at least for the coming year).
Letting out a deep breath, Dumbledore's gaze drifted towards the top of the to-do list:
1) Approve Head of House recommendations for Fifth Year Prefect positions;
2) Send out book lists and badges.
The headmaster's journey to Japan for a second medical opinion on his cursed arm had kept him from approving the written recommendations for assigning the new prefect positions. And not approving those recommendations had kept the book lists and prefect badges from being sent out…sent out in magically-addressed letters that pinpointed the location of each Hogwarts student at the exact moment that the auto-inked quill was put to parchment.
Dumbledore shouted out for assistance.
The longest-serving house elf at Hogwarts instantly appeared.
"What can Canipsy be doing for the Headmaster?"
"I want Harry Potter's book list to be addressed, then brought to me before it is sent out."
The head house elf pulled on his right ear.
"I be most sorry, Headmaster, but book listies can't be addressed and sent until we know who be getting head boy badge, and head girl badge, and prefect badgeses, and Quidditch captains badgeses."
"Oh, yes, that's right," Dumbledore replied. He then pulled out the Elder Wand and accio'ed the four head of house recommendations from his in-basket. It only took a few seconds to scratch out Neville Longbottom's name on the Gryffindor list, replace it with Ronald Weasley's, then stamp all four documents as "Approved" using his Headmaster's stamp.
An apologetic House Elf then reminded Dumbledore that he also had to name the new Head Boy and Head Girl, and to write out congratulatory letters to be included within the appropriate envelopes (along with the respective badges). That took more than a few seconds.
More apologies were made and ears were pulled when the Headmaster was then reminded that the Board of Governors required that all of the book lists had to be addressed and sent out at the same time. Dumbledore couldn't even get the letters addressed in advance of delivery…the charmed quill that addressed each letter wouldn't start writing until there was a full parliament of delivery owls on hand.
The Headmaster was almost mad enough to allow Canipsy to pull his ears off when that house elf then stated that it would be impossible to obtain the required number of post owls before that afternoon. The "all at once" rule forced Hogwarts to use an external private post owl delivery service (by coincidence, they used the delivery company owned by the wife of the board member who had championed this requirement). That delivery service wouldn't open for business until ten that morning, and the contract allowed for a minimum of three hours' time for the company to gather the number of owls required for that bulk delivery.
It killed the Headmaster to have to wait that long, but having a definitive method of pinpointing Harry Potter's location was better than nothing. And there were still the unmet tasks of checking up on Dung and tracking down the tracking charms that were still in Britain.
Dumbledore rose from his desk and identified the two new tracking charm locations on the map of England. As they both appeared to be in Muggle areas, he quickly transfigured his robes into a three-piece suit, wrapped his blackened hand in Muggle gauze, and stepped through the office floo connection.
7:20am GMT/8:20am CET
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, Diagon Alley
A smile formed on Tonks's lips as Minerva untied the string waistband of her ankle-length skirt.
"You know, Muggles have these wonderful little inventions…they're called zippers?"
"Just get on with it," replied the older witch.
The three female members of the "Calendar Club" were in Fred and Verity's shared bedroom, standing in various stages of undress as they checked each other for anything magical.
Tonks pointed towards the thong that she was wearing and noted, "And these are the kind of pants that Muggle women wear these days."
"Even Muggle women who are my age?" McGonagall asked.
Hestia Jones chuckled. "She has you there, Tonksie."
"Yes, well…Muggle women who are Minnie Baby's age also don't have kick-arse tattoos," the pink-haired Auror quipped. "Don't know how we're going to deal with that."
"What do you mean?" McGonagall asked. "I checked it myself this morning…but go on, if you don't believe me…."
Tonks waited to reply until after she'd cast a detection spell on McGonagall's knickers.
"It's a magical tattoo, right?"
McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Magical? Do you see her prowling about my belly, swishing her tail and swatting at stray hairs?"
"No, but…just assumed…your shorts are clean, by the way."
"Of course they are…would you expect me to be wearing soiled ones?"
"I mean they are free of magic," said Tonks. "So now..."
Minerva sighed as she slipped off her knickers. "It's been a long time since there's been this much interest in my privates."
Nymphadora and Hestia both resisted the temptation to reply with healthy amounts of snark. Additional spells were cast to confirm that the older witch's privates were free of magic.
As McGonagall reached down to retrieve her knickers, Hestia asked, "So why did you get a boring Muggle tattoo?"
"Perhaps so that I wouldn't have to hide it underneath plaster every time that a Muggle could see it?" McGonagall replied.
"How many Muggle men have been in a position to see that tattoo?" Tonks asked with a smile.
McGonagall stuck her chin out and primly replied. "A proper lady would never respond to such a crass question."
"Would a proper lady have a pussy cat tattoo sitting on top of her..."
"Are we done here?" McGonagall asked, as she began to button her blouse.
"Do proper ladies interrupt when other people are talking?" Hestia teased.
Minerva's head shake was both a response and an expression of her ill opinion of the banter. Once she was fully dressed she walked out of the bedroom/inspection area and headed back to the rooftop.
A few minutes later, Mad-Eye had everybody lined up for his own inspection.
They were all dressed for a beach holiday, save for Minerva, whom he had separately instructed to wear a white blouse and full-length skirt. Moody himself had arrived at the joke shop wearing a collared shirt, tan trousers, and navy blazer.
"You have thirty minutes to get to Waterloo Station," he told the others. "We'll reassemble in front of the ticket office that sits across from Platforms 16 and 17."
"Hold your water!" he barked, when he noticed some of the others preparing to apparate. "We're trying to avoid attracting anyone's attention…Muggle or magical. And as it strains the bounds of credulity to think that we, as a group, would be traveling together, we're splitting up and using different cover stories."
The retired Auror pointed towards Fred and George. "You two are off to visit your poor ailing Auntie Muriel."
"What?" Fred whined. "I thought we were going to…"
"Your ailing Auntie who lives on the Island of Guernsey, you twit!" the older wizard barked.
"Oh…right, then. That's better," said George.
"Know how to get to Waterloo Station?"
"Course we do!"
"Then off you go," Moody said. "It's a bit more than a mile on foot…a dead run will get you there in ten, if you're feeling the need to give your employees a good-bye shag."
"Now that's downright insulting!" George declared.
"What…the idea that you're shagging the help?" asked Remus.
"No…the idea that we'd only need twenty minutes to complete the task!" said Fred.
"Yeah, well now you're down to nineteen minutes forty-five, and you're losing valuable foreplay time," Tonks quipped.
Fred and George looked at each other, and then replied in unison, "Good point!"
As the twin brothers scampered down the stairs, Mad-Eye pointed towards Hestia, Tonks, Lupin and Shacklebolt.
"You four are two very friendly couples who will be sharing a beach rental for a mid-week holiday on Alderney. I'll let you decide who is sharing beds with whom."
"What are we going to do?" asked Hestia.
"You are going to act like you're off on a Channel Islands holiday, to shag like bunnies in the sun and sand, until I tell you otherwise!" Mad-Eye barked.
"Right, then…I think we can manage that," Tonks said with a grin, as she hooked her arm around Lupin's and pulled the surprised wizard close enough to plant a kiss on his cheek. Hestia stared at the other witch for a moment, then smiled and wrapped her arm around Kingsley's waist. The dark-skinned Auror arched an eyebrow, then shrugged and draped his own arm around Hestia's shoulders.
Moody pointed towards a small stack of Muggle hand luggage. "Take your Muggle bags, then pop out in your pairs to someplace where you can hire a Muggle taxi to get to Waterloo."
"Do we have enough time to practice shagging like bunnies before we head off?" Tonks asked brightly.
"Nymphadora!" Minerva chided, feeling sorry for an obviously embarrassed Remus Lupin.
"What?" she asked. "Just trying to lighten things up a bit…burdens of conducting undercover operations, and all that."
Moody shook his head and sighed. "You can practice your canoodling inside the taxicab."
Hestia and Kingsley decided on using King's Cross Station as the starting point of their cab ride, and apparated off the roof in two separate pops. Tonks wrestled with her wheeled carry-on bag for a few moments, then pulled Remus into a hug and insisted that he side-apparate his undercover lover to a place far enough from Waterloo to give them some "canoodling" time in the taxi. Remus glared at Mad-Eye as he wrapped his arm around Tonks and apparated off the roof.
Minerva turned to Mad-Eye and asked, "How much did Tonks pay you to fabricate that rather convenient cover story?"
"Don't know what you're talking about," he replied gruffly.
"Sure you don't," Minerva said. "So what sort of contrivance are we to be operating under?"
Mad-Eye pulled a black beret out of his blazer pocket and placed it on his head. "Muggle war veteran and his lady friend," he replied. "Touring the Channel Islands for a few days before continuing on to Normandy."
"Really, Alastor?" the elderly witch replied. "And just what type of lady friend am I to be?"
"A friend that is a lady," he replied. "And the widowed spouse of my best mate."
"That will do," said Minerva. "Although your hair and magical eye will not."
"There's a Muggle barber shop in the train station," Moody replied. He reached for his belt buckle and added, "You're right about the eye, though."
"What are you doing?" Minerva asked, as the retired Auror turned away from her and dropped his trousers.
"Doing what you asked," he barked, as he reached back behind his head and unfastened the leather strap that held his magical eye in place.
Minerva shook her head as she watched Moody slip his magical eye and strap into a thigh-high hidden compartment within his wooden leg. Mad-Eye waited until the replacement black cloth eye patch was in place before he pulled up his trousers and zippered his fly.
When Moody turned back towards McGonagall, she nodded towards the insignia patch on his beret and asked, "So how are we to travel to the station, Leftenant?"
"Apparate directly," Mad-Eye replied.
"So as to leave time for a trim?"
Moody shrugged. "Also the most civilized form of transit for the only Proper Lady in the group," Mad-Eye replied with a smile. "Tabby-cat tattoo notwithstanding."
Minerva swatted the arm that was offered, before taking hold of it and allowing the retired Auror to side-apparate her to the train station.
The Magical Prime Minister of France was reviewing some overnight intelligence reports when someone knocked on the door. Paul welcomed Harry Potter into his home office, and gestured towards a comfortable sofa and chair arrangement. Harry smiled as he mentally compared Fleur's father to a Headmaster who would have conducted this interview from a position of power behind his desk.
As the two wizards sat down, the Frenchman asked, "Would you care for some tea or coffee, Lord Potter?"
"No thank you, Prime Minister…I just finished breakfast."
"Please, no need for formality…it's Paul."
"And it's Harry?"
"Fair enough," Fleur's father said with a smile. The French wizard gestured towards the silk half robes that hung from Harry's shoulders and the silk tie that hung from Harry's neck and said, "I should be embarrassed for my casual attire when my house guests are dressed so smartly."
The younger wizard shrugged as he glanced towards his host's crisply-pressed knakis and open-collared dress shirt. He reached for his tie knot and said, "I'd be happy to lose this if it'd make you feel more comfortable."
"Oh, no need," Paul replied.
"It's just that my expandable storage buttons look a bit off when they're sewn onto a dress shirt," Harry explained. "And Hermione picked out the tie…I think she enjoys setting out my clothes in the morning."
"Most wives and girlfriends do," Fleur's father replied. "So, I have to say…I think this is the first time I've seen you without somebody by your side."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "Should there be?" he asked. "Hermione asked, but the house elf said that you only needed a few minutes of my time, and he didn't think that it wouldn't involve any critical decisions."
"It doesn't," Paul noted. "And to be honest, I was thinking more about my youngest clinging to your side like a limpet."
"Ah," said Harry. "She might have been, had Hermione not just distracted her with the idea of setting up her classroom for my first language lesson."
"So you have added that lesson into your planner, then?"
Harry nodded. "There's time…we'll be heading up to the rental property later this morning, once Bill gets back from some errand that he needed to do for the bank."
"Will Hermione's parents be traveling with you?"
"Probably not," Harry replied. "They have a day at the beach planned, and said that they wanted to give us some space." He smiled, and then added, "But I think that they will enjoy their own private space just as much as we will."
"I believe that you are right," Paul replied with a chuckle. "Alors, we should get to the matter at hand…I wouldn't want you to be tardy for your first lesson." He then grabbed that morning's edition of the New York Magical Times from his desk, offered it to Harry, and said, "You made the front page today."
The teenager groaned in anticipation as he opened the front section of the newspaper. But it turned out to be a surprisingly small-headlined story below the fold. The photograph and story about him receiving his NAC passport only took a few moments to review, as it was concise, factual, and decidedly unlike what passed for news within the Daily Prophet.
There were two specific items within the article that caught Harry's eye.
"Paul, do you know who this Tenochtitlán bloke is?"
"What was that?"
"The story says that Tenochtitlán provided no additional information about my citizenship status beyond the issued press release," the younger wizard explained. "I was just wondering if you knew who he was."
"Tenochtitlán is a 'where' rather than a 'who'," Paul replied with a smile. "It is the capital city of the North American Confederation. You might know it by its Muggle name of Mexico City."
"Not Salem, or Washington D.C., or some Canadian city?" Harry asked.
The French wizard shook his head as he walked over to a bookshelf and retrieved both a magical atlas and a wizarding world history book. He handed them to Harry and, after making a slightly disparaging comment about the sorry state of the Hogwarts curriculum, gently suggested that as a new NAC citizen Harry might want to read up on his homeland.
The younger wizard blushed a bit, but was brave enough to risk asking another potentially stupid question. He pointed towards a different paragraph and asked, "Should I have known what this 'Diaspella Society' is?"
Paul leaned forward to reread a quote from a "Diaspella Society" spokeswizard, who said that their community looked forward to offering The-Boy_Who-Lived a very warm North American welcome.
"Hmmph. A better reporter…or better copy editor…would have done a better job there," the French wizard declared. "I am assuming that this organization is a group of British expatriates. There is a long history of Muggleborn witches and wizard leaving the British Isles…they generally emigrate to English-speaking countries such as Australia or New Zealand, or to the Anglo-majority regions of North America."
"Oh, so…this group is assuming that my gaining a NAC passport is the first step towards moving over there for good?" Harry asked.
"It's not that much of a leap in logic," Paul admitted. "And it also plays into your hand, I think…if they are assuming that is where you are going, then perhaps so would Dumbledore and his Order?"
"Good point," Harry agreed. "Does that mean that I should hold off on visiting my island over there?"
Fleur's father shrugged. "That is up to you. If I understand correctly, you would be just as safe taking your holiday behind the wards of your hidden island as if you chose to stay at your rental property…or, for that matter, remained here and accepted the full month of my daughter's French language tuition."
Harry voiced a "hmmph" as he flipped through the atlas in search of North America.
"We really appreciate everything that you've done for us, Sir," said Harry, "but we wouldn't want to overstay our welcome."
"There would be no chance of that, young man," Paul quickly replied. "Gabrielle's coupons may seem to be a rather creative way of guilting you into spending your entire holiday here, but you…Hermione…her parents…we would be delighted if you all chose to extend your stay. Even if it was the slightest bit of an imposition, it would pale in comparison to what you have done for us."
"But…don't you have your own plans? You couldn't have expected our company."
Paul shrugged. "Fleur actually raised the possibility when we were in London this past weekend," he stated. "And as for our family plans…it is the first of August, and we, like most of our countrymen, are now on holiday."
"You didn't have to cancel any travel plans, I hope?" Harry asked.
"Not at all," the Frenchman replied. "There's really no need for us to rent a beach property when we already live at the beach."
"What if word got out that I was staying here, though?" Harry asked. "Given how frosty relations appear to be between Magical France and Magical Britain, wouldn't my presence here be a political liability if word got out?"
"Absolutely not," the French wizard replied. "After all of the favorable press you gained here during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, your poll numbers are better than mine!"
"I have poll numbers, Sir?" Harry asked warily.
Paul winced at his unintended comment. He quickly admitted to having commissioned a confidential public opinion poll of French magicals soon after the possibility of Harry staying with them was raised. The older wizard insisted that negative results wouldn't have changed his family's decision to open their house to their English guests…it was more of a defensive measure, to be wielded only if someone within Paul's political party had raised a concern. He then stated that the poll only quantified something that he already knew about French public opinion…that Harry Potter's "favorables" were just as high as the British Ministry's "negatives," and that being publicly linked with Harry could actually give Paul's poll numbers a boost.
Not that the French wizard had any plans or desires to gain from the situation, mind you.
Harry thought about this confession and detailed explanation for a few moments. All of the help and support he'd received since arriving in France had seemed authentic and uncalculating. His instincts were to trust Fleur's father, so he thanked the French wizard for his candor, and risked making a little joke that compared politicians and their opinion polls to leopards and their spots. Paul laughed, accepting at least a kernel of truth behind the comparison, then went on to say that the poll numbers might actually be useful to Harry, should he at some point consider finishing his schooling at Beauxbatons, or even apply for French citizenship.
Those possibilities were definitely within the realm of "critical decision" topics best discussed with Hermione by Harry's side, so they agreed to postpone any additional considerations until a later time. Paul then steered back towards the original reason for the meeting, and pointed out the benefits of making a few high-visibility appearances to throw Dumbledore's pursuit off-track (once Harry figured out where he would be spending most of his time over the next month). Harry agreed that this was a good idea, then headed off to his first French language class under Gabrielle's tutelage.
He chose not to share with his instructor's father his fears about needing to recite the French equivalent of "thinned thickets."
Weymouth Express, South Western Main Line
Mad-Eye Moody leaned back and pressed his head against his headrest. A vent in the Muggle train carriage's air circulation system was blasting cold air down upon him, and his new "short back and sides" haircut had exposed the flesh on the back of his neck.
The cold air wasn't the only reason why the retired Auror felt exposed. The train carriage lacked compartments; it was one open area, with seats grouped in fours and centered on small tables on either side of the aisle. All of the seats that backed against the ends of each passenger car had been taken by the time that they'd boarded the train, forcing Mad-Eye to sit in the middle of the carriage, with his back to a group of seats occupied by a Muggle family of four.
Minerva was next to Moody, watching the world whiz by at 160 kilometers per hour from her window seat. Fred and George sat opposite, searching for ideas to nick and products to sell in their shop. One was working his way through the mail-order catalog of a Muggle shop that had a small storefront within Waterloo Station, while the other devoured the current issue of "Popular Mechanics" that he'd purchased from a newsstand.
The two undercover couples were facing each other in the seat grouping across the aisle, playing a Muggle card game and chatting about what they would do once they'd arrived at their beach rental. Tonks was trying to get a rise out of Remus by declaring her hope that it would rain the entire time, so that it'd be easier to justify spending their vacation in bed.
Mad-Eye's attention was diverted when he felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned, and came face-to-face with a three-year old boy who had been fidgeting in his chair for most of the trip.
"Yes?" he asked the boy.
The Muggle child summoned up enough courage to ask, "Are you a pirate?"
Moody started to chuckle, then turned that laughter into a low-pitched, "Arrrrrrrgh!"
The little boy's eyes widened. He let out a yelp and dived out of view.
The boy's father, who was in the seat facing Moody, scolded his son for bothering the other passengers. Then he caught Mad-eye's one-eyed gaze and with a thin-lipped smile said, "Sorry about that, Sir."
"No worries, Son."
Moody looked the father over as the Muggle man did the same to him. Ex-military recognized ex-military, and that recognition was acknowledged with respectful head nods.
A few minutes later, Mad-Eye felt a second tap on his shoulder. This time, it was the boy's slightly older brother who wanted to ask an impertinent question.
"Did you lose your face in the War?"
"Justin!" his mother chided.
Mad-Eye smiled at the older boy and his brother (who was nervously watching the exchange). The retired Auror pointed to his eye patch and said, "This? This, I lost in the War." He then pointed towards his chunk of missing nose and said, "But this? This I lost to skin cancer, because I didn't listen to my mum and wear sunblock while on holiday!"
"Eep!" the boys both cried out, before they disappeared beneath their seats.
This time, it was the boys' mother who caught Moody's eye.
"Thank you for that timely warning," she said with a smile.
Moody nodded politely before twisting back to face forward.
The next thing to touch his shoulder was McGonagall's chin, as she leaned over to whisper into his ear.
"Alastor," she said, "if you don't find a way to twist this trip into a visit to your grandchildren, I'm going to kick your arse!"
Mad-Eye's thoughts immediately flew out the train car, crossed the Atlantic, climbed over the Canadian Rockies, and floated down the Frasier River to his daughter's home in Vancouver.
Over the past year, Voldemort's return and Dumbledore's oath-binding Order had made it impossible for him to visit that daughter, and unwise for her to bring her children to visit their Granddad. But now? Now that it appeared they weren't as tightly bound to Dumbedore's orders as they thought?
The retired Auror looked across the aisle, and noted that Remus and Kingsley were quietly monitoring the exits on either end of the car. Just confident enough of their competence, Mad-Eye leaned back in his seat, closed his eye, and began to game-out some travel scenarios.
NAC Operations Center
Canadian High Commission
MacDonald House, London
Billy Bucktooth's administrative assistant was at her desk when Hector the magical spymaster walked into the NAC's main operations center. But it was pretty clear that she was wishing that she wasn't at her desk, from the way that she was cringing, and unconsciously leaning away from her boss's closed office door.
"Tough start to the morning?" he asked.
The admin looked back over her shoulder and shook her head as a fresh round of high-decibel cursing leaked out past noise suppression charms.
"He's on the phone right now. Would you like me to ring you in, or…?" she asked.
Hector smiled, and shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll just wait out here until he'd done with that call."
Bucktooth's assistant knew that her boss had terminated his side of the magically-shielded land line connection when a button on her desk went dark. The NAC spymaster realized the same thing when the yelling volume dropped down to a low roar. He rose from his chair, deposited the magazine that he'd been reading back onto the coffee table, and carried his cup of coffee into Bucktooth's office. The security commander was at his desk, swearing over his breath as he violently flipped through the pages of a very thick document.
"Catch you at a bad time, Chief?" Hector asked.
Billy looked up at his unannounced guest and growled.
"God damned government contractors and their god damned contracts!" he barked. "They deserve their own circle of hell, a few levels lower and hotter than the lawyers!"
Hector leaned towards the desk and read upside down.
"This about the leaky security wards?" he asked.
"Yes, goddammit!" Billy cursed. "According to Paragraph 36 of the Request for Proposals, which references Table Zed, which lists Attachment thirty-fucking-four, which was originally prepared as an attachment to Contract 07-GR-69-E-I-E-I-fucking-O…"
"Let me guess…it's not the contractor's fault?"
"Bastards, the lot of them!" Bucktooth declared. "They claim that the procurement contract didn't require them to construct wards that would block transits by the Common Northern European House Elf...never mind the fact that the contract specified blocks on travel by, and I quote, 'every manner of beasts and beings'."
"House elves aren't considered a beast or being?" Hector asked.
"Not according to some five-hundred year old advisory commission ruling that the contractor just pulled out of his ass!" Billy whined. He shook his head in disgust and asked, "So what brings you around, anyway?"
"You needed a shoulder to cry on, and you've scared off your secretary's shoulder?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah…no, really."
"More bad news from the brain wizards back home," said Hector. "They want us to spring Snape."
"What?" Bucktooth asked. "Just turn him loose?"
"No, no…nothing like that," said Hector. "They want us to cut a deal."
"For what?" asked Bucktooth. "The Ministry hasn't nicked any of your guys recently…or have they?"
"No, it's not a prisoner exchange," said Hector. "And they don't want us to negotiate with the Ministry. We're to work directly with Dumbledore."
"Trade Snape for a few favors, and a player to be named later?"
"Something like that," said Hector. "Hope you don't mind, but since you've got this warding issue right now, Tenochtitlán asked me to take the lead on this."
Bucktooth thought for a few moments, then shook his head. "No worries, Hector," he said. "So how are you setting up negotiations?"
"Just sent an owl to Dumbledore, inviting him down here for a visit," the spymaster said. "I'll keep you in the loop…and let you know if I think of something to help with your house elf problem."
Bucktooth thanked his friend for the offer, then initiated a philosophical debate on whether governmental contractors would more likely be outsourced to Dante's fourth circle of hell (for their greed) or to the eighth circle (for their fraud).
10:05am GMT/11:05am CET
Poole Station, England
Most of the passengers who stepped off the train when it arrived at Poole were heading in the same direction…to the docks, where ferries were waiting to carry them either to France or to the Channel Islands. So it was relatively easy for the eight members of the Calendar Club to fall in line and follow the crowd. Mad-Eye had once again divvied up the methods for making this intermodal connection. Minerva and he had climbed into the back of a Muggle taxi for the short drive from train station to ferry terminal. Fred and George were assigned to make the same trip by bus, which left the other four to cover that distance by foot.
Remus had to grab Tonks's arm to keep her from giving the twins a two-fingered salute as they waved at the pedestrians from the window of their passing bus.
"We're not supposed to know them, remember?" he whispered.
"I'd still flip them off, even if I didn't know them," the Auror claimed. "Bugger this walking shite."
"Hey, we've still got our wands," Hestia noted, as they carried and dragged their luggage down the street. "We could summon the Knight Bus!"
"And travel from Pool Station to Pool Terminal via London, Belfast, Newcastle, and Hogsmeade?" asked Remus. "Travel by boat might be a rocky trip…no need to be thrown about inside a bus as well."
"Whatever," said Tonks. When she felt that she was once again dragging her carry-on luggage (rather than pulling it) she stopped, looked back, and twisted the handle in an effort to get the recalcitrant bag back onto its wheels.
"Hey, we've still got our wands!" she mimicked. "We could use magic to keep these bloody things on track!"
"That's enough, Dear," Remus teased.
"What?" Tonks snapped. "I just don't get it…Muggles have sent men to the moon, and built tunnels underneath the English Channel, but they can't build a decent piece of luggage?"
"I'm quite certain that they can, actually," said Kingsley. "Your mistake is assuming that a trunk is a trunk, whether it's the super-deluxe version, or your older brother's beat-up one-compartment hand-me-down."
"So you're saying that Mad-Eye was too cheap to buy us a decent-enough kit?" Tonks asked.
Kingsley laughed. "Oh, Tonks…we all work for the same Ministry. Why would you expect us to be issued with anything more than what was obtained either by bribery, nepotism, or low-price bid?"
"Fair enough," Tonks muttered. "Fucking government contracts…"
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
When Albus Dumbledore stepped out of his office floo connection he glanced at a wall clock and shook his head in disappointment. Tracking down the domestic locations of the tracking charms located outside of Hogwarts had taken far more time than he had anticipated. Most of that time had been wasted spinning around in circles, in search of the one charmed hair that had always seemed to be located behind him, no matter what direction he had been pointing.
"Canipsy!" he barked.
The head house elf instantly appeared and bowed.
"What can be Canipsy be doing for the Headmaster?"
Dumbledore thrust his hand out towards the elf and asked, "You can tell me how this hair managed to find its way into my shorts!"
The house elf took a step forward and stared at the single strand of hair that Dumbledore was holding between unwithered thumb and unwithered forefinger. He then cast his eyes down towards the floor and replied, "Canipsy be very sorry, Headmaster, but you be wearing the same shorts since yesterday. Sometimes your curly hairs rub off onto your shorts."
"But this isn't my pubic hair," Dumbledore said in a raised voice. "It's black, and I didn't find it in the front of my shorts…it was stuck to the inside of the back!"
Canipsy had been a Hogwarts house elf for a very long time…long enough to remember the days when the Headmaster occasionally shared his bed with another wizard. Sometime those other wizards left a curly hair or two in the Headmaster's bed. And sometimes those curly hairs got stuck on the Headmaster's shorts. But that had been a very, very long time ago, and it couldn't have explained present circumstances.
Making use of all of the tricks of the house elf trade that had made him the Hogwarts head house elf, Canipsy avoided answering the Headmaster's delicate questions by changing the subject.
"There be a very important-looking post owl waiting for your return, Headmaster," he noted, pointing towards the window sill. "He be refusing to allow me to take the letter and place it in your in-baskety."
Dumbledore glanced towards the regal-looking bird and immediately noticed the flag that was embroidered onto the owl's harness. He then looked down at the owl's leg, and spotted the charmed maroon and gold-trimmed envelope that was reserved for magical diplomatic correspondence.
"What in Merlin's name do the Yanks want?" the Headmaster muttered, as he set the strand of black hair onto his desk and walked towards the window.
The owl allowed Dumbledore to unfasten the envelope from his leg, then hopped towards the treats that Canipsy had been trying to bribe him with. The Headmaster cast the correct security charm to keep the envelope from blowing up in his face and pulled out the letter. A few sentences into the brief message, his face paled.
"Oh, Severus…what have you gotten yourself into?" he whispered.
Reaching a quick decision, Dumbledore tossed the envelope aside and dismissed the delivery owl. As the courier flew off, he turned towards Canipsy and told him that he needed to travel to London for a short period of time. The house elf was then warned that he better have an explanation on how that hair had ended up in Dumbledore's shorts by the time the Headmaster returned.
On a ferry bound to Guernsey
It took two shoulders nudges for Lupin to convince Tonks that she needed to open her eyes and lift her head off his shoulder.
"Let me sleep, Sweetie," she purred.
"We've been summoned," Remus whispered, as he rose from his seat and grabbed the female Auror by the hand.
"All four of us?" she asked, glancing towards Kingsley and Hestia (who were sitting in the same row, but across the aisle).
"Only room for two at a time across from Alastor and Minerva," Remus replied.
Tonks followed the direction of the lycanthrope's head nod and spotted the two older Order members sitting at one of the tables that were set up alongside the canteen. The self-serve restaurant was positioned on the raised central deck that ran throughout the strangely-shaped vessel that the Muggles called a catamaran.
Nymphadora and Remus made their way up to the canteen and bought over-priced and under-strength cups of tea (if you could even call it that…what was actually purchased was a Styrofoam cup of hot water and a Muggle tea bag). Their purchases in hand, they made their way towards Mad-Eye and Minerva. Tonks had been mentally practicing a nonchalant request to share their table, but all that went out the table as she approached that table and noticed that Mad-Eye was casually sitting there with his trousers down around his ankles.
"What the hell?" Tonks hissed. "Is that something Muggles do during Channel crossings?"
"Just sit down and shut up, lass," the eye-patch wearing wizard barked.
Remus glanced towards an older female passenger who had just passed by Mad-Eye's table and shook his head.
"Muggle notice-me-not, I'm assuming?" he asked, as he slid down the bench opposite of Alastor and Minerva.
"Aye, a low-powered one," the retired Auror replied, as he casually took a sip from his own cup of tea.
"Thought we were trying to fly underneath surveillance coverage," said Tonks.
"We are," Mad-Eye replied. "But we're still on the British side of the border, and the Ministry isn't going to bother us about that spell use…especially since we're sailing off the edge of their jurisdiction."
"Ah…so is there a reason not to be noticed…other than it allowing you to drop your trousers?" Tonks asked.
Minerva let out a deep sigh. "Just be quiet and follow the program. Sooner we're done, the sooner Alastor can pull up his britches."
"What program is that?" Remus asked.
"We'll soon be passing into French territory," Mad-Eye replied. "There's a ward set up on the boundary that detects the presence of a magical object. Any magical object."
"So…they're going care if our wands tripped their sensors?" Moony asked.
"Absolutely," Mad-Eye replied.
"But I thought we were heading for the Channel Islands," said Tonks. "That's still British territory."
"Only as far as the Muggles are concerned," Minerva chimed in.
"Magical jurisdiction is based more on the reach of magical sensors than on any changes in Muggle land ownership," said Mad-Eye. "Channel Islands are far closer to the French shoreline than to ours…same way that Gibraltar is run by the Iberians, or Bermuda managed by the NAC."
"So back to what the Frenchies would do, and why you're airing out your boxer shorts?" asked Tonks.
"If the French detect eight magical wands on a Muggle ferry, they would be suspicious enough to land a boarding party," said Mad-Eye. "So, to keep them from snooping around, I'll carry our wands in a special compartment that's fitted inside my leg until we're on the other side."
"Inside your leg?" asked Lupin. "Your wooden leg, I'm guessing?"
"Oh, that must have taken some brain cells to figure that one out, eh?" Mad-Eye chirped.
"All you need to do is pull out your wands, reach under the table, and drop them into his magic-masking box and we'll be done with ye," Minerva said with exasperation.
Tonks rolled her eyes. "Why do we have to go to all of that trouble if there's a notice-me-not charm set up?" she asked. "We could just hand our wands across the table."
"Just get on with it, and assume it's a matter of constant vigilance!" Minerva hissed.
Remus and Nymphadora turned towards each other and traded shrugs. Since she was sitting opposite of Mad-Eye, he passed his wand under the table to her, and she got to be the one to reach under the table towards Moody.
Tonk's nose scrunched up when she felt something that wasn't shaped like a wand inside the wooden leg's hidden compartment.
"Eww..is that your eye?" she asked.
"Maybe," Alastor replied.
"So we're going to get your eye socket goop all over our wands?"
"No, you're not going to get any eye socket goop on your wand," the older Auror mimicked.
Once the transfer of wands was completed, Mad-Eye gave Tonks and Remus their instructions once the ferry reached Guernsey. They then returned to their seats, and gave Hestia and Kingsley the opportunity to form their own opinions concerning the location of Moody's trousers.
59 Brook Street
London W1K 4HS
The London cabbie stopped in front of the requested destination, put the vehicle's transmission into "park," and looked back over his shoulder.
"Here we are, Guv'nor, 59 Brook Street," he said. "Certain that you weren't looking for Claridge's? It's just across the street."
The ancient-looking man with a bandaged-wrapped hand and a waist-long beard tucked into his waist jacket looked across the street towards the world-famous luxury hotel.
"Claridge's…now that place brings back some fond memories," the old man said with a sigh. "My good friend Winston and his wife took up residence there after the War."
The cabbie pursed his lips at this comment. While his white-haired passenger certainly looked old enough to have been a contemporary of Winston Churchill, he didn't seem like the type of person who would have been running within the same social circles.
"Great man, the Prime Minister," he diplomatically stated.
"He certainly was," said the passenger. "It is nice to see the old girl again…not that I didn't also enjoy the charms offered by her older sister."
"Which older sister is that, Guv'nor?"
"Why, the fine structure that previously stood at that site, of course."
The cabbie arched his eyebrow at this response. His "Knowledge" included not only every street name within Greater London, but details about many of the city's more famous addresses. Claridge's certainly qualified as a famous address, and the cabbie could talk your ear off about all of the kings and queens and rock stars and prime ministers who had stayed there. More to the point, he could tell you that the construction of the current building was completed in the year 1898.
His passenger looked really old, but was he old enough to remember a building that was demolished in the Nineteenth Century?
"Meh," the cabbie thought to himself. "If he wants to remember it that way, so be it."
"So is this where you want to be let off, Guv'nor?" he politely asked.
The old man reluctantly turned and looked out the opposite rear window towards the adjacent storefront.
"If this is 59 Brook Street, then this is where I need to be," he stated, handing more than enough pound notes over the bench to cover the fare.
The driver shrugged as he accepted the money, then hustled out to the curb so that he could help the old man out of the cab and onto the sidewalk. The passenger tipped his bowler hat to the cabbie, then strode with confidence towards the shop whose windows were filled with elaborate white dresses. Once inside, he attracted the attention of a young sales girl and politely asked to speak with Miss Vera Wang.
The oversized cork that had been provided by Gringott's as a portkey to Harry Potter's vacation rental was rather small, when compared with the other objects that he had used for that purpose. But as the four persons using this small portkey were close friends (and paired off into couples) there weren't any complaints about overlapping grips as they took hold of the object just inside the main entrance to Chateau Delacour.
"All set,then?" Harry asked. After receiving two positive verbal responses and a hand squeeze, the teen-aged wizard called out, "Cortex Gaztelua" and the foursome disappeared from view.
Hermione Granger had described portkey travel to her parents as something akin to a Doctor Who intro…except that it was you who twirled down the tunnel of bright lights, rather than the TARDIS. And the accompanying soundtrack was a loud rush of wind, rather than a spooky electronic melody played over a thumping bass line. The Muggleborn witch had half expected the description would have warned off her parents to that mode of transit, but they were actually looking forward to their first magical trip. Said first trip was penciled in for the following day (assuming that neither parent needed to use their emergency portkey on the beach).
The other end of their transitory tunnel was a spot inside the Cortex Gaztelua's ward line, thirty meters in front of the fortified house and two meters above the ground surface. The foursome gently dropped towards the grass-covered ground, and took a few seconds to re-orient themselves within real space. Deep breaths of clean, crisp mountain air facilitated this recovery.
The younger couple had just enough time to twirl around and gain brief glimpses of the fortified stone house and surrounding countryside before a dozen Potter house elves popped into view. With a great shout they rushed forward to embrace the little boy turned Lord that they had been separated from for almost fifteen years.
Hermione stepped back from her boyfriend, giving the diminutive servants more room to smother him with their love, and their joy, and their regrets for not being able to properly serve Harry for all of those years. While the house elves were clearly putting their emotions on display, she could just as easily feel waves of emotion coming off of her boyfriend. The broadcast quality of these feelings was strong enough for Hermione to check the roof line and tree branches for Hedwig (whom didn't seem to be within viewing range).
The Muggleborn witch turned towards Bill, and asked him if this had been the errand that he'd needed to perform for Gringott's. The cursebreaker smiled, and told Hermione that he had actually ushered a second group inside the rental property's wards that morning. The identity of this second group, as well as the means for Harry's emotional broadcast, was revealed when Hermione's familiar sauntered into view, with a clowder of feline concubines in tow.
Within seconds, Crookshanks was gathered up into his human's arms, transmitting strong reunion-related emotions in both directions.
Vera Wang at Browns
59 Brook Street
London W1K 4HS
Albus Dumbledore was quickly hustled to the back of the designer wedding gown shop and directed down a very long flight of dimly-lit stairs. There was a strong presence of magic at the bottom, prompting the headmaster to pull out his wand and delineate a Muggle-repelling ward. Not recognizing any additional magical barriers, he re-pocketed his wand and began making his way down a long, featureless corridor.
While this certainly wasn't the first time that Dumbledore had visited the North American Confederation's base of diplomatic operations, it was the first time that he'd received specific instructions to quietly enter through its concealed back door. He might had taken this as an insult, having (until very recently) been the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. But Albus appreciated the NAC's discretion, given the proposed meeting agenda.
That positive reaction was seemingly put at risk when, after a few hundred feet, the featureless corridor took a sharp left turn and Dumbledore's path was blocked by two very tall sentries dressed in battle robes. One of the men had his wand drawn, and was standing next to a chest-high metal box that sat over a raised track with inset rows of metal wheels. The second stood next to a freestanding stone arch, and had a firm grip around a very large (and very thick) Probity Probe. To Dumbledore's eye, both of these NAC-uniformed sentries were very formidable, and muscular, and handsome.
The first guard ordered the Headmaster to place his wand and every other magical device or object within his possession into a black plastic tub that sat on the near end of the metal track. Thinking this to be their version of the wand-weighing guard at the Ministry, Dumbledore withdrew his back-up wand, placed it into the tub, and pushed it through the enchanted scanner. Once the tub emerged on the far side of the device, the second sentry ordered the Headmaster to walk through the archway.
The klaxons that sounded when Dumbledore passed through the arch were loud and obnoxious. He was instructed to step back and again asked to place all of his magical objects and devices inside a tub. The Headmaster protested, stating that the wand that he had offered up for inspection should be sufficient to prove his identity. The guards informed him that the purpose of the security check was to identify threats, rather than simply identify people. They also said that Dumbledore was free to turn around and head back the way he came if he didn't want to comply with their instructions.
The Headmaster reluctantly placed the Elder Wand into a second black tub, then emptied the one pocket that his one good hand had access to. He looked at the three rings on that hand, then asked, "Every magical object?"
The two guards smiled. Those grins grew when Dumbledore fumbled an attempt to a wand to remove the rings that were worn on the same hand that was holding that wand. And the grins grew even wider when the Headmaster reluctantly used his teeth to pull the rings off of his fingers, one-at-a-time.
Once he was convinced that he had complied with the guards' demands, Dumbledore pushed the half-full tub down the track and once more tried to walk through the free-standing arch.
The alarm bells were just as loud.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," Albus scowled. "All that is left are the clothes on my back!"
"And are those clothes charmed in any way?"
"Well of course they are," he replied. "There's temperature-control charms, anti-perspiring charms, softness charms…"
"All magical objects and devices are to be scanned," the guard holding the Probity Probe barked. "And if your clothes are magical objects, then…"
Dumbledore's gaze drifted from the guard's face to the probe that he had in hand. It was very long, and very thick, and had a bulbous end…
A thin smile formed on the Headmaster's lips as he gestured towards his bandaged hand, and informed the two guards that without his wand he would have a difficult time removing his Muggle attire. One of the guards stated that they wouldn't hesitate to conduct an invasive strip search if Dumbledore didn't cooperate.
The ancient wizard's eyes twinkled brightly. He gestured towards his clothing, then raised his hand and said, "Do what you need to do, my dear boys."
Being a NAC spymaster required a well-disciplined mind…a mind that could weave disparate facts into a synthesized analysis just as readily as it could compartmentalize those facts into isolated packets of gray matter. Hector Gutierrez had one of those disciplined minds, but as he remotely monitored Dumbledore's strip search even he had a hard time processing and compartmentalizing the ancient wizard's favorable (and physical) reaction. And if Hector found it hard to watch, then…well, he now owed the two agents who had been posing as embassy security a few rounds of drinks. Once, of course, their own stomachs had settled.
The spymaster turned away from the security camera feed and glanced at the intentionally-uncomfortable wooden chair that sat in front of his desk. With a wave of his wand he gave the chair some padding; the last thing he wanted was to help his guest get some more jollies.
The next few minutes were spent thinking up creative ways to make Albus Dumbledore pay just a bit more dearly for his minion's release.
After a few minutes of much-needed glomping, one of the Potter house elves broke away from their group hug, grabbed the bottom of her simple knee-high sleeveless shift, and did a passable imitation of a curtsy in front of Hermione.
"I'm so excited to be meeting Lord Potter's lady," the house-elf said. "Momma be giving me bestest of child care training…how soon before I be taking care of the lord and lady's babies?"
Hermione nearly dropped Crookshanks in shock when she heard this unexpected question. She tossed a dirty look towards Fleur, who was failing miserably in an attempt to corral her giggles. Then she dropped down to her knees, let go of her familiar, and held her right hand out towards the little house elf.
"Hi, my name is Hermione," she said with a gentle smile. "What's yours?"
The house elf ignored the outstretched hand and did a second curtsy. "My name is Pebbles, my Lord Potter's lady."
"Pebbles?" the Muggleborn witch asked. "That's a pretty name. So I take it you're a Potter house elf?"
"Yes, my Lord Potter's lady."
"And your Mother, as well?"
The little house elf nodded vigorously as she turned and pointed out her mother Wilma and father Fred. Hermione decided to prioritize convincing the house elf to address her by her first name before asking how Pebbles and her parents had received their first names.
Pebbles was disappointed to learn that there weren't any immediate plans for Lord Potter to sire an heir. She was partly mollified, however, when Fleur told the young house elf that her Lord and the Lord's lady were at least practicing making babies. Hermione wasn't very happy with this comment, nor with the French witch's suggestion that Pebbles might hasten the heir making by preparing the estate house's master bedroom for her Lord and her Lord's lady's use.
NAC Operations Center
Canadian High Commission
MacDonald House, London
Quickly tiring of his invited guest's excuses, Hector cut to the chase. He looked across his desk at Albus Dumbledore, and declared, "My government is prepared to release Severus Snape into your custody, with all charges dropped relating to his unlawful attempt to gain access to secured areas within the sovereign territory of the North American Confederation."
"Excellent news," Dumbledore stated. "When will I be able to retrieve him?"
"This evening," Hector replied. "I'm thinking Regents Park at eleven…but not until you agree to our terms and conditions."
"Terms and conditions?" asked Albus. "That makes it sound as if we're negotiating a treaty."
"Nothing too taxing, I can assure you," Hector stated. "Just some mutual back…scratching."
The spymaster winced at both his own unfortunate choice of words, and the way that Dumbledore's eyes twinkled in response. Soldiering on, he said, "We understand that you have recently been reinstated as Britain's ICW delegate."
"Yes, that's true."
"Then in exchange for Snape's freedom, you will make an unbreakable vow that you will not attempt to regain your position as Supreme Mugwump, and that you will actively support whomever the NAC backs for the post."
Dumbledore pursed his lips. He had planned on regaining both the Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock positions with the vain goal of dying while in office (three times over). But the next ICW election was eighteen months away, so the only way that he could regain that post would be to convince the interim replacement to step down. And that would require political capital that Dumbledore currently lacked.
The dying wizard had already sketched out plans for a massive marble tomb to be placed right outside the main doors of Hogwarts. With that appropriately-grand tribute set in stone (so to speak), Dumbledore decided that he could live (and die) without the mostly ceremonial ICW post.
"We would need a third person to administer the Vow," he stated.
"And you will also need to agree never to speak of this secret agreement," Hector noted. "But we are not quite there yet, my dear boy," he added, as he shuffled a few pieces of parchment on his desk. "So how are your enrollment numbers looking this year, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore frowned. "They are about what we expected."
"Which is, I expect, lower than normal, given that Voldie-shorts has finally been exposed?" Hector asked. Not waiting for an answer, he picked out a piece of parchment and held it up to his face. "Here we are…it seems that Salem fears that you will try to bolster your own enrollment numbers by poaching their students."
"I would never think of doing such a thing!" Dumbledore exclaimed.
"Of course you wouldn't," Hector replied. "And yet, my government needs to at least appear responsive to these concerns. So I will need your guarantees that you will not attempt to contact, entreat, persuade or coerce any school-aged NAC citizen into traveling to Britain or enrolling at Hogwarts this Fall."
Dumbledore let out a deep sigh, fearing that there was something vital behind this seemingly innocuous demand.
"One of our current Hogwarts students has a British father and North American mother," he replied. "This student also has an eleven-year-old sister who will be receiving her Hogwarts invitation this afternoon. I could not agree to any vow that would require me to break this family up."
"Fine," Hector replied. "So send out your invites and book lists this afternoon, and the restraining order will take effect tonight, once we deliver Snape. If our NAC students really want to attend Hogwarts, then that should suffice. Oh, and this ban on contact also extends to your school staff, and to the members of your little vigilante group."
Albus arched an eyebrow. "This ban on initiated contact would making teaching rather difficult…so it will, of course, expire on the first day of school?"
The NAC spymaster appeared to think this over for a few moments. "Okay, I'll give you that one."
Dumbledore smiled, and said, "Then, as I have no intention of 'poaching' any of Salem's students, we have an accord."
"Almost, Headmaster," Hector replied.
"There is more?"
"Just one more small favor," the spymaster stated. "I need you to lend me one of your house elves for a couple of weeks…"
A smile formed on Fleur's lips as she watched Hermione playfully smear some of the crème fraiche from her lunchtime dessert onto Harry's lips. The French witch covered Bill's hand with her own and said, "Let's go walk the ward line, my love."
Bill looked down at his half-eaten slice of cake, and was half-way towards protesting that he hadn't finished, before he cottoned on and pushed back from the table.
"If it pleases Milord," the red-haired wizard announced, "My lady and I will be reinspecting the ward line for the next hour or so."
Harry nodded halfheartedly as he tried to slip a plump strawberry past his giggling girlfriend's defenses.
"Reinspecting the ward line…is that what you kids are calling it these days?" he asked.
"Harry, that joke is really wearing thin!" Hermione playfully whined. "Would you rather they stay here and chaperone while I bite your berries?"
"Ouch," her boyfriend hissed, as he reflexively brought his legs together. "That one doesn't work so well for me."
A mock frown formed on Hermione's lips. "Would you rather bite your own berries, then?"
"Is he really that flexible?" Fleur asked with a laugh.
Hermione replied by wishing the older couple a very pleasant walk of at least sixty minutes duration. Once they were alone, she stood and said, "C'mon mister, we've got a master bedroom to reinspect."
The teen-aged wizard was quick to wipe his hands on his table napkin, and to follow his girlfriend up the stairs.
The house tour that they had taken before lunch had been detailed enough for the young couple to locate the master bedroom suite in short order. Once at the threshold, Harry pulled Hermione close and reached for her knees.
"What are you doing?"
"Thought I'd carry you in bridal style," Harry replied.
"Save it for when I'm your bride…I've got to go," Hermione quipped, as she pulled free from his grasp and dashed towards the en-suite lavatory. "But don't feel like you have to wait for me to start getting undressed!"
Harry chuckled as his girlfriend disappeared behind the closed door. They had been intimate with each other, and naked in front of each other…but they still hadn't, apparently, reached the point in their relationship where Hermione was comfortable enough to pee in his presence.
Not that he was complaining, mind you.
The teen-aged wizard walked into the bedroom, and smiled when he noticed that someone had turned down the bed linens, and placed a stamina potion on the bedside table. He imagined that it was the work of helpful house-elves who were eager for an heir.
Not spotting a valet chair like the one he'd used in the Delacour's beach cabana, Harry unbuttoned his robe and draped it over the arm of an upholstered side chair. Next, he loosened his tie and freed his shirt tails from the waistband of his linen trousers. He hated wearing so many clothes, but Hermione really did like picking them out, so he wasn't going to make a fuss over it…especially when the act of undressing brought his mind back to what had happened after he had undressed in the beach cabana the day before.
Harry's pleasant memories were interrupted by the sound of half-shouted laughter, carried into an opened bedroom window. He walked over to that window and took in the magnificent view down towards the sea. Some more laughter drew his attention closer to the foreground, and to the small patch of grape vines that were stretched along high rows of trellis wire. Harry spotted Bill and Fleur's robes hanging over two of those wires. The trellises were too high and the vines were too thick to actually see what the older couple was doing within the small vinyard, but the lack of silencing charms (and the pair of silk knickers that were just tossed up and onto the robes) provided more than enough circumstantial evidence.
The soundtrack was interesting enough to slow down Harry's own rate of undressing. That his girlfriend had not been similarly distracted was made clear when she returned to the bedroom dressed only in her knickers, and snuck up behind him.
"Something caught your eye, mister?" she teased, as she pressed her chest against Harry's shirt-covered back.
"Erm…just enjoying the view," he quickly replied.
Hermione looked over his shoulder and laughed.
"I'm beginning to think that my boyfriend likes to watch," she teased, using a seductive tone of voice that (when combined with some grinding) made it clear that she was more amused than upset.
"No, I'm…can't see actually see what they're doing!" Harry protested.
"Good," said Hermione, as she reached down and undid his belt buckle. "Then they won't be able to see what we're doing either."
"Doing…right here in front of the window?" Harry nervously asked.
"Uh huh," Hermione purred, as she slipped her fingers into his front pockets.
Harry groaned as the fingers within his left front pocket dragged down his rapidly stiffening erection.
"It certainly feels like you like to watch…or like the idea of being watched," Hermione whispered into her lover's ear. She giggled when her right hand wrapped around a hard length of wood within Harry's other pocket.
"So is that a wand, or are you just happy to see them?" the teen-aged witch quipped.
The question caught Harry off-guard, since (as far as he knew) his wand was still strapped to his forearm holster. So when the answer came to mind, he simply blurted it out.
"That's the portkey to Hidden Island."
In a flash, the couple disappeared.
And instead of grinding against the window sill, Harry and Hermione now found themselves barreling down another Dr. Who-ish dark tunnel walled with rainbow-colored lights.
"Oh, Shit!" Harry hissed.
Hermione thought the same, but decided to press on from that point.
"Harry?" she shouted into her boyfriend's ear. "Please don't tell me that the activation phrase for the portkey to your hidden island was 'Hidden Island."
The teen-aged wizard turned his head and shouted back, "Okay, I won't tell you."
"Guess the goblins could have picked a safer phrase, huh?"
Hermione's desire to swat her boyfriend's shoulder or cuff his ear was outweighed by a stronger need to hold on for dear life as they traveled across the Ethereal Plane. So the nearly-naked witch kept her hands in Harry's pants, figuring that there would be plenty of time to physically express her displeasure once they landed at the other end of their unplanned journey.
And there would have been, had they landed on Hidden Island. But instead they were diverted to Baffin Island, and dropped in front of an NAC border agent.
The landing was much rougher than Harry and Hermione's arrival at the rental property, causing the two teenagers to separate and lose their footing. The white-haired wizard's eyes widened when he looked up from his crossword puzzle and got a good view of Hermione's bared breast. He reflexively licked his lips, before clearing his throat and asking, "Passports, please?"
"Eeep!" Hermione squeaked, as she hid behind her boyfriend's back.
"Sorry, activated a portkey by mistake," he explained to the border agent. He grabbed Hermione's hand, then reached into his pocket with the other hand and grabbed the portkey.
"Island hidden," he said.
"Bollocks!" Harry hissed. "That was supposed to send us back."
The border agent shook his head. "That's because you are currently within a magical suppression cell," he explained.
"Shit," Harry hissed, as he took in his surroundings. They were standing in a small bare room, with a low ceiling and three white walls to the back and sides. The area between where they were standing and the border agent's duty station was bare; there was, presumably, some kind of invisible barrier separating the two.
Harry caught the agent's eye and asked, "I'm guessing I won't be able to transfigure my socks into something for my girlfriend to wear?"
"Harry!" Hermione whined.
The teen-aged wizard didn't like the grin on the customs officer's face.
"Dobby?" he called out.
"Harry," Hermione repeated. "If the portkey isn't going to work, why would you think that a house elf would be able to…"
A deafening "Boom!" cut the Muggleborn's sentence short, as a quivering house elf responded to Harry's call.
"What the hell?" the agent yelled, as he drew his wand.
"Wha…what can Dobby be doing for the Great Harry Potter, Sir?"
A firm slap on Harry's back kept him from squatting down to the house elf's level.
"Don't you dare move!" Hermione hissed.
"Oh, right…sorry," said Harry, as he glanced towards the agent. He then looked down towards Dobby and asked, "Would you be able to safely travel back and ask one of the Potter house elves to locate our robes and passports? We need them."
"He won't be able to do that," the border patrol agent declared.
Dobby turned towards the older wizard and frowned.
"Mr. Nosey Parker shouldn't be telling Dobby what he can or can't do," he declared. "And Mr. Pervy Parker shouldn't be trying to see the Great Harry Potter's girlfriend's boobies!"
Dobby clicked his fingers, summoning a thick ceiling-to-floor curtain that completely shielded the holding cell from the customs officer's view.
The border agent blinked. And then he pushed his panic button.
Twenty seconds later, Dobby reappeared in front of the drawn curtain and dropped two passports onto the border agent's desk. "Here be the little bookies that Mr. Pervy Parker wanted."
The house elf popped away before either the border agent or any of the six Hit Wizards who had responded to the panic button thought to grab him.
Since it really wouldn't do for any of the former headmasters to see him out of sorts and not completely in control, Dumbledore took the time needed to remove the scowl from his face before stepping out of the floo-connected fireplace within his office.
Pushing his thoughts about the most painful way of removing a diplomat's credentials to one side, the Headmaster took a seat behind his ornate desk and immediately called for the school's head house elf. The servant popped into the office, and reported that the parliament of delivery owls had arrived. Dumbledore gave the order for the letters to be addressed. Next, he informed the elf that since the Assistant Headmistress was presently out of country, he would be the one to insert prefect badges and Quidditch team captain badges into the appropriate unsealed addressed envelopes.
The house elf happily accepted the Headmaster's instructions to bring each prefect's or captain's letter to him just as soon as each was addressed. Not waiting until all of the letters were addressed would mean making thirty individual trips up to the Headmaster's Office, rather than just one…but he didn't get his position as Head Hogwarts House Elf by shying away from extra work. And all of this focus on the owl deliveries might keep the Headmaster's attention away from the mysterious black hair that had been discovered within his shorts.
With the house elf dismissed, Dumbledore's thoughts drifted back to the less-than-successful recently-completed negotiations for Severus Snape's release. The North American wizard had refused to let Dumbledore speak with his potions master while he was there, and had demanded that the unbreakable vow be completed before the Headmaster left the meeting (with negotiated wording inserted into the vow that limited its enforcement until Snape had been safely handed over that evening).
Concerns about the potion master's safety led Dumbledore to recheck his "To-Do" list. Thankfully, he still didn't need to locate an emergency DADA replacement for the upcoming term. Dumbledore then took a few moments to review the mapped locations of his tracking charms. Little had changed during his absence; not counting the hair that appeared to be floating on the English side of the Channel, the only remaining domestic location was at Hogwarts. And that determination reminded the Headmaster about the black hair that still sat on his desk.
The Elder Wand was drawn, and the tracking charm was removed. But there was still a black dot hovering over Hogwarts, which meant that Dumbledore still needed to search the castle for another charmed pubic hair.
Any thoughts about starting in on that search or interrogating Canipsy were placed on hold when the current head house elf popped into the office with a box of badges and the first of thirty addressed envelopes that required stuffing.
Ice Station Auyuittuq
Baffin Island, Canada
NAC Senior Agent Marcia Hopkins reflexively saluted the secured land line as her boss's boss ended the telephone call. She took one last glance at the digital dossiers that sat open on her desktop monitor before placing the techno-manced computer into lockdown mode. Then she rose from her desk and pocketed the passports that belonged to the two teenagers that her boss's boss had labeled "Her Very Important, Grade A, Farts-don't-smell Untouchable Guests."
Remembering how one of those guests had arrived within her jurisdiction, Senior Agent grabbed her extra uniform and a spare pair of shoes on her way out of her office. It took less than a minute for Hopkins to walk to the reception area for unauthorized portkey users. The hit-wizards who had established defensive positions in front of the cell were happy to see her.
"Can we gas them now, Ma'am?" the squad leader asked eagerly.
"No you may not gas them now," Hopkins replied. "What you can do is stand down and de-mobilize."
"Awwwww…really?" the hit-wizard whined.
The Senior Agent shook her head in disbelief. "Do you know who is behind that curtain right now?"
"A couple of kids and maybe one of them brownie-thingies?" the hit-wizard replied.
"Yeah, that's right, two kids just happen to have Alpha-1 diplomatic status," said Hopkins. She snorted, then added, "And at least one kid who would kick your ass nine duels out of ten once he stepped out of that cell."
"You shittin' me, Ma'am?"
The high-level witch approached the border patrol officer who had been her guest's first contact as the others began to file out of the room.
"So, Bill…talk to me about what's going on beyond the red curtain."
"Nothing, Ma'am…at least not for the last ten minutes, if you trust our magical motion detectors."
"No, Ma'am…something has taken them off-line."
"Something other than the theater curtains?"
"Okay, then…open it up."
"You hell-bent on questioning my orders too, Bill?"
"No, Ma'am," the border agent replied, as he fished a necklace-strung key than out of his neckline.
As the Senior Agent approached the curtained cell, the border agent asked, "Should I bring it back up once you're through, Ma'am?"
"That is standard protocol, isn't it?"
"Yes, Ma'am…cleared to enter, Ma'am."
Hopkins took a deep breath, reached out, and pulled the split theater-style curtains apart.
"Huh!" she muttered, after taking her first look inside.
"Ma'am?" the border agent asked.
The senior NAC intelligence officer drew back the curtains, giving her subordinate his own view of a magical tent that now stood within the detention cell.
Keeping in mind her instructions to avoid doing anything that could be remotely interpreted as hostile (in the absence, of course, of in-bound hostile acts), Senior Agent Hopkins kept her wand holstered as she stepped into the cell and let the curtains drop back into place behind her (recalling why the house elf had reportedly seen fit to conjure it).
"Hello?" she called out. "Mr. Potter? Miss Granger? Is anyone in there?"
"Be right there," a male voice called back.
A few seconds later, a messy-haired teen popped his head out between the tent flaps.
"Oh, hello there. Are we sorted out, then?" he asked.
"Yes, actually," she replied. "And sorry for the delay, but I would greatly appreciate a few minutes of your time to answer a few questions."
"Erm, sure…do you want to come in?" Harry asked. He stepped out of the tent, held back one of the front flaps, and added, "I've got the kettle on the boil."
There was a certain "through the looking glass" aspect to being invited by a detainee into his smuggled magical tent for a cup of tea. But the NAC agent had been assured that the two teenagers were friendly, and their diplomatic status called for bold deference. So she thanked Harry for the invitation and ducked her head inside the tent.
The inside was magically expanded, but not to any great extent. The interior space was square-shaped, and roughly eight meters to the side. It was simply furnished, with a kitchenette and small eating area in one corner, opposite a sectioned-off lavatory. The space was illuminated by a lit fireplace, as well as by the artificial sunlight that streamed in from a bank of charmed windows. The urban views framed by these windows greatly added to the impression that this tent was modeled after a studio apartment (or "flat," given the fact that the urban views were taken from the city of London).
"Hermione?" Harry called from the tent entrance. "We have a guest."
The teen-aged witch, who had been engrossed by the book she'd been reading as she sat on the tent's couch, looked up from the page, then quickly placed the book to one side.
"Sorry, I'm Hermione Granger," she said, as she stood and held out her hand.
"Not at all, Miss Granger, I'm Senior Agent Marcia Hopkins," the older witch replied, as she shook Hermione's hand. "I'm so sorry for the delay, and for any disrespect from our staff that you may have encountered."
"Disrespect?" Hermione asked.
The older witch nodded as she gestured towards the spare robes draped over her arm, then nodded towards the conservatively-cut robes that Hermione was now wearing.
"The perceived need for a curtain?" she asked. "I brought something for you to wear, but I guess you didn't need it."
"Thanks for thinking of me," Hermione replied. She nodded towards Harry and said, "You'll have to excuse my ill-mannered boyfriend…has he apologized yet?"
"Erm, right," said Harry, as he walked over to the kitchenette and turned down the fire beneath a boiling tea kettle. He turned back towards the NAC official and said, "I really am sorry about arriving without our passports, and for whatever bother was created when my friend fetched them and pitched this tent for us. I'm willing to pay for any damages."
"No worries, Mr. Potter," the senior agent said. "It's been rather helpful, actually. That was the same friend who visited our London embassy yesterday, right?"
"Yes, it was," Hermione replied. She gestured towards the wing-backed chair next to the sofa and added, "Would you like to sit down?"
"Thank you, Miss Granger," Hopkins said, as she took the offered seat. She took a second look around the tent's interior and said, "It is very weird to be sitting this comfortably within one of our security cells. The fact that your friend was even able to pitch this magical tent has our techno-mages in a tizzy."
Hermione thought for a moment, then shrugged as she pointed towards the older witch's uniform.
"Those look like pretty thick robes," she noted. "Do they have a temperature-regulating charm on them?"
"And is that charm still working, or did you start to heat up once you entered the cell?"
"No, they still seem to be working…oh!" the agent replied. "I get it...objects that are charmed or enchanted before arriving in this cell retain their magic once they're brought in?"
"That was my guess," Hermione agreed. "I wouldn't have expected that to be the case, but once our storage buttons opened…"
"But isn't a portkey an enchanted object?" asked Harry, as he carried the tea platter over to the sitting area.
His girlfriend nodded as she began to pour out the tea. "Maybe there's a separate ward that limits out-bound portkey travel?" his girlfriend reasoned.
"Exactly so," Hopkins replied. "Just as there doesn't appear to be an effective ward that prevents a house elf from coming or going."
Hermione shrugged. "You'd know better than us about that."
The NAC agent shook her head. "I heard about your friend's escapades in London in our morning brief, but to actually see the effects first hand…"
Harry nodded in agreement. "Again, my apologies."
"Oh, no, like I said…it's been very educational," the NAC agent replied (not willing to divulge just how tightly their knickers had been twisted). "Speaking of education…were either of you aware of the regulations that cover international portkey travel?"
"Obviously not," Hermione replied. "It was on my list of things to do, but we weren't intentionally trying to travel internationally this afternoon."
"Yes, that fact seemed pretty clear, given your traveling attire," the agent said with a smile.
"Or lack thereof," Harry quipped, earning him a stern glance from his girlfriend.
"Okay, then… a quick after-the-fact lesson," the senior agent stated. "That multiple-use portkey of yours was properly registered with us by Gringott's, allowing for point-to-point transit to or from your residence in Ontario without forced diversion to a border patrol office. But the only passport linked to that portkey was yours, Mr. Potter, and it was your British passport that was linked, not your NAC passport."
"So if I had used the portkey just by myself, it would have put me straight through to the destination?"
"As long as you were carrying that British passport," the agent replied. "We'd be happy to link your new NAC passport and Miss Granger's passport to the portkey before you leave. That way you won't face this issue in the future."
"So long as Harry doesn't accidentally activate the portkey the next time he's taking a shower," Hermione stated.
"Are we going to face this same issue on the return trip back to France?" Hermione asked.
"I would imagine," the agent replied. "Unless that portkey has been registered with their immigration office and linked to both your passports."
Hermione gave a questioning look towards Harry, who shrugged.
"Well, if it does happen, at least this time you'll have your clothes on," he reasoned.
The NAC agent smiled when a second glare was tossed in Harry's direction.
"I know somebody in the French embassy in Montreal that I could call," she stated. "You can floo from here…"
Hermione giggled when she noticed the agent's eyes wander towards the magical tent's lit fireplace.
"Relax, Ms. Hopkins," she said. "As far as I know, that fireplace isn't connected."
"Good," the older witch replied. "You're welcome to use the floo in my office…while we're there, I can also link your passports to that portkey."
"Would you be able to change the activation phrase to that portkey as well?"
The Senior Agent smiled. "Well I can't, but we've got somebody in the office who can do that for you. Let me guess…the activation phrase is the same as your destination?"
"Right in one," Hermione replied.
"Got something better in mind?" Harry asked.
"Yes, well…I was thinking about going with 'My boyfriend is a berk,' but that phrase gets used more often than I'd like."
"How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?" Harry whined.
"I'll let you know," Hermione replied. "A few less times if you agree to clean up here and take down the tent while I go with the nice Senior Officer to take care of the passports and portkey."
"I can do that," Harry replied.
"You can do that without calling on Dobby for help?"
The NAC official chuckled at the bantering as she followed Hermione out the tent. Once outside, she asked, "Is there anyone back in Europe that you need to contact, to let them know you're safe?"
Hermione shook her head.
"We sent a message back with the Great Harry Potter Sir's friend," she quipped.
"And do you have the portkey that needs to be modified?"
Hermione padded her hand against the outside of her robe pocket, and assured the older witch that she would be carrying House Potter's portkeys for the foreseeable future.
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
Albus Dumbledore had just finished stuffing a Slytherin prefects badge into Pansy Parkinson's school letter when Canipsy the head house elf popped back into his office with the latest addressed envelope. With a huff the Headmaster levitated Pansy's letter towards Canipsy and dismissed him…now that they were on the letter "P" the suspense was killing him, and he wanted Harry Potter's letter in hand even before its ink had dried.
The latest letter was addressed to Sixth-Year Ravenclaw Prefect, and would be heading to a city in India with enough letters in its name to approach the envelope's edge. Dumbledore started to Accio! the corresponding badge from the box, then decided it could wait. He was still trying to decide what to make of Hermione Granger's letter, and could use the few seconds of time before the Potter letter arrived to reflect on it. This was, he feared, linked to one of the promises made within the unbreakable vow.
The Sixth-Year Gryffindor's envelope was still sitting on the side of the Headmaster's desk. He brought it closer to him, so that he could easily compare addresses side-by-side once the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain's letter showed up.
That letter did show up.
The two addresses did match up.
Albus Dumbledore's heart raced. His eyes darted from the letter to the device that was charmed to monitor Harry Potter's well-being. That sparkly, silvery whirlygig still showed the teen-aged wizard to be in tip-top emotional and physical shape. So if this device was working properly, then Harry certainly wasn't suffering any ill effects from his current location.
And if he wasn't in any immediate danger, then Dumbledore could worry more about the "To whom," than the "To where."
The "where" was Canada.
The "whom" was Lord Harry Potter.
Dumbledore grabbed Harry's unstuffed letter and rushed to the office fireplace. Floo powder was thrown, and the "Ministry of Magic" was called out. The Headmaster was in so much of a rush to check the Ministry's office of records that he left Hermione's letter behind. So it was still sitting on his desk when Canipsy popped back into the office with the next Prefect's letter in hand.
"Oh, my," the house elf muttered to himself. "Headmaster be leaving before all of the letters are stuffed…house elves can't be stuffing the badgeses into envelopes, so all of the envelopes won't be ready to be sent…and rules are being that the posty owls have to be leaving all at the same time with their envelopes…"
Canipsy was so excited about this turn of events that he barely thought to place the new letter on the headmaster's desk before popping back to the mail room to tell the other house elves the news. All those postal owls would need to be fed, and need to be watered, and their poop would need to be cleaned up…the Headmaster had just created a lot of extra work for the house elf staff. They would be dancing with delight!
As soon as the house elf popped away those headmaster portraits not covered up by the tracking charm map burst into excited conversation. Some of the headmasters that were covered by the map didn't believe the news (once it was relayed to them), so they jumped their frames and crowded into one portrait frame that sat above the Headmaster's desk. This frame offered the best view of the address on Miss Hermione Granger's letter:
Miss Hermione Granger
Detention Cell 2
NAC Border Control Office
Ice Station Auyuittuq
Baffin Island, North American Confederation
Post-publication A/N: Thanks to Alix33 for helping proof this update after I posted it without a beta review. This revised version reflects her efforts and eagle eye.