Chapter 21: The Stage Expands
A/N: Rolling the clock back to pick up the North American thread. Didn't push that rolled-back clock forward very much, but it was either cut the chapter off where it ends, or carry on towards another monster update that might take months to post. I'm guessing that most of you prefer this option. If nothing else, it's easier to digest in one sitting.
A/N2: A quick reminder: Chapter 1 of this story was posted five years before the first "Fantastic Beasts" movie and JKR's Pottermore essay that described "canon" MACUSA. I also first introduced my idea of the North American Confederation in a 2008 chapter of MSWF. So while I have always been loud and proud in my opposition to kowtowing to canon orthodoxy, I have even more reason to ignore MACUSA, Rappaport's Law, and the lazy Anglo-centric narrative of magical society within North America.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc.
Saturday, 2 August, 7:30AM Eastern Daylight Time
Welly and Pebbles were waiting when Harry and Hermione walked out of the spray of rainbow lights.
"Welcome back to Hidden Island, Lord Potter, Miss Hermione."
"Pebbles be ready to make any room extra-ready for Lord and his lady!"
"We're are happy to be here," Harry said with a smile. He turned to Welly and asked, "You've been briefed on our plans today?"
"Yes, milord," Welly replied. "Gare Windsor anticipates an on-time arrival for Mr. and Mrs. Granger."
"Brilliant," Harry declared, as he offered the island's head elf a small bag.
"Here are the travel cases...I forgot to mark which one was which before they were shrunk down, but I suppose it won't be too hard to sort them out."
"It will be no problem, milord."
Harry heard just the slightest bit of frustration in the house elf's response.
"I'm sorry Welly...I know that either you or Jetson could have brought the cases over," he said. "We probably didn't even need to pack our own."
"But it was for our benefit," Harry explained. "At least for me...deciding what I needed for the trip, and physically stuffing it into a suitcase...I think it mentally helped with adjusting to the idea that we might be here for a while."
"Very good, milord. Shall we leave these cases unpacked then?"
Harry snorted. "Might be better to decide which bedrooms to put them in first."
"Any suggestions, Welly?" Hermione asked.
"Lord and Lady not be liking the master?" Pebbles asked nervously.
"No, no...it's perfect, Pebbles," Hermione insisted. "We're asking for input on where my parents should sleep, and which bedroom I should pretend to sleep in."
"There already be being a bedroom for the Lady of the Castle," Pebbles declared. "It be next to the Lady's dressing room."
"That's fine, then," Hermione declared, earning a raised eyebrow from her boyfriend. She then asked, "Welly, is there a bedroom that would offer my parents some extra privacy?"
The house elf thought for a moment, and then said, "Milady's parents might enjoy the privacy provided by the accommodations above the yacht house. There is also the Round Tower, should you wish to accommodate them within the castle."
"Don't think we saw either of those places last time we were here," Harry commented.
"Would milady care to inspect these bedrooms before deciding?" asked Welly.
"Thank you, Welly, I would," she replied. "If that's alright with you Harry?"
Her boyfriend looked out the nearest window, spotted sunny skies, and frowned.
"I thought that we were going to check the ward line down at the beach?" he asked.
Hermione pulled her boyfriend into an embrace, and whispered into his ear.
"Sweetheart, I want to check the ward line inside every bedroom on this island," she declared, dropping a hand down to give Harry's bum a squeeze. "Better that we check those two off of my list, before my parents claim one of them."
Harry's eyes widened, both at Hermione's declared intentions, and the way that Pebbles was jumping up and down in delight. He nuzzled against his girlfriend's neck and softly replied, "You do know that the house elves can hear your whispering, right?"
Hermione smiled as she ground against Harry's crotch.
"Guess you'll have to read my mind, then," she purred.
Fully expecting Roger and Emily to want to sleep inside the moat line (rather than outside), and eager to comply with his girlfriend's request, Harry asked the house elves to pop them into the highest bedroom within the castle.
Hermione and Harry were served lunch on a sun-kissed balcony that provided expansive views of the yacht house and boat traffic along the main river channel. Not that Harry was focusing much on their surroundings, given that his girlfriend had left her bra on the Round Tower's bedroom floor.
"Don't care for the salad?" Hermione asked, as she speared a slice of strawberry with her fork.
"No...it's delicious," he said, nodding towards his girlfriend's thin silk shirt. "I'm just distracted."
Hermione looked down her front and rolled her eyes.
"Didn't you get enough perv time when they were uncovered in the tower?"
"Ermmm...no?" Harry replied.
"You need to multitask, then, and ogle and eat at the same time."
"Why?" he asked. "It's just the two of us, and I don't think we're pressed for time."
"Because you need practice."
"Practice doing what?"
"What if my parents were at the table, right now...would you be acting this way?"
"Would you be braless if your parents were at the table?"
Hermione shrugged. "Mum does it often enough when we're on holiday in France."
The teenaged witch shook her head in frustration as she watched her boyfriend try to wrap his head around that idea.
She set her fork down, extended her arm, and flicked her wrist. But once her wand slipped into her grip, she shook her head and sighed.
"Forgot that I can't cast notice-me-nots yet," she explained, as she pushed her wand back into its hidden holster.
"Were you really going to hide your breasts from me?" Harry asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes as she called out, "Welly?"
The house elf instantly appeared by her side.
"Yes, Miss Hermione?"
"I forgot that Harry and I won't have access to our school nurse while we're here. Will you please see if Fleur or her parents could recommend a French healer?"
"Of course, milady."
"Oh, and also...we should review local medical care options...both magical and non-magical...in case something comes up here."
"When would milady wish to do that?"
"Oh, it's really not urgent...it probably can wait until my parents are here."
"Very good, milady.
"Oh, and before you go...can we get the main course?"
The old house elf smiled and nodded his head. The salad bowls disappeared at the same time that he did.
A second later, the main course popped onto the table, hidden under sterling silver plate covers.
Hermione looked across the table and said, "While I'm thinking about it, there might be issues getting our medical records from Hogwarts...do you think McGonagall could get copies from Madame Pom...erm, Harry?"
You're staring again."
"No I'm not," Harry countered. "I'm just trying to mentally process how comfortable you've gotten asking for help from the house elves."
"No, no...they're really happy to help," said Harry. "Overjoyed, actually, to have new tasks to complete. It's just...we're not far past your hat knitting days."
Hermione looked down and blushed a bit.
"Oh, well...it was really helpful to see how the Delacours interacted with their house elves," she explained. "And then there was that petite intervention..."
"Fleur and her mum came to the Cork Fort this morning, to help me...and my mum...better understand both our symbiotic relationship with house elves, and what they need from the lady of the castle."
"What they need from...whom?"
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment and let out a short breath. "Fleur and her mum convinced me that I need to take on the role of lady of the castle...at least while we're here," she stated.
"Wow...where was I?"
"Off male bonding with Daddie and those silly crossbows."
"They weren't silly crossbows...they were high-quality antiques!"
"Yes, Dear," Hermione snarked.
"And also a practical form of self-defense, given how ridiculously difficult it would be for your parents to get gun permits in Britain."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "First off, how practical it would be for my parents to lug loaded cross-bows to the surgery and back?" she asked. The teenaged witch then waved towards the far side of the river and added, "Second, why bother, when it's so ridiculously easy to buy handguns in the States?"
"That's an excellent idea!" Harry declared.
"No, it's a horrible idea," Hermione countered. "And rather pointless, so long as we can keep them away from Britain until it's safe."
"Okay, so we ask your parents what they think," Harry decided. He smiled, and asked, "So, back to you being the lady of the castle..."
Hermione nodded. "Madame Delacour explained that house elves need someone to go to when there are questions about household management, just like the human servants in a rich non-magical family."
"Oh, well, things like where your guests should stay," Hermione replied. "That's why Welly was looking for me to decide on where my parents will sleep."
"Huh...I thought that was because they are your parents."
Hermione smiled thinly and shook her head.
"This might feel a bit off, and might seem like we're playing house, but we really do need to take the lead as host and hostess," she stated. "Not just to make the house elves happy, but because we're staying in a magical household, and interacting with the local magic community."
Harry thought for a moment, and then shrugged.
"I guess Welly really can't ask your father to take charge of the island's wards," he said. "So is accepting your role as lady of the castle the reason why the house elves are calling you milady? And why, for that matter, you aren't correcting them?"
Hermione shrugged her shoulders in a "what can you do?" kind of way.
"At least it's shorter than 'The Great Harry Potter, Sir'," Harry noted. "So what else comes with the job?"
"Oh, well...Welly came over to the Cork Fort this morning to get my input on this week's menu."
"It couldn't wait until we got here?"
"He was rather eager," Hermione replied. "Even brought over a tasting menu while you were off channeling your inner Hagrid...speaking of which, let's eat. I need your feedback."
With those words coming from the lady of the castle's lips, the silver plate covers disappeared, revealing food that looked more like takeaway than high cuisine.
"Interesting," said Harry. "What is it?"
Harry picked up a sausage roll that, instead of sausage, was overfilled with big chunks of white fishy flesh, lightly dressed with mayonnaise. Trusting both his girlfriend and his house elf, the teenaged wizard took a bite, then hummed in appreciation.
"Delicious," he declared. "Crab?"
"Really?" Harry asked. "I always imagined lobster being served in some fancier way."
"It usually is," said Hermione. "But they can't ship soft-shell lobsters very far from where they're caught. So when they are in season, it's cheap enough to serve as takeaway. They're called lobster rolls."
"Aren't lobsters caught in the ocean?"
"And how far away are we from the ocean?"
Hermione chuckled. "We're close enough to the coastline for a house-elf to pop over and purchase lobsters right off the boat. And to wait to do that until they've set the pot water on the fire."
Harry shook his head. "Doesn't it seem just a little decadent to have servants travelling hundreds of miles round trip just to buy food for lunch?"
His girlfriend shrugged her shoulders. "I asked about that. It's not any more strenuous than if they were popping to the local Tesco," she said. "And it's not that much different than a wizard travelling by floo from London to Hogsmeade, just to eat lunch at the Three Broomsticks."
"And you could argue that it's better for the environment to have house elves pop to a farm or a dock for our food, rather than have that food shipped to the local market," Hermione added, as she started to get on a roll. "We'll be eating farm-to-table...or dock-to-table, in this case."
"Okay, okay, I get it," said Harry, raising his hands in surrender.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to get all preachy," said Hermione. "It's just...after weeks of Mollie's meat and potatoes meals, and months of heavy Hogwarts meals before that, it was such a treat to eat at the Delacour's. And to now actually have some say in what gets put on our table.? It's rather exciting, isn't it?"
"But I like meat and potatoes," Harry whined. "You aren't going to go all grapefruit and tofu on me, are you?"
"Of course not," Hermione said reassuringly. "Daddy loves a full English just as much as you do. And I promise that you won't even notice when Welly and I substitute in the tofu."
"You know, Hermione...I do have a little experience with cooking and meal planning."
"Of course, Harry...if you'd like, I'd love to work with you on next week's menu. Those bookstores in Montreal's Underground City are bound to have good cookbooks, and if they're all in French we could check out the bookstores in Boston or New York City. Oh, and I bet Sylvie has some wonderful ideas on the regional cuisine..."
"No worries...gave me time to finish off my sandwich."
"Don't tease...you know I can't help it sometimes."
Harry smiled, and nodded in agreement (even though it was more like "most times" than "sometimes"). For a brief moment, he worried intensely about their short-term focus on seafood and sex...and about missed opportunities to train, and strategize, and prepare for a potential evacuation of British muggleborns and their families. But then he reminded himself once again just how little they could have worked on those issues if they were still stuck at the Burrow, or...worse...if he was still stuck on Privet Drive. And he embraced the concept of time and place.
"Sorry...zoned out for a moment."
Hermione sighed, and jokingly repurposed an English-language test question.
"Do you zhink zhat my teets are too beeg?"
Harry laughed. Not wanting to risk spoiling the day by explaining what he had really been thinking about, he waggled his eyebrows.
"Your tits are perfect, Sweetheart. And they're even more perfect when their nipples poke through your shirt."
"You are such a lad."
"Once again, guilty as charged, your honor," he quipped.
"Are you really suggesting that you'd be able to focus more on our conversation if I took my top off?"
"One way to find out, right?"
Hermione pursed her lips as she drew her wand and cast a medically-authorized spell.
The teenaged witch quickly reviewed her options as she sheathed her wand. They still had several hours before they needed to meet her parents at the transit station. And there were so many productive ways that they could spend the afternoon. But when you considered the opportunity costs...and the fact that her boyfriend had a time-turner hanging from his neck...
Hermione raised the rest of her lobster roll to her lips. A chunk of mayonnaise-dressed lobster meat accidentally on-purpose spilled onto her silk shirt.
"Oh dear, I'm afraid that might stain," she declared, as she wiped her shirt with her napkin. "Pebbles?"
The house elf handmaid popped onto the balcony.
Hermione deftly pulled off her shirt, handed it to the house elf, and asked, "Would you please have this cleaned?"
Pebbles' oversized eyes grew just a bit bigger. She knew that she could remove the stain right then and there, without her mistress needing to remove her shirt, but surely her mistress knew that as well?
The house elf curtsied, and popped away with a sly smile on her face.
Harry tried to act mature, and not groan too loudly as his bare-chested girlfriend rose from the table.
"There's ice cream cones on the menu for dessert," Hermione casually mentioned. "Want to eat them here, or take them with us as we check out the yacht house?"
Harry briefly considered making a joke about how he might clean any spilled ice cream, but prudently discarded the thought. Why do anything to risk a memory that could last a lifetime?
He rose from the table and reached for his girlfriend's hand.
Gare Windsor, Montreal
Later that day, the reusable house portkey that provided round trip service between Hidden Island and Montreal dropped Harry and Hermione onto a circular platform inside a cavernous underground space. The two teenagers took a few seconds to gather themselves, prompting a bored attendant to glance up from her romance novel and scold them in French.
"Step off the platform, please. Do you want the next portkey arrival to land on your heads?"
"Sorry," Hermione replied, as they stepped down off the raised area, and walked towards the turnstile marked "SORTIE." The attendant, who was sitting next to the turnstile, asked, "Transit passes?"
"Again, sorry. This is our first trip here," Hermione explained. "We were told that it is possible to purchase the monthly passes?"
The attendant glanced at the portkey in Hermione's hand. It was a small block of maple attached at each end to a braided gold chain. The rounded corners and edges of the wood block suggested decades of use.
Too disinterested to wonder why a teenaged newbie who spoke French with a slight English accent was using an old local portkey, the transit worker nodded towards a customer service booth that sat against a near wall.
"Transit passes can be purchased at that counter."
"Thank you very much," Hermione replied, as she squeezed her boyfriend's hand and stepped towards the exit.
"Wait!" the attendant barked. "That will be six sprinks for use of the arrival platform."
Hermione pursed her lips as she turned towards Harry. "She said that we need to pay her now, before we pay for the transit passes."
"Ah," Harry replied, having only understood a small portion of the conversation. He reached inside the pouch that Welly had given him, pulled out a round gold coin that had a spherical core of platinum, and held it out towards the attendant.
"Is good?" he asked, in heavily accented French.
The witch glanced at the coin and rolled her eyes. Switching over to English, she asked, "You think zhat I would have change for a Grand Dragot?"
Hermione sighed. "Sorry, Harry...I should have mentioned that she needs six sprinks...I think that those are ones that are about the size of a sickle. And if there aren't six of those in the pouch, then one of the flat gold coins should do."
As Harry hunted in his pouch for a coin that wasn't worth several hundred Canadian dollars, Hermione turned back to the other witch and asked (in French), "Can these be applied against the cost of the monthly pass?"
The older witch grumbled as she took the single dragot coin that Harry had offered. She pulled two paper tickets from a cheap metal dispenser, counted out the change, and gave them to Hermione.
"Present these receipts at the counter," she said in English.
Hermione narrowed her gaze as she took the tickets and coins. She then thanked the attendant in French, and wished her a very pleasant evening (taking great care to speak with a Parisian accent that contrasted most strongly to the worker's Canadian French).
"Well wasn't she pleasant?" the teenaged witch whispered, after they walked through the turnstile.
"Hey, at least she didn't pull a dagger on you," Harry quipped.
They walked over to the service counter that the attendant had waved towards, only to discover that it was closed for the day. Hermione looked back to see if the catty ticket taker was gloating, but the woman had her nose pointed back down towards her bodice ripper.
Harry and Hermione then took a closer look around the transit station. A second portkey platform was located on the far side of the room, behind a secured gate that was labeled "Arrivée Internationale." There was a door next to that platform that had an airplane icon painted on its translucent glass, and two security agents sitting at desks in front of both the platform and door. The agents wore the same uniform that Mr. Pervy Parker had worn on Baffin Island, leading Harry to conclude that this was where Hermione's parents would go through their customs and immigration check.
That Harry and Hermione would meet her parents in downtown Montreal, in a magical transit station located under what used to be the city's main train terminal, had been cause for concern that morning. They would have rather met them at the airport, and used the portkey to return to the island from there. But there were good reasons for the Grangers to go through the NAC customs and immigration process, rather than hand their passports over to a Muggle border agent at the airport. The best reason being that a NAC magical passport stamp doubled as valid entry to any Muggle government within the NAC's borders (the stamp was charmed to look like a port of entry mark for whatever country you were located in).
A bank of fireplaces sat next to the secured area, behind a different turnstile and a different attendant (this one was reading the sports section of a Muggle newspaper). A sign next to this turnstile identified pricing for floo powder, and warned passengers that bringing your own powder was prohibited. Prices for the use of "Express Floos" caught Hermione's eye, but that was something to investigate later. She wanted to show her parents that they'd done something more productive than shag all day (which was more or less all they had done).
Hermione spotted the local tourism desk at the same time that Harry spotted someone familiar sitting at a table outside the station restaurant. After a glance at the clock and a quick conversation, the two teenagers decided to split up. Hermione headed towards the tourism desk, while Harry walked over to the café. The familiar-looking wizard stood when Harry approached his table, and greeted him warmly.
The "Faire la bise" kissing of another man's cheeks was something that Harry was still getting used to.
"Good afternoon, Monsieur Potter...would you join me for a glass of wine as we wait for your beaux-parents?"
The joke about waiting for Harry's in-laws flew over the teen's head when he mistook beaux-parents to mean 'your girlfriend's parents' in English. Harry looked over his shoulder, confirmed that they had a view of the secured entry zone, then nodded in agreement.
The Frenchman signaled the waiter for another wine glass as Harry pulled back a chair. The waiter glanced at the younger wizard, then shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
Harry leaned forward and quietly asked, "Does it matter that I'm only sixteen, Mr. Dumont?"
"Not to me," the wizard replied with a smile. "And please, call me Andrien."
"Only if you call me Harry."
"D'accord," the wizard replied. "So, Harry...I trust there were no issues yesterday with the return portkey?"
"No, it worked great. Thanks again for your help."
The waiter set a wine glass down in front of Harry, then filled it from the opened bottle on the table. When he drained the remainder into Andrien's glass, the Frenchmen asked for a second bottle.
Once the waiter left the table, Harry said, "I'm sorry that you got dragged out on a Saturday night to provide potential back-up."
"Bah! It is not a problem," the diplomat said. "When a government employee gets a call from their president, asking for some assistance?" He chuckled at an unspoken punchline to that statement, then added, "Besides we French must stick together, no?"
A hint of blush grew on Harry's cheeks as his thoughts turned back to the big surprise that Fleur's father had sprung earlier that day.
"Mr. Delacour said it's not official until there is Assembly approval."
"Just a formality, I am sure."
Harry shook his head. "I still can't believe that he can do that."
Andrien chuckled. "There is a strong tradition of bestowing citizenship upon those who fight or act heroically for France. And you acted heroically in saving the lives of our Prime Minister's daughters, no?"
Harry shook his head. "I was just helping a fellow champion who got into a spot of trouble," he insisted. "And I really don't think that Gabrielle's life was ever in danger."
"Well our magical community certainly saw it differently," the diplomat stated. "I would wager that when the news gets out, Prime Minister Delacour will be criticized for taking so long to make the offer."
"But still...it seems like I'm collecting passports as if they were chocolate frog cards."
The diplomat took a sip of his wine and shrugged. "This will only make you a citizen of magical France...not France as a whole. In a way, it will simply mirror your rights within the non-magical European Community."
"There is no magical equivalent of the EC, and you have learned first hand how the magical border between France and Britain is not as friendly as the muggle border, no?" the attaché asked. "With French magical citizenship, you can travel in and out of our country without need of a entry visa, or any concern that your portkey will be diverted."
Harry thought about that response for a second, before realizing something that caused his eyes to widen.
"This was already in the works when you fixed my portkey...wasn't it?"
The diplomat raised his glass at Harry's dot connecting.
Hermione interrupted the conversation by walking up to the table with an armful of brochures and a jaded eye towards Harry's half glass of wine.
"Is this how you want to greet my parents, Harry?"
Harry shook his head. "They didn't have any issues with us drinking wine last night, did they?"
"Yes, but that was wine with dinner."
Andrien smiled. "I would be happy to order some food, if that would help?"
Hermione shook her head. "Is the NAC drinking age any different than Canada's?"
The French diplomat smiled, and nodded his head. "You will have no problems ordering wine or beer, so long as you are on our side of the statute of secrecy."
"There you go," said Harry, as he pushed his wine glass towards his girlfriend.
She rolled her eyes as she picked up the glass and took a sip.
"That's delicious," she declared. Hermione looked at the bottle label and arched an eyebrow.
"A Californian wine? I'm surprised."
Andrien snorted in amusement as he signaled the attentive waiter for a third glass.
"My per diems only allow for domestic wine," he stated. "And when I say domestic, I mean NAC domestic."
"Oh, I wonder if Harry has any Californian wines in his cellar?" Hermione asked (before quickly muttering that she was not asking any eavesdropping Potter elves to pop in with an answer).
"I must admit...grudgingly...that they do make good wines there," Andrien replied. "I wouldn't be surprised."
Hermione started to pepper the French diplomat with questions about his favorite "domestic" wines and vineyards. Less than a minute latter, a small case popped onto the floor by Harry's chair.
"What's that?" Hermione asked, when he pulled the case onto his lap.
"An answer to your question, I suspect."
Hermione frowned. "But I said that I didn't need them to pop in with an answer."
"I didn't see a house elf pop in," her boyfriend replied with a smile. "Did you?"
Harry opened the case to find three bottles of wine, each cushioned with straw and labelled "Casa del Grifone." Showing the contents to Hermione and Andrien, he said, "I'm guessing this means that I don't have Californian wines in my cellar?"
"Either that or they thought they had better options on hand," Hermione quipped.
The French wizard caught a bit of his breath when he read the labels.
"Do you recognize them?" Harry asked.
The attaché shook his head.
"They are Italian, obviously, but beyond that..."
Harry smiled as he closed up the case and set it in front of the diplomat.
"Well then," he said, "you'll have to take these home and let me know if they taste any good."
The older wizard's eyes went wide.
"Mr. Potter, I appreciate the offer, but I must decline."
"I insist," Harry replied. "It's not like we can open them here and have a taste."
"No, really, I can not accept," said Andrien. "It is too much...as a civil servant, there are strict limits..."
"Is it that they are alcohol, or that there are cost limits?" Hermione asked.
Harry frowned, and asked, "How do you know they're worth anything if you don't recognize the label?"
"I can at least read the labels...the youngest bottle is older than I am."
"Well, then they are obviously past their sell-by date," Harry joked.
"But even if they are just fifty year-old vinegar...they must be rare, no?" asked the older wizard.
"Doubt it," Harry insisted. "I probably have stacks of them...if not at the castle, then back in Italy."
The diplomat was caught uncharacteristically speechless, allowing Hermione to swoop in.
"Are these wines from your vineyard, Harry?"
Her boyfriend nodded, and said, "I recognized the name from the ledgers." He then turned towards the other wizard and added, "The Potter estate includes a small vineyard in Northern Italy. We haven't been there yet, but I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that a Potter family wine cellar holds Potter family wines."
Andrien shook his head in disbelief. "Miss Granger, you should sign your boyfriend up for wine tasting lessons, so that he can fully appreciate his estate, and understand why I can not accept his offer."
Hermione nodded in understanding. "I'll add that to our to-do list."
Harry sighed. "More that one way to skin a snake," he muttered. "Andrien, if you can't accept the case, can you at least accept a dinner invitation, where this wine may or may not be on the table?"
Seeing some indecision in the older wizard's eyes, Harry turned the man's words against him.
"Please say yes...after all, we French have to stick together."
The diplomat chuckled, and then nodded his head in agreement.
"Brilliant!" Harry declared. He leaned towards Hermione and whispered, "I'm not trying to buy into this gender role thing, but is figuring out when to have him over something that the lady of the castle would do?"
Hermione smiled, and replied, "No worries, Harry...and yes, I think it is."
As the Frenchman checked his mobile calendar and gave his personal contact information to Hermione, Harry kept an eye on the secured arrival area. When he saw the airplane-icon'ed door open, he smiled, and asked, "Andrien, would you mind if I also extended an invitation to your border agent friend?"
The diplomat looked up from his mobile and shook his head. "Not at all, why do you ask?"
Harry nodded his head towards the customs and immigration zone.
"Because she's just arrived with Hermione's parents."
Hermione and Andrien turned towards the secured area in time to watch the two border agents crisply salute NAC Senior Agent Marcia Hopkins, who stood in front of Hermione's slightly disorientated parents. She placed Roger's and Emily's passports on the desk and said a few words. The officer immediately took the passports, held them under a stand-mounted crystal and cast a spell. He then clicked his heels and returned them to Roger and Emily.
From where Harry sat, it looked like the agent's second salute was directed more towards the Grangers, than to Agent Hopkins.
The second officer would have normally inspected any visible luggage, then cast a detection spell to search for any undeclared shrunken cases or bags. But when the Grangers and Senior Agent Hopkins approached, he just walked over to the exit gate, held it open, and offered them a warm welcome to the North American Confederation. The bemused dentists offered their thanks in French as they walked out into the main part of the transit station.
Harry and Hermione had held back, thinking that it would take at least a minute or two for her parents to clear customs and immigration. Once it became clear that it would not, they were barely able to push their chairs back and stand before Hermione's parents and their escort were upon them. Introductions were made, cheeks were kissed and business cards were offered. Senior Agent Hopkins offered not only her card, but one for the Deputy Premier of "Nouvelle France." She also forwarded an apology that he was unable to hand out those cards himself.
Roger and Emily's eyebrows would have been raised at that comment, had they not already been a little droopy after the long flight.
When Andrien invited the three newcomers to join their table Hermione's parents begged off, noting that it had been a long day. This comment led Harry to catch Hermione's eye, and to grin a bit. His time turner had made their day even longer, but as they had spent those extra hours in bed, and used most of those hours to nap, they were less tired for it.
As Harry and Hermione rose from the table, he tried to pay for the wine, while she invited Senior Agent Hopkins to dinner.
The French wizard refused Harry's offer. The Canadian witch accepted Hermione's.
After getting the senior agent's personal contact info (written on the back of one more business card), Hermione asked if there were any designated areas for outbound portkeys. The answer was that there was not.
Glancing at the near-empty wine glasses, Roger asked (half-jokingly) whether there was a law against "drinking and portkeying." Again, the answer was no (although both Andrien and Marcia advised against drunk apparition).
Hermione pulled out the portkey while Harry and her parents shook some hands, air-kissed some cheeks, and offered their thanks to the French wizard and Canadian witch. As the teenaged witch extended the loop of gold chain, she promised to contact Andrien and Marcia to confirm dinner dates. And once her parents and boyfriend took hold of the gold chain, she activated the portkey.
The diplomat and border agent stared for a few moments at the empty space. Andrien then glanced down at the table and noted that the opened bottle of wine was still half-full.
"So ma cherie, why don't you help me finish off this bottle, and tell me why you are now a shepherdess?"
Marcia glanced towards the secured area, and shook her head.
"Drink on the job, in full view of my colleagues?"
The Frenchman scoffed as he reached into his pocket, peeled a muggle Post-it note off of its stack, and handed it to his friend.
"The activation phrase is, "Ignore moi."
The Canadian witch chuckled as she stuck the post-it on her shoulder.
"Nifty surveillance tool, Andrien...so is attaché your real job, or is it just a cover story?"
"You read too many spy novels, my dear."
"And you didn't answer my question, did you?" Marcia teased. She adjusted her chair so that the note faced the other NAC border agents, and asked, "Why are you here, anyway?"
"It could not be a coincidence, that I am here, enjoying a glass of wine on my off-day?"
"Not when you could be enjoying that glass aboveground, at a sidewalk café on a nice summer night."
"And suffer the repressive laws of the non-magical government?" Andrien asked. "Here, the wine list isn't restricted, and I do not have to order food just to have a drink."
"Why do I think that wouldn't be a problem for you?" Marcia asked, as she glanced at the shoulder-mounted post-it note. "And have you forgotten that our floo network extends beyond the no-maj border?"
"Meh," Andrien said with a shrug.
"It's almost as if your government didn't trust mine to follow protocols and provide a proper escort."
"No, of course not," the Frenchmen replied. "It is not as if someone in that family recently experienced any issues at the border, right?"
Marcia sighed at the reminder. "But why would you care? They aren't French citizens."
Andrien smiled as he held back from declaring that to only be a matter of time. Instead, he chose to tease.
"You'll have to do better than a deputy premier if you wish to make an impression on Mr. Potter and Miss Granger."
"Really? I suppose that they are already close friends with your Prime Minister?"
"President, actually," Andrien replied brightly. "You do not know the young man's backstory?"
"He is quite famous, and saved the life of at least one of our president's daughters," Andrien stated. "I am surprised that you did not already know."
The border agent shrugged. "You know that I was raised no-maj. And I've been too focused on my career to pay much attention to anything else."
"And yet, here you are, your confederation's point of contact for the Continent's nascent power couple?" Andrien teased.
"Which continent?" Marcia joked. She took a sip of wine, then added, "Perhaps the higher-ups think that my contact with you is more pertinent?"
"Moi?" Andrien asked with mock indignation. "But I am just a simple civil servant. There is no need for the NAC to have eyes on me."
"You're so cute when you get flustered."
The Frenchman chuckled at the observation, as he thought back to how he had first met the Canadian witch, and how their friendship had developed over time. It had seemed so innocent...so organic. And yet there was now a small seed of doubt, looking to take root within his mind.
"Oh, sorry...I was just gathering the wool."
"And can any of that wool be shared?"
The diplomat shrugged. "The bard...he said that all the world is a stage, no?"
His friend looked at him with curiosity.
"Are we within a play, then? One where those two are the lead characters?" she asked.
"Perhaps," Andrien replied.
"Should we be worried about our minor characters?" Marcia asked. "Or whether we are wearing red shirts as costumes?"
Being more familiar with Shakespeare than Star Trek, the Frenchman didn't get the joke. So he offered one of his own.
"As long as our characters stay in the chorus, and are not named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we should be fine."
The muggleborn witch pretended that she hadn't forgotten her Hamlet and laughed. She then drained her wine glass, shook the empty wine bottle, and jokingly asked whether it was time for them to exit the scene.
Andrien nodded and summoned the waiter, only to learn that his bill had already been paid by a house elf. This response drew the diplomat's eye to the small case of wine that was still sitting on the table.
Growing a bit more worried about what else might be happening behind the scenes of their little play, Andrien took the case, and promised himself to return it when he travelled to the lead actor's island for dinner.
Apparition, stage left.
Postscript1: When I picked this WIP back up after too many years, I laid out the option of either completing it quick, or going into a full-blown world-building NAC-centered sequel. As the chapter title implies, I'm leaning (rather indulgently) towards Door #2. Probably should go back and split last 4 or 5 chapters off into the start of stand-alone sequel, but that would be messy, and readers would have to set up new alerts. Opinions?
Postscript2: Fun coincidence - when I used an on-line French name generator for the attaché's name, the third option given to me was Benoît Granger. Oh, and I guess I should acknowledge that the Round Tower is a nod to MSWF, and that the charmed post-it notes are recycled from "Testing Defenses." I'll try to keep Python references from sneaking into this story.