The Autumn Swan
a Harry Potter fan fiction story
by Lord Akiyama
Family dinner in the Chang household was some thing that did not occur all that often and not just because Cho was away at Hogwarts for schooling. The occupations mother and father possessed often required them to work into the night, which was generally the case for father being the chef and owner of a thriving restaurant. His time and availability became even more limited recently with the opening of a second restaurant in London. As such, even when Cho was home for summer holidays or even during Christmas, family dinner was generally looked upon as a major event no one would dare miss out on.
Traditionally the first dinner would be held once Cho had been picked up from Kings Cross Station. It would also be during this first dinner that she would be the center of attention as the family would want to know about her year at Hogwarts. If the year had gone normally, she would have likely talked about the results of her O.W.L.s and what career path she considered taking. Since the year was not a normal one, the conversations were centered on the Triwizard Tournament, the death of Cedric Diggory, and how her friend Marietta was coping with the loss. Because those were the dominant subjects and little else was talked about, his allowed for her to avoid having to discuss the one topic she was most worried about having with her parents. Her engaging in a relationship with Harry Potter.
Cho could honestly say that she did not know how her parents would react to her dating, let alone dating The Boy Who Lived. Because she had never been all that interested in relationships in the first place, she therefore never approached her parents in discussing such things. Thus she had no clue as to what their opinions on the subject would be in general. And to be perfectly honest, she did not even know what their opinions were regarding Harry. Did they like him or did they despise him? Would they approve of him dating their daughter? Having to tell them that she was in a relationship with him was a situation she would have to go into blind, making her all the more nervous to even think about having to discuss the subject with them.
It would be during a rare family dinner at home in early July that she could not avoid having to make her revelation. The initial topic of conversation was how the new London restaurant was doing in its first couple of weeks of business. But then, rather suddenly, it shifted to mother getting a bit frustrated at work at the Ministry of Magic. It seemed that some protesting was beginning to form outside the offices as questions were beginning to be asked about the job the Minister of Magic was doing of late in the wake of the Triwizard Tournament. More to the point, the Minister seemed to be focusing his efforts on discrediting Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter than apparently any thing else, according to the gossip that was floating around.
"But why would the Minister want to make Harry look bad?" her little sister Chun asked in an upset tone. Like most children who were years away from being able to attend Hogwarts, Chun still idolized Harry as The Boy Who Lived and could not imagine him being any thing other than that. "He didn't do any thing wrong, did he?"
"I don't know, sweetie," her mother answered with a sigh as she picked at her food. Being immigrants from China, the parents would still occasionally have some trouble speaking English properly. "It's really hard to tell some times if what some one says is true. And because we weren't there, we can only go by what other people say and there are a lot who contradict each other in this case."
"Contradict?" Chun questioned curiously.
"It means that one person is saying some thing that is the opposite of what another person says," Cho explained to her sister.
"What do they contradict about Harry?" Chun asked rather innocently.
"They contradict a lot of things about him," Cho answered with a sigh of her own. It would be at this point that the worry of having to tell her parents about her relationship with Harry would come to fruition.
"You're at Hogwarts, Cho," her father said, almost as an announcement. "Maybe you can tell us what's true and what's not about Harry." Cho often prided in herself at being able to maintain some sense of composure, even when faced with some thing that would make her feel uneasy. While she was concerned with having to eventually open up about dating Harry Potter, she nonetheless managed to not appear as such.
"Not really much to tell," she said in response to her father. "Remember that I'm a year ahead of him and in a different house."
"Yes, but surely you still notice things about him," her mother pointed out. Cho found it rather intriguing that her family were suddenly becoming as gossipy as some of the girls back at Hogwarts. She would have considered laughing had the conversation been under normal circumstances. "I'm sure from a distance you would have been able to."
"Yeah, come on, jiĕjie!" Chun nearly cheered with intrigue, practically hopping in her seat while trying to keep her voice down. "Tell us about Harry!"
The subject of Harry Potter was one that had rarely been brought up in the Chang household. In fact, the one to bring it up was usually Chun, given her seeing The Boy Who Lived in a heroic light and therefore wanted to simply remind every one of that fact. The one time Cho played against Harry in Quidditch did attract the most amount of interest the family ever had with regards to him and Cho had to admit that it was an enjoyable moment to tell her family. She still was not comfortable with informing them that she was dating Harry, but concluded with a sigh that she would only be delaying the inevitable. They would find out sooner or later. Better from her and when he could still be seen in some semblance of a positive light than from people like Rita Skeeter to inform them of how much more "disturbed and dangerous" he was.
"He started seeing a girl," she managed to say. Though her voice was rather quiet, the rest of the family where nonetheless able to hear her quite clearly. In particular her little sister.
"Really?" Chun gasped a rather excited tone.
"Well…" her mother uttered with a cough. It seemed as though the subject of Harry dating appeared to be an embarrassing one for the Chang family to bring up at the dinner table. "I guess that's nice for him. But I doubt we should be discussing such things, dear." Cho imagined that the smart thing to do would be to take advantage of this and make her escape from having to reveal further details of his relationship status at this time. But once Cho came to a decision to go ahead with saying some thing, no matter how uncertain she felt to do so, there was no turning back.
"Actually, this is probably some thing we should discuss," Cho immediately said before she could stop herself. She watched as her family stopped to look at her with a mixture of confusion and fascination. The pair of eyes she was not sure she wanted to meet belonged to her father.
The discussion of boys was not some thing that was made all that often within the Chang household. Whenever it did happen, though, her father was sure to be at full attention. Due to her lack of interest in relationships though, he eventually eased up. Yet she knew that she would eventually have to make mention of having a romantic interest and that made her very concerned about just how her father would truly react. She remembered vividly him mentioning that he would castrate Roger Davies if he did any thing other than be her teammate when she announced that she had been asked to join the all boys Ravenclaw Quidditch team.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
Cho waited for a brief moment. She mentally took a deep breath and then spoke the words she still was not honestly sure she was comfortable with saying to her family.
"He's seeing me," she said, still quietly and yet still clear enough for the others to hear.
The silence was unbearable right from the start. The mixture of shock and disbelief being displayed as they all stared at her was the kind of thing she was hoping not to experience from her family. But then it was hardly normal for any girl to announce to her family that she was dating Harry Potter. To think that they would react virtually any other way would be silly. She was romantically involved with The Boy Who Lived. Was she expecting them to be overjoyed and proud? Well, maybe Chun a little bit, but certainly not her parents. She probably would have been suspicious if they had reacted any different to hear her say that she was in a relationship with Harry than they were at the present moment. Nevertheless, she was still bothered by the silence that certainly felt a lot longer than it really was.
"I beg your pardon?" her father finally managed to ask. She could detect a hint of his voice becoming stern.
"Harry and I are dating," Cho announced after taking a deep breath.
"You're dating Harry Potter?" Chun gasped, though a squeal could be detected in her voice. "The Harry Potter?"
"Afraid so," Cho answered, amused with how her sister was reacting.
"And when did you two start dating?" her father asked. His stern voice was lightly becoming a bit more prominent.
"Officially when term ended," Cho replied. She realized too late that maybe she should have phrased that answer a little bit better.
"Unofficially?" her father questioned further with a raised brow.
"When he asked me to the Yule Ball during Christmas," Cho answered.
"He asked you to a ball?" Chun squealed, her eyes widening every time she heard more and more about her sister going out with The Boy Who Lived.
"He'd been smitten with me," Cho noted. A light laugh escaped from her breath as she remembered how Harry had to explain this to her.
"Harry Potter had a crush on you?" Chun cheered, now expressing a mixture of delight and a bit of jealousy. "Jiĕjie?"
"Chun!" her mother admonished. This caused Chun to nearly hop out of her seat before shrinking into herself in embarrassment.
"Sorry," the little girl squeaked.
"Finish your dinner and go to your room, Chun," her father announced. The sternness in his voice was now quite clear for all to recognize.
"But bàba!" Chun cried at this sudden change of events.
"You're not in trouble," her father stated. "But mŭqīn and I would like to have a private conversation with jiĕjie."
Chun wanted to protest further, but saw the looks she was receiving from both of her parents. She glanced over at Cho, who gave her a nod to signify to do as she was told. With a defeated sigh, Chun quickly finished her meal and took off to her room. Cho had the suspicious feeling that her younger sister would still try to figure a way to listen in on the conversation. A feeling shared by her mother, who got up and walked out for a brief moment to ensure that Chun was in her room. Once it was determined that Cho and her parents would indeed be alone, the conversation began.
"So…" her father said first, still maintaining a stern voice. "You say Harry Potter has been smitten with you."
Cho took a deep breath and proceeded to explain how she ended up being in a relationship with The Boy Who Lived. She decided that the best approach to making this conversation with her parents less stressful than it would be was to detail every thing she knew. This not only included going over all of her encounters with Harry, but also her feelings at the time and what thoughts she had running through her head. Her hope would be that her parents would be able to see, understand, and accept that she had given the issue a great deal of thought and would therefore not have to be concerned for her well being. Of course, as was the case with all ideas, there was no guarantee that things would end up working out in her favor. Nonetheless, she continued with what she felt was best in explaining to her parents her dating Harry Potter.
She concluded by talking about the recent letter exchange. She made it a point to note how Harry had been feeling frustrated of late in not hearing any thing about the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named being made public and the uncharacteristic lack of communication with his friends. Studying her parents as best as she could, it was clear that they were trying to withhold showing her how they were really feeling about all of this. She was rather surprised with this, particularly from her father. If she was honest, she expected him to be at least red in the face when she told of Harry kissing her on the cheek after their first study session.
"Do you plan to meet him any time over the summer?" her father asked once they had the chance to speak.
"Never really crossed our minds," Cho answered with a shrug. "Not with his situation at home."
"What do you mean?" her mother questioned curiously.
"Well, you know how we've heard about him living with relatives who aren't the nicest sort of Muggles?" Cho responded. She waited until they nodded in return. "Harry says that assessment would barely scratch the surface of what they're really like."
"They're not fond of him?" her mother asked, still with a curious expression.
"To put it mildly, yes," Cho replied. For the first time, her parents displayed some sort of reaction. They were taken aback that the young man who had been idolized for bringing about the end of the chaos and despair caused by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was being treated rather poorly in his own home. It seemed too ludicrous of a rumor to be true.
"So why do they still take him back every summer?" her mother questioned in disbelief. "Why raise him in the first place other then that they're his only living relatives?"
"Harry never got an answer to those questions, as far as I know," Cho replied with a sigh and another shrug. "Not from them, at least. And Professor Dumbledore apparently believes he has to go back to them, but hasn't explained why yet." Again, her parents displayed bewilderment at what they were hearing regarding what The Boy Who Lived had to go home to. They seemed almost at a loss for words for a moment.
"I take it these relatives of his wouldn't approve of at least one more Wizard in their presence," her father said, putting some emphasis at the word he ended up choosing to call the folks Harry apparently had to live with. Cho detected a hint of disdain in his voice with the way he said it.
"I believe they're exasperated just to have Harry in their home," she answered with a slight scoff of her own.
"Hasn't he been staying with the Weasleys on occasion?" her mother asked. "Usually before the start of term."
"Yes, but so far he hasn't heard any thing about being able to stay with them this summer," Cho replied, reminding them of the lack of communication Harry was currently experiencing with his friends.
It was at this point that there was a moment of pause amongst them. Cho took this opportunity to try again in reading her parents. She still came back with the same conclusion that they were masking their feelings from her quite well. She had hoped that their surprised reaction to the living conditions Harry had to go through each summer would give her some kind of clue, but that ended up not being the case. After a while of nothing but silence, her father spoke again. And he asked a question she really did not expect him to ask. As a matter of fact, it was some thing that had not crossed her mind when she was mentally going over all the things she imagined they would quiz her about.
"His birthday is at the end of July, correct?" her father asked.
This was turning into a strange, weird birthday for Harry. Even by his normal standards. First there was his continued frustration at the lack of communication from his friends. Hardly more than birthday wishes from the Weasleys and a vague message from Hermione were pretty much all he got from the cards they sent him. And it was only cards this time, no cakes or presents like the last couple of years. Cards. There was fortunately an explanation from Sirius, or rather the best that he apparently was allowed to say in his card.
"I would like to say Happy Birthday, but I know its not going to be with the way we've been writing to you and your continuing to be stuck with those miserable excuse for human beings you're forced to call relatives. It is because of security risks that we've been communicating the way we have to you. The kind of risks that would not be visible to both the naked and magical eye, if you catch my drift. When we meet again, I promise to do all that I can the ensure you are made up for tenfold. Short of buying you your own professional Quidditch team, of course."
It was some thing. Not enough to really comfort him, but it at least clued Harry in on the fact that there was activity going on outside Number Four, Privet Drive. Knowing that these were not "visible to both the naked and magical eye" gave him a better understanding of why he was not hearing squat about any thing. He could not figure out why the secrecy if Voldemort wanted to instill fear and terror amongst the general public. Why stay quiet and have the Ministry of Magic continue to deny his return? Harry did not feel smart enough to work out the logistics of this type of strategy. It did not help that the lack of communication from his friends, and their apparent need to do so for security, meant that he did not have all of the pieces to the puzzle.
Such thoughts of the Wizarding world were suddenly put on the back burner when he was summoned by Uncle Vernon. The voice his uncle gave through the door made it sound as though this was the kind that should not under any circumstances be ignored. But when he showed up in the living room a minute later, he was informed by all three of the Dursleys of a curious letter that had been sent to him. Harry could not remember the last time he he received physical mail through Muggle means since discovering he was a Wizard. He never really received any at all.
"This better not be one of them funny business from your like," Uncle Vernon growled as he began to tear open the letter. Harry wanted to say that it was not funny business from his like unless the letter had been delivered by an owl, but figured it would be better if he did not voice such scoffing aloud. Thus his uncle was able to read the contents of the letter clearly.
"Dear Mr. Harry Potter," his uncle started to read. "We at the Highland Dragon, London wish to honor your fifteenth birthday with a celebratory dinner for you and three others on us." Uncle Vernon paused briefly to think about what it was that he just read. "What is this Highland Dragon, London?"
"I don't know," Harry answered with a shrug. Normally this would cause his uncle to question him further in disbelief. Instead, he was surprised to receive some help from an unexpected source.
"Isn't that the new restaurant that just opened a couple months ago?" Aunt Petunia asked, speaking as though she had just come upon this discovery. "The one that came from Scotland."
"Oh, oh yeah," Uncle Vernon grumbled in reply, himself sounding like he was remembering this as well. "Expensive lot, I heard."
"How come they sent a letter to him?" Dudley questioned, pointing a seemingly accusing finger at Harry and bringing the conversation back to why they had all gathered in the living room in the first place.
"Never heard of them before," Harry answered in bewilderment.
"Some funny business this is," Uncle Vernon stated. "Why would a restaurant you say you never heard of want to invite you to have a birthday dinner there?"
"Standard marketing strategy?" Harry replied with a shrug. He merely said that as an attempt at making a joke. And yet it also made sense to him and the Dursleys. They started to recall some of the occasional flyers his relatives received by some business as part of a promotional ploy.
"Waste of paper, really," Uncle Vernon said with a chuckle. "Doubt you could afford to eat there even with a coupon."
"Didn't the letter say that the dinner was on them?" Aunt Petunia questioned curiously. "For him and three others?"
"A free dinner?" Dudley nearly shouted in surprise. That certainly got the attention of every one in the room. A new, seemingly expensive restaurant was offering a free dinner to Harry on his birthday. A free dinner that also extended to three others. Three others such as those in the living room with him.
"Our offer of a complimentary dinner is only good for the evening of your birthday, 31 July," Uncle Vernon continued to read. "Proper identification will be requested to ensure this invitation has been accurately sent to the intended recipient. We look forward to honoring you with our delicacies. Sincerely, the Highland Dragon, London."
After a quick check of the calendar, confirming that today was 31 July, all in the living room of Number Four, Privet Drive went silent with thought. Harry could already tell what was going through the minds of his relatives. This invitation had been sent to him and there was no one they could think of who could send such letters to him. Which would surely mean that it was his lot that was likely responsible, even though he admitted to having no familiarity with the Highland Dragon. Yet they knew of the Highland Dragon in some recognition, so it was likely that it had nothing to do with his lot. Furthermore, the restaurant was offering a free dinner. Free to Harry and three others.
"Get cleaned up, get dressed," Uncle Vernon announced in a commanding tone. "We're going out tonight." There was no need to repeat himself as Dudley and Aunt Petunia were immediately rushing upstairs. Harry could not recall the last time they were this excited about a dinner. The dinner party that occurred on his twelfth birthday did not seem to count because, despite ending in disaster due to Dobby, it was arranged as a means to help Uncle Vernon and his business. Here they were essentially getting a free dinner from an apparently expensive restaurant almost for the hell of it. That was definitely some thing to be excited about. He then noticed Uncle Vernon coming up to him with a stern look. "Funny business, boy…"
"I know, I know," Harry said, raising his hands up slightly to display surrender. "I'll be without food for a week."
"Yes, well…" his uncle muttered with a satisfied humph. "We're understood then." Seconds later, he himself was heading upstairs to get ready. Leaving Harry still perplexed over the sudden change in his birthday plans, even if he did not have any pre-arranged in the first place.
From then on, he stayed as quiet and as unassuming as possible. Though knowing his own track record, he figured it was still going to end in some disastrous mess that he would be blamed for. Nevertheless, it seemed things were moving smoothly for a while. The only time the Dursleys paid any sort of attention to him was to make sure he had some form of "proper identification" on his person, as requested by the invitation. No doubt had the letter been received even a day earlier they would have tried to figure some way to replace him with some one else and pass them off as Harry Potter. That actually would have been hilarious to see as he thought about it for a second.
The Highland Dragon was located in the West End of London. Normally this would annoy Uncle Vernon as parking would have been an absolutely nightmare in the evening. Yet it would appear that they were in luck as there was an open spot in the restaurant parking lot. Feeling that speaking aloud the seemingly good fortune they had would jinx the whole evening, all four kept quiet about it and headed inside. The restaurant was a bit overwhelming visually to every one. The Scottish origins were clearly present, but there was also an equal amount of Chinese decorations. Such a mixture of two very different cultures was certainly not what any one was expecting. Harry could sense the growing concern in his relatives when it was their turn to be seated.
"Four for, um, Mr. Harry Potter," Uncle Vernon grumbled about as politely as he was willing to the hostess, a young woman who looked Chinese and dressed in a Scottish garb suited for her occupation.
"Ah, Mr. Potter," the hostess beamed with a bow. Her accent was clear Scottish with hardly a trace of Chinese, which Harry saw only baffled his relatives even more. "We've been expecting you. May I confirm your identification, please?" Following a nudge from Uncle Vernon, Harry pulled out his identification for the hostess to check. When she was satisfied, she bowed again, this time directly to him. "We are honored to host the celebration of your birthday tonight, Mr. Potter."
"Uh, thank you…" Harry managed to utter, still confused over the situation at hand.
As the hostess led them to their table, Harry and the Dursleys took a moment to once more examine their surroundings. They were more paying attention to the patrons and how they were feeling dining in such an establishment. Uncle Vernon was presumably the only one taking note of the apparent businessmen at the bar, having a grand time with their drinks and their appetizers while watching what looked to be a great game of football on the television screen. The rest were noticing how couples and families were enjoying the seemingly delicious meals before them. Even children were reaching out, begging for second helpings of whatever food they were being fed. Not a single person appeared to be put off by the unusual mixture of Scottish and Chinese cultures on display not only in the decorations, but perhaps even in the dishes being served.
They were just getting seated at their table when Harry and the Dursleys were immediately served tea and bread. Aunt Petunia had started to sip her tea and a server appeared with menus for each one to look over. Chopsticks and utensils were being placed before them as they looked over the dishes that were available. Harry managed to catch just how dizzy Dudley was becoming with the speed under which service was being conducted and Uncle Vernon was five steps behind all that was happening. Yet he was rather surprised that his relatives seemed to be taking things in stride. Perhaps it had to do with the simplicity of the presentation of the restaurant despite the otherwise unusual mixture of Scottish and Chinese cultures that surrounded them. The pace slowed a little when the waiters and waitresses appeared. There was one for each person at the table, a waitress for Aunt Petunia and waiters for Uncle Vernon and Dudley. Harry was about to turn to face his server, but froze upon hearing a very familiar voice.
"Have you decided on a dish, Mr. Potter?" his server asked.
He immediately turned so that he could confirm that the voice belonged to who he thought it was. What he was met with was his girlfriend Cho Chang wearing the garb of a Scottish waitress that had been stylized in a more Chinese design. His heart was beating about as fast as a jackhammer, if not faster. Heat rising to his cheeks. His green eyes opened so wide that they were in danger of popping out. Just what in the blazes was she doing here? Did she actually work here? How did she know he was going to be here?
Then he saw her wearing the smile. He was gone. Nothing left but a puddle in his wake.
"Perhaps I can offer you a suggestion?" she asked. He was pretty sure he could detect a playful, teasing tone in her voice. She leaned in just enough so that she looked as though she was getting a better look of the menu that he just remembered was still in his hands. But that was the last thing that he was thinking about. He was focused on how there was a smell of cinnamon to her. He always did like cinnamon. "Our head chef is quite proud of his roast duck glazed in his special orange sauce."
"Uh…" Harry uttered in a quiet, almost mousey voice. He never once pulled away from looking at her. She gave out a light laugh. If he had not been completely entranced before, he was now.
"Peking duck special it is," Cho said, writing down the order on the pad of slips in her hand. She then looked over to the other waiters who were serving the Dursleys. "I'll direct Mr. Potter to his birthday ceremony, hăo le?"
Harry managed to look away from Cho, glancing over for a brief second at how his relatives were fairing. While it seemed like he was staring at his girlfriend for an eternity, he was nonetheless sure that roughly a minute had passed since he first heard her voice. In that time, it appeared that the Dursleys had already been served an appetizer. Much like the restaurant itself, it seemed to be an unusual mix. Yet it would seem that it was quite delicious as his relatives were lost in their enjoyment of the food, in particular Uncle Vernon and Dudley. Almost as though they were in the sort of luxury they have always dreamed of being in.
"Come this way, Mr. Potter," he heard Cho say, bringing his attention back to her. She placed a gentle hand under his arm to guide him up from his chair. He took one last brief look at the Dursleys, who did not seem to register the fact that he was within the same vicinity as they were, before letting Cho lead him away from the table.
With the way things were going and how quickly they were moving, he could only imagine what new surprises were in store for him next.
Cho watched as Harry slip into a daze while guiding him through the restaurant and away from his relatives. No doubt he was still trying to take in all that was happening. Perhaps more important was the fact that he was seeing his girlfriend, in the flesh, outside of Hogwarts. She unconsciously gave out another light laugh, though she could not tell if he picked up on it. He was still locked in his shocked expression. One would think that she was leading him to the kitchen, but a closer inspection would reveal that there was a hidden staircase next to it. Up these steps was where she was taking her boyfriend.
"Which of the thousand questions would like to ask first?" she questioned in a playful, gentle tone. Her speaking was what it took to shake him to consciousness and he looked at her as they climbed the stairs.
"Uh…" he managed to utter, though this time in his normal voice. He quickly swallowed and then properly responded. "I mean… Cho! What are you doing here?" She could not help but let out a third light laugh.
"This is my father's restaurant," she answered rather proudly.
"Y-Your father's?" Harry gasped.
"Mm-hmm," Cho uttered with a slight nod. "I'm fairly certain I mentioned that he was a chef in the letters we've been sending back and forth all summer."
"Yes, but I don't remember you mentioning he owned a restaurant," he said, still in a bit of surprise over what he was hearing. "But isn't this supposed to be the second location of one that's in Glasgow and…" He trailed off a bit, having difficulty making sense of the information that was running through his head more quickly than the speed of a Golden Snitch.
"The Glasgow location has been so successful for father that he decided to open a second one here in London, believing business will be just as good with the English folk, as he puts it," she explained, in amusement with how her boyfriend was trying to take every thing in. "And before you ask, the restaurants are catered to every one, not specifically to the Wizarding community or to the Muggles. The magic work is done behind the scenes, though it is generally kept at a minimum to avoid discovery from surprise health inspector visits."
"I guess that's why the Dursleys got the appetizer just as they were sitting down," Harry mused momentarily. "What was that dish, any way?"
"My father's Hā jí sī," Cho answered. "A special haggis dish mixed with orange chicken. It's what got him noticed when he was starting out." By now they had reached the top of the stairs and were slowly moving though the hallways of the second floor. The pace actually decreasing in speed the further away they got from the stairs.
"Knowing my relatives, I probably won't get a bite when I return," he noted aloud. "But the dish you ordered for me?"
"Peking duck is a traditional Chinese dish," she replied. "We just infused some Scottish touches to make it our own. It is our best dish on the menu, I think."
"Can't wait to try it," Harry said rather breathlessly. "So what's this birthday ceremony you're taking me to."
Cho hesitated to respond and actually brought their walk to a halt. She noticed her boyfriend looking a bit confused by this, he himself catching sight of her just slightly biting her bottom lip. The one time he had seen her nervous in some way was when he asked for her help with his studies, do so in front of her friend Marietta and most of the other girls in Ravenclaw. She was not sure if he could detect that this was a different kind of nervousness she was feeling.
"You're not actually having a birthday ceremony," she said giving out a sigh. "Well, we do have birthday ceremonies, but they're generally for those coming of age, like a child becoming a teen or a teen becoming an adult." She paused for a brief moment to figure what she was going to say next and how to say it. "Harry, this birthday dinner was actually an elaborate set up. You're really here to… meet my parents."
Cho expected Harry to take a while before registering what it was that she said and the meaning of how she said them. She expected him to mentally go through all that he had heard and all that he had seen, spend a moment processing them, and then come to a realization of the potential horrors that await him. He surprised her by taking all of half a second before all color on his face began to fade. Upon reflection, she was not that surprised at how quickly he understood the gravity of the situation. He knew better than any one that he was not going to be subjected to the same emotional turmoil of having to meet the parents of his girlfriend. He was Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived. Disaster followed every where he went. Any parent of the daughter he was dating would scrutinize him far worse than any other suitor.
Not wanting to draw this out any more than she was willing to let either of them endure, she took a deep breath and led him to the door that was identified as the office her father occupied. She knocked a couple times, waited for a muffled response from her parents, and then entered. She found her father seated in his chair, his arms resting on his desk with his hands lightly locked together. Her mother stood beside him to one side, her hands behind her back. Both were lacking any sort of expression in their faces. Glancing over at Harry, Cho could see that he was already pale white and sweat was starting to run down from the top of his head. He was nearing the level of nervousness he had when he had to have his first dance with her at the Yule Ball. She coughed lightly and turned back to her parents.
"Fŭqīn, mŭqīn," she announced gently. "Allow me to introduce Harry Potter." She paused for a moment to present her boyfriend to her parents before slightly turning to Harry to present them to him. "Harry, these are my parents."
"H-How d-do you d-do, M-Mr. and M-Mrs. Chang…" he managed to utter in a very shaky voice. He tried to bring his hand up for a wave, but it appeared he gave up half-way through.
"Have a seat," her mother said. Nothing in her voice gave away any indication of how this meeting would be conducted.
"Y-Yes, ma'am," Harry said quietly. He slowly took the one available chair in front of the desk and sat down, looking as though he was being as careful as possible in an effort to look good before the Changs. Cho positioned herself to one side of him, some what mirroring how her mother looked. She took a deep breath and watched as the inevitable proceeded.
"You fancy my daughter?" her father asked rather bluntly. He was going for the jugular. Cho clamped her eyes shut in embarrassment.
"Y-Yes…" Harry uttered rather quickly. She did not know if it was stupid for him to have responded so or if he was making an attempt to eventually display that he was an honest person.
"Fŭqīn," Cho groaned, rubbing her temples with one hand using the thumb and middle finger. "I again implore you to please ask him respectful questions." It took some effort for her to maintain some form of composure while still in the presence of her parents and her boyfriend. She was praying that by being patient she could indirectly ease the suffering.
"I'm sure he just asked one, dear," her mother said. They really were conducting a blitz from all sides. Her mother turned her attention back to Harry. "Why Cho?"
"I… I…" he stammered in his attempt to answer. "I just… Ever since I first saw her… I…" If he kept this up, Cho was certain that he may be able to dispel concerns of him lacking humility.
"Have you tried to do any thing more than kiss her?" her father questioned, again being blunt.
"Fŭqīn," Cho further groaned in frustration.
"That one I agree was not entirely respectful," her mother commented aloud. They were not going to let up.
"Mŭqīn, you're encouraging him," Cho said. Her patience was still present, but was beginning to waver.
"Cho mentioned she's been helping you with your studies," her mother stated rather suddenly. A rather tactical move, Cho thought.
"Y-Yes, ma'am," Harry managed to say about as clearly as he could under pressure. "Sh-She's been very helpful. Very helpful." She was not sure he should have emphasized that bit. It left him open for her father to pounce. Which he did immediately and without a second to even think about it.
"So it's not an excuse to find time to snog with my daughter?" her father said. His bluntness was becoming stern.
"Fŭqīn, seriously," Cho said, still trying to maintain patience that was faltering.
"You could have phrased that to be a little less tact, lăogōng," her mother commented cooly. They were being merciless.
"Mŭqīn, I am begging the both of you," Cho said, on the verge of losing her cool.
"I'd never do any thing to take advance of Cho!" Harry declared suddenly and unconsciously. "I care and respect her too much!" In all honesty, no one else in the room expected him to speak, taking her parents off guard.
This moment of hesitation was enough to halt the attacks, allowing for Cho to get a better look at how her boyfriend had been fairing. He looked utterly pathetic. His green eyes had been shot wide open with the pupils shrinking to the size of dots. Sweating about as profusely as he could and had blanched terribly that even his scar had little definition. He appeared so desperate that it would not surprise her if he broke down crying in the next few seconds. Now that would certainly quell some of the preconceived thoughts and ideas of the Harry her parents may have read and heard about.
"You said you care about our daughter, correct?" her mother asked once the parents had regrouped.
"Y-Yes, ma'am," Harry answered. Not quite returning to a stammering voice, but nonetheless reverting back to his previous state of nervousness.
"Would that include caring for her welfare?" her father questioned. He was not blunt this time, yet remained stern.
"I-I care enough for her that I would do whatever I could to keep her from harm's way…" Harry replied. He slightly trailed at the end to give Cho a look. It seemed he was looking to get a read on her himself about the words he used to respond. Then he surprised her by quickly turning his attention back to her parents and adding one more thing. "But I would also respect her wishes…" Cho smiled affectionately, hearing him say those words. She could immediately sense the honesty in his voice.
"What do you mean?" her father asked with a raised brow.
"Fŭqīn, Harry should not treat me like some damsel-in-distress," Cho stated, relieving her boyfriend the pressure of having to figure out the right words to say and how to say them to her parents. "I am capable of taking care of myself. Need I remind you both that I'm Seeker on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team." Upon reflection, Quidditch may not have been the best use of an example of her abilities. Nevertheless, it was the one that could convey the message she was trying to send to them.
"Just because you play a dangerous position in a dangerous sport does not mean you will be able to handle every dangerous situation you find yourself in, Cho," her mother responded. They were clearly ready for this.
"You are dating Harry Potter," her father stated, now being stern with her. At least it took some of the pressure off of Harry. Just not all of it. "The Boy Who Lived. Which means all sorts of things happen to him and those around him."
"Regardless of whether or not he is at fault," her mother noted. "They happen. And some one just died a few months ago." Cho could sense that her mother did not want to bring that up, but it seemed it was necessary to drive home their point. This was accentuated by her turning her attention back to Harry. "I'm sure you can appreciate and understand the concern we have with you dating our daughter."
"Have I not already explained how this has been thought through before we decided to be a couple?" Cho stated with a sigh. She had to admit that she had become slightly exasperated by the way her parents had been directing the meeting and wished she could have worded her question a little better.
"I'd do just about any thing to protect Cho," Harry said rather quickly. It seemed to Cho that her boyfriend was willing to take the hits, no matter how much they hurt. Thus proving the statement he just made. Because he could always respond in a way that warmed her heart. "But I also believe that she can defend herself if she needs to."
Once again, her parents were taken off guard for a moment. This time, they actually conferred with one another silently. This lasted for only a quick second before turning their attention back to Harry. Again, they displayed nothing to betray whatever emotions they were actually having at the time. Cho just hoped Harry did enough to present himself in a way that they could see the side of him that she saw.
"We're not one hundred percent comfortable with you dating our daughter, Harry," her mother admitted when she finally spoke. "But while we care for her deeply, we also respect her wishes as well."
"You care and respect her as much as you say you do, then we give you our blessing to be with her," her father announced, though still in a stern voice. "Just don't break her heart."
"Fŭqīn," Cho groaned, covering her eyes with a hand. She managed to hear Harry swallow, still as nervous as ever.
"What he meant to say is that we want you to prove to us that our blessing is being earned," her mother said, tapping her husband on the shoulder with a hand as in warning over his behavior. "That you will do right by her."
"I will," Harry responded without hesitation. Cho smiled as she gently placed a hand under his arm, letting him know that the meeting was finally over and they can leave.
"Enjoy the rest of your evening, Harry," her mother said as Harry got up to his feet. "Perhaps the next time we meet it will be in a more comfortable setting."
"Happy Birthday," her father proclaimed. For the first time all evening, he dropped the stern voice.
"Th-Thank you," Harry uttered before Cho quickly escorted him out of the office.
"I am so sorry," Cho moaned. She leaned up against the wall and rubbed both sides of her head with her hands. "I really hoped they would be more courteous, but they obviously had some sort of plan to approach talking to you."
"Yeah…" Harry uttered after swallow, wiping the sweat off his forehead before sliding his hand over to rub the back of his neck. "Though I imagine it could have been worse."
With a deep breath, he took a moment to examine his surroundings now that he could consciously do so. Cho did not lead him back down the stairs as he probably would have expected. She instead brought him into what appeared to be a big conference room. Perhaps one used for big business dinners. He noticed there was a stage to one side with what appeared to be a dragon costume laying about.
"Some of the birthday ceremonies are conducted here," Cho explained, as if she knew what Harry was thinking. Pushing herself off the wall she had been leaning upon, she guided Harry over to get a better look at the dragon costume. "We'll put on a show throughout, complete with dances and other performances from both Scottish and Chinese cultures. Of course, the birthday recipient has to first go through a traditional eating of noodles. What this entails is for the recipient to slurp long noodles until it is completely in the mouth without biting down."
"Wouldn't that cause the person to choke?" Harry asked with a raised brow.
"Depends how many noodles they're willing to slurp in a go," she answered with a light laugh. "But it is that concern that makes most slurp one strand at a time in the beginning. To liven things up, we add wild garlic herbs when cooking the noodles. This part of the ceremony can take a good while depending on how fast the recipient can slurp all of the noodles. So if your relatives ask what took you so long, you can explain about the noodles."
"Thanks," he said with a chuckle of his own. The mention of his relatives did bring to mind a question that he had yet to ask Cho. Wanting to stay with her a little longer before he had to eventually return to the Dursleys, he decided to bring it up. "So, are you working here during the summer holiday?"
"I'll occasionally help out father when he needs it," she answered, running a hand over the large dragon mask. "Given we just opened this location, I'll be here more often than usual. But I imagine what you're really asking is if I plan to follow in my father's footsteps and become a cook or chef."
"Well, are you?" he asked.
"Nope," she replied in a nonchalant manner, turning to face him. "I've actually considered being a Healer."
"A Healer?" he repeated in an interested voice.
"Yep," she responded with a nod. She twirled in place and slowly made steps towards the large table in the center of the room with him following and keeping pace. "During one of my first practice sessions on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, Duncan Inglebee got slammed real silly by a Bludger. The fall resulted in his left knee getting dislocated in three places, believe it or not. Watching Madam Pomfrey work fixing him up was a splendid sight and on the next free day I quizzed her a lot about the profession. After months of reading and numerous educational visits to St. Mungo's the following summer, my mind was made up."
Harry had been watching her with admiration. He truly enjoyed listening to her talk with her lovely voice and how she used her words. When they first conversed during the Yule Ball, Harry made a conscious decision to always pay attention to her, wanting to remember every word she said. This was mostly out of a desire to always hear her voice whenever he wanted to think about some thing she may have mentioned. At the same time, he truly wanted to know more about her and get a better sense of the person that she was through the way she spoke. To hear her talk about wanting to be a Healer, he could feel his affection for her grow.
"Before I take you back down to your relatives, I wanted to give you your presents," Cho said, shaking him from his brief moment of being lost in his thoughts. He watched as Cho reached for some thing that appeared to be have placed on a chair, positioned in a way so that it was under the table and not generally visible. She turned and handed it to him. "Go ahead and open."
He examined the present for a brief second, taking note of the wrapping. It was certainly the type to be given for some one who was a fan of the Tutshill Tornadoes. Not a surprise given that she was one. Normally Harry would tear into the present like he would when receiving one. He instead opened the wrappings carefully, doing his best not to rip it. The wrappings revealed his first present to be a framed photograph of Cho. She was wearing a formal cheongsam made with silk and decorated in the colors of Ravenclaw. The smile that he loved was ever present as she swayed here and there, running a hand through her hair on occasion.
"You being who you are, there are plenty of pictures of you for me to choose from," the real Cho said, bringing his attention back to her. "Seems only fair that you should have at least one of me."
"Thank you," he uttered breathlessly.
"You're welcome," she said, her smile beaming. "Now for your second present." He had almost forgotten that she mentioned he was receiving more than one present. Then he pretty much forgot every thing.
Even as a child, Harry had the sick feeling that he would never know what it would be like to kiss some one. The abuse he received from his relatives hampered his self-esteem to the point that he really did think of himself as a sad, pathetic sack of meat not worth even the pity of others. His discovery of being a Wizard like his parents improved his being a bit, but romance was still far from some thing that was conceivable for him. The second he laid his green eyes upon Cho, his heart skipped and the possibility of romance began to tease him. After less than a year of pining from a distance, he dared to ask her to a dance and she accepted. Months later, they were kissing, albeit on their cheeks. And then they were a couple before summer started. He was still having difficulty being able to process how romance seemed to have settled into his life. To the point that he neglected what had been touted upon as the most important element. The kissing of the lips.
It took less than a second for her to suddenly lean up slightly on her toes and place her lips gently upon his lips. He had completely shut down as soon as his brain realized what was happening. She was kissing him. Not on the cheek, on the lips. She was kissing him. His first kiss. With his girlfriend. The girl he had fancied for over a year. It was such a shocking moment that he really could not register any thing more than the fact that she was kissing him. He really could not remember the feeling both physically and emotionally. He could not comprehend time and space, forgetting where he was, when it was, and every thing else that surrounded him. He did not even recognize that the actual kiss itself only last a few seconds. So much time was spent understanding that he had just had his first kiss with Cho Chang that it took a while before he was shaken out of his shocked state.
The first thing Harry did was breathe. Slowly, yet surely, he started to breathe again. Then he was able to focus his green eyes. After a quick look at his surroundings, he brought himself to look at her. He caught sight of her smile. How he loved that smile. And then his eyes moved up just slightly so that he could catch her chocolate brown eyes. It was here that he was lost again. But this time, he was not taken aback as he had been just seconds ago. He was not sure of how to describe this moment of the two being lost in their eyes. Organic, maybe? He would have to ask Cho some day about the best word to use to describe the moment. Nevertheless, it was a moment that seemed intoxicating. They did not move for a while, continuing to look at one another with absolute affection.
He started to lean in toward her. She complied willingly. They closed their eyes at the same time. He took one hand off his framed photograph present. Bringing his arms out enough so that he could wrap them around her. He could feel her person pressed gently against him. Their lips touched, ever so softly.
For one second, and one second only, Harry wondered what all the fuss was about. In a technical sense, it was essentially his person touch her person. Not really all that different from a hand shake. Just as it was not all that different from when she kissed his cheek or when he kissed her cheek. No real electricity coursing through their bodies. No magical effect to enhance the experience. It was when that one second passed that his heart took over.
Euphoria was the first feeling that he could recognize. He started to go down the list. Elation, jubilation, exhilaration, bliss. Maybe not yet ecstasy as it was his first true kiss. Nevertheless, his entire being was overwhelmed with a kind of warmth that he had never felt. A warmth that he did not want to lose. Not now, not ever. He wanted to remain in this warmth forever. And he truly believed that Cho felt the same way. There was no doubt, no compromise with this belief. He was falling in love.
When they finally parted their lips, they did so very slowly. They opened their eyes and looked at one another for long period of time. Both were blushing. They each let out light laughs. He recognized that he still had his arms wrapped around her. She had placed her hands upon the area between the shoulder blades and his chest. Their breathing was slow, possibly rhythmic. There was the feeling of wanting to kiss her again, but he restrained himself. They both let out some more light laughs just before she brought up what was probably a good reason why he should hold back from kissing her again.
"I think your dinner is ready," she whispered gently. Her smile ever present.
"Yeah," he responded breathlessly.
It took a moment before they finally stepped back, his releasing the embrace he had her in. He nervously brought his hand over to scratch the back of his head. She bit her bottom lip and began to fidget brushing down her skirt needlessly. After another moment she stepped over and slid her hand gently under his arm. They looked once more at each other. His almond green eyes locked with her chocolate brown eyes. They each let out another light laugh. She began to direct him out of the room, through the second floor hallways, and down the steps back into the restaurant proper. It took a moment for him to remember using the Chinese tradition of noodle slurping to explain why he was gone for a while should he be asked by the Dursleys. If they bother to ask.
"Happy Birthday, Harry," Cho whispered as they exited the room.
Author's Note: I swear, I'm not trying to make this into a habit. Over the past year and a half since I last updated this story, I had been heavily focused on my job. It did wear me down a lot, leaving me very little time to write any thing, really. I can let you know, though, that I am not longer working with that job and have moved on to some thing else, which allowed me to finally get back to writing this.
Figured I would reward those who have been patiently waiting for the update with the ending that I left this chapter with. Now I expect you guys to send in more reviews and to spread the word so more folks could be reading this.
There was an interesting response to my considering the possible approach to take Luna. Ultimately I was not going to go that route, but I did enjoy the reaction you guys made because it showed you cared about my take on her. Once I get the story back to Hogwarts, I will hopefully use her a little more.
elmoryakhan - I would like to offer a suggestion here. Create an ending for your story already. This is the most important thing a writer should do. It doesn't matter if it takes years for your story to finish, but create an ending first to guide you.
I've had the ending already planned out ever since I wrote the original version of the story. I've been modifying it every now and then in my sleep, but it has always been there as envisioned, ready to be written. It's the obstacles in my path that have been preventing me from getting there more quickly.
Please don't forget to send in your reviews and spread the word. The more the merrier.
Harry Potter and all the characters, locations, and world created and copyright © JK Rowling. This story was created out of pure fun and enjoyment, so please don't sue or place an Imperius Curse on me.