-READING THE FIRST TWO INSTALLMENTS TO THIS SERIES IS NECESSARY-
Okay, it's time for the third book! PLEASE read these short few announcements.
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No, seriously. If we get over 100 favorites and over 100 follows, on Albus Potter and the Sandblood Rising, before I upload the next book, then I will upload TWO CHAPTERS A WEEK for the next FOUR weeks. So, recommend this story to your friends if you like it! I'll give you a hint... you probably like it if you're still with me on Book 3! :D
Hope you like this next installment, too! Enjoy!
ALBUS POTTER AND THE SANDBLOOD RISING
Shift of the Spotlight
Perfect Little Lucas Lotor
The Subterrestrial Express
Turning the Tables
Land, Sea, and Sky
Destroying the World
Warmer than Butterbeer
The Sandblood Rising
The Headmaster's Haunt
Siege Drills and Secrets
Operation Albus Severus Potter
Shatterbolt and Frostflame
The Marionette's Medicine
A Taste of the Action
"I remember my first Quidditch World Cup," said the tall and muscular man, gazing with his weary black eyes into the sun setting behind the stands in the Quidditch stadium. His jet-black hair was thinner than it was a few short years ago, and streaks of gray were starting to snake through it. He took a deep breath and looked around at all the people, perfectly content with their lives, not troubled in the slightest. He continued. "When I was just three years old, my father took me to the match of Spain vs. Germany. It's one of my earliest memories."
"I heard about that one," said his companion, a slightly younger man, shorter but with the look of a nimble athlete. His tan eyes were precisely the same color as his tan hair and the tan robes of the Peruvian team, which was now taking the field. "Wasn't that supposedly one of the weakest mutual Keeper performances in Quidditch World Cup history?"
"It certainly was," said the taller man. "Two thousand eight hundred and ninety to two thousand nine hundred and sixty. Spain just couldn't pull ahead enough to get that hundred and fifty point lead to ensure a win even without the Snitch."
"Wish I'd been there," said the shorter man, "but my parents hadn't even thought of having me yet, let alone tossing me out of the house."
"I idolized those players," admitted the first man. "Even at that age, I could not wait to get my very own broomstick, play for the Hogwarts team—" he spat the name "Hogwarts" as if it were a horrific slur— "and then move on to play for whichever team picked me up, because I was sure to be a prodigy. Little did I know that I wouldn't even be able to fly a broom."
The second man remained quiet, as if giving this sad story a moment of silence.
"I went to Argentina vs. France four years later when I was seven," he went on. "I remember that one much better. I was still waiting to fly my own broom and start training. Then I went to Brazil vs. Australia when I was eleven, and I did not attend Hogwarts that year."
He seemed to be on the verge of getting violent; his lip curled up in a snarl. His companion edged slightly away.
"Then, banished," he finished. "Banished to live with Muggles. Worse than a blood traitor, worse than a Mudblood. A Squib." He shook his head. "But I could never fit in to the Muggle community." He then threw his head back and laughed. "What kind of Muggle gets named 'Maskorn Malseth?' The looks I got when I told people my name…"
"I never had that problem, but I know it's been one," chuckled the other man. "'Palmer Viller' wasn't awful. At least my parents got that right."
"Not that anything would help the disgrace of being cast amongst Muggles," said Malseth. "A dreadful fate… but one that is still too good for most of Wizardkind, who continue to gladly turn their backs upon our predicament."
"Who do we kill first?" asked Viller lazily.
"As many as we can," responded Malseth under his breath. He turned to Viller. "Which may be zero if you continue yelling our plans to murder people in the middle of a crowded stadium surrounded by wizards."
"They're paying no attention, there's a Quidditch match going on," protested Viller. "Besides, wizards are idiots."
"There's that," admitted Malseth. "So our first targets should have to be the less idiotic ones. The ones who pose the most danger to our eventual plans."
"What do we do about Auchland?" asked Viller.
Malseth burst out in coarse laughter. "Oh, why would we kill Obydin Auchland?" he answered quietly when the fans around them returned to watching the game. "Why would we kill the man who's doing us so many favors? He's entirely ignoring the threat we pose—he, like so many others, underestimates the power of the organized Squibs, by failing to notice our little shape-shifting advantage. No, Auchland can stay—they'll be booting him out soon, anyway. In the meantime, he's not prioritizing our capture, even after the miserable failure that Levi's crew experienced in their simple mission last June."
"Killing a wizard," noted Viller, "is never a simple mission."
"That is exactly the sort of mentality we need to eliminate," retorted Malseth. "Wizards, though they would deny it, are exactly the same as Squibs. We have the same potential for damage and destruction if we can attain it. Wizards are just as flimsy as any other type of human being. They will bleed if you strike them hard enough, they will break if you strike them hard enough, they will die if you strike them hard enough. And they will scream while you carve out their eyes, apparently, if my past experience is anything to go on."
Viller chuckled at this horrible image.
"Killing the people we want to kill will certainly not be easy," said Malseth. "I won't allege that. It's the battle for the world, though, that will be no small task."
"You really think we can do it, then?" said Viller in awe.
"We've got Slade," said Malseth. "Caradoc Slade will be all we need, especially since it's on his own free will. He's got links to Auchland—or, I should say, whoever replaces him in the near future—and even Weasley. The link to the Minister is crucial."
"Merlin, am I glad it's not Shacklebolt we have to deal with," said Viller. "I wouldn't want to cross him."
"Do not dare underestimate Weasley," warned Malseth. "You must have heard the tales of his performance following the injuries that caused Shacklebolt to be indisposed as Minister, necessitating that Weasley take his place."
"I remember the story well. Shacklebolt put together a rescue mission, which he personally headed, to save five of his kidnapped Aurors. Weasley accompanied him. The Aurors numbered twenty and they did not realize that the enemy was fifty. It was the last organized sect of Death Eaters yet to be captured. Shacklebolt freed his Aurors and guarded all of them while they escaped, but he was distracted by the appearance of Dementors and almost fatally wounded by a Dark curse. Most of their men fled and escaped with the rescued Aurors, but Weasley stayed to defend Shacklebolt, and he singlehandedly incapacitated all of the twenty-one remaining combatants. One against twenty-one—although, of course, Shacklebolt was firing curses from the floor. One and a half against twenty-one, and Weasley came out without a scratch."
"Exactly," said Malseth. "Which is why we need to remain cautious."
"When do you think we'll have the chance to take him out?"
"That is yet to be determined. And it's going to be extremely difficult to get others in the Ministry under our control, even with one on our side. It's just unfortunate that MM refuses to dissolve in other liquids, otherwise Slade could just slip it to them."
"What, you think that people would get suspicious if Slade was vomiting into peoples' mouths in the office?" asked Viller innocently.
"But some idiot unaffiliated with us attempted to poison a Ministry official," said Malseth, ignoring his companion's inanity. "I just hope that isn't what finally snaps Auchland into motion."
"I'd say no," said Viller. "He didn't even get very concerned after Levi got caught trying to kill the Potters."
"I regret Levi's death," said Malseth. "The man took his suicide poison pill with honor. I am very glad he followed through on that. It's something all of us should do, if ever captured… it takes away the possibility that they will discover the crux of our plan through the capture of one individual. But all the same, I regret Levi's death. We should have sent someone under MM, whom we wouldn't have cared about losing."
"But then they may have been able to test his systems and deduce that MM is involved," said Viller. "I do so enjoy keeping the wizards in the dark about whether or not we're using it."
"The Marionette's Medicine is our most powerful ally," agreed Malseth. "You're right, I wouldn't want the secret out… not that it would ruin us, but it would make for a more dangerous game. With MM, whether or not they know we have it, we will control wizards. With MM, we will control the world."
"We don't control the world," corrected Viller. "He does. Our supplier. The Man in the Shadows. The man with the plan who got us the mulunctapoli in the first place." He scratched his chin. "Of course, we can always kill him later."
Malseth laughed again. "Yes, and Slade, too. We won't need him, eventually."
"But I'm fine with the position I've currently got, if we had the world now," stated Viller. "Maybe we'll each get a continent. We don't really have to kill Slade and the Man in the Shadows."
"World domination is a dirty business," said Malseth. "We use them for their resources, but then we have to kill them before they kill us."
"You'd never kill me, would you?" asked Viller.
Malseth shook his head. "Our partnership is different. I've known you for almost a lifetime. You helped me start this. You're my second-in-command; you're the kind of capable leader I'll need in the future. Him? I've never even seen his face."
Viller remained quiet for a moment, watching enviously as wizards zipped around the field on their Soundsplitters. Then he spoke up again.
"And how will we go about conquering the world?"
"By making ourselves known," replied Malseth. "The prestige will follow, and so will the power. We do a good job, and others want to help us."
"What job is that?"
"But we've already said it," said Malseth. "That job is to take out the main threats to our success."
"Then who's first?"
"You ask too many questions," said Malseth, rolling his eyes. "And the answer to that one… is obvious."
He cast his glance up to the Top Box. He was looking at the Potters.
"We'll have to be careful," he said. "We've already failed once."
"Harry, will you calm down?" pleaded Ginny. "Really. Nothing is going to happen. Watch the bloody game."
"I can't be calm," said Harry, looking left and right. "Every time I try to focus on the game by clearing my mind, the only thing that remains in my mind is vivid memories of Muggle bodies contorting in the air at the last Quidditch World Cup."
"Your children don't need to hear that!" hissed Ginny, though Albus was listening intently to every word they said. "It's time to sit back, not think about that, and enjoy the game. You're off-duty, and there are dozens and dozens of people on-duty for precisely that reason. Because of what happened at the '94 World Cup, security is better than ever."
"That," said Harry, "is exactly why I'm so nervous. What if some nut-job wants to do something now specifically for the express purpose of proving that he can get past security? Someone might want to show off by making a scene, proving they could make it past the guards."
"But they Capped everyone's wands," Ginny reminded him. "Your wand isn't going to work until you leave, so if anything happens, you can't prevent it anyway."
Harry smirked and snapped his fingers. A ball of blue flame appeared in his hand for a moment before sputtering out.
"I'm working on that fact," said Harry.
He already looked tired from only that much wandless magic.
"But you," he said excitedly, turning to Albus, "are going to be learning much more than that, aren't you? You're going to be trained in Wandless Magic next year!"
"Yeah," said Albus with a grin. "I don't know how far we'll go in it, though. Wandless Magic is supposed to be extremely difficult."
"Do you know who your Wandless Magic professor is?" asked Ginny.
Albus couldn't remember the name from the parchment. "No," he said curiously.
"His name's Jeff Skower," laughed Ginny. "Would-be heir to Mrs. Skower's cleaning product franchise!"
"Mrs. Who's what?" asked James, looking over.
Ginny pointed up at the large billboard, which now displayed an advertisement for Mrs. Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover. It read, "No pain, no stain!"
James laughed. "Your new teacher's a maid, Al?"
"No, it's her son," said Harry. "But didn't he get cut off from the family?"
"Yes," said Ginny. "Mrs. Skower spent too much time with her business and not enough time with her son. Jeffrey contaminated all of her products with undiluted Bubotuber pus in retaliation, and she disowned him after sales plummeted due to customers receiving giant yellow boils. They had a job recovering from that blow to their business, and I guess Jeffrey had to turn to teaching to support himself, now that he wasn't a gigagalleonaire."
"You'll have to tell us all about your Wandless Magic class, Al," said Harry. "Well, tell us about all of them, but Wandless Magic especially. You'll have to do some for us over the Christmas holidays."
Albus reddened. There went those giant expectations, yet again. "I don't know if we'll be able to do anything wandlessly by break," said Albus. "I'll do whatever I know, though."
He stuffed his eyes back into the Omnioculars and cheered as Peru scored. He didn't really have a preference—neither he nor his family had any connections to Peru or to China—but he did always enjoy seeing a competitive game. And it didn't hurt being in the Top Box.
"I've been thinking," said Harry.
Ginny groaned. "I hope you've been thinking about Quidditch, because that's really all I want to talk about at the moment."
"No, I was thinking about the Auror Office, and Auchland," said Harry. "About… change in general, I guess."
"Are you going to go all philosophical on us during the Quidditch World Cup?"
"Well, yes," said Harry. "We're all here now, aren't we? I was just thinking. Why did Wizardkind employ the global revelation? Why did we do it, from a holistic point of view? I think the wizarding world is becoming a little too volatile. Too quick to change… After centuries of… of parchment, and candlesticks, and owls… we started changing things. First it was the Hogwarts Express and the other fractional platforms—platform six and a third, which we took to get here, for example, was introduced shortly afterwards with a few others. Then it was the Knight Bus and the Loch Stock Liner shortly after. After that, there were some more changes. Through further interactions with the Muggle world, getting closer to them and taking some ideas from them for the first time since our worlds were yet to be separated, we introduced what I think is a highly Muggle mentality, which is that if something is broken, you have to change it, not fix it. If at first you don't succeed, you must be doing it wrong. If the government isn't working, it's time for a new party… or a new government. Things weren't working out with secrecy, so we had a global revelation. Things aren't working out perfectly now, either, but it's too late, and we can't go back because we didn't really think it through quite enough before we got ourselves neck-deep in HOLY SH—DID YOU SEE THAT FEINT FROM GUIRREZ!"
"That's more like it," said Ginny, finally relaxing.
Guirrez, the Peruvian Seeker, had taken a sharp dive at the ground from only about fifty feet high, and the Chinese seeker Lam had followed immediately. Guirrez pulled out of his dive a foot before he crashed, but Lam was not so fortunate.
"Oof," said Ginny, watching Lam get lifted off the field. "Quidditch can be a really dangerous game sometimes."
"They're going to have to treat him," said Harry, grimacing and smiling in approval at the same time. "Guirrez is going to have a clear field for a while. Maybe this Chinese juggernaut really is going to fall. I've heard predictions in equal amounts both ways for this Cup. First time in a while that there hasn't been at least a slight favorite. Personally, I always thought China was going to clean up house, but now that I'm watching Guirrez, he might alone be giving them a shot, since Peru's Chasers are good enough to keep up but were never good enough to pull away too much from the Chinese…"
Ginny looked very content now that Harry was absorbed in the game, and Albus felt the tension dissipating.
Albus tuned in to a conversation that was taking place behind him. The whole Weasley family was in the Top Box around them, and his aunts and uncles were chatting.
"So, Bill," Aunt Audrey was saying. "Tell me about your kids. What are Victoire and Dominique up to now that they've graduated?"
"Victoire's moved in with Teddy," said Uncle Bill with a knowing smirk. "She's undergoing Auror training at the moment. She and Teddy both. I hear Teddy's doing phenomenally well with his absurdly potent Metamorphmagus abilities. Dominique has been in Paris already, translating English and Gobbledegook and a few others for the French government, keeping very busy. She didn't think she was going to be able to get time off for the Cup, but she did some sweet-talking… in six languages."
"Is Louis seeing anyone at the moment?"
"Yes, Flavia Marillo…"
"Oh, of course, I did meet her. Percy knew her parents. She's gorgeous, isn't she? And she was such a tomboy for a while!"
"Molly still seeing Dyson?"
"Oh, yes. It's not very serious yet, but it could be."
"And has Lucy mentioned anyone?"
"She's mentioned a boy named Kat, but I have yet to meet said boy."
Albus directed his attention back to the Quidditch match as the stadium shook with the roar of the crowd: Guirrez had seen the Snitch, and this time, it was no feint. Lam wasn't even back in the action yet.
The Chinese ambassadors who were with them in the Top Box were anguishing as Guirrez sped up towards the sky, arm outstretched. The Peruvian government officials were jumping up and down. Below, Lam threw off the mediwizards who were giving him treatment and lunged for his broom to take off into the air with one arm hanging limply at his side, apparently broken.
Guirrez turned sharply back towards the ground and then lunged in the direction opposite from Lam. The Chinese Seeker sped off in pursuit of the Snitch and, after adjusting his angle when Guirrez took a sharp ninety-degree turn, ended up colliding with Guirrez in midair in a spectacular crash. Their brooms splintered and their robes billowed as they plummeted to the ground, but Lam was holding something triumphantly.
They slammed into the grass below, but Lam stood up immediately on one leg and raised the Snitch into the air. The Chinese officials exploded with glee and began hugging each other as the crowd erupted with half cheers and half disappointed moans.
Harry clapped appreciatively. "I don't even believe it," he laughed. "Lam got back onto his broom with a broken leg and a broken arm to get to the Snitch!"
"China wins," said Ginny, nodding, just as impressed as her husband. "I expected it. They're too good and they take these competitions very seriously."
"All right, let's beat the crowd," said Harry, and they hopped up to exit the stadium.
"Guess what, dear?" said Ginny as they climbed down endless stairs to the ground level.
Harry chuckled only half-heartedly. "Yes, nothing happened yet."
They took a long walk to the limousine which had been arranged for them by the Greek government. On the way out of the stadium, World Cup security personnel took their wands and removed the device on the top which prevented them from being used. They called the devices "Caps;" they looked like little gumdrops. When Albus had his Cap removed, he felt magic surge through his wand again.
"You want to look around for a bit before we go?" asked Harry, more to Ginny than anyone else. "See the Parthenon and all? It's not every day you're right outside Athens."
"I'd rather get back to the house," said Ginny wearily.
"You don't want to see more of the beautiful Greek countryside?"
"I just want to get home before someone starts shooting at us."
"Understood," said Harry, and they continued walking until they approached their limousine. The driver stuck his head out the door to call to them.
"Mr. Potter," he said, looking apologetic. "Apparently the Athens Station is being evacuated due to a, er, bomb threat."
Ginny moaned at the sky as the other Weasleys caught up with them.
"Closest magical rail station is in Thessaloniki," continued the driver, "but it's not exactly a hop, skip, and a jump away. What would you like me to do?"
"Oh… just take us to the seaside, then," said Harry.
"The seaside? Fancying a beach trip?"
"No, I think we'll take the LSL. Faster than the train."
The driver nodded. "Ah, of course. The LSL. Expensive, but you're right; that would be much faster than it would be to drive to Thessaloniki. The ocean it is."
"What's the LSL, Dad?" asked James.
"The Loch Stock Liner," replied Harry.
"Oh," said James. "What's the Loch Stock Liner?"
"A wizard-run public transportation system," said Rose, popping up behind James. "It's really awesome. It navigates using sensors that detect the magical hubs of the world and then the ship extrapolates its position using its relative location to London, New York, and Hong Kong. It'll take you anywhere that borders a sizeable body of water if you know how to call it."
"Thank you, Dictionary, have you seen Rose?" quipped James, giving her a playful punch on the shoulder.
They all climbed into the limousine.
"Oh, did I mention that Aubrey almost got poisoned at the office last week?" said Ron casually to his wife as they settled in last and closed the door.
"What?" said Hermione and Ginny together as the limo started to move.
"Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that one, too," said Harry. "Too much has been happening to remember all of it."
"This seems rather important!" said Ginny. "Not that I'm a big fan of Aubrey, but if someone's trying to kill him, that still seems worthy of a mention!"
"It was a feeble attempt, his pumpkin juice was tinged green," scoffed Ron. "If anyone had fallen for that, they really shouldn't be an Auror anyway. What an amateur assassin. If I wanted to poison anyone right now, they'd be dead, believe me."
"That's not true," observed Harry. "You've told me multiple times how much you want to poison Auchland."
"Good," said Hermione. "Someone ought to. I'm not one for violence, but this man… he makes me want to strangle cute animals, and that's saying something, for me. Did he finally get concerned due to the fact that someone in his office was poisoned?"
"Nope," said Ron, and all the adults in the room shared a similar look of outrage. "Nah, he just said that it was an 'isolated incident.' That's his favorite phrase now. 'Isolated incident.' This was an 'isolated incident…' That was an 'isolated incident…' I'm going to give him an 'isolated incident' right in the face the next time he says that."
The family continued to verbally abuse Auchland until the limo rolled to a stop in front of a large cliff.
"Here we are, the Aegean Sea," said the driver, opening the door for them. "You have fun, now, and have a safe trip. It was excellent meeting you, Harry Potter!"
Harry gave a grateful wave and they began to descend towards the sea down a path carved into the side of the cliff.
Albus stared at the limo as it rolled away. Even in Greece, everyone knew his father. Harry had defeated Voldemort—he was world-famous.
Something that Albus had wondered ever since he'd learned about his father's fame probed its way back into his mind again. What exactly must it have felt like to defeat Voldemort? To know that you had just struck down the one who had caused so much grief, and that you had helped the world return to peace? He had never asked his father, because he had a feeling it was an emotion that couldn't be put into words.
The Potters and Weasleys gathered at the edge of the sea.
"Everybody here?" asked Harry. "We didn't leave anyone behind?" He waded ankle-deep into the sea, bent down, and tapped his wand gently three times on the surface of the water.
The ground pulsed as if a giant heart had just pumped under the rock. The water swirled for a moment and then crested—a bulge in the water burst and a giant black ship exploded from the waves, surfacing mere feet from the shore. A rope ladder was tossed from the side, and someone on the deck waved to them.
Harry waved back, and headed for the rope ladder. The rest of the family followed.
"It looks like ze Durmstrang ship," commented Aunt Fleur.
"That's because the Loch Stock Liner was modeled after the Durmstrang ship," said Uncle Percy as they waded through the water to get to the ladder. "It was a source of a lot of controversy, actually—apparently someone from the inside of Durmstrang illegally sold the secrets of the ship to a Scottish developer."
Albus climbed the ladder, excited for this novel trip. He reached the top of the ship and pulled himself over with James and Harry grabbing his arms to help. He stood up to his full height to have a look around the barge.
The masts stretched up so high that it was impossible to tell if anyone was in the crow's nest. The whole ship was painted black, with red lines around the doors. They were standing on a lower level; there were platforms on the bow and stern about four feet above the midsection. On top of those platforms were men with, weirdly enough, bubbles around their heads, distorting their features and muffling most of their sounds; they were communicating mostly with hand gestures.
"What's going on with their heads?" asked Albus, nudging Rose.
Surprisingly, it was James who answered.
"Oh, that's the Bubble-Head Charm!" he exclaimed. "I can do that really well! You'll be learning it in fourth-year Charms—or at least, we did."
He held his wand up to his mouth and blew hard on the tip. A long strand of bubble fluttered out of the end, and then it bent backwards and encased his head.
Once the bubble was over his head, he tried to say something, but it sounded like he was yelling through a wall.
James lifted his wand and poked the bubble; it popped instantly. "I said, it lets you breathe underwater."
"That's pretty neat," said Albus. "You can do it nonverbally?"
"There's no incantation, actually. Plinky said it was probably going to be the only nonverbal spell we'd learn until sixth year."
Albus glanced back at the crewmen with the bubbles over their heads.
"So they stay on deck when we go underwater?"
"Presumably," said James. "That's where the wheel is, anyway. I guess they steer from outside the ship."
Rose glanced upwards. "Won't the crow's nest stay filled with water when it surfaces if the entire ship goes under like that?"
"Come on, kids," said Harry, . "Let's get down into the cabins so we're not holding up any—"
He was interrupted by a horrible screeching sound, like nails on a blackboard. Albus craned his neck up.
There was a woman with dark purple hair leaning over the edge of the crow's nest, screaming her head off. On a closer look, Albus realized that it was a mermaid. So it was good that the crow's nest filled with water—the worker in the crow's nest lived in it. The water was replenished every time the ship went under.
One of the crewmen popped the bubble around his head and began screeching back. When they were finished, he turned around and called, "All inside! Submerging in thirty!"
"Everyone get inside the cabin, ship's going down," said Harry, chivvying them all through the door. Albus was last, and Harry closed the door behind all of them.
"Evening, ladies and gents," said a stout man with a twiggy mustache. "Rooms thirteen through fifty are currently open—ah, Harry Potter! I haven't seen you since the great Gallen chase!"
"Hello, Milo," said Harry, giving the man a hug. Milo was so short that Harry had to bend down to hug him.
"By heavens, is this James?" said Milo, looking over at Albus. He shook Albus's hand vigorously. "So old already! Nice to finally meet you! Harry's told me so much about you, though it was when you were just a wee little lad, so all I know is how many diapers you went through—"
"Actually, this is Albus, my second son," corrected Harry.
"Ah, excellent name," said Milo with a wink.
"Al, this is—"
A blue light flashed and a little bell clanged.
"Hold on to something just for a moment," said Milo. "It's smooth after we get under the waves—"
Albus grabbed a railing by the wall just in time as the boat lurched forwards and downwards—it felt like they were freefalling for a moment, and then the sailing was smooth.
"Al, this is Milo Melaenk," said Harry, and Albus shook Milo's hand. "First mate of the Loch Stock Liner, under captain Salvo Ihmleste. Salvo is one of only—how many is it, now?"
"Sixty-two," replied Milo without skipping a beat, apparently knowing what Harry was asking.
"One of only sixty-two humans in the world who speak Mermish," replied Harry. "Dominique's studying to become number sixty-three in a couple years, incidentally."
"Still in the Auror department?" asked Milo.
"Oh, yes, you know it," said Harry. "Sorry I haven't had time to visit—these trips are expensive, though, you know…"
"Yes, of course, and I've forgotten to ticket you," laughed Milo. "Where to?"
"Oh, goodness, how many are we?" asked Harry, a palm to his forehead.
"I counted, it was twenty-five. It's my job to count, you know."
"Right, of course, subtract Mum and throw in Teddy. Twenty-five to, ah, the Burrow pond. You know the one?"
"'Course, I know everything," chuckled Milo. "How many under seventeen?"
Harry thought to himself for a moment. "Damn," he said. "Molly just turned seventeen this month. Anyway, we've got…" He counted on his fingers. "James, Al, Lily, Rose, Hugo, Lucy, Louis, Freddie, Roxanne. Nine. Am I missing anyone?"
"I don't think so," said Albus. There were a dozen kids in the Weasley and Potter families—thirteen if you counted Teddy—and Teddy, Victoire, Dominique, and Molly were all of age.
"Nine kids, then," said Harry. "Sixteen adults."
"Comes to seventy-four Galleons, then, for the trip," said Milo.
"Got it," he said, digging into his pocket and pulling out a large number of coins.
"Thank you for your business," recited Milo. "As per our code of conduct, we will always arrive at your stop within one hour or we'll reimburse you; two hours and we'll reimburse you double. Feel free to settle into any open cabin. Please don't smash the windows. And welcome to the Loch Stock Liner, safest way to travel! Hazard-free since 1883."
"Thank you," said Harry courteously. "And by the way, Milo, it's good to see you're still working!"
"Unfortunate to hear that you're still working," said Milo, "because that means there's still Dark Wizards afoot."
"Apparently it's Squibs now, actually," said Harry, shrugging.
"Dark Squibs?" said Milo. "Hm. Well, you don't hear much when you live underwater, but I never thought I'd hear that."
"Neither did I," said Harry. "Have a good day, Milo."
"You too," said Milo. "Your cabin candles will flash blue when we're about to surface at your destination. See you then."
Harry led Albus down the hall of the ship, which was much bigger on the inside than the outside. Ginny was waving at them from cabin fourteen.
Harry and Albus joined Ginny, James, and Lily in the small room, which had only two chairs, bolted to the floor. It was just barely big enough to accommodate them. There were railings all around the wall at waist height, and also at the bottom of the wall, which looked like they would make sitting against the wall a painful experience.
"Why can't we spread out?" moaned James. "There's, like, thirty open cabins."
"Because we're a family," said Ginny. "This is family time."
James grumbled into the corner as Harry tried feebly to stretch out his legs; there wasn't enough space.
"This is fun," he said, failing to stimulate the mood.
"No, it's not," remarked Ginny truthfully.
"Safest way to travel, though," said Harry. "Hazard-free since eighteen-eighty three. We used this bad boy's magic sensors to locate Gallen Ingot more than once."
"Really?" asked Albus, excited to hear this story.
"Yes, it was fairly useful," said Harry. "If he was ever near water, they'd let us know—this ship could find him anywhere in the world, because of the power he possessed. Another reason people think his power was supernatural. Oh, and apparently, the crew sometimes senses other things with this ship, and they have no idea what some of them are."
Harry scratched his sideburns and looked out the window. "There's a massive fish-like magical creature that they can sense from hundreds of miles away," he responded. "Sometimes, when they've reported passing close to the creature in their bearings, people have reported seeing hulking shadows outside their windows for the briefest of moments when passing through the Straits. The world is still full of mysteries, Al. There are a few people I know who go crazy over researching this kind of stuff—they call this one the 'Loch Stock Stalker,'" because only the Liner ever finds it."
"Cool," said Albus, glancing out the window. He knew it was probably fruitless to look now, but still, some part of him hoped he might catch a glimpse of something special.
"Could be an experiment gone awry, or a magical accident, or even an undiscovered creature," said Harry. "Who knows, maybe the Hydra isn't extinct after all. We'll leave it to Luna for looking into that."
"Dumbledore's Hocus-Focuser idea came from this ship, didn't it?" asked Ginny.
"Yes—it did, as a matter of fact," said Harry. "Dumbledore took a few voyages on this ship, checking out the ship's sensors, and developed a handy device that lets the holder locate the nearest sizeable source of magic. We've been working on replicating his Hocus-Focusers for years and haven't gotten anywhere, we still only have his original ten."
Albus glanced back out the window. The seascapes were rushing by at ridiculous paces—the ship was traveling ludicrously fast. Something popped into his mind as he thought about their journey.
"This thing is going to make it to the pond by the Burrow?" he asked skeptically.
"It can surface anywhere there's enough water, even if it's not connected to the ocean," said Ginny. "The Dempseys' pool is probably big enough—this thing could show up in the Dempseys' pool! Don't think they'd take kindly to that, of course."
Albus could attest to that. Ever since the global revelation, and the Dempseys' subsequent realization that the Potters were a magical family, communications had dropped to a bare minimum between the neighbors. Normal associations still hadn't restarted in over a year.
The candles in the cabin started flashing. The wicks began sparking, and the flames flickered back and forth between yellow and the usual red.
"Hold on to something," said Harry, grasping a pole.
"What's happening?" asked Albus, as he grabbed the railing with one hand and the rung of his mother's chair with the other.
There was a deep rumbling sound, growing in volume. The cabin began shaking—the entire ship was shaking, and there were dark streaks flying by the windows in the water outside.
"What is this?" he shouted louder, beginning to panic slightly.
"Digher Straits," answered Ginny. "It's a series of magical waterways that transport this boat at almost fifty times its usual rate of travel. They run all across the world. The Liner has to go through one or more of them between almost every trip if it wants to make all of its stops in time."
"Wow," said Albus, still a little nervous from the ominous black blobs streaking by their window. "Are there other underwater paths like this?"
"Well, Digher Straits is just the name they gave to the collection of these straits," said Ginny. "So Digher Straits is the only one, but it's a whole bunch of waterways. Only magical ships like this can navigate them. Captain Ihmleste knows where every single strait begins and ends; he plots the routes around where the nearest straight begins and where it lets out. He finds whichever strait takes him closest to his intended destination and enters it. For example, I know there's one in the Bermuda Triangle that lets out at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. It's unfortunately a little too shallow, so a lot of Muggle vessels have gone missing there when the strait fluctuates closer to the surface, and they end up at the bottom of a trench, crushed from the pressure."
Albus tried to picture this in his head—the image he constructed was a series of tunnels almost like the Floo Network, where magical ships could enter and be transported mostly across the world in a heartbeat.
The rumbling and shaking stopped, and there was only clear water outside their window. The candles in the room flashed green, apparently signaling that they were out of the Straits.
"Did they make the Digher Straits for the Loch Stock Liner?" he asked curiously.
"Actually, no," said Harry. "Digher Straits has been here forever, I think. The wizards who created the Loch Stock Liner simply tapped into this resource and figured out how to structure ships so that they could handle the pressure inside the Straits."
"What were the black blobs?"
"Those are Blicks," said Harry. "Hard to explain. You might learn about them. Blicks are what make Digher Straits work."
The candles flashed yellow again.
They all gripped railings. There was a sharper scraping sound, and the little cabin was jarred around much more violently than before.
"W-What's g-g-going on n-now?" yelled Albus; it was hard to talk while his jaw was being flung up and down and side to side with the room.
"G-Going through land!" shouted Ginny back.
This went on for about fifteen seconds, and then the candles in the cabin all flashed blue as they screeched to a stop.
Ginny stood up. "That can't be us already," she said incredulously. "Did they signal the wrong cabins? We just got on!"
They stepped out of the cabin with all of the other Weasleys, and saw Milo waving to them.
"I put in a word with the Captain," said Milo. "Put in a word for us to your important friends, won't you?" he asked with another wink.
"Thank you so much," said Harry with a big grin as the Potters walked towards the door. Ginny seemed to be in a much better mood than when they were in the cabin.
They opened the door to the midsection of the deck, splashing into a thin film of water as the ship drained. Albus checked their surroundings and laughed—frogs were jumping off the ship and gnomes were gawking from the garden. The Burrow was dead ahead.
"Have a nice summer!" called Milo as he shut the door again.
They climbed down the ladder and waded through the pond back towards the garden. Albus looked back as the ship sank back into the shallow pond, disappearing in seconds though the pond was only a foot deep.
The family settled into their respective rooms; it was already very late. Albus dragged the sheets over his tired body, and relived the spectacle from the World Cup of the final Seeker race as he drifted off smiling.
It was hard to drift off, though—one happy thought kept him so excited he almost couldn't sleep: in a month, he'd be heading to Diagon Alley to shop for school. There… he was finally going to buy his second wand.
The coming school year already looked to be full of action.
Oh, how about this? If we ever hit 300 reviews on this book, I'll tell you the title of Book 4 on the following week's upload, and I'll change my profile picture to the cover art of Book 4 so you can see it. (Please only one review per person per chapter, though!) It'll be awesome, and if you've read everything up to this point, you'll be very excited to learn what the fourth book will be called... guaranteed, or your reviews back!
If you're reading on the day this was uploaded, or even the week after, and you don't have anything to say in a review, you can just wish me a happy birthday if you want... It IS my nineteenth birthday today, 1/26/13, as a matter of fact!
See you next week!