-READING ALL OF THE FIRST THREE INSTALLMENTS OF THIS SERIES IS NECESSARY FOR UNDERSTANDING THIS BOOK-
Hey, everyone, we made it to Book 4! Chapter 2 should be uploaded in two weeks and Chapter 3 two weeks after that and Chapter 4 a week or two after that, and from that point on it should be fairly regular weekly uploads because I know you all like that!
I don't really think there's anything else to be said... you all know the deal. Why should I have you drone through any more bold and italic text? Get to reading and enjoy!
ALBUS POTTER AND THE DESCENT OF DISMIUSA
Seas of Sand
Aubrey and Chinch
Patronus and Patronization
The Blank Letter
Nothing to Worry About
The Servants of Dismiusa
Beating Around the Bush
The Forest Spirit
Potters and Marauders
The Man With No Fingers
To the Roots
The Final Secrets
The Castle Catacombs
SEAS OF SAND
A firm hand wound its way around the long locks of her carefully styled hair; she sighed and leaned into the touch. It was part of the plan—it had to be done—but still, she dreaded how long it would be before that hand curled itself in her hair again.
"Slade didn't make any mistakes, did he?" she breathed against his chest.
"Caradoc Slade is the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic," said her husband soothingly. "He's in the loop. He knows everyone, and he knows what's going on. That's what makes Slade such a valuable asset to the Sandblood cause."
"He's a wizard. And he's not under the Marionette's Medicine. Are we sure we can trust him?"
"We have to conserve our supplies of MM. And if Palmer Viller trusts Slade, then I trust Slade."
"But Viller is just waiting for his opportunity to stab Slade in the back," said the wife. "Don't you think Slade would have figured that out by now?"
"Viller will have compensated for it," said the husband. "In fact, I think Malseth's death may have been fortunate, all things considered."
"Malseth was brilliant, but Viller is craftier. Malseth had a hard time convincing Slade that we weren't going to gun him down once we got what we wanted from him. But Viller was always clever with him. Now that Malseth is gone, Slade answers to someone he trusts even more than he trusted Malseth." His hand relieved itself from her hair and slid its way down her chest. "I must admit… I was quite nervous about the future of the cause when Malseth expired. But Viller has taken up the mantle with more aggression than Malseth ever brought, and this plan of ours is going to get us the recognition Malseth lost us. Are you ready to be our bait to land a big fish?"
"I am," replied the woman. "As long as you promise to rescue me."
"We know, through Slade, the precise location of the area you will be taken for questioning if you are captured," said the man. "All we have to do is make sure they capture you. Then you bust out, using Marsilia Scadjair's personal secret weapon to kill Gerald Stenet. Then we arrive and whisk you away, back to freedom, leaving the Head of the Auror Office dead and the denizens of the magical world in utter shock. We'll only be apart for a short time. It might even be as short as a single day before they question you."
"Whatever the duration, you will have to make up the time to me."
"Of course I will. You know how I love you. But for now, let us focus on the plan; you are to be captured tomorrow morning, after all. You have Scadjair's weapon?"
The woman held up her hand, showing her husband her fingernails, which were painted a deep red-violet. The nails were sharp and pointed. "I suck on the nails, and the poisonous nail polish will react with my saliva to become active again; one scratch of my claws and the Head of the Auror Office keels over dead in five seconds."
"Then that's all you need. Of course, the dazzling good looks can't hurt your chances of drawing him close enough to strike."
The couple kissed, long enough to last the short time they would be apart.
"Time to get me captured," said the wife, grinning widely.
There was nothing but sand. He was flying high, miles above the ground, but still, sand was all he could see in every direction. Seas of sand were covering everything.
He looked down. It was important—necessary—that he find something which was not sand. It had to be done immediately, as fast as possible, and his eyes raked the ground desperately; lives were hanging in the balance.
A small speck of stone caught his eye. What was it? It was square, short and not very wide, but it wasn't sand, so he flew towards it, speeding towards the ground; he had to find out what this was. Could this stone slab be of any help?
But as he flew towards the rock, something strange happened. The seas of sand grew darker; clouds formed overhead, and it started to rain, but it was raining sand. Gusts of wind blew towards the stone, and the sea of sand below him started to swirl like a whirlpool, sucking him in.
He turned around; this was bad, he couldn't go down there. But the whirlpool was dragging him down, out of the sky, and soon he was pulled below the crashing waves and disappeared below the surface, swallowed by the seas of sand.
Albus sat up in bed, panting heavily and patting himself to make sure he was all there and not covered in sand. What a nightmare… He'd never had one like that before. The memory stood fresh in his mind: his hand disappearing below the tide of sand. What did it mean? That is, if it actually meant anything. It could have been just a dream.
But it didn't feel that way.
Glancing around, he discovered that his father was now standing in the doorway, looking in.
"Are you all right?" asked Harry. "You were making sounds in here."
"Just a bad dream," replied Albus.
"Ah. Reliving a terrible memory?"
"It's not a memory," said Albus, rubbing his eyes.
"Well, let me or your mother know if it continues."
"Sorry to concern you."
"I was coming in here to wake you up anyway," said Harry. "I want you to see something really great as it's happening. Do you want to come with the Auror Office to see us question one of the Sandbloods' top commanders?"
"You got someone?" exclaimed Albus, sitting up so fast in his bed that he almost ended up standing.
"We've captured Coral Envix," said Harry with a grin. "It was almost too easy to get her; we'd heard a leaked Sandblood trail telling us exactly where she would be. We're taking her in to a secure location for questioning; Geri Stenet himself is going to help us get information out of her. This is going to be really exciting to watch; I wondered if you and James and Lily would like to come and see."
"I'd love to see," said Albus, leaping out of bed and running to his dresser to extract the day's clothes. "Thanks for offering!"
"No problem. I wouldn't want you to miss this; I think it'll be fascinating for you three to see how the Auror Office works."
"How far up the ladder was Coral Envix again?" asked James, poking his head into the room.
"She is currently fifth in command of the Sandblood regime… or, she was, until we captured her," answered Harry. "So she definitely knows a lot. We've known about her for a while; she was on the wanted list of the Ministry even before this all started. It's weird to see her finally in custody. Her fingernails are even redder and pointier in person."
"Now we've got her," said James, pumping a fist. "And she's not getting away."
"Definitely not," said Harry, smiling. "Let's go find out what she knows."
"Why aren't we keeping her in the Ministry for questioning?" asked James as they pulled into the parking lot of a secure Muggle facility. "Or Azkaban or somewhere with magical protection?"
"We do have magical protection around here," said Harry, flipping the switch that turned the invisibility boosters off. "It's just not as easily seen, which is the point. We have to maintain the element of surprise. They know the defenses around the Ministry, and around Azkaban—they have no idea what protections we've put into place here."
"It still doesn't seem as safe," noted Lily.
"Good observation," said Harry.
"That's not what I was hoping to hear about the security," said James. "You know it's not as safe, and we're still here?"
"It's complicated," said Harry with a sly grin. "I'll explain after the interrogation of Coral Envix."
They walked into a door; Harry held his wand out the whole time, checking all of their surroundings, and only calmed down once a guard let them inside. They walked through several corridors and entered a small room near the center of the building.
There were chairs in the room, and one of the walls was made of thick glass. On the other side was a table next to a chair holding Coral Envix, who looked surprisingly calm for a Sandblood leader who had been captured. Her auburn hair was long and billowed seductively around her heart-shaped face. Her body was thin and curvaceous, but somehow she looked more athletic than most people Albus had ever seen. She was clearly a looker even at her age, which appeared to be around forty. She drummed her pointy red fingernails rhythmically on the table for several minutes as the Potters waited for the interrogation team to enter. She looked almost impatient, like she was looking forward to her questioning; Albus didn't like this.
"She doesn't look nervous at all," commented James, speaking aloud the thought that was floating around in Albus's head.
"She looks like she knows something," said Lily.
"The Ministry should hire you kids right now," laughed Harry. "Hold up—here's Geri."
Gerald Stenet, the new Head of the Auror Office after Auchland had finally been ousted, walked into the room as calmly as Envix. He was followed by another Auror, a dashing young man with mocha-colored skin whose hair was tinged with red-orange streaks. He took one look at Envix and was unable to keep his eyes off of her.
"Who's that?" asked Lily, pointing to the younger Auror.
"That's Rohan Otica," said Harry. "Rohan is a fairly new and promising recruit. He's been personally trained by Percy over this summer. Lucy and Molly got to know him fairly well, and they say he's a great fighter and even better company. He's only just out of training but he's already a great thinker as well."
"He looks like he's thinking with the wrong part of his anatomy right now," said James.
"Coral is known for her entrancing looks," sighed Harry.
"Except, she's a murderer."
"That does put a damper on her relative attractiveness."
Envix tossed her hair to the side and returned the gaze back to Rohan; he finally broke his eye contact, and stared at the wall.
"Coral," said Geri, pulling up a chair to her table. He and Rohan sat down at her table, too close to the dangerous woman for Albus's taste. A small electronic speaker broadcasted the conversation behind the glass wall into the observation room. "How good to see you."
"A pleasure, Head Auror," she said coolly. "To what do I owe it?"
"You've been causing us some trouble lately."
"That's certainly possible."
"We'd like you to make up for that."
"That's certainly impossible."
"Coral, you have greatly inconvenienced the Auror Office," said Geri. "We are after the same thing—equality and unity among all people, Squibs and Muggles alike. So I don't know what your problem is with us."
"Clearly not," scoffed Envix.
"That's what we'd like you to tell us."
"This is a psychological ploy," whispered Harry quietly to his children. "We get Coral to tell us something small. Once she's told us one thing, even if it's not very important, she's more likely to give us more important information."
"What do you have against wizards?" asked Rohan quietly.
Envix glanced up at the attractive young man before her, and very subtly, she looked him up and down.
"We're turning her own methods on her," whispered Harry. "She's been seducing people to get them to bend to her will for longer than the Sandbloods have existed. We've included one of our own highly attractive individuals for this task."
"It can't hurt to tell us?" suggested Rohan; he was a very soft-spoken person.
Envix stared at them.
"Of course it can."
"Coral, if you don't cooperate with the investigation, we can cause you a lot more trouble than you've caused us," said Geri dangerously.
Rohan shot him a dirty look.
"He's playing the part perfectly," said Harry excitedly.
Envix brought her vividly colored fingernails up to her mouth as she stared at Rohan, and she began sucking on her fingertips.
"That's… very suggestive," said James as Harry leaned closer to watch.
Envix glanced behind the glass at the Potters for a moment, but she was drawn to Rohan in a way she couldn't seem to resist.
"She's got a husband, but we know she sleeps around," whispered Harry to James; Albus, though, had great ears and was able to hear these sorts of secrets. He wondered why only James was privy to those words… It probably had to do with the adult content of the information.
Rohan stared at her lips as they licked each fingernail in turn. As she finished, she leaned forward. A glint appeared in her eye, the likes of which Albus had never seen before, and he felt his body heat up.
"What's going on with her eyes?" asked Albus nervously.
"It's called being a temptress," sighed Harry. "We had her checked for signs of magic on the way in—she's not using mind control or anything."
"I'll tell you what the Sandbloods have against wizards," breathed Envix, "but just that and no more."
Geri furrowed his brow and leaned forward. Rohan was already leaning forward.
Envix reached forward; her wrists were chained to the table, but she still could reach far enough to clasp one hand around Rohan's fingers. She smirked at him.
"Ow," said Rohan, pulling his hand away; there was a small trickle of blood.
"Your existence," she snarled, "is our problem with you."
She locked eyes with Rohan for several seconds, and then he broke his eye contact to look at his bloody hand; his other hand clutched above his heart, and he tumbled from his chair to the ground.
"An existence which has an expiration date," added Envix, as Rohan gave a final twitch and then was still.
"Rohan, get up, it's a bloody scratch," sighed Geri. "You went through far worse in training."
"No, he didn't," said Envix, fiddling with the cuffs around her wrists. "Unless he was delivered something worse than lethal poison in training."
"Excuse me?" asked Geri, glancing down at her wrists just a moment too late.
Envix had removed her fifth finger on each hand—completely removed them, cleanly and bloodlessly—and ripped her hands out of their bindings now that they were narrow enough to squeeze through. Her fifth fingers had never been attached at all—they were fake, probably removed for the express purpose of slipping through handcuffs at a time like this. She leapt across the table and sank all eight remaining claws into Geri's neck, drawing blood in each spot, and Geri threw her off to take out his wand but hit the floor before he could cast a single spell.
Lily shrieked in horror and James whipped out his wand immediately, both totally pale in the face, as Envix ripped a small card off of Geri's body and sped to the door, opening it calmly with Geri's identification card and walking out of the building.
"That was fast," said Harry with a complete lack of the necessary panic, taking out his wand as if he had all the time in the world.
"Sound an alarm or something!" blurted James, headed to the door. "We can't let her out!"
"No no no!" shouted Harry, grabbing James's shoulder and pulling him back. "Don't get involved. Too dangerous. Besides—look."
The three Potter children turned to look inside the interrogation room again, and were shocked to see that Geri and Rohan had lifted themselves up from the ground.
"What's going on?" demanded James as Geri and Rohan gave a thumbs-up to Harry from behind the glass, and then shook hands and healed each others' wounds.
"Coral poisoned her fingernails," said Harry. "But we heard about this plan through the spying device that you planted, Al, and we were ready for it. We gave Geri and Rohan the antidote beforehand, so they weren't killed by the poison, and then we let Coral think she had the upper hand on us."
"Why?" asked Lily, still shaking.
"Because Coral is planning to escape with help, at the moment," said Harry. "So we're going to let her lead us straight to her husband and two other Sandbloods who are planning to help her out. She's breaking out of the facility right now, but we have Aurors stationed everywhere, watching her, and they're going to recapture her along with three bonus Sandbloods once she meets up with them!"
"Brilliant," laughed James, clasping his hands together. "That's brilliant!"
"We've underestimated our enemy for too long," said Harry. "It's time they underestimated us for once. Sorry for not telling you, but Coral needed to believe that her plan was actually working, and the looks on your faces when she pulled off her apparent escape were perfect."
Rohan waved to Harry and his kids; they all waved back.
"Send word to Perce that it worked," called Harry. "I'm taking the kids back."
Rohan nodded and lifted his wand; a majestic and regal lion Patronus manifested itself from the tip and soared through the ceiling.
The door to the interrogation room opened again, and half a dozen Aurors escorted four Sandbloods into the interrogation room. The Envix couple gawked at Rohan and Geri, unable to believe that they were alive, as more chairs were conjured in the interrogation room for their new guests.
Geri grinned and tilted his head. "Ah, I see you've brought friends," he said. "Welcome back, Coral."
The familiar sight of the Loch Stock Liner bursting through the waves filled Albus with joy every time. This time, though, he was even happier than usual, because the Liner was taking him to see Janelle.
"Lake Lombard, please," said Harry to Milo as Ginny, James, and Lily secured the closest room. Killian Aubrey and Lynwood Chinch, who were now accompanying the Potters whenever they left the house, were right behind them. Tensions usually ran high between these two friends of Harry's, so they took separate rooms.
"France is lovely this time of year," said Milo with a nod. "Any particular reason for your visit?"
"My son would like to visit a good friend of his from Beauxbatons," replied Harry with a twinkle in his eye.
"Good for you, making friends across country lines," said Milo. "That's a healthy habit. Especially if you have to flee the country."
"Milo!" laughed Harry.
"What?" said Milo. "I've had to flee a few countries in my time! It happens! Good to have friends everywhere for times like that."
"He's having you on," laughed Harry, directing his son to their family's cabin. "Oh—we're submerging, better get in quick."
The ride was easy; they surfaced in the middle of a small pond just outside Janelle's house. Her family wasn't very rich, but they owned a lot of property. Janelle's mother grew and cared for magical plants, and her father raised magical animals. She basically lived on a farm.
Janelle had waved to the Liner from her window. She was already outside and running towards Albus when he'd disembarked from the ship.
They intercepted each other in a strong hug halfway to her house. Janelle kissed him on both cheeks and then nuzzled her chin between his neck and shoulder.
"Missed you," said Albus.
"I missed you, too!" said Janelle, smiling brightly. Her face was glowing; at times like this, Albus still had to wonder whether she was secretly part-Veela.
The rest of the Potters passed by with Aubrey and Chinch, and Albus took Janelle's hand as they walked with his family to the house.
But the trip wasn't as spectacular a reunion with his maybe-a-girlfriend as Albus had hoped. There wasn't much to do except sit and talk with her parents, because their Auror guard insisted that the family stay together and indoors. Before they left, Janelle tried to bring Albus upstairs to her room alone so that they could snog or something, but Aubrey insisted on following them at all times so that there was always protection in case of an attack. At least, though, they were now able to have a conversation of their own.
"How is that Patronus coming?" asked Janelle as they settled on her bed. "You told me in your letters that your father was helping you master the Patronus Charm."
"He is," said Albus, "but we haven't gotten very far just yet. I think I'll get it before I head back to school, though."
"What is the animal form of your Patronus?"
"It's a coyote," said Albus.
"It's like a smaller wolf."
"A little wolf," said Janelle, pinching his cheek playfully. "I can see that."
"Have you ever tried the Patronus?"
"No, it is a little too complex. I may try it soon, though."
"What's Donna's Patronus?"
"My sister's Patronus is a swan. How about your brother?"
"His is a little spiny lizard thing called a tuatara. I'm not sure I'm even remembering the name right. Whatever—it's basically an iguana."
"That is a lot different from your coyote," said Janelle. "I wonder why that is."
"Do you think your Patronus will be like a swan or something?" asked Albus.
"I am not sure. I think Donna and I are very different in most ways, so probably not."
"What would you want your Patronus to be? If you could choose?"
"I am not sure if it would be what I want it to be," said Janelle, but… a lioness."
"Hey, that's Lucy's Patronus!" laughed Albus.
"My cousin Lucy Weasley… The British Minister's daughter. Her Patronus is a lioness. Er, her new Patronus, anyway."
"It used to be a dolphin, but it changed when she started dating a kid from our school named Katsuo Sinclair," explained Albus. "Kat's Patronus was a hawk, and hers became a hawk. She dumped him right before the summer, though, and then it changed back to a dolphin. Now it's a lioness."
"Do you know anyone with a lion Patronus?" asked Janelle, enjoying the gossip.
"No, I don't," said Albus. "Er… I don't think I do… Maybe."
"What are your other family members' Patronuses?" asked Janelle, looking over at Aubrey, who was keeping an eye on them; his presence was clearly agitating both of them.
"My mum's is a horse, and my dad's is a stag. Not everyone's Patronus changes when they're in love, but that doesn't have anything to do with how deeply they're in love. Actually, when my mum purposefully uses my dad for her memories and concentrates on the result, she makes a silver doe, and when my dad uses my mum he can make a stallion."
"Maybe my Patronus will be a coyote," said Janelle, nudging him.
Albus blushed; not knowing what to say, he continued. "M—my cousin Molly's Patronus is a jaguar," he said. "Victoire and Dominique never quite got the hang of it—it's a hard spell, and even though they're great duelists and all, it takes a lot of a hard kind of skill that they never got around to practicing. Louis can make a Patronus, though, ever since he started dating Caspar. It's a bear, just like Caspar's. Roxanne and Freddie haven't gotten the spell down yet, either, and neither have Rose or Hugo or Lily, but we're all still pretty young for it, so it's not that much of a surprise… Oh! My Uncle Charlie has a dragon Patronus."
"A dragon?" gasped Janelle with a huge grin. "That is magnificent."
"It's rare to have a Patronus be a magical creature and not just an ordinary animal, but it happens."
Janelle sighed and glanced back over to Aubrey for a moment. Her eyes twinkled as she settled into deep thought; Albus could tell she was trying to think of a way to get Aubrey off their backs.
In a flash, she had her shirt off.
"It is very hot in here," she said, tossing it to the side.
Aubrey flushed red and turned to stare at the wall.
"Why don't you take your shirt off, too?" she suggested.
Albus reddened; he didn't know what to do. She'd already taken her shirt off and was sitting there in her bra, but this was a favor he didn't want to return.
"Come on," said Janelle, winking as she tugged at the collar.
Albus reluctantly slipped the shirt over his head. It felt much warmer without a shirt, but maybe that was just the embarrassment.
"You know, I could go without pants, too," said Janelle, standing and fiddling with her waistband.
Aubrey threw his hands over his head in exasperation and left the room swiftly.
"That is much better," said Janelle, settling back down and putting her shirt back on. "I just wanted to get him out so we could talk normally."
"That's brilliant," laughed Albus, looking at the closed door as he pulled his shirt back over his head.
"Well, thank you," said Janelle, scooting herself closer. She leaned in for a kiss; Albus put an arm around her and closed the distance completely.
"So what else has happened since we last saw each other?" asked Janelle when they were both happy enough to break away.
"The Auror Office captured a few Sandblood leaders, but I'm not supposed to talk about it past that," said Albus. "Coral Envix, and her husband. Palmer Viller is still out there, though."
"Yes, but not for long," said Janelle. "The Auror Office will see to that."
"I think so, too."
They kissed again.
"I missed you very much," said Janelle. "Do you suppose there could be any way for me to visit during the school year?"
"You could maybe come on a Hogsmeade weekend," said Albus. "I've been thinking about that. You could meet me in Hogsmeade. You wouldn't be allowed in the castle without a lot of permission and stuff, so we could skip that part at Halloween and Christmas."
"I would love to!" said Janelle. "And you will write, of course?"
"Every day, if you want me to!"
Janelle laughed. "We shall see about that. But no matter where you are, or how often you write, you will always be right… here."
She took his hand and placed it on her chest, over her heart, which was beating as fast as Albus's. He smiled and looked into her eyes.
Words were starting to form on her lips; the slowness of the build-up to whatever she was about to say made Albus think it was important. She took a deep breath and started over.
"Albus!" came a shout from downstairs, bringing them back to earth. "We've got to get moving; we've got fifteen minutes to set up at Gabrielle's!"
"Coming, Mum!" shouted Albus. He turned back to Janelle sheepishly.
"I will see you again for Halloween or Christmas?" asked Janelle.
"Sure, I'll write you the details," said Albus.
He leaned in and gave Janelle another kiss, and then he took her by the hand and brought her downstairs again.
Janelle's parents walked them to the neighbors' house three minutes down the road.
"Monsieur Claude has access to the RNFF," explained Mr. Lombard.
"What's the RNFF?" asked James, always the inquirer.
"The National Floo Network of France."
"That doesn't abbreviate to RNFF."
"It does in French," replied Mr. Lombard. "Sorry we don't have a connection in our own house—it takes magic to operate, and… well, you know."
"Not a problem," said Harry. "As long as Masseur Claude doesn't mind us using his fireplace."
"He has always been highly considerate when it comes to things we need from the magical world," said Mr. Lombard. "And just so you know, you said 'Monsieur' wrong."
"Oh, did I?" laughed Harry. "Sorry, what did I call him?"
"You implied that he gives massages."
Ginny snorted. "I don't suppose that's true?" she asked hopefully. "I'm feeling a little tense from all this… overprotection…"
"Well, we apologize for ensuring your safety," mused Chinch.
"Drop the attitude, Chinch," warned Aubrey.
"Being safe makes you tense?" asked Mr. Lombard.
"No, this does," sighed Ginny, gesturing towards Aubrey and Chinch as they started yet another row.
Mr. Claude welcomed the Potters graciously, practically fawning over Harry's presence in his home—with all the seclusion from the outside world, Albus had almost forgotten that they were celebrities. The French Floo Network, which was much slower but much smoother than its English counterpart, brought them to Gabrielle Delacour's house. She had inherited it from her parents, who retired to Italy, when Aunt Fleur decided to stay in England with Bill.
"Teddy!" roared James excitedly, charging down his father's godson.
James and Teddy always did something amusing whenever they met; sometimes James would pretend to choke Teddy, and Teddy would turn his face purple; sometimes James would pretend to punch Teddy in the eye, and Teddy would use his Metamorphmagus powers to give himself a black eye. This time, James reached out and pretended to slap Teddy hard across the cheek, and when he pulled his hand away, Teddy had given himself a bright red handprint across his cheek and was pretending it stung with pain. They'd done this since Teddy learned how to control his abilities; now Teddy was twenty-one and James was sixteen, and they still enjoyed the childish humor they always did. Hopefully, they always would.
"Hey, that's everybody," said Aunt Fleur, clasping her hands together. "Okay, crouch low and don't make a noise!"
The entire family gathered in the back of the kitchen.
"Aubrey! Chinch! Get down!" hissed Ginny.
Aubrey and Chinch rolled their eyes and placed Disillusionment Charms over themselves.
The lights were turned all the way down, and five minutes later, they heard the door open.
"Louis, darling!" said his Aunt Gabrielle as Louis entered the house.
Louis conversed with Gabrielle for a minute or two, and then she directed him into the kitchen and turned the lights on.
"SURPRISE!" shouted the whole family, jumping up from hiding. Tiny fireworks from Uncle George went off when the room was illuminated, spiraling into the air and leaving smoke trails that spelled "HAPPY SEVENTEENTH BIRTHDAY, LOUIS!"
Louis's face lit up like the fireworks as Caspar moved through the sea of Weasleys. The two hugged each other tightly before Louis started to greet all of his enormous family.
"When is Louis's actual birthday?" James asked Victoire. "I can never remember all of my cousins' birthdays."
"It's in a week, so we made his party early so we could actually surprise him," replied Victoire.
Louis had a small conversation with everyone at the party.
"I haven't seen you since the Triwizard Tournament!" he said when he finally got to Albus.
"Yeah, Dad says we should avoid leaving the house as much as possible," said Albus. "But I got to visit Janelle today because we were coming to France anyway for your surprise party. Were you surprised?"
"Definitely," said Louis cheerfully. "I didn't know I'd be seeing Caspar here. But we see each other a lot anyway… every other weekend. I feel bad; you and Janelle should be allowed to see each other more often. Surely your parents wouldn't have a problem with her coming to visit your house?"
"We're under protection and no one's supposed to know where we're staying now," mumbled Albus. "Not even family, so definitely not Janelle."
"Ah. That makes sense but it still sucks."
"Things are going well with you and Caspar, then?"
"Yes, definitely," said Louis, grinning. "Maman has been all over me about what we'll be doing once I pass my Apparition exam… she thinks we're going to be trying to Apparate across country borders to each other at all times and Splinch ourselves dead. 'Find a good halfway point to meet!' 'Don't you dare leave without me watching!' The usual mother stuff. There's something about the first or last child coming of age that makes mothers go slightly insane."
"Glad I'm in the middle," said Albus, appreciating his middle-sibling position more than usual. "How's the rest of the family?"
"Good, good," said Louis. "Victoire and Teddy are still going strong… they had a few rough patches but they got through with style and they're all the more in love for that. Xander Davis—I don't know if you remember him, he became a prefect the year you came in—he asked Dominique out, and they've been on-and-off dating. How are James and Tabitha Floren?"
"She's annoyed that she can't see James very much," replied Albus, "but they're too lovey-dovey to actually care."
"This is lasting much longer than I'd imagined it would," said Louis appreciatively. "Not that I don't think they're a good match. They're probably perfect. She's the only one who can keep James in line."
"Dad reckons Tabby is a lot like our grandmother, since James is a lot like our grandfather, except that Tabby didn't hate James's guts for most of the time they knew each other beforehand."
A small disturbance caused them both to turn their heads; Aubrey and Chinch looked like they were about ready to go at it again.
"They're your protection?" asked Louis, shaking his head.
"They're supposed to be."
"Looks like they're more interested in themselves than you guys."
"I know," sighed Albus. "But Dad keeps saying that there's a very small list of people we can be sure to completely trust… and Aubrey and Chinch are two people on that list who aren't easily replaced. Those are his words, anyway."
"Well, life is all about making the best of bad situations," said Louis.
"Life is full of bad situations, yeah."
"You could make a strong argument that life itself is a bad situation."
"True," laughed Albus.
"I'm going to go chat with the rest of my visitors," said Louis. "See you at Hogwarts if I don't see you before that."
"See you, Louis, happy birthday!"
Albus and Louis both jumped nearly through the roof and extracted wands; Caspar was lying on the ground, Stunned. Louis gave a shout and rushed to the former Durmstrang student's side.
"He took out his wand as soon as Harry turned his back," announced Aubrey in his most accusatory fashion, pointing dramatically at Caspar.
"My cousin's boyfriend is not going to kill my dad!" roared James as Louis revived Caspar while apologizing profusely.
"Whether or not he would, we don't know where he's been!" argued Aubrey. "He could have been Imperiused; we haven't been keeping a constant eye on him, so we can't be sure, and I have been instructed to defend against any possible assailants—"
As Harry started to scold Aubrey harshly, Albus looked over to Chinch, who seemed to be very much enjoying the fact that his partner was being told off for his mistake. Aubrey seemed to notice this too, and if looks could kill…
"Could you maybe, er, apologize to my boyfriend who you assaulted?" requested Louis, tapping Aubrey on the shoulder and tapping his foot.
Aubrey turned to Caspar. "Why did you take your wand out?"
"I… don't even remember," admitted Caspar.
"What a world, where a person of age cannot even use magic in front of his boyfriend's family," scoffed Aunt Fleur.
"He doesn't remember why he took out his wand?" demanded Aubrey.
"He's still woozy," huffed Ginny, "and you shouldn't be cross-examining him anyway; you should be apologizing, like my nephew asked!"
"I will not apologize for doing my job. And why can't he answer my question?"
"He probably took out his wand for the most trivial of things!" yelled Bill. "Putting up a fallen decoration or moving a chair closer? I wouldn't expect him to remember, because no one should have to expect to get Stunned or interrogated every time they try to use magic!"
"Leave us and cool down," said Harry. "I'll contact you again when we go to Diagon Alley if your head is clearer by then, but for now, please just… keep yourself away from my family."
Shaking his head, Aubrey left the house, and a faint crack of Disapparition could be heard after he slammed the door.
"Well, I didn't see that coming," chuckled Chinch.
"Can it, Lyn," said Harry. "I had to do the same thing to you when those kids were trying to take pictures of us at King's Cross two years ago, and I'll do it again if I need to."
"No protection for your family?" mused Chinch. "You've already sent Aubrey away; I'm the only guard you have left. Think about your children, Harry."
"I am thinking about them," growled Harry. "I'm keeping them away from bad influences. James and Al have both expressed interest in the Auror Office and I don't want them to get the wrong idea of what sort of people we let into the program."
Chinch was properly taken aback, and kept his mouth shut the rest of the party, which was good for everyone else. Albus's parents tried to keep their good humor and were mostly successful. They apologized to Louis and Caspar for the incident and tried to put it past them. But this wasn't the first incident with Aubrey and Chinch, and Albus had to wonder how many were necessary before they were unable to put the incidents aside any longer.
I'm thinking one bonus chapter for every 250 reviews. It made more sense for me to do it that way, so that I don't use up all my extra work all at once and I won't be rushing to make the deadlines. So, every time we hit a multiple of 250 in reviews, I'll add an extra chapter on the same week. Sound good? :)
See you in two weeks for Chapter 2!