Things are different overseas
The crowd in Piazza San Pietro was a curious mixture of tourists, hawkers and low and high level church figures. It’s probably the only place in the world where cardinals outnumber priests. A flock of three babbling nuns passed a group of five cardinals who were speaking in hushed, but disapproving tones. With the earring Dumbledore had provided (and rather painfully pushed through my left earlobe), I could understand every word spoken. Dumbledore didn’t have the matching tongue stud however, and since I had no idea what language they were speaking however, I couldn’t enter the conversation.
Not that I would want to. Normally, I’d assume that any deep discussion involving five of the Princes of the Catholic Church would be so far out of my philosophical depth that I’d drown in bafflement. But this was different, not to mention totally unexpected. Churchmen discussing the internal politics of the church, I could imagine. Cardinals discussing deep, obscure philosophical ideas, I could certainly understand.
But Cardinals discussing the length of a woman’s dress? Count me out.
I suppose I’ve never understood how (or, for that matter, why) Catholics would confess all to their local priest, and ask advice for everything in their lives. I mean, seriously, why on earth would you take sexual and birth control advice from someone who has made a vow of celibacy? Do Catholics take advice from an accountant who has made a bloody vow of poverty?
I took a moment to get my bearings, and to locate a place to examine my surroundings with a view to sneaking around unseen. I sat down on a bench with my back towards the central obelisk in the middle of the piazza, and contemplated events that had brought me here as I examined my surroundings.
Before setting out on my little quest, I decided that travelling with friends would be far more enjoyable than kicking about alone. I visited the Burrow to try and convince Ron to come with me, at least for the first leg. Well, when I say ‘try to convince’, I of course mean, ‘subtly try to pretend I don’t need him, but finally reluctantly acquiesce to his insistent demands to join me’.
My plans to just have the two of us travel lightly through France took a dive when Susan decided that we needed female company and invited herself along. I hadn’t exactly related the full and untarnished nature of my trip, not wanting to let anyone else know exactly what was going on, so it was not without trepidation that I agreed to Susan’s presence. And her luggage.
Without lightening charms, Ron and I would have been suffering from hernias.
We left England to a rather melodramatic Mrs. Weasley and her shenanigans. I’m quite amazed that she didn’t try fainting or something to get Ron to stay. What with Bill married, Charlie working out of the country, Percy still focusing on rebuilding his career and being distant (despite his reintegration into the family fold), Gin at school and the twins travelling all over trying to set up their business, Ron was the last son she had who was still at home more often than not. Finally promising that he and Susan would be back within a fortnight to make his tryouts, we managed to leave the country, on the muggle train under the English Channel.
Both Ron and Susan were suitably delighted at the novelty of muggle transport, though the trip was not without its hiccups. I had to speak sharply with Ron’s passport photograph, insisting that is stop moving long enough for the little book to be stamped as we passed through passport control. The photo didn’t want to cooperate, and in the end I had to subtly confound the passport control officer into ignoring the moving picture.
I also discovered that Ron had little to no concept of geography, and didn’t realise that there were travel implications stemming from the fact that there was a fairly thick body of water between England and France. His panic attack on realising that we were travelling under the Channel was amusing, though the vocal histrionics went from hysterical to intensely irritating very quickly. Getting some eighty-proof spirits down his throat took some doing, and I managed it only after convincing him that it was the muggle equivalent of a calming potion.
A half a dozen shots later, and a very calm Ron was snoring away with his head resting against a window. After we left the tunnel, looking through that very window presented Susan and I with some simply magnificent views of the French countryside. From our conversation, I discovered that my unorthodox living arrangements were indeed quite secret, since she spent the majority of the rest of the trip trying to get me to agree to date some of her friends.
Somehow, I managed to avoid promising anything, and the three of us arrived in Paris without further incident. Well, except for Ron’s insistence on proving he could function in the muggle world by hailing a taxi. I could only handle seeing him yell at three parked and empty taxis before pointing out that his father’s old Ford Anglia was probably the only sentient automobile in the world, and that he had to talk to an actual taxi driver.
Sigh. Muggle studies really should be compulsory for pure bloods.
Dumbledore’s lead, a French auror, had been singularly unimpressed by my request for information about Ravenclaw’s journal. Either Dumbledore had neglected to inform me that he was in this fellow’s bad books, or French wizards had a particularly bad attitude towards the English.
Of course, once it became clear that my entreaties were not going to succeed in getting the info we needed, Ron took it upon himself to become far more… convincing. I ended up having to order Ron to stop holding the poor bugger upside down and to put him down without permanently damaging him in any way. Pale and shaking, the French auror had quickly divulged what he knew, and beat a hasty retreat.
It wasn’t until later when I had firecalled Bill (to get some of my cash transferred to the Paris branch of Gringotts) that I discovered exactly why I wasn’t exactly popular over here. According to Fleur, (who had nudged Bill out of the way during the call and was rather pleased that Ron, Susan and I were visiting her country) the majority of the French wizarding world had lost a great deal of money during the Tri Wizard Tournament. Most had assumed that Fleur would have won, or at least put in a good showing. The fact that she didn’t complete two of the three tasks meant that the bookmakers in France were rather enriched by the event. Ron found this incredibly illuminating, not to mention hilarious.
We travelled south, making a side trip to Beauxbatons. While it wasn’t strictly necessary, it did help with my cover of being an aimless layabout, wandering the world with friends. Madame Maxine was delighted to see us, as was Gabrielle, though the number of times she steered Ron and Susan down the wrong passageway indicated that she seemed to want to spend more time with me alone, or that she was a highly skilled prankster herself. I allowed Madame Maxine to talk us into staying at the school for a few days, much to Gabrielle’s delight. Even in her early teens, she was a devastatingly beautiful young witch, with an innocence about her that made her far more attractive than her rather proud sister.
I spent some time with the French school’s flying instructor, Madam Dupont, while Ron and Susan made friends with the Potions Professor, who just happened to be a chess grandmaster. The days we spent at Beauxbatons were delightful, and I made a number of new friends in that time.
We stayed for nearly a week before we reluctantly gave our goodbyes and continued our travels down to Nice. I didn’t get a chance to really explore the city before we tracked down the partner of the trader who had initially purchased the journal. What we learned set my teeth grinding. The trader himself was in prison. In bloody Italy, of all places.
Grumbling, and since Ron’s two weeks were up, I had travelled on to Florence alone in search of this idiotic merchant. I mean, really, what kind of intellectually challenged individual would try to sell items so obviously associated with witchcraft in a country where the dominant religion made it a habit of burning people who had a wart on their nose.
Thankfully, it turned out to be rather fortuitous that I was alone, since circumstances forced me to break into the wizarding jail hidden beneath the cathedral there, to get some information out of the clumsy trader. I’m quite sure that Ron wouldn’t have been able to keep his mouth shut about that little adventure (had he been involved), and I had no desire to spend more time with the Italian authorities than strictly necessary.
Even so, the mission could hardly be considered a success. The only thing of value I learned was that the merchant had indeed possessed the journal, but since he had initially been arrested by muggles (religious fanatics no less), all his wares had been confiscated by them and given to the Catholic Church for safekeeping, as demonic or for the purposes of witchcraft.
They honestly have no idea just how accurate they are sometimes.
So, after a wonderful meal of wild boar casserole in red wine with olives (which made me vow to return to Florence very soon), I set off down the country to Rome. Well, to Vatican City.
So here I was, sitting with my back against a priceless work of Egyptian art amongst the crowd in the tiniest nation on Earth. Mentally taking notes regarding the surrounding buildings and structures, I slowly built my emergency escape route.
I rose and dusted myself off before passing the outraged clergymen, (still acting offended, while stealing every glance they could at the rather attractive pair of legs) and wandered around the main open area. The elliptical plaza was supposedly one of the most visited places on earth. The Mecca for Catholics all over the world (though Catholics didn’t get to extend their name once they’d visited). I did the touristy thing for a while and wandered around the inside of St. Peter’s. I just can’t get my mind around the fact that the Pope, a man supposedly selected by God, lives in a building where the only reason it isn’t called a palace is because it has been sanctified. The sheer opulence of artwork, precious metals and other wealth on display stunned me; especially since I’d seen donations placed into the church’s coffers by Catholics too poor to buy enough food for their families to eat.
It didn’t take me long to identify the stairs up into the building proper. A couple of cassocked priests submitted their credentials and were admitted by the security forces at the top of one set of spiral stairs.
Despite being the most highly trained, well equipped, highly funded and devoted troops in the world, the Swiss Guard are never going to be taken seriously by the majority of the world’s population dressed like that. Supposedly, Michelangelo designed their uniforms. Either the man was colour blind, lost a bet, or he was pissed off at being forced to leave his sculpting for an unwanted commission in fashion design and decided to leave his displeasure etched indelibly on display forever. What else can you say about a pair of bright, blue and yellow-stripped pants that look as though they are doubling as incontinence trousers after a heavy night of fifteen pints of Guinness, two curries, four boiled eggs and a bean sandwich?
Leaving the clear winners of the ‘Least likely to be able to sneak up on someone unawares’ competition, I found myself a moderately empty nook and unobtrusively cast a detection spell Hermione had devised for me.
The spell made all methods (both magical and muggle) of remote detection or observation glow to magical folk. Magical wards and so forth glowed a faint yellow, while muggle surveillance cameras, peepholes and viewing platforms glowed bright blue. While I was expecting a fair few hidden cameras and so forth keeping an eye on the crowds within the Basilica itself, I didn’t expect to have the area light up enough that I had to blink in the sudden illumination.
There must have been at least a hundred hidden cameras, with absolutely no point in the building out of sight of at least two. Each camera and peephole was glowing such a bright blue that, to my magical eyes at least, they lit the area up to the point of pain. The security system here must have been set up by someone as paranoid as Zab or Moody, but that wasn’t what shocked me the most.
There were at least six layers of magical wards in place. Anti-apparition jinxes, portkey prevention, spell detection, they were all there. Not even Hogwarts was protected in such a powerful manner. In that instant, I discovered something that Dumbledore either had neglected to inform me of, or didn’t know.
There were some very powerful wizards working for the Holy See.
I moved, as rapidly as I dared, away from where I cast the spell. In less than thirty seconds, that Transept was flooded with members of the Swiss Guard. Suddenly, the ridiculously clothed soldiers did not seem so useless. I threw a hood over my head and sipped from a hip flask I’d retained for just this purpose, grimacing at the taste. My features changed as the foul-tasting Polyjuice took effect. Now, either I would get out of here unscathed, or I would have to fight my way out and poor Remus would never be able to travel to Italy. I removed my coat and jumper, rolling them into a ball and stuffing them under my arm.
The three members of the Swiss Guard that looked at me intently before moving on held a sheet of paper, printed with a slightly blurred photo of me standing in the Transept where I’d cast the spell. The only blessing there was that it was an unmoving muggle photo, and I was squinting at the time.
As I left the Basilica, a strange, unwelcome sensation trickled over me. Suddenly, the idea of raiding the Pope’s private store of forbidden and confiscated arcane and demonic artefacts seemed a lot more difficult.
Bloody Italian wizards! Whose fucking idea was it to put the entrance to Rome’s wizarding community inside Trevi fountain? Not only do you have to either bamboozle all the muggles standing around, including the inevitable dozens of tourists, or wait until four in the morning (when the only people around are drunks, and they could see anything and no one would believe them), but you have to wade into the bloody thing, clamber up onto one of the rocky platforms at the back, stick your thumb into the mouth of the horse to the far left, and say a spell incantation.
Oh, to just tap a few bricks in a wall with a wand.
Sure, we English may be boring, but by Merlin, Diagon Alley is both secure and accessible!
Of course, one of the stones on the lip of the fountain has a keep-dry charm on it, keyed to wizards. They don’t tell foreigners of course, which means that anyone wandering down their magical street dripping-wet is easily identified as an out-of-towner.
I was so glad that the photo they took of me in the Vatican was snapped as I was squinting in the sudden light of the revealed spy-gear. With the rather unflattering shot I was thankfully unrecognisable as The-Boy-Who-Lived. The photo itself had been plastered on the Italian Ministry’s Wanted board, but it was set amongst several dozen other photos of wizards and witches who had tried to cast a spell in St. Peters that I felt comfortable I wasn’t going to be troubled any time soon. Mind you, it would have been rather inconvenient if they’d managed to snap a decent picture. Nevertheless, I wore a headband of black cotton, charmed to be both absorbent and cooling. It covered my scar quite nicely, though it made me look about fifteen years out of fashion.
Finally, I managed to get even my underwear dry (while still wearing all my robes, which was a neat, if obscene looking trick), and I stepped into the nearest apothecary. Immediately, I was greeted by someone who could only be described as the opposite of a greasy prick who goes by the moniker ‘Snivellus’.
She was enormous, even for Italian motherly types. Not even Molly Weasley came close. What appeared to be a permanent, welcoming smile was etched into her face in such a way that, despite the fact that she wouldn’t be entering any Miss Insert-Country-Here competitions any time soon, an inner beauty shone through. This was someone who didn’t look like she’d ever had a bad thought about anyone in the world.
Her vibrant hair was dyed to look as though it had just emerged from a nuclear waste disposal unit. Her fingernails were painted a colour somewhere between calf-shit green and cat-vomit yellow. I’m not sure I could identify the colour any other way. I was sufficiently unnerved by her exceedingly vocal and physical welcome that I literally stood there dumbfounded.
“Welcome, welcome!” she bellowed, waving me into her store. “A foreigner, yes? Would you like me to speak English? French? German, perhaps?”
I shrugged. “I can understand each of them, as well as Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese, so by all means, pick whichever you like.”
Her eyes lit up. “Ah, an educated man. It is an honour to welcome you to my humble store. My name is Cerelia, how may I be of assistance? Are you looking for anything in particular? Or are you simply browsing to pass the time?” she asked, seemingly without drawing breath.
I didn’t make an issue of the fact that I didn’t actually know the languages, just that with the earring, I could understand them. “I’m James. Nice to meet you. Um, I was rather hoping you had some rather rare potion reagents and a few other odds and ends I need for a project.” I pulled out a list. “Some powdered manticore bone, preferably from the jaw. Lower jaw, if at all possible. Some- well, here,” I said, passing her the list. “Perhaps it would be easier to just give you this.”
She gave me a knowing smile, accepted the list and scanned down. “Well, well. What are you intending to do with these?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Brew some potions, of course.”
Her perpetual smile faded. “There are very few potions you need un-spun acromantula silk for. None of them are entirely… legal.”
My own smile disappeared. “That item specifically isn’t for a potion. Notice that it is in a second group of items at the bottom of the list? I need a pair of uncontaminated acromantula silk sacs, if I haven’t been specific enough.”
Her smile slowly returned. “Ah, I see. Good. I can help you, but it will be expensive. Very expen-” she stopped quickly.
I shrugged and opened my mouth to reply when I noticed two things. She was no longer smiling at all. In fact, she looked terrified. Second, and rather thankfully, she wasn’t looking at me. I turned to see a sleazy, leather-clad young man saunter in. A smirk reminiscent of Malfoy at his best was plastered on his lips as he casually made his way towards us, before shoving me out of the way.
“You’re late. My father hates it when people pay late.”
Cerelia began to stammer something, but a snarl appeared on my face and before she could answer, I snapped, “Does he hate it when you act polite too?”
The smirk on his face twisted into a look of incredulous distain. “Who the fuck are you?” he snarled.
I brushed my robes where he’d touched me in a not-too-subtle insult. “I doubt you have the capacity to pronounce my full name, since it has more than one syllable.”
His eyes flashed red. “Speak Italian, English bastard. Or can’t you speak a civilised language?”
I sighed. Understanding every language is simple, but it does tend to be confusing you when you think you’re listening in English to someone speaking something else. “Any language is sullied when you wrap your tongue around it. I’d have a bit of difficulty finding one after you’ve mangled a few. Why don’t you be a good little boy and fuck off until I’ve finished with my business?”
Cerelia whimpered and scuttled behind the counter, feverishly mumbling prayers. She crouched down out of sight as the plonker’s face reddened in a Vernon-esque way that actually gave me a wonderfully pleasant sensation of déjà vu.
I’m not stupid. A sleazy guy, swaggering with invulnerability, demanding monies from shopkeepers who are terrified of him, and thinks the world revolves around him; I know it probably means organised crime, and in Italy, the mafia. But to tell the truth, I honestly had no idea that wizards had mafia families. Normally, I wouldn’t have interfered, but something about him just really pissed me off. Perhaps it was the fact that I had to keep myself from insulting him by calling him a ferret. Despite blowing Malfoy’s hand clean off, things between the two of us never really got a chance to be settled once and for all before he met his rather overdue end at the hands of the very people he had insulted for six years.
My notion on the newcomer’s family ties were confirmed when he drew his wand and a long-bladed knife from his hip. “I’ll kill you now, English scum. That will teach you to mess with a Falcone.”
I sighed with exaggerated pleasure and gave a little twist of my wrist, letting the wand in my right sleeve drop into my waiting hand. “You know, it’s been months since anyone tried to kill me,” I said casually. “I was beginning to feel distinctly unappreciated.”
I never really got to watch movies much when I was growing up. I got to listen to them, of course, from under the stairs, but only Dudley was permitted to actually sit up and watch them. I had been making up for that recently with Hermione; she had been suggesting some of the better films from all sorts of different genres. Both Blaise and I were spellbound by some of her selections, and the three of us would often spend an evening lying in bed together, munching on popcorn and watching different movies before entertaining ourselves in another manner. One type of film I found myself loving (even though the girls found them ridiculous) was the Spaghetti Western.
I imagine the scene outside the apothecary would have been familiar to any aficionado of that genre. The entire front window of the store literally exploded outward as a limp, badly cut and bloody body was tossed through it on an almost horizontal trajectory, spinning out of control. The shrill, girlish scream emanating from the mafia wizard’s throat would not have been out of place coming from a first-year Hufflepuff witch under the attention of Peeves, and any muggle-born observers nearby would have noticed the unmistakable application of the Doppler Effect as the moron flew past their ears at high speed.
I stepped through the now vacant windowpane, and into the street with a studied lack of care, my posture screaming casual boredom. As much as I hated doing it (not to mention attracting all this attention), I had to act as dissimilar to Harry Potter as possible. Acting like an attention seeking jerk, while almost expected of me, would cause enough people to question my identity if it was revealed.
I brushed a non-existent spec of dust from my shoulder, ignoring the stares I was suddenly getting from the rest of the wizards and witches in the street. I focused on my assailant, taking in the scene.
He was lying in a slowly spreading pool of blood, groaning and whimpering pitifully. For all his airs, for all his bravery at having an entire family name behind him, he was still just a bully. A bully, who happily pushes those weaker than him around, but begs to be left alone from those stronger than he. Typical.
As I made my way over to him, he finally looked up. Seeing me approach, he whined like a kicked dog, and rolled over onto his backside, scrabbling away as quickly as he could. Since he was slipping and sliding in his own blood, he wasn’t making a great deal of progress. Figuring out that he wasn’t going to escape me that way, he propped himself up onto his left elbow, and shielded his face with his right forearm.
“Please, no!” he begged.
I crouched down in front of him and waited for him to lower his arm, so I could look into his eyes. Finally, after not being hit for nearly half a minute, he winced and gingerly lowered his arm. I held up his wand, which I had taken from him almost offensively easily back in the shop. “Interesting wand. Cedar?”
His eyes flickered around the crowd, all of whom were watching the scene with a curious mixture of trepidation and satisfaction. Finally, he fixed his gaze back on me and nodded. “Y-yes.”
I raised it in my fist and brought it down on my knee, snapping it in two. “Get another one. You can’t use this one for crap.” I dropped the pieces at his feet and rose. “Go home. Train for twenty years or so, and you might just be a decent wizard by then. Look me up, you may actually be a challenge,” I offered, before turning away from him and walking back to the apothecary, my shoes crunching on the tiny shards of broken glass that had made it this far down the street.
Cerelia gapped at me as I re-entered the shop. Displaying only minor irritation on my face, I said, “I suppose you’d better add the cost of replacing the window to the list. Now, how long until you have my order together?”
She blinked and shook her head slightly, to clear the scene. “Um, t-tomorrow?”
“Ah, um, er, f-four?”
She nodded fervently.
“And how much in total?” I asked.
She swallowed. “Um, never mind.”
I sighed deeply. “Don’t be ridiculous. You just said that just one item on the list would be expensive. I can’t let you lose money that way. Ignore what just happened, how much for my order?”
She flushed pink, but scuttled behind the counter and scribbled quickly with a quill. “Six-sixteen hundred galleons?” she stammered, obviously rounding off. From the numbers she had been jotting down, she had definitely rounded down.
Expensive indeed, even with my discount. “Fine,” I replied, digging into my money pouch. I pulled out a couple of massive rolls of galleons, which suddenly became much heavier as they left the confines of a lightened, ever-expanding pouch. “Here’s two, four, six, eight hundred,” I counted, putting the coin rolls on the counter, looking for all the world like a collection of miniature golden skyscrapers. “I’ll pay the rest tomorrow on delivery, yes?”
She nodded in agreement, sweeping the bound rolls of coins off the counter and into a drawer. I nodded farewell, turned and left the store, feeling every one of the shocked and stunned eyes that followed my movements out of the area and back into muggle Rome. I took muggle transport back to my hotel, keeping an eye out for any ill-dressed followers. My plans had to be modified slightly now. Drawing on my extensive experience with Fred and George, I began mentally preparing for my next inevitable encounter with the wizarding mafia.
I made it back without incident, and I retired to my room. A hint of steam in the air set my reflexes into overdrive, banishing the weariness of the day, and I froze, examining my surroundings with every sense I had.
A faint noise was coming from the ensuite, the door to which was closed. I glanced down and saw light coming out of the crack between the door and floor. The light levels changed as an object that cast a shadow moved in the small bathroom.
Who knew where I was, I asked myself, both wands now in my hands. I scanned the room looking for clues, noting an extra case open on the floor on the other side of the bed. A small, familiar case.
I fought down a grin, and wondered just how I would play this.
I didn’t get to make up my mind in time however, as at that moment, the door opened and Blaise walked out into the bedroom, stark naked, humming to herself and towelling her hair. The instant she saw me she jerked as though an electric shock had surged through her, jumped about a foot in the air and she gave a little cry of fright.
“Nice to see you, Honey,” I offered, giving her wonderfully toned body a leer.
“DamnitHarryYouscaredme!” she blurted, clutching her heart, breathing deeply.
I kicked the door to the room closed behind me, not wanting anyone else to get an eyeful of a view reserved only for me. I tossed my bag onto the bed and swept her up in my arms.
“It’s wonderful to see you,” I said, hugging her tightly before placing a chaste kiss on her lips. “But what are you doing here?”
Blaise wrapped her still slightly damp arms around my neck and forced a more intense kiss. “I missed you. Isn’t that reason enough?”
I waggled my eyebrows at her. “Of course not. You’re a Slytherin, you’re up to something,” I teased.
She pouted, and a glint of mischief suddenly appeared in her eyes.
I must say, it is mindbogglingly distracting to have a delectable woman press her naked body against you and rub up and down. It makes thinking rationally very difficult.
“Maybe I am, but that is a discussion we can have at another time,” she whispered huskily in my ear.
She knows me way too well.
We both needed to use the shower again after our exertions, and soaping Blaise’s petite form had me aching to take her once more. But she promised me that if I took her out to a nice Italian meal, she’d tell me why she was here.
I had no idea my curiosity urge was so strong, but it overrode my teenage libido, and within an hour we were sitting across from each other at restaurant that had been recommended to me. It was at one end of a blind street, and had little illumination outside as an advertisement, but the place was packed five minutes after opening and had a line of patrons outside.
They were mostly locals too, which I took as a very good sign.
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, sharing each other’s meal. Finally, my agitation got the best of me.
She arched her eyebrows and slithered her legs against mine. “I’m impressed at how long you lasted there, lover boy.”
I coughed theatrically. “Now, now, I don’t want to have to get rough with you.”
Her eyes lit up. “Why not? That sounds like fun!”
I couldn’t keep my lips from twitching with amusement, and we both burst into laughter.
“Fine, how have you managed to take time off to visit me? I thought you were stuck at the hospital full time?” I asked, once we got ourselves back under control.
She frowned. “Harry, it’s Saturday. I get Saturday afternoons and Sundays off.”
I blinked, and looked at my watch. “Is it the weekend already?”
She laughed at my confusion. “No wonder you didn’t expect to see me. I simply thought that I could use a nice Italian break this weekend, and knew that you happened to be here all alone.”
I grinned, but shook my head. “Try again.”
She pouted innocently. “Are you reading my mind?”
I shook my head once more. “Nope. I don’t want to get distracted by your memories of you and your boyfriend.”
She smirked. “Such nice memories they are too.”
I picked up the wine glass in front of me and took a sip. “Am I going to have to guess why you are here?”
She thought for a second. “You know, that may be more fun.”
I hummed to myself, looking directly at her. “All right, did Hermione tell you what Dumbledore said?”
Blaise shook her head, suddenly serious. “No. I didn’t see her until day after you left, anyway.”
I blinked. “Then you weren’t mad at me for just up and leaving? After all, I only left you a note saying that I didn’t know when I’d be back.”
She shook her head, surprise showing clearly on her face. “Of course not. Leaving aside the fact that I’m hardly home, I figured Dumbledore would have convinced you to do something, some task or other.”
I frowned for a second, counting days in my head. “Hang on; you said you didn’t see Hermione until the day after we went to see Dumbledore. How? You stay at the campus that day, because you work the night shift.”
Blaise suddenly looked nervous. “Um, I saw her when she brought Dumbledore in.”
I sagged my shoulders. “Bloody hell, is she all right? Did they find what they were looking for? What happened?”
Blaise rolled her eyes at me.
I coughed and looked down, embarrassed. “Ok, she’s fine, I would have been told earlier if she wasn’t. I guess they did find what they were looking for, if he needed medical attention for injuries. Can you tell me what happened?”
She shook her head. “Hermione has been tight lipped so far. She won’t tell me a thing, saying that it is so secret that most of the Ministry doesn’t know. And Dumbledore didn’t come in for injuries.”
I frowned. “Then what?”
She narrowed her eyes and her expression grew hard. “I can’t tell you what, Harry. You know that.”
I nodded, suitably chastised. “Yes, sorry, I do know.”
Her face softened. “But I can tell you that they definitely didn’t find what they were looking for. That much I did get out of Hermione. From what I can gather, their trip together was a complete balls-up.”
“Do they need me to come home?”
Blaise shrugged. “They’d like to talk to you, but they can wait for you to finish whatever you’re doing.” She tilted her head to one side. “Are you going to tell me what you’re doing? Or am I only going to find out once it’s done?”
I sighed. “We’re trying to chase down some objects Tom enchanted to ensure he could return after death. If we destroy them, he can’t come back, no matter what he does.”
Blaise’s eyes widened, but she nodded with satisfaction. “Fair enough, though I bet there is a fair bit of detail you skipped over there.”
I nodded. “Yeah, but you are safe just knowing that much.”
A defiant expression flashed over her face, but she buried it quickly. “I suppose. I just wish that this were all over. It just always seems to come down to you, doesn’t it?”
I nodded, draining the rest of my glass. “True, but I’ve been thinking. As much as I dislike it, I’m not sure I’d trust this to someone else.”
She raised her eyebrows at me, but also drained her glass. “That’s an interesting perspective.”
Blaise and I had a wonderfully relaxing lie in the next morning; we didn’t actually get out of the bed until early afternoon. Blaise grumbled for a bit, light-heartedly complaining that she hadn’t got to see much of Rome in the day she had free.
I promised that I’d take her here for her holidays, which were coming up in a couple of months. I rather hoped by then that all this business would be done by then.
Her portkey activated, sending her whizzing off home, and got myself ready to go and pick up my purchases.
I was expecting to see some mafia goons when I revisited the apothecary. I had no illusions that Cerelia would keep my next appearance secret, so a scouting job was certainly in order.
I decided to wear Ron’s face on arrival this time. I wandered around the magical piazza behind Trevi Fountain for an hour before my order was due to be ready, simply observing the comings and goings of people around the apothecary. I made a mental note of the location of three pairs of wizards, who, like me, just seemed to be hanging around, doing nothing much but wait. As I felt my clothes loosen, I knew the potion was wearing off, and that I was becoming smaller, back to my usual scrawny self. I managed to scoot into a blind alley to let the potion completely run its course.
I gave a small sigh as I looked down at my now baggy robes. It only took a quick wand flick to transfigure them back to their original, well-fitted size. I did miss towering over people while disguised as my best friend. Ron had finally stopped growing only in the past three months or so, and had capped out at a little over six and a half feet. While it was vastly helpful in his burgeoning career as a professional Quidditch Keeper, his height was more than a little annoying to me, since I had to crane my neck just to look up at him.
I adjusted my now-fitting clothes, checked my defences, and exited the blind alley. As I approached the apothecary, each of the three pairs of wizards broke off whatever conversation they were in the middle of, and began converging on me.
Idiots. Just shout out your intentions, why don’t you?
Cerelia was quite welcoming, though I could sense her nervousness easily, emanating from her like an emotive aroma. I was polite, but brief, as she collected my order and placed them out on the counter in front of me. I examined each carefully, accepting them all as fit for purpose. I paid her the outstanding balance, watching with mild amusement as each roll of two hundred galleons disappeared into a bottomless drawer within seconds.
I waved away her stammered thanks and hurried admonishment to be careful, holding up a short wooden stick I had charmed to look like my wand. Zab’s lessons were coming in very handy, and I was as protected as I could be. With a real wand strapped to each of my forearms and the fake wand in my grasp, I stepped out into the street.
Where an invisible fist slammed into my stomach, making me wheeze and double over. I fell to my knees, unable to keep my footing.
Pain lanced through my back, as someone kicked me in the kidneys. One of my assailants snatched the stick from my hand. Keeping my head, I reached across with my left hand and pulled a button off my robe’s right sleeve, partially activating the magic imbued into the material.
“I guess I didn’t need to wait twenty years, eh?” came an unwelcome, but hardly unexpected voice. Several other voices joined in the merriment, laughing and joking amongst themselves.
A meaty fist grabbed the hair on the top of my head, and I was painfully hauled to my feet. The slimy prat I humiliated yesterday appeared in front of me, a familiar expression on his features (just like a Malfoy), and he draped his invisibility cloak over one arm. He held up the worthless stick he had snatched from me, and then snapped it in front of my eyes. “What do you think of that, eh?” he sneered, not noticing that there was no magical core. Unobservant idiot.
“You hit like a girl,” I chuckled, goading him while ignoring the pain in my gut. I whispered a command word under my breath, making it sound like I was insulting him.
Instantly, the final protections activated, and the material of my robes stiffened.
Slimy stepped forward and drove his fist into my gut again, with all his might.
It must have been like punching a statue. Hermione and I had designed the robes, once solid, to withstand the impact of anything up to and including a bloody jumbo jet.
The blow shattered both the enchantments on my robe (which were designed to dissipate after a single strike) and in all probability, all the bones in his hand too. I was rather thankful that the protections we had built into my robe ended after that one strike. It would have been inconvenient to try and move in robes that were more solid that a block of granite. I quickly raised one foot and dropped the button I’d ripped off.
It hit the ground with an almighty flash. A powerful magical shockwave travelled along the ground and floored everyone within five metres who were standing on two feet, and sent my hair standing on end as the magic entering me sought somewhere to go. George had mentioned something about standing on two feet ‘completing the circuit’, but I didn’t really pay all that much attention to the details. All I needed to remember from his instructions was that I had to be standing on one leg when I dropped the button.
Oddly, Slimy was also relatively unaffected by the Wheeze I just set off. Mind you, that was probably because he was curled up on the ground, clutching his ruined hand and whimpering piteously. I drew both my wands and, holding them together, began covering the six recumbent lackeys with the most painful and difficult to remove hexes I could think of. Powered by brother wand working in unison, it was going to take someone with Dumbledore-like power to remove them before they faded naturally, which for all I knew may well be around a decade. I wanted them to have a long time to think about blindly supporting the leather-clad fuckwit.
Once I was sure that not one of the six hit-wizards would be eating, talking, walking or even shagging unaided anytime in the next year or so, I pushed my yew wand back into the holster on my left forearm and focused on my new friend. Ignoring his whines, I summoned his new toy. The pristine oak wand flew to me, where I turned it over, examining it closely.
“Now, you were saying?” I asked absently.
For the second time in two days, the mafia scion whimpered and scrabbled backwards, trying to get away from me. “No, please! I’m sorry!”
I shook my head. “Right. Of course you are. Tell me, exactly what would you have done if I had begged the same of you?” I asked, picking up his discarded invisibility cloak. Even though I already had two (my fathers, and the one I’d purloined from the battlefield at Hogsmeade), I’m sure Ron would want one. Or maybe I should give it to Hermione or Blaise.
“May I?” I asked, before stuffing it into my bag at his nod.
He hadn’t answered my previous question, knowing that telling the truth wouldn’t help his position, and lying would have made it worse.
I sighed at his silence. Well, relative silence, his sobbing was getting on my nerves. “What spell shall I cast upon you now, hm?” I asked as I ran my holly wand over his new oak one, muttering a few spells under my breath. I never really thought I’d ever get a chance to use these charms, which I had discovered in one of Zab’s libraries.
Once done, I aimed my wand at the slimeball and asked, “Any last requests?”
I turned gently to see a well-dressed, aristocratic man with a neatly trimmed beard and a cane standing amongst the six thugs I’d incapacitated. He had at least a dozen other wizards arrayed behind him, but the respect they gave this newcomer instantly got my attention.
“Ah, the guy with the really big testicles arrives,” I grinned.
His face flickered with anger at me and my lack of respect. “That is my son,” he said.
I gaped theatrically. “You admit it? You actually publicly acknowledge this waste of oxygen as your own flesh and blood?” I looked down at the son briefly before once more facing the father. “Good God, you do know that this sort of thing is the result when siblings marry, don’t you?” I asked, gesturing at the mewling moron.
“Father,” the broken wizard wheezed, having climbed to his knees. He reached out imploringly with his unharmed hand to the powerful figure, his other hand cradled against his chest.
“Shush,” I said, absently kicking his shattered hand. Not too hard, mind you, but enough to keep his attention on the pain, rather than his surroundings. “Don’t speak unless you are spoken to.”
To his credit, the head honcho didn’t visibly react to his son’s predicament or suddenly shrill vocal theatrics. “I did not authorise this,” he said, gesturing to the groaning lackeys.
“Should I care?” I asked him. I tossed the oak wand down on his son, telling him, “Curse me again, and it will be the last thing you ever do.”
The pathetic idiot scrabbled for the wand, finally getting a solid grip. I turned back to his father. “Sorry, you were saying?”
One of the older man’s retinue had examined one of the bodies, and discovered how powerful the hexes were. He whispered something quickly into the boss’ ear. The man’s posture suddenly changed, and I noted a great deal more respect in his tone.
“I offer you a deal. Leave now, and never come back and we shall seek no retribution.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, no deal. I may need to come back for some extra stuff before I’m done here.”
He narrowed his eyes, and I felt a flickering against my mental shields. Though not particularly powerful, the attempt was subtle, and I probably would have missed it if I hadn’t been protecting myself as a matter of course.
“Find anything interesting?” I grinned humourlessly.
The mental presence retreated. “You are strong. But if you remain, I cannot guarantee your safety.”
I raised an eyebrow, knowing that I was pushing my luck, but I wanted to see just how far I could go with this. “I wasn’t aware I needed your protection. I certainly haven’t so far, and if these idiots are the best you’ve got, I hardly need it anyway.”
The man’s eyes flickered briefly, as they had when he was using Legilimency on me. But I felt no intrusion, no attack. Obviously, I wasn’t the target.
“Avada Kedavra!” shouted a voice behind me.
I sighed as the expected green flash didn’t arrive. The sound of a body collapsing to the ground did, however. The crowd around me gasped, but I was focused on the mob boss in front of me. His deliberately bland expression turned horrified.
I’m not really surprised, since it may well have been the first time he’d ever seen a curse come out of a wand the wrong way. “I told him,” I said, feigned sympathy in my voice. “I told him less than a minute ago that the next time he cursed me would be the last thing he did.”
The boss had paled, and was trembling. “My son. What did you do to my son?”
“Nothing at all,” I shrugged. “Mind you, I did mess about with his wand, making the next spell he cast through it come out the other end.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “Just something I picked up somewhere.”
“You. You killed him,” the old man wheezed, getting angrier by the second.
“No,” I said, holding up a finger in a lecturing pose. “He cast the spell, on your order, by the way. He was just incompetent enough that he didn’t realise that his wand had been sabotaged.” As I spoke, I again drew my yew wand and subtly put both of my wands together, side-by-side.
“You will not leave this place,” spat the now out-of-control boss. “Kill him!” he shouted to the wizards arrayed behind him.
Before one of them could even begin to mouth a curse, I apparated behind the group, and stunned two of them before they realised where I was. My war game apparition training was going to come in very handy.
With a shield spell cast with brother wands, a handful of experimental Wheezes (defined, of course, as ones without safety features…), recent practise of apparating every two seconds in a hostile environment and a thorough knowledge of incapacitating hexes and jinxes, I literally waded through over half of the mafia wizards before they managed to organise any coherent defence. Even so, with so much confusion in the fight, at one point I appeared at the edge of the crowd and let the panicking wizards hurl curses at each other for a moment or two before they caught on.
Finally, it boiled down to me against three of the more senior wizards. Men who were magically strong in their own right, but who also had decades of experience of duelling. My spells, though powerful, were deflected easily, with a casual skill that made me want to practise for the next twenty years to accomplish.
I recast the shield spell, strengthening my defences, before launching a powerful assault on the three. I reached down into my reserves of power, deliberately bringing forth anger at the unprovoked attacks I’d been subjected to. One of the three tried to flank me, but I reached out and with a push, tossed him hard into a wall made of heavy-looking stones. Not something he could have expected. Or enjoyed, for that matter.
I glanced quickly to see who called that out, only to discover that nearly everyone in the crowd had their wands out. While my heart stopped for a second, it began beating again when I realised that the bristling crowd all had their wands pointed towards my opponents.
“What?” demanded the mob boss. “What is this?! I am Salvatore Falcone!”
“I know how you are. We’ve been afraid of you for too long, Falcone. This young man has shown us just how impotent you really are.”
The murmuring crowd agreed with the unseen wizard’s words. Several others vocally agreed, before the tide of opinion flooded through the gates of fear, drowning the suddenly petrified mafia king-pin.
I smirked at him, though he didn’t notice. The crowd began to surge forward, cursing and hexing the unconscious lackeys. Both is his remaining bodyguards went down to spells fired at them from behind. Not wanting to be anywhere near a howling mob as it takes its revenge, I apparated out of there, popping into existence directly in my hotel room.
“Well,” I said to no one in particular, dumping my bag down on the bed. “That was fun,” I as I sat down on the bed. I imagine that Mr. Falcone certainly didn’t know just how bad a day he was going to have when he woke this morning.
In the past, I’d probably have felt guilt at what had happened. I’d probably have stayed to prevent any deaths, protecting those who would have killed me without a second thought. Now, I only really only gave them one thought. And that was, ‘Stuff them’.
After a nice dinner of seafood and pasta at a local restaurant, I returned to my hotel room, and transfigured the bed into a large workspace. I set out all my purchases on the transfigured desk and organised them into groups. Once I was ready, I pulled out the mirror. I needed Hermione’s help to build a few items that I’d need.
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