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Harry Potter And The Game of Death

Level 1

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Making Their Point

"Come on, Ginny. It's been three weeks since I first mentioned it and I need an answer." Hermione said in a surly tone. The girl's bushy brown hair swayed as she stamped her bare foot onto the hard earth. "Are you in? Or are you not?"

Ginny paused, the potato peeler in her hand stilling in its work. "You mean you're actually serious? And it wasn't just some lark you mentioned to have me on?"

"Of course I'm serious!" Hermione screamed in frustration. "Do you honestly think I would ask to share him with you if I weren't?"

Swearing, Ginny let the potato in her hand fall back into the bucket as she reached over and clamped a hand over the older girl's mouth. "Hermione! Can't you see that the kitchen window's open? That means my mum's inside. Do you know what she'd do to us if she heard you say that?"

Pushing Ginny's hand away, Hermione gave a slight huff and rolled her eyes. "I can guess. But if her hearing this discussion is what it takes to get an answer from you, then I'm willing to bear the consequences."

"That makes one of us. 'Cause I'm definitely not."

"Well, tough luck. My patience is just about gone, and you know good and well that I'm not joking in the slightest." Hermione's brown eyes flashed as she deposited a mostly skinned potato into the bucket placed between them; despite her offer to help with Ginny's chores, the older girl was not very good at this activity. "Ginny, I've been patient, I really have, but I need to know your answer. We're almost out of time before school starts, and if you're in, then I need to start laying the groundwork with Harry as soon as possible."

"Because coming up with a plan to convince Harry that two girls love him and want to share him would be hard to convince him to accept?"

"As strange as it might sound considering who some of your older brothers are, yes, I believe that it will be quite difficult. And if we take too long, someone else might make a move and beat us to it."

Grumbling at how unlikely that was when considering Harry's obliviousness to the stares he got on a usual basis at Hogwarts, Ginny ignored the girl's retort and returned to peeling the nearby stack of washed potatoes. It was a comforting ritual to do it by hand rather than magic, and a habit that Ginny had yet to kick even after gaining her wand. Which came in handy when, at times like this, there was something on her mind that was giving her trouble.

And gosh was Hermione's proposition causing Ginny's head to hurt something fierce.

Learning that Hermione really did like Harry had been painful if a tad bit obvious. Mostly because of all the girls Ginny knew, the one she was least confident in beating out for Harry's heart was the bushy haired bookworm of Hogwarts. While the proposition Hermione had spouted in hushed tones in Sirius' skybox several weeks ago as a possible solution to the situation had seemed much too farfetched to be serious, let alone workable.

To that end, Ginny plopped another potato into the bucket as she chose her words carefully. "I do remember what you mentioned but run it by me again. I want to make sure I know every detail – and I do mean every – before I give you my answer. But for Morgana's sake, please say it quietly so my mum doesn't overhear!"

A look of hopeful anticipation burst onto Hermione's face. The older girl leaned in close to Ginny and lowered her voice. "It all boils down to this: You like Harry. I like Harry. And since I'm pretty sure he likes both of us, I think there's a way you and I could share him in a perfectly happy romantic relationship."

Another potato plopped into the bucket. "See, I won't argue about the other points because I hope you're right about two of them, but it's that last one where you keep losing me."

"Only because you haven't thought it through. While I have. A lot."

Ginny grunted at that and plopped yet another peeled potato into the bucket. "Uh huh. And just why do you think it'd work out? Because that sort of thing isn't normal. Not in magical society at least."

"Well actually, Magical France does have a number of rather high-profile individuals, both male and female, who have multiple spouses. While both Magical Japan and –"

"I was talking about things in Magical British society! Not elsewhere. Besides, the French and the Japanese are weird, so that doesn't really help make your point."

Hermione grumbled under her breath about arbitrary limits being unfairly imposed on her argument but continued to press her point undeterred. "In that case, let me phrase it this way. I think that Harry could love both of us equally, and that the two of us could love him in return just as fiercely. Also, when it comes to practicality, having another woman around would be great! Both for the bedroom and for our future careers. Just think about it. If one of us were to get pregnant, the other would be there to assist. And if one of us had to take a long business trip, or had to work odd hours, the other could help Harry look after the children."

"Whoa there, Hermione. Hold up. I get the parts about helping each other with our careers and kids – because I really do want to have both, just not anytime soon for either one – and it would be nice to have a good friend around to help with everyday chores and issues… but the bedroom? You didn't say anything about that last time.

"Erm… I didn't?"

"Nope. And I'll be honest, Hermione. I don't like both boys and girls that way."

"Well, erm, neither do I. Though I don't have anything against it, either."

"Then why did you mention the bedroom?"

For a moment the two girls looked at one another in silence. Ginny kept her eyes narrowed, patiently waiting for the other girl to go into further detail. She had known for weeks that Hermione was holding something back. And now that things were coming to a head, Ginny was determined to have her answers.

After fidgeting for nearly a minute under Ginny's intense stare, Hermione eventually let out a long, drawn out sigh. "Okay. Fine. I'll tell you. But you must promise not to tell anyone else. Even if your answer is no. The reason… it's embarrassing. But, if you do say yes, then, erm, I guess it's only fair you know what you'd be getting into."

"Thanks. Now spill it."

"Here? Out in the open?" Hermione gasped. Her cheeks turned nearly as red as a Weasley's as the girl vehemently shook her head. "Can't we go inside? Or at least somewhere away from the house? Like in the orchard where no one might overhear us?"

Ginny gave her friend a vulpine grin and shook her head. In for a penny, in for a pound as her father might say. Hermione had started this discussion out here, so here it would happen, for better or worse.

"Oh, fine! Have it your way. Just… move a little closer so I can whisper it."

After Ginny did as the older girl asked, Hermione leaned in and cupped a hand over Ginny's ear to whisper the information.

It took less than a minute to get the gist of it. Another two minutes or so for a more detailed explanation. But when Hermione had finished speaking, Ginny could not help but look at her friend differently. "So, you really…"


"And you're certain that you really…"


"And you'd be okay with me because…"

"I trust you. And I could only do it with someone I really trust."

Ginny blinked at that. "Huh."

For now, that was the only thing she could come up with to say. Of all the things Ginny had expected the older girl to say, that had not been among them. Bill and Charlie had both told her kinkier things – being the only members of the family who did not treat her like some porcelain doll – but Ginny would never have pegged the prim and proper Hermione as having that particular interest.

Still, it did explain Hermione's interest in getting another girl into the bedroom. And Ginny knew that after Hermione had shared this secret, it was time to give the other girl a straight answer to her initial question.

Ginny took a deep breath… and shook her head. "My answer is no, Hermione. I want Harry to be my husband. Mine alone. And I'm willing to fight even you to make that happen."

Hermione's shoulders slump in defeat. A part of Ginny hurt at the sight, knowing that she had been the one to cause it. The girl had laid everything on the line, after all, and Ginny had just tossed it into the rubbish bin.

But she was not done speaking. Ginny had come a long way since that first year at Hogwarts… and she owed a great deal of it to the girl beside her. So Ginny held up a finger, grit her teeth, and braced herself for what she was about to say next.

"However," she said slowly, as though a herd of wild Unicorns were dragging the words out of her chest, "you're one of my closest friends in the whole world. And I know you love him with all your heart just like I do. So…"


Ginny paused to take a deep breath as Hermione looked at her with hopeful eyes. "So, while my answer for right now is no, and I doubt that it'll change… I am open to exploring the idea once we go back to Hogwarts. Where we can be around Harry more often and see how our dynamic works as a group. Okay?"

"YESSSSSSS!" Hermione's full-throated yell was loud enough to send a nearby bird crashing into a tree. The bushy haired girl threw herself from her stool and wrapped Ginny into a bone-crushing hug which drove the air from her lungs. "Yes, oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes! Thank you, Ginny, thank you!"

The two girls toppled over in a flash. Ginny tried to in vain to keep her seat and avoid smacking her skull against the ground. Neither of which she did very well. And before long the two of them were covered in dirt and potato peelings from head to toe as Hermione rolled them around in the dirt while crying out at the top of her lungs.

It was to this sight that Molly Weasley came out, a look of utter bewilderment over the matron's unhappy face. After a mild tongue lashing from the woman over the clutter the two girls had created and a promise that they would clean up both the mess and themselves before dinner, the woman left. Muttering something about 'fool nonsense' and 'I never did that when I was their age', Ginny's mother cast each of them a somewhat befuddled look before shaking her head and disappearing into the house.

Once her mum was gone and Ginny was certain that the woman was not lurking under the window to eavesdrop on them, Ginny cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at her bushy-haired friend. "So, is it okay if I ask you some questions about, well, that thing you told me?"

Smiling as she picked potato peels and wads of dirt and grass from her hair and clothes, Hermione nodded. "Of course. If you really do agree to share Harry with me, then I need to be as up front with you as I possibly can. Otherwise, it would never work."

"True… I guess. Well, then, my first question." Ginny took a deep breath and fought down the blush that was certainly beginning to creep onto her face. "Do you… do you really think I'm good looking?"

Hermione nodded again. "Absolutely. While I might not want to kiss you, or sleep with you, I can appreciate that you are a very good-looking girl, objectively speaking. And that you'll probably only get better looking as you age; your eyes, hair, skin, and natural bone structure, when combined with your proclivity to exercise, would seem to support this observation."

Ginny grinned at her friend's analysis. Even now she still had low self-esteem in that area, so hearing someone else tell her that she looked good was a nice boost. Not nearly as nice as if Harry had been the one to say it, but Ginny would take her compliments where she could get them.

"Next question. Considering the second part of what you told me, would you ever want to expand the people sharing Harry beyond just the two of us?"

That question seemed to trouble Hermione. The girl pursed her lips in thought while her slim fingers twisted a potato peel into knots.

"To be honest, I don't really have an answer to that question. I can only really consider it with you because of how close we are. I could never see myself sharing Harry with someone like, say, Lavender Brown, or Pansy Parkinson, or Cho Chang."

Ginny nodded. "I can empathize. Besides you and Luna, I don't really have any close female friends. I get along well enough with my year mates, but we don't have much in common. I'm into sports and outside stuff while they're into books or boys."

"You mean like me? Because that pretty much describes me to a 't' right now."

Used to far better jokes from the twins, Ginny threw an unpeeled potato at her friend's thigh. "You know what I meant."

"Sorry. It's not easy to not fit in, is it?"

"Nope. But as my mum and da always say, it's better to have a few good friends than a lot of bad ones. I wouldn't trade people like you or Luna for anything in the world."

It was a sentiment that Hermione returned by reaching over and drawing Ginny into another hug. This time with much less force. And one that Ginny was able to happily return.

When they parted, the bushy haired girl was all smiles. "Enough about my plans and Harry; we can talk about them later when it's time for us to be in bed. Besides, you've mentioned this Luna girl twice now and you've got me curious; I don't remember hearing much about her. Why is that? Does she not go to Hogwarts?"

That caused Ginny to blink.

Hermione had never met Luna Lovegood? Or even heard about her? By this point in time, Ginny had figured that everyone at Hogwarts at least knew of the dreamy girl.

How strange. But also, how fitting in a way.

"Well," Ginny began, struggling to figure out how best to describe her oldest friend to Hermione, "I first met her when she came over one day with a bucket of Flobberworms and a fresh cauldron of Leprechaun gold."

At the Quidditch World Cup, in a massive tent that was even larger on the inside than was normal for magical tents, Fleur and her mother were arguing. The two of them had been going at it for over an hour by this point, and things were coming to a head.

"Connerie!" Fleur hissed in disgust as she threw her hands into the air. The look which accompanied the uncouth curse left no doubt as for whom it was meant.

"Language, Fleur, language," Appolline said calmly in her annoyingly perfect American accent. The woman radiated serenity from her place on Fleur's bed while she observed her daughter's pacing. "A leader must always present the appearance of calm and serenity when under duress, even if she does not feel it."

Fleur directed an angry glare at her mother and mentally weighed the pros and cons of trying to hex the woman. The cons vastly outweighed the pros, though, so she angrily shoved her wand back into her pocket and resumed her pacing. Thankfully her room quite spacious and gave her plenty of area to operate while maintaining a long distance from her mother.

She had always known that her mother was disciplined and calculating. Or even downright savage when she was angered. But not until today did Fleur truly understand just how cold-blooded Appolline Delacour could be when it suited the woman's purposes.

Being told that Dark sorcerers were plotting to attack the Quidditch World Cup, and that her mother would not lift a finger to stop it from happening, had shocked Fleur to her core.

Appolline gave a faint smile when Fleur began to pace. "Oh, don't be like that, my little flower. Think of this not as a danger to be avoided or stopped, but as an opportunity in disguise."

"Non! Eet eez no such zing. And I steel zink we should warn ze Breteesh Meaneestry of what we know!" Fleur said stubbornly. She grit her teeth as she spoke in the damnable tongue native to this stupid country; how she could not wait to be rid of it forever. "Eef zere weel be an attack, zen we need to stop eet. Or eenocent people weel become die!"

Appolline rolled her eyes. "This again? Trust me, darling, when I say that the government of Minister Fudge is very unlikely to heed a warning that I or any Veela might provide. If anything, the fool would be far more likely to ask that we leave the country with an armed and hostile escort."

"Zen what about zis nation's Aurors? Or ze… ze…" Fleur struggled to remember the name of the specialized group of Dark Wizard catchers in the English language. "Heat weezards? Or per'aps some ozzer country? Can we not warn zem?"

"No, my darling. We cannot. Any evidence or argument which we might use to convince either this country's Aurors or any other law enforcement agency would only wind up coming before Fudge's eyes for final judgement; it is how the system works in this country."

"Zat eez a stupeed seestem!"

"Most of the time it is actually quite effective. It just fails to work when a self-centred moron is elected to the top position." Appolline gave a wry shake of her head. "But enough of that. You must accept that when it comes to this matter Britain has its head firmly buried in the sand, and that there is nothing we can do to convince them otherwise with the means currently at our disposal. Not without comprising valuable assets whose known worth would far outweigh any potential gain."

"And ze ozzer countries?" Fleur said with a snap, hoping against hope that her mother had not considered them.

"Believe it or not, that idea was acted upon. I personally contacted the ministers of no less than five other nations, and our Sisters contacted many more. But as for results..." Appolline gave a short, ill-tempered laugh. "Suffice to say that there were none. The member countries of the I.C.W. are either ignoring the situation or downplaying it because their own, non-Veela intelligence sources indicate the trouble is currently contained, and that a recently formed task force should be able to permanently seal it without any issues."

Fleur cursed again. Being ignored and vilified for their heritage was an old refrain. One which Veela had been dealing with long before Sinbad had sailed the seven seas. "Oof course zey are not weeling to trust ze word of ze Veela Enclave. We are just preety looking 'arlots and sex maniacs. Nozzing more."

"Indeed, daughter. But there is a bright side to everything. Which, in this case, is that the leaders of these nations have provided us with an opportunity to change the world's image of us in a meaningful way. One which will test you with the fire of battle... and, perhaps, see you blooded as well."

That comment caused Fleur to pause. "Blooded? I do not understand. I 'ave already keeled before, non?"

"You have. But only animals that posed a danger to others. Never a person, and never in combat."

Fleur stopped her pacing entirely as a chill ran down her spine. "You… you mean zat… zat you want me to…"

"To kill someone if it proves necessary? Why yes. Yes, I do." The woman's icy smile could have frozen hell itself. "The Quidditch World Cup will be attacked on the night of the final match by unknown assailants. And unless the British Ministry changes things drastically, many innocents will lose their lives. In which case it would be a great achievement for Veela everywhere if the world sees myself and my daughter fighting to protect those who were abandoned by their own governments."

On the one hand, Fleur understood her mother's political angle. Use a terrible situation to showcase the strengths of their people and gain the goodwill of the nations whose people they saved. It made sense in a coldblooded and heartless way.

But there was more to it than that for Fleur. Because this was not some game or natural disaster they were talking about. Oh no. It was about what constituted as acceptable casualties for a premeditated attack and about how they could turn that horrible number into a pro-Veela news blast.

And that disgusted Fleur to her core.

"Non! I do not weesh to do so. I weel not!" Fleur cried out angrily. "'Ow could you azk me to do zat? 'ow could you abandon zose people wizout trying 'arder to save more oof zem?"

"Because when it comes to the good of our people, to whom we owe everything, I am willing to sacrifice the lives of those who have been abandoned by their own kind. Just as I will use you, your sister, myself, and anyone else around me to further our cause."

"Even eef eet leads to my death?"

"I would mourn your death more deeply than you could ever imagine. But when the stakes are this high and the rewards for our people so great, the death of either one of us would be an acceptable trade-off."

Fleur stumbled backward as though she had been struck. Dismay, sadness, fear, pain, despair, and love ripped through her heart as she tried to think of something else to say to her mother's harsh words. "I… you…"

"That is enough, Fleur," her mother said with a crack. The woman's face had turned to stone, while her icy voice could have sliced through Goblin forged steel. "This discussion is at an end. The attack will happen. And when it does, we will execute the plan given to us by the Veela Enclave. Now stop acting like a spoiled brat and do as I have ordered!"

"Non! Tu es une salope!"

Silence fell between them after that. Unapologetic, Fleur drew herself up and readied herself to be chastised for her latest swear. In a twisted way she was looking forward to it and readied several more choice phrases to be used.

But the chastising never came. Instead, after the tension between them became thick enough to cut with a knife, her mother pulled back.

The beautiful woman closed her eyes, and sighed. "I am sorry that you feel so pained by this, Fleur. I truly, truly am. But there is no going back! Fate's dice have been cast, and all we can do now is hope that its ill-fated roll does not catch us up in its wake."

To that Fleur had no answer. At least, no answer which had not already been said and rejected. All she could do was glower at the woman and swear in her heart that she would find another path. One that did not treat the dictates of Fate and the Veela Enclave as immutable commandants or herself as an acceptable loss.

Taking Fleur's continued silence for acceptance, the woman stood with a swish of her elaborate robes. She did not spare her daughter so much as a passing glance as moved to leave. "I recommend that you say goodbye to your sister before the night is over. She and your fathers will depart for France before the sun rises. And while I hope it does not come to pass, it is possible that neither of us will be able to see them again."

Then, before Fleur could direct another biting comment towards her mother's back over her frozen heart, Appolline opened the door and was gone in one swift stride.

Upon hearing the door click shut, the blazing energy which had filled Fleur during their argument vanished. Her muscles felt weak, and she began to tremble. Then her vision grew blurry as a sense of vertigo came over her. She stumbled to one side, slamming her hip against a heavy wooden dresser hard enough that the pain caused her to hiss.

Fearing that she would topple to the floor and injure herself further, Fleur made her way to a nearby chair. Where she collapsed, listless. Her mind consumed by her mother's words.

Gabrielle Delacour rushed through the halls of her family's massive tent as quickly as she could. Her thin nightshift and bare feet whispered along the hard wooden floor as she went to her elder sister's room. Her mother had just finished informing her of everything, and she knew that her sister needed her.

Along the way, she passed a large group of Veela she recognized from France. Seeing them caused her eyebrows to climb in alarm.

Her mother said they would be coming, but for them to arrive so quickly? And in numbers greater than a dozen? That could only mean things were truly as serious as Gabrielle feared.

Rushing past them without saying hello, she made her way to Fleur's room at a run. Without bothering to knock, Gabrielle gently opened the door and let herself inside.

She softly shut the door behind her and turned her head to look for her sister.

Her elder sister was sitting in a nearby chair. Still dressed in the rumpled clothes she had worn during the day, her gorgeous hair a mess. It fell down her front in ruffled strands, hiding the older girl's face from Gabrielle's vision. While Fleur's shoulders, usually so straight and strong, were slumped and hunched in a way Gabrielle had never seen

Gabrielle felt her heart clench at the sight. And without further thought, she made her way to her sister's side.

Once there, Gabrielle reached a hand to Fleur's face and wiped away a solitary tear. The older girl flinched at the touch, but Gabrielle did not let that stop her as she whispered softly in French. "Mother… she told me everything. About the attack, and about what is expected of you. And I am so, so sorry that she has forced you to join her in this madness."

Fleur shook her head, while a soft 'non' escaped her lips. But a gentle hand, delicate and strong, reached out to clasp itself around Gabrielle's.

She smiled at that and leaned down to press their foreheads together. "Take care of yourself, my wonderful and amazing sister. And while I know you will do your very best to save others… please come back. Because there's so much of life I still want to experience with you. And talk about. Like Harry Potter, and how pretty his eyes are."

Gabrielle's inane comment drew a choking laugh from her sister. "But what if I do not want to talk about Harry Potter or his eyes anymore?"

"Then we can talk about his rear instead. If those pictures I got the other day are to be believed, Quidditch has been very good to him there. And you love boys with tight butts, right?"

"Bah! You are horrible!" Fleur said sourly. She reached out with her free hand to softly smack Gabrielle's shoulder. "I never should have told you those stories about Frederick and Gaspar."

"But you did, and I won't ever let you forget it!"

The two of them shared a long bit of laugher as they looked at one another, the tension easing with every chuckle and giggle. It was a hard laugh, filled with sadness and longing. But a laugh nonetheless, and it worked better than any Charm at making them both feel better.

After they had calmed down again, Fleur pulled her hand free of Gabrielle's and drew her into an embrace. "I will miss you, Gabi. Very much so."

"I will miss you too, sister. I wish I could be here with you and mother."

"I know. But I am glad our mother has spared you from her horrible plan. It is a small gift when compared to the magnitude of what will happen. But it is one I will treasure for the rest of my life."

Her heart moved by her sister's words, Gabi moved closer so that she could give her sister a chaste kiss on her head. But then she sneezed and smashed her forehead into Fleur's eye. This caused the older girl to give a yelp of pain and jump. Which in turn sent Gabrielle crashing to the floor with a yelp of her own when her scantily clad rear hit the hard wooden floor.

After a second spent staring at one another, they smiled and began to laugh once again. A true laugh this time, one filled with the love they had for one another and free of any sadness.

The two of them ended up talking throughout the night on Fleur's bed. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her sister's middle for much of the time, clutching her tight while Fleur gently brushed her hair. Though this changed after Gabrielle commented on Fleur's messy hair and insisted that she brush it; she must have spent an hour brushing and combing her sister's flowing mane, but when she was done Fleur's silvery blonde tresses were back to their usual flowing beauty. While her back, once hunched, stood straight and tall once again.

But it was the burning determination Gabrielle saw deep within Fleur's eyes as they parted later that morning which gave her reason to hope. Because it meant that Gabrielle's incredible big sister was back. And that storm or no storm, she would be here to stay.

At a faraway Muggle village there stood a modest house. Possessing three stories, green roofing, a large chicken's coop, and a rope swing which hung from a towering oak tree, it was the sort of home one might imagine would belong to a young family. Though the pixie nest in the tree gave proof to its magical heritage, as did the riding broom left to rest against a nearby shed.

But that was where the typical scene of domestic bliss came to an end. For up on the second floor of the house, locked within his private study, the owner of the house could be seen pacing.

When he bumped into the side of his desk, a large wooden thing covered with envelopes, a vicious stream of curses left his mouth. Furious, he turned and kicked the offending object. But that only made him curse more because now his foot hurt.

"Things were going so well at first," Li muttered to himself when his foot felt good enough to resume pacing. "The two men in the forest rigged the matches just as I had specified. Bagman haemorrhaged money by relying on my misinformation. And the bosses upstairs were loving my work at the Cup. Everything was in position for me to become rich, and to replace that idiotic fool as Head of the Department once news broke about his massive debts."

But that was all over. Old news as it were. "Because what happened next? Those two fools from the forest began to mess up in fixing the matches… and that meddlesome, son of a fucking whore got involved. Harry James Potter!"

Li ended that last part with a shout that hurt his throat. He stood still, chest heaving while his mind whirled.

The match fixing issue had been bad. Really bad. But Li had planned for it, and the 50,000 galleons he had been given as collateral had paid off most of the bets people had made using his information. While the others were small enough that he could have just shrugged them off and told the bettors it was their own fault for gambling in the first place.

But Potter's involvement was different.

"First the kid sank his poisonous fangs into my daughter, making him the only thing on her mind for weeks," Li said with a growl. "It's why she turned down a date with Amos' boy to attend Potter's birthday party, turning Amos against me right when I needed him most. Then the sodding boy turned out to be an even better Seeker than Cho's lovestruck drivel claimed and turned Bagman into the bloody hero of the hour for getting the country's young hero to lead the national squad to victory."

Of all the blows to Li's plan, that had been the biggest. England's early departure had been Li's biggest guarantee to the underground betting world. The one he had shopped around to every shady contact he had, and the one he had sunk his entire savings on as well.

Its failure had turned a bad situation into a disaster.

As a result, the letters from Li's creditors and angry business partners were beginning to pile high. And with the options to avoid or appease them dwindling to zero, it was only a matter of time before someone tightened the noose Potter had placed around his neck and dropped the floor from beneath his feet.

Sweating at the thought, Li picked up a handwritten journal he had hoped to never use. Dates, numbers, and names in his cramped script filled the pages.

Leafing through, he reached one with tomorrow's date on it.

If he left then, he could hop a trade convoy to the south Pacific; set to travel through a dozen countries, it would provide perfect cover to lose anyone who might be pursuing him. Li had paid a man two weeks ago to forge false identities for them just in case this became necessary, and the man had delivered the passports and other documents earlier that morning. Getting the family packed and there without alerting anyone would be the hardest part of all, but certainly doable once he explained what could happen to them if they stayed.

A soft knock on his office door brought his thoughts to a screeching halt. "Dad, is everything alright in there? I could hear you pacing and yelling something from the sitting room below."

"Cho? Leave me alone! I'm busy!" Li screamed at the door. He loved his daughter, but the fool girl had nearly given him a heart attack just now.

"Oh. I, um, I'm sorry to disturb you, dad, but there're two men here to see you. I tried to tell them it wasn't a good time, but they're rather insistent and refused to leave without seeing you."

Li felt his face drain of blood. Had the circling vultures already begun to descend? This soon? No, it was far too early. It had to be. The mountain of notes which lay on his desk had said as much.

But still… there was always a chance one of them had gotten impatient. And with the way the World Cup had gone for him, Li had zero faith in leaving anything to chance.

His throat and mouth suddenly devoid of moisture, it took Li several attempts before he was able to speak. "Could… could you describe what they look like?"

"Sure. Both, erm, are of average height, with white skin. And while I couldn't see the face of one of them, the other has straw-blonde hair; he seemed very charming and was the one who insistently asked for you. Both were also wearing Muggle clothing, so maybe they've been at the World Cup?"

Li almost fainted with relief at the last part of his daughter's description. None of his shadier wizarding creditors would be caught dead wearing a Muggle outfit, while the Goblins would never ask a wizard or witch to enforce a Goblin-made agreement.

These people, whomever they were, had to be unrelated to the worst of Li's impending troubles. And that could only be a good thing.

Li took a moment to compose himself; regardless of who they were, he would need to meet with them for at least a short time to keep up appearances. A few deep breaths and gentle slaps to his face calmed the relentless beating of his heart. While a quick swipe of his wand and a wordless Charm set his appearance in order.

Only once he was certain that he was presentable did Li stand and open the door to his study. The short hallway outside was empty save for his daughter. Who, dressed in a simple pair of shorts and a grey shirt of Muggle origin, was staring up at him with a puzzled expression on her adorable face.

"Cho, please go to your room," Li said firmly. "I might have some business with the two men below, and anything we talk about would need to remain private."

His daughter nodded and, without saying another word, went to her room and closed the door behind her. Li smiled at that; she might have made a mess of things with her ill-timed attraction to Potter, but at least she was still dutiful and respectful to him.

Li headed downstairs, donning the mask he had perfected while sucking up to Bagman and their bosses at work. A short pleasantry or two and a polite refusal to meet with them would see him free to handle his problems without further interruption.

But when he opened the door, the smiling mask Li wore to greet his two guests shattered.

"Good day, Mr. Chang. I can tell from your reaction you've recognized my face," one of the wizards said brightly. "That's good, very good, since it will make things considerably easier for both of us. For I am here to offer you a proposition. One which you will be unable to refuse."

A/N: Because I've seen a few PMs and reviews about this, American readers should know that I use a British grammar check when writing this story. And while British grammar is mostly the same as its American equivalent, differences do crop up. Especially in spelling.

In other news, it'll probably be a long while before my next upload; no promises when it'll happen, but I'll do my best to make it as soon as I can. But if you ever become curious as to whether another update is imminent or still slow, check my profile on this site for more info. I try to keep it updated once a month or so.

In the meantime, may your reading be fruitful and magical until our paths cross again ^-^

Stay Safe and Healthy!