A Boon for Bill
a HP fanfic by canoncansodoff
A/N: Sorry that this took more than a couple of weeks to post. The Muse insisted that I double the size of a chapter that I thought was 90% complete. And I don't have the heart (or enough mercenary discipline) to cut it down to something that flows better.
Thanks to allix33 for catching numerous typos and grammar lapses in her beta-rich review. She is a treasure.
This chapter picks up immediately after the last chapter ended. It's roughly 5:00pm in France, 4:00pm in Britain, and 11:00am in Ontario.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc., etc. Oh, and it was only after I came up with the "Quill of Addressing" that I stumbled upon JKR's 2015 Pottermore's blurb about the Book of Admittance and Quill of Acceptance. So I suppose that I don't own that either.
Chapter 19: The Day After, Part 3
Grange Lodge Hotel
St Peter Port, Guernsey
Hestia and Kingsley took the time to cover up before they apparated back to their shared hotel room from the nude beach. While Tonks and Remus weren't there, the evidence of their activities was obvious.
Or to be more specific, it was the complete absence of evidence that made their activities obvious.
"This room is way too sterile," Shack observed. "It screams room-cleaning, bed-making and air-freshening magic."
Hestia nodded. "Unless Tonks side-apparated Remus somewhere else?"
"They left their clothes at the beach."
"Yeah, but…it was Tonks who decided where they were going."
"Well, they're both grown adults…do you want to use the shower first?"
When Shacklebolt shook his head, Hestia kicked off her shoes and stripped off her sundress. Hearing a breath catch in the Senior Auror's throat, she glanced towards him and asked, "Is something wrong? I wasn't lying back at the beach."
Kingsley shook his head and turned away from the now-naked witch before his reaction became too obvious.
"Take your time," he said, making a show out of opening and sorting through his overnight bag.
"I'll be sure to save you some hot water," Hestia replied brightly.
"No need," the Senior Auror muttered to himself, quite certain that his shower would be necessarily cold.
Gringotts Branch Office
With all the spycraft and subterfuge that comes with working with Mad-Eye Moody, Fred Weasley didn't think it strange that they had side-apparated six times within fifteen minutes. Some of the intermediary arrival points were rather sketchy, but the process itself was well-established.
After receiving Dumbledore's patronus message, Fred and his brother had arrived at the hotel meeting point early, just in case. The "in case" played out when Mad-Eye jumped from a dark corner of the lounge, and whispered that he needed to send a message to their brother.
Mad-Eye's patronus was intentionally non-corporeal (so as to protect his identity), and incapable of conveying messages. So whenever he did need to send an urgent patronus message, he leaned on the nearest Order member to deliver it. McGonagall called seniority rights whenever an alternative messenger was available. So after Fred lost a game of rock-parchment-wand, he got to be the lucky wizard that side-apparated with Moody to the mainland.
First to send that message. Then twice more to reach a spot where they waited for a reply. And then three more times, before arriving at the location specified by Fred's older brother.
The wait to speak with a teller in the Marseille branch office of Gringotts was 5 seconds long. Mad-Eye and Fred were quickly shown to an empty meeting room. Thirty seconds later, Fred's brother walked in, escorted by four goblin guards, and dressed in silk robes that were embroidered with House Potter heraldry.
Mad-Eye snorted in amusement.
"Are the guards here for your benefit, Weasley, or ours?"
Bill smiled. "Do you consider me a threat, Moody?"
"Well, with some of the locations you set up on that wild hair chase…"
"It's not like I was the one that sent you on that chase," Bill countered. "Although I will admit that the tiger exhibit was a bit over the top…"
"Tiger exhibit?" Fred asked.
Bill's smile grew wider.
"Anyone seen Snape lately?" he asked.
Fred stood up from the table, just so he could bow to his brother.
"We're not worthy!" he fake-groveled.
"So you wanted to meet to talk about the old man's patronus message?" Bill asked.
Mad-Eye nodded, and asked, "Feel any compulsion to bend to that old man's will?"
Bill shrugged. "Not really rushing home, am I?"
"Same for us."
"And who, exactly, is us?"
"All of the other Order malcontents who want to abandon ship and help Potter directly, without the old man's meddling," Moody replied.
"Except for Dad," Fred noted. "He's probably halfway Down Under, by now."
"Why is he travelling…oh, right, never mind," Bill replied. He let out a sigh, then added, "While I'm sure that Harry would appreciate the thought, any direct assistance is going to cause big problems after tonight."
"And why is that?"
"Did your phoenix message say something about avoiding all contact with Harry, because lives are at stake?"
Bill stated that he maybe knew why.
Grange Lodge Hotel
St Peter Port, Guernsey
Kingsley and Hestia found Minerva, George, Remus, and Tonks in the hotel lounge, drinking pints, playing darts, and exchanging whispered barbs (over who might be using wandless magic to better their aim, or who needed to use that kind of magic). The smug "cat who just caught a wolf" expression on the metamorph's face was all the confirmation that Hestia needed. She walked up to Tonks, grabbed her by the elbow, and announced that they needed to suffer the ladies' head again. Protests that the darts game hadn't finished were met by Kingsley's willingness to substitute in. Teasing about calling a land-based lavatory the "head" was met with a two-fingered salute.
There was another patron in the Ladies' washroom. Tonks almost dared Hestia to move the muggle along with a bit of magic. But they were alone soon enough, and the interrogation commenced.
"So how did you do it?"
"You know what," Hestia insisted. "How did you finally wear down your wolf?"
More interested in bragging than delaying, Tonks dove into her story.
"It was tough, let me tell you," she whined. "First we had to rehash and dispose of the preliminary excuses. And then Dumbledore's phoenix tried to distract us from what was really important. Didn't work…at least not until afterwards, when I was probably glowing just as brightly as that patronus."
"So was it everything you were waiting for?"
"Everything plus a few inches, if you know what I mean."
"So now what?"
"So now you swing by the separate room that I've booked for Wolfie and me, and cast a silencing charm or three."
"For the howling orgasms?"
"No, I mean why do you need my help? Remus and you can cast your own charms."
"Yeah but with all those howling orgasms…overlapping can only help."
Hermione Granger's viewpoints on fashion typically favored function, and she was always good for a bit of chuntering whenever Lavender and Parvati devoured the latest fashion advice from Teen Witch Weekly. So she hadn't planned on dressing up for dinner that evening…it was more than good enough if she wore more than she'd been wearing on the outbound leg.
But then Pebbles had popped into the master bedroom, gently shook her shoulder, and announced that it was time for "Her Miss Hermione Miss" to get out of bed and get dressed. When the teenage witch cheekily asked, "Five more minutes, mum?" the house elf escalated her initiative.
The foggy headed weirdness of house elf transport while half-asleep became much more weird when the naked witch materialized above a fainting couch.
"Hey!" Hermione shouted, as she landed face-first onto the furniture.
The house elf who had popped next to the Edwardian-era divan tugged on her ears and said, "Pebbles be most sorry Miss Hermione Miss…but it be time to dress."
Hermione shook her head as she swung her legs around and sat up, facing the house elf.
"Sensationnelle!" someone declared. "No wonder milord was in such a rush!"
Hermione reflexively covered her bits and breasts as she glanced across the room towards a talking portrait.
"Excuse me?" the teen asked.
"Mais non, it is I who must apologize," the portrait replied with a smile. "This new fashion trend is a surprise…should I ask that my clothing be removed by magical paint strippers, juste pour se tenir au courant?"
"Oh, Harry would just love that," Hermione muttered. She turned to Pebbles, and asked, "Where are we, and why couldn't you have waited until I dressed to get here?"
"This be the lady's dressing room, Miss Hermione Miss, Miss. Pebbles be most sorry, but the dressing room be for dressing. The master bedroom be for ravishments, and Lord Potter said that the ravishment was completed."
"Despite the physical evidence that suggested otherwise," the portrait said with a melodic laugh.
Hermione's eyes narrowed. She whispered a request for a dressing gown, then stood and (once Pebbles produced one) tied it loosely around her body.
"Harry mentioned a portrait hung in the hallway...was that you?"
"Yes, milady," the portrait replied with a curtsey. "I have several paintings within the castle that I can visit."
Hermione pursed her lips. "Harry's Auntie, I presume?"
The portrait nodded. "Forgive my poor manners…my name is Sylvie Potter née Donnet, and I once was what you obviously now are."
"And what is that?"
"La dame du château."
"Enchanté," Hermione replied, "My name is Hermione Granger, and I would argue whether I am the lady of the castle."
"But it eez just a matter of time, no?"
Hermione chuckled and shook her head as she tightened the knot in her dressing gown's sash. Processing the portrait's accent, the teenage witch did a bit of extrapolation and asked, "Canadien français?"
The portrait nodded. "Et vous êtes une femme anglaise qui parle français, n'est-ce pas?"
"Un peu," Hermione replied, modestly underplaying her fluency. Drawing her wand from her concealed holster, she looked around the room, then found what she was looking for and levitated a table and chair to a spot in front of the portrait.
"Yes, Miss Hermione, Miss?"
"Do you know where Harry is at the moment?"
"Yes, Miss Hermione, Miss… Lord Potter be in his office, reviewing the warding with Welly."
"I'll take my afternoon tea here, then, if you don't mind."
"Sorry, Miss Hermione, Miss…but it still be morning time here on Hidden Island."
"Then I'll take my morning tea here."
"Yes, Miss Hermione, Miss!"
It was the portrait's turn to chuckle as the excitable house-elf popped out of the room.
"Not quite zee dame du château, yet zee Potter elf obeys your commands?" she asked.
Hermione shrugged as she sat in front of the portrait.
"The Potter elves are anxious for an heir," she explained, "and eager to please."
Pebbles popped back into the dressing room with an overladen tea tray and set it on the table.
"Dinner at Corkie Place be served in one and a half hours, Miss Hermione, Miss. We be needing time for dressing."
"I'm sure we'll make it work," Hermione replied. "I just want to have a little chat over tea with my new acquaintance."
"Yes, Miss Hermione, Miss…Pebbles now be cleaning the master bedroom in case Lord Potter be wanting to do more proper ravishments."
The house elf popped away before Hermione could suggest that cleaning that bedroom wasn't an immediate need.
"I think that you are already playing zee role," the portrait declared.
"Please don't tease," Hermione asked, initiating a conversation in French.
"I could ask the same of you, with your after-sex glow and your teasing talk about being ravished by milord," Sylvie countered. "If only my Reginald had sat for a portrait, so that I could be equally aglow."
Hermione rolled her eyes as she poured her tea. She was about to ask whether animated portraits could actually be intimate with each other, before remembering the time when Lavender had gotten hold of an animated atlas of erotica, and shared it with her dorm mates.
She instead asked, "Shall we use the little time allowed us by my petite supervisor to better acquaint ourselves?"
The portrait smiled and demurely curtsied.
"Of course, Lady Potter."
"I told you that I'm not yet Lady Potter," Hermione replied. "I should be the one curtsying in front of a Lady."
"I may have been the lady of this castle, but I was never Lady Potter," the portrait sadly declared. "But enough about me…I would love to learn more about yourself, and how you've so completely enchanted my dear nephew!"
Hermione smiled. Knowing just how unlikely it was that any living person had ever called Harry her "dear nephew" made the teenaged witch a little more eager to compare notes with the animated portrait who just had.
Fleur stepped gracefully out from her ancestral home's floo connection and used wandless magic to remove the residual soot from her bias cut evening gown. Hermione's well-dressed parents where there, waiting for a ride to dinner.
"I am sorry for the delay," she said. "We needed to make an emergency adjustment to the wards at Harry's rental."
"Is everything alright?" Roger asked, at the same time that his wife asked, "Where are the kids?"
"Everything is fine, and Hermione and Harry are in Canada," Fleur replied. "Now that the wards are ajusté, I suspect they will be joining us for dinner shortly."
"That's good to hear," said Emily.
Roger gestured down the front of his tuxedo, then out towards his wife's elegant full-length gown.
"So what's the occasion?" he asked.
"Don't lords and ladies always dress like this for dinner?" Fleur asked with a smile. "You both look wonderful...I am glad that zee Delacour elves were able to rise to zee occasion."
"Thank you, you look rather radiant yourself," Emily offered.
Fleur accepted the comment with a head nod, then said, "Harry still has the portkey with him… would you mind if your first magical trip was made by floo connection?"
Hermione's parents looked at each other and shrugged.
"We were hoping to experience both," Emily replied. "The order doesn't really matter."
"The stepping into a burning fire part might matter," Roger joked.
"It might seem strange, but as long as you wait for the flames to turn green, and pronounce your destination clearly, you will be fine."
Fleur showed Hermione's parents how much floo power to throw in to the fire, then handed them each a small piece of parchment. While Hermione's parents were both nearly fluent in French, she insisted that they run though the pronunciation of their destination once or twice, just to be safe. To be even safer, the French witch gave each of them a medallion that was charmed to serve as a location beacon for the Delacour's house elves. Roger couldn't resist making a bad joke comparing the necklaces to the two other types of magical tracking devices that they had learned about. His laughter at his own joke was cut short when his wife asked if he would be more comfortable having his pubic hairs charmed.
The medallions proved unnecessary, as Hermione's parents safely stepped out of the Cork Fort's floo connection and into its drawing room. The term "drawing room" was relative, of course, given the age of the fortress. Fleur and the Gringotts house elves had worked hard to convert the twelfth-century structure into a more comfortable living space, but their remodeling efforts leaned more towards twentieth-century living rooms than a Victorian-era space for entertaining guests.
Fleur followed behind Roger and Emily, joining Bill (who was wearing formal dress robes) for pre-dinner cocktails. The four toured the fortress with drinks in hand…while it would have normally been Harry's job to offer a home tour, Bill and Fleur knew the building far better than he did, and it was a good way to defer important conversations while they waited for Harry and Hermione to arrive.
The two couples were considering expanding the tour to the grounds when Jetson (the Potter elf who had taken the lead role on work within the Cork Fort) popped in and announced that Harry and Hermione were about to depart Hidden Island. The Grangers, Fleur and Bill returned to the drawing room just in time to watch the two teenagers emerge from a cascade of bright lights, each with a tight grip on their mini-hockey stick portkey.
"Sorry that we're late," Hermione announced, as she slipped the portkey into an elegant clutch, and pulled out a pair of elbow-length gloves. The teenaged witch was wearing an Edwardian-era evening gown made of duchess silk satin. The bodice had overlayers of white and black tulle that was studded with thousands of silver sequins, while the full-length skirt featured an incredibly narrow waistline.
"Oh, Hermione you look gorgeous!" her mother declared.
"Did we pronounce the floo destination wrong and end up in Downton Abbey?" Roger quipped.
"Where's Downton Abbey?" Bill asked.
"On the tellie," Roger replied.
"Sorry for the bother," said Harry, as he removed his black silk top hat. "It's been a while since the Potter elves have been able to cook a formal dinner, or, for that matter, help someone dress for that dinner."
Harry's attire, if not as elaborate as Hermione's, was period-complimentary…white tie and waistcoat, black trousers, and a black jacket with tails. The only bit of color was found within a rampant lion lapel pin that was fashioned from diamonds and rubies.
"Well those house elves did well," Emily declared. "Jack and Rose would have had nothing on you two."
"Jack and Rose?" Bill asked.
"It's a movie reference," Roger explained.
"Ah…I'm once more at a loss," the curse breaker admitted.
Roger chose not to comment when Jetson the house elf popped in to serve glasses of wine to the two teenagers. They were in France, after all, and he needed to pick his battles. Instead, he asked, "So why the vintage look?"
"The last time that anyone formally entertained or lived full-time in that castle was a century ago," Hermione explained. "And the closets were never cleaned out."
Fleur smiled as she asked, "But enough about clothing...you two had an interesting afternoon, no?"
Harry let out a deep breath as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, you could say that."
"What happened?" Roger asked.
"Portkey mishap," Harry replied, throwing a sheepish look towards his girlfriend.
"And a spot of trouble at their bank?" Bill asked.
"Identification mishap," said Harry. "That one wasn't my fault, though."
"Is everything okay, now?" asked Emily.
"It's fine, Mum," said Hermione. "No spells were cast, no knives were thrown, and Harry got the financial records that he needed."
"Oh yeah, that reminds me," said Harry, as he slipped a hand into his suit jacket. He pulled the jeweled dagger and sheath from an inside pocket, and offered it hilt first to Bill.
"Peace offering for poor customer service at Gorechunks," the teenaged wizard explained. "I'd just hurt myself trying to use it...do you want it?"
Bills eyes went wide.
"Milord, that's...the jewels alone have to be worth...and if it's goblin-forged?"
"They said it was, but how would I know?" Harry asked. "Would you get into trouble at work if you used a dagger forged by their enemies?"
Fleur chuckled. "Quite the opposite, milord."
"It's Harry, Fleur."
"The title is appropriate in this instance, milord," Bill insisted. "You can't just give something like this away."
"Fine," said Harry. "If anyone asks, it's another boon from your liege."
Bill shook his head in disbelief as he pulled the knife free and inspected the blade. "Thank you, milord...I promise to wield it well under your service."
Fleur smiled as she walked in front of Bill and inspected his dress robes.
"We must find the right belt, so as to show your liege lord's generosity to all."
A Potter house elf popped into the sitting room, squinted at Bill's robes, then popped away without saying a word.
"Who was that?" asked Emily
"Erm...he's one of ours," said Harry. "His name's Barney, if I remember right."
The house elf popped back into the room with a Dragon-skin leather belt. He offered it to Fleur, and in flawless French said, "This should work for the liegeman." The house elf then turned to Harry, nodded in respect, and popped away.
Bill once again shook his head in disbelief as Fleur attached the dagger's sheath to the front right side of the belt, and cinched it around his waist.
"Magnifique!" Fleur declared, pulling Bill into a kiss. She pressed her lips against his ear, and whispered, "This spoil of war should shut zee mouths of those bâtards from zee House of Greed, no?"
The curse breaker grinned as he imagined walking into the curse breakers' canteen and waving the jeweled dagger under their noses.
When Fleur pulled back from the embrace, she turned towards Hermione. Crookshanks had sauntered into the sitting room, and the teenaged witch was squatting down gingerly to rub him behind the ears.
"Speaking of zee waistlines, Hermione...eez yours constrained by magic?"
The teenager glanced up towards Fleur and rolled her eyes, saying that she wished that there was magic that would make her corset more comfortable. Fleur offered to magically alter the dress's waistline and vanish the corset, but Hermione politely declined. This provided Harry another opportunity to tease his girlfriend over just how tightly she was wrapped around a little house elf's little finger.
When Emily pulled out her mobile to take some pictures, Hermione noted that a house elf had already taken pictures of them back at the castle. At Harry's suggestion, that same house elf popped into the sitting room armed with both a magical camera and vintage Leica. The house elf looked around the room, then looked at the three couples, and shook her head.
"This be needing to be perfect," the house elf declared.
"What do you need us to do, Wilma?" Harry asked.
"Nothing, Lord Potter, we be taking care of things," the servant replied.
Pebbles popped into the room to touch up Hermione's makeup and hair style, then did the same for Hermione's mum. A Delacour elf popped in to help Fleur before a Potter elf could do the job. Welly popped in and said that he would take charge of the men, only to have Dobby appear unannounced and insist that he be the one to help Harry. The teenaged wizard worried that he might have to break up another house elf fight, but Welly graciously turned his focus towards Roger. The house elf snapped his fingers and "downdated" Roger's tuxedo to match Harry's vintage formal wear. At the same time, Roger's cufflinks were upgraded with white gold and half-carat diamonds. He thought them a bit much, until he glanced at his wife and realized that they matched the tiara that had just been placed on her head.
When Dobby spotted the jeweled dagger on Bill's belt, he shook his head, declared that "the Great Lord Harry Potter Sir be needing his great lordie sword," and popped away.
At that very moment, Albus Dumbledore was responding to a call of nature. He was therefore not well positioned to notice when the Sword of Gryffindor was nicked from his office.
Dobby popped back to France, placed the sword and scabbard on Hermione's lap, and said, "Dobby be thinking the Great Lord Harry Potter, Sir's Hermione be wanting to doing honors."
Hermione waved off Pebbles' attempt to tame her hair and asked, "Harry? Is this what I think it is?"
The teenaged wizard glanced over towards his girlfriend and shrugged.
"Looks like it," he calmly replied. "Mind the blade...probably still has basilisk venom on it."
Bill shook his head and chuckled. "Yours just had to be longer than mine, didn't it?"
"Well I am the lord, aren't I?"
"Boys!" Hermione hissed. She turned the scabbard over, spotted the frog stud, and called out, "Some help, Barney?"
The Potter family armorer popped back into the room with a much nicer ceremonial belt and placed it on Hermione's lap.
Questions about the sword's importance, and whether the egg-sized jewel on its hilt was really a ruby, were asked and answered as Hermione wrapped the belt around Harry's waist and cinched it tight.
"I feel like there ought to be royal trumpeters serenading us right now," Roger quipped.
Two seconds later, two Delacour house elves appeared with trumpets that were twice as long as they were tall.
"I was only joking," Roger insisted, as the elf trumpeters launched into a fanfare.
"Be careful what you wish for when there are house elves around," Harry shouted with a smile.
While the horns were blaring, Wilma guided everyone to just their right places in front of the fireplace (which now sported an ornate Potter family crest above the mantle). She then had to redo everything when Harry insisted that all of the house elves be in the photo as well. She was eventually able to take several pictures with both cameras, then rearranged everyone to new positions and repeated the process. She would have tried for a third time had Jetson not appeared and announced that dinner was ready.
Once all of the other house elves popped away, Jetson provide a short tutorial on how the procession into the formal dining room should proceed. The teenaged "master of the household" was at the lead, with Hermione's mother (the most 'socially important' female guest) on his arm. Bill and Fleur were next, with the teenaged "hostess" last in line, escorted by her father (who was declared by the elf to be the most 'socially important' male guest). Crookshanks wanted to get in on the act, so he summoned two of his clowder concubines and they joined the parade behind Hermione.
The table was almost as elegantly dressed as Hermione, and loaded down with all kinds of bone china and crystal stemware. Hermione winced a little when she picked up a handwritten menu from her place setting and scanned through the ten different courses.
"Fleur?" she asked. "I've changed my mind about that corset."
Canipsy the house elf had been ordered by Albus Dumbledore to obtain an addressed envelope for Harry Potter and Hermione Granger every five minutes, until the enchanted quill wrote out an address that was more than "unknown." This was an extraordinary demand that required the assistance of the "Quill of Addressing," the lesser-known enchanted cousin of the Quill of Acceptance (that wrote the names of magic-capable children into the Book of Admittance).
The Quill of Addressing sat inside a locked black box that was stored inside a locked room within the same small locked tower that was home to the Book of Admittance and that other quill. The color of the black box was appropriate, given that nobody could actually see the Quill of Addressing do its assigned task. The box had thin slots on opposite sides, and a conical tube that jutted out from the third. When a letter or booklist needed to be sent out to either an active or prospective Hogwarts student, an envelope was pushed into one of the slots, and the student's name was spoken into the tube. The quill's magic would confirm that the student's name was written down on the Book of Admittance, then use a type of scrying to determine that student's current location. Once the quill wrote down that location, the addressed letter would spit out of the other slot.
Three house elves were needed to address letters when booklists were delivered to the entire school population. But for this special job, only one elf was needed, and only for a few seconds at a time. With replicate letters addressed at a five minute pace, there was little need for Canipsy to be idle. For four and three-quarters minutes, the house elf would find something else to do in the castle, then pop back in to the hidden tower and pop two letters in to the black box. Canipsy would then quickly check the output for something new, banish the letters that didn't have something new, and pop away, starting the cycle over again.
The cycle was finally broken when letters for Harry and Hermione were addressed with a location that was different from "Address Unknown." Canipsy scooped up the two letters and immediately popped to the Headmaster's Office. Dumbledore was behind his desk, silently sucking on a lemon drop as he waited for a response to the urgent patronus messages that he had sent to the Order.
Canipsy announced that he had the newly-addressed letters, placed them on the desk, and asked if he should continue to feed blank envelopes into the black box. Dumbledore spread the envelopes out and noticed that they were addressed to the same location. He then gave Hermione's letter back to the house elf, and instructed him to continue the operation at a three-minute pace until either the address changed again, or he was summoned back to the Headmaster's Office. Canipsy bowed, and popped away.
Dumbledore frowned as he re-examined the elegantly-written address on the remaining envelope:
The Dining Room
Au-delà de la Portée du Proviseur, France
The country wasn't much of a surprise, given his suspicions that Fleur Delacour had helped Harry and Hermione escape the country (save for the fact that they had apparently been in North America just a few hours previous). But the rest of the message was beyond his understanding…although he was fluent in both Mermish and Gobbledygook, Dumbledore could only speak and read a handful of words in French.
The Headmaster glanced towards the wall and took note of which portraits hadn't been covered by his massive pube-tracking world map.
"Headmaster Dippet?" he asked.
The portrait of Dumbledore's predecessor opened its eyes and yawned.
"You have need of me?" the portrait asked with chagrin.
"Yes, yes…if I recall correctly, you spoke French fluently?"
"Excellent…would you please translate something for me?"
The portrait rolled his eyes when Dumbledore held the addressed letter an inch away from his enchanted canvas.
"Would you hold it further back?" Dippet scowled. "My oil paint eyesight isn't any better than when I was alive."
"Ah, my apologies."
The portrait did a double take once the envelope was held far enough away to be read. And then it did something that his live counterpart rarely did...and giggled.
"What is so amusing?" Dumbledore asked.
The giggles grew into more of a chortle as the portrait shook his head.
"Lost? Lost what?"
"Perhaps my painted eyes are failing, and the phrase 'Au-delà de la portée du proviseur' means something different?"
The portrait had intentionally raised its voice when speaking the French words, so as to share it with the other remaining portraits. The fact that more than a few of them started to laugh suggested both that he had spoken loud enough, and that at least some of his predecessors shared his language skills.
"Quelle délicieuse blague!" a portrait gleefully proclaimed.
"C'est seulement ce que le fou mérite!" declared another.
Dumbledore let out a low growl of disapproval.
"You are all charged with serving the current Headmaster," he declared. "Speak so that I understand!"
"Now that's a tall order," a portrait muttered.
"What does that address mean, in English?" Dumbledore demanded.
The portrait of Headmaster Dippet let out a snort.
"It quite literally means…beyond the reach of the headmaster."
Dippet's translation brought his non-Francophone counterparts in on a joke. Only a few failed to see the humor.
"It must a prank," Dumbledore declared.
Dippet shook his head.
"You know how the Quill of Addressing works, Dumbledore. It has to be a real address…which is makes it all the more amusing."
"But how could a location actually have that as a name?"
"With the approval and support of the French magical government, is how," a different portrait called out.
"The boy has friends in hault places, and they're on to your games," Dippet stated. "Do you want my advice?"
Dumbledore really didn't want to hear what his predecessor had to say, but knew that he should at least consider it.
"You treat friends and allies like pieces on a grand chessboard," the portrait noted. "Pieces that you move from square to square, and, when necessary, sacrifice in order to achieve victory."
"I do not!"
"Greater good, Albus?" Dippet countered. "And when you play that kind of game, for that kind of stake? You have to accept the possibility that your next best move is to gracefully topple your own king."
"How could gracefully losing to Voldemort ever be for the Greater Good?"
"Who said anything about him?" asked Dippet. "You've been outplayed by the French…by the NAC...by the boy himself, even, or at least by his closest friends and allies. You've been outplayed in matches you didn't even know you were playing. Consider the possibility that losing with grace to them is your best remaining move in the chess game against Voldemort."
Dumbledore shook his head in disagreement. The idea of surrendering power and control to others in order to defeat the Dark Lord was anathema. Only he was capable of leading the Light. But as he turned his back on the portraits, he caught sight of his withered hand, and was reminded of his mortality. Who would be capable of leading the fight against evil once he had passed on to the Next Great Adventure? The French? The Colonials? Two teenagers?
A thin smile formed on the Headmaster's lips as he silently answered his own question. Whether his end came that night by broken vow, or came within the year from the curse placed on Gaunt's ring, he would not allow Death to topple his king.
Dumbledore walked back to his desk, pulled out the Elder Wand, and countered a complex locking charm that he'd placed on a lower desk drawer earlier that Summer. Inside that drawer, a shallow bronze bowl sat on top of a children's storybook. Within that bowl sat a ring, a snitch, and his deluminator.
The Headmaster sighed as he placed the ring and snitch on his desk top, closed the drawer, then grabbed his wand. It would take some work to encapsulate the Resurrection Stone within the snitch, and to apply the necessary enchantments, but if things went well the task would be completed prior to the prisoner exchange.
And if things really went well, there might even be time for him to update his portrait.
Back in France, beyond the reach of the Headmaster, Emily Granger smiled as she watched her host tackle the dinner's game course.
"Always selecting the right silverware, and drinking from the right glass, Harry? One might assume that all of your dinners are this elegant."
The teenager chuckled. "First time, actually. I'd be at a complete loss without Hermione's 'work from the outside in' advice," he admitted. "And I also have some invisible helpers."
Harry wiggled the knife and fork in his hands.
"Watch my silver when the next course is served...the correct pieces will sparkle for a second or two."
"That sounds right useful," said Roger. "Wish I could get my spanners to do that when I'm working in the garage."
"I can ask if any of the Potter elves have spent time under the bonnet," Harry suggested with a smile.
Another Potter house elf popped up tableside, announced that he would be very happy to maintain "Lady Potter's Pater's vehicles," then popped out.
"There you go," Harry said with a smile.
Bill cleared his throat, "If it pleases milord…"
"The name's Harry, liege."
"Sorry…Fleur told me that I'm not supposed to talk business until after dinner drinks, but I have a meeting scheduled with some potential allies this evening, and at the pace of these dinner courses, I'll have to leave before dessert."
"No need to apologize, Bill," said Harry. "I'm sure that Jetson knows a good stasis charm."
"It would be a crime to put food and drink zhis good under a stasis charm." Fleur stated.
"Zhat and zhee's, Fleur," Hermione teased.
"Who are these potential allies?" asked Harry.
Bill started to reply, but paused when he looked at Roger and Emily.
"We are all close friends and allies here, Bill," said Harry. "No need for secrets at this table."
"Is that so?" Roger asked with a wink. "Then perhaps you'd be willing to share what our daughter and you were doing…"
"Daddy!" Hermione hissed. "Don't you dare dignify that with a response, Harry."
"I was only going to ask what you two did this afternoon!" Roger gently protested.
"Would you want to share with us just what you and mum got up to this afternoon at that private beach?"
"Does that mean that there's a comparison to be made?"
"Stop it, Roger," Emily interjected. "Before we debate whether you sleeping on the couch for the next month or two is appropriate dinner conversation."
"Yes, Dear," Roger quickly replied. "Sorry for the bad joke, everyone."
"And for the 'Overbearing Father' routine, as well?" Hermione asked.
"Yes, for that too."
"So…these potential allies, Bill?" Harry asked.
The liegeman paused for a moment, before saying, "It isn't a matter of trusting Roger and Emily, milord…it's that I also trust Dumbledore to use Legilimency on them if given the opportunity."
"You aren't the only one with that worry," Roger replied.
Hermione's mum explained that they had discussed this topic with Hermione in London, when they had spent the weekend with Fleur's family. At the time, Roger and Emily didn't know Harry's and Hermione's plans, so their lack of Occlumency wasn't a risk. But they now knew a lot of things that they themselves didn't want the headmaster to know…not just where Harry and Hermione were, but who had helped them get there. So they had no desire to return to England if that put their friends and family at risk.
Hermione's desire to smother her parents with hugs was almost as strong as her desire to have them become more involved in their operational plans. So she settled (for the moment) on reaching out and squeezing her father's hand while she suggested that Bill carry on with his talk of potential allies.
"So they are the better part of the Order of the Phoenix," said Bill. "And I was told that Harry and Hermione might understand better than me why they are calling themselves 'The Calendar Club'."
Harry laughed so hard that he almost choked on a piece of pheasant.
Explanations about the origins of that group name generated chortles and choking hazards that carried into the palate cleanser.
Gringotts, London Branch
Molly Weasley had never seen the need to fuss with a Muggle timepiece when a Tempus charm was available. Unfortunately, that wasn't a viable wand-waving option inside the walls of Gringotts (unless you wanted a halberd point placed against your neck), and the clock that she held to her chest wasn't functional. So she really had no way of knowing whether she had been holding Dumbledore's place in line for more than five hours or less. The Weasley matriarch could have used her youngest son's fits of whining to keep track of the time earlier in the afternoon, when they were occurring at regular intervals. But now that they were somewhere around the dinner hour, the pace of Ron's complaints had picked up exponentially.
"Mum, I'm starving!"
"Stop it, Ronald! We're almost to the front of the line, and I'll not have you causing a disturbance that risks our place!"
"But why did we have to be here all afternoon?"
"The headmaster asked for our help. Nothing more need be said."
"He didn't need all of us to hold his place in the queue, did he?" asked Ginny.
"If you think that I was going to leave you two alone, with your father away on business and with the family clock not working right..."
"But I haven't eaten in hours, mum!" Ron whined. "Why can't Ginny and I stand in line while you go home and cook some takeaway for us?"
"And trust that you'll be safe on your own? Trust that you won't wander off on your own, and lose the Headmaster's place?"
"Where is the old coot, anyway?" Ginny muttered under her breath.
"Ginerva!" Molly hissed. "You will show your Headmaster the respect that he deserves!"
Molly's daughter was smart enough to keep her belief that she was doing just that to herself.
A goblin teller barked out, "Next!"
Ginny winced as the wizard at the front of the line was grabbed roughly and dragged towards two hobgoblins that stood ready to whack the wizard's body with thin silver rods. Bill had told her that these rods were called "Probity Probes," and were magical artifacts that identified anyone who entered the bank with ill intentions or under false pretenses. This wasn't cause for concern, if all Ginny's mum was doing was holding Dumbledore's place in line. More problematic was the artifact's name...she had looked up the word "probity" in the family's dictionary, and learned that it meant "having strong moral principles, honesty, and decency."
So what if these probes looked beyond whether a witch or wizard was trying to get one by the goblins, and instead made a broader assessment of your inherent levels of honesty and decency?
Unlike her mother, the teenaged witch was just self-aware enough to recognize the risk.
Having seen some of the seedy-looking witches and wizards who had past the test that afternoon, Ginny could only hope that these probity probes were calibrated on a sliding scale.
Beyond the Reach of the Headmaster
Hermione and Harry had previously agreed not to reveal to anyone just how revealing the Calendar Club pin-up photographs had been. They therefore based their dinner table descriptions of what the Calendar Club members had probably thought they had revealed. Roger and Emily still thought it scandalous that a teacher would flash her breasts to a student, even if they were magically pixelated. Hermione revived her "What if you were on a French beach and ran into McGonagall?" argument, and Harry suggested that it was probably far less scandalous than hiring a DADA instructor whose magical eyesight could fully penetrate clothing worn by their students. Hermione's parents agreed, but were willing to defer elaborating on their outrage until after Bill got the input he was seeking for his meeting with the Calendar Club.
Bill quickly recapped both his meeting with Mad-Eye and the shared intelligence from the NAC's London spymaster.
"So Bill," Hermione's mum asked, "Does the reach of Dumbledore's vow extend to Fleur and you?"
"We think so," the curse breaker replied. "Although the penalty for breaking the vow only applies to Dumbledore."
"And what's that penalty?" asked Roger.
"So why did he do that?"
"Because he wanted Snape released from NAC custody, and didn't know at the time that Harry holds duel British-NAC citizenship."
"Why was Snape…?"
"It's a funny story that's best told when there's more time," said Bill.
Harry frowned. "Does this mean that I have to completely avoid you two until September?"
"We're not sure," Bill admitted. "There is some ambiguity within the wording of the vow. It might cover any kind of interaction, or it might only apply to any contact that is initiated with the aim of encouraging you to attend Hogwarts this fall."
"What about the liegeman bond?" Hermione asked. "If that was strong enough to trump your oaths to Gringotts...?"
"Another good question," said Bill. "Chokebar is convinced that Dumbledore's vow doesn't apply to me, since a sworn liegeman has to be able to freely offer advice to his liege lord."
"But Fleur?" asked Harry.
"It would be simpler if I was head of my own family and could offer Fleur a betrothal bond. But since I'm not…"
"Fiancées aren't covered by a liege man's oath?"
"Consensus opinion is that they are not."
"Just to be clear," Roger asked, "We are all trying to figure out a way to keep Dumbledore from being killed by his ignorance, right?"
"Wouldn't the safest solution just be for Bill and Fleur to avoid any kind of contact with Harry over the rest of the month?"
"Safest for Dumbledore, but…that would arguably have a negative impact on my liegeman's oath. And no, milord…I have no interest in being released from my oath."
"Would the middle ground be just interacting with Harry when liegeman's duties were involved?" Emily asked.
"That might work," said Bill, "as long as I knew that the four of you were protected."
"Why is that?" Roger asked.
"Bill is sworn to protect Harry, daddy," Hermione noted.
"As am I, because of my oath to the Order," Fleur insisted.
Hermione nodded in agreement. "If Bill and Fleur can't risk staying with us because of Dumbledore's oath, then us staying somewhere safe is the next best way to satisfy those oaths."
"Somewhere like Harry's island across the pond," Bill stated.
"Even after all the work you put into the wards here?" asked Harry.
Bill nodded. "You would have the full protection of your new country, an unplottable location, and a short commute if you wanted to learn how to apparate."
"But Dumbledore would know we were in North America if he searches while we're taking those lessons outside of the island's wards," Hermione reasoned.
Bill shrugged. "He already knows you travelled there today…and he also knows that the NAC is aggressively protecting your interests. And he still couldn't reach out to you, even if he knew exactly where you were taking your apparition lessons."
"And I would not despair of the work done on the wards here, even eef you two spend zee month in Canada," said Fleur. "Eet has a lot of potential."
"Well that's true enough," Hermione reasoned. "Even with the ruined cork plantation...how many rental properties sit on top of magical ley lines?"
"Those lines definitely made it easier for me to build strong wards," Bill added.
Harry hummed under his breath as he thought about these points. He then asked, "Can we just decide for now that Hermione and I will return to Canada sometime tonight, and the four of you return to Château Delacour? We still have to decide on what to say to the Calendar Club."
The rest of the dinner party agreed, and began hashing out ways that the Calendar Club could actually help Harry over the next several weeks without actually coming into contact with him.
Gringotts, London Branch
The triumphant shout that erupted from Ron's mouth when they moved to the front of the line was stifled by his mother's beefy hand.
"Not a word!" she hissed, as they watched a probity probe invade the left ear channel of the elderly wizard who'd stood for hours in front of them.
"But what if they call next and the Headmaster isn't here?" Ginny whispered.
Molly let out a deep breath and shook her head.
"We were planning on avoiding this line by having Bill withdraw enough galleons to cover your school expenses," she replied. "Booklists have to be sent out any day now...If the Headmaster doesn't return in time, we'll just visit our vault ourselves."
"That makes sense," said Ginny. "So you brought the vault key, then?"
The sharp intake of breath and the panicked look in her mum's eyes provided all the answer she needed.
Molly let out a deep breath and approached the guard.
"Excuse me...erm...Sir...would it be possible for me take an identity test to gain access to my vault?"
"No key, no access."
"Ah...well, then...we'll just let the person behind us go, while we wait for someone else to arrive."
"Not allowed...either submit to the probes now, or go home."
Having completed their testing of the wizard in front of them, the probe-wielding hobgoblins began to stalk towards Molly and her children.
Molly had just enough parental concern to give up the game before her children were subjected to probing for no purpose. She tucked the fake clock under her arm, and dragged Ron and Ginny by the hand out of the bank, cursing Albus Dumbledore under her breath, using words that would have earned any of her children a soap washed-mouth jinx.
St Peter Port, Guernsey
Mad-Eye Moony watched with interest as Bill Weasley emerged from the rear bench of a Land Rover dressed in muggle clothing. The vehicle's tinted windows were no match for his magical eye, giving the retired Auror a clear view of just who had brought the curse breaker to the designated meeting place.
And also a clear view of just how heavily armed the other passengers were, with weaponry both magical and mundane.
Alastor checked the three locations where he'd spotted the advanced guard of French Aurors. They were also armed with handguns and wands, but at least their weapons were holstered underneath their dress suits. These lookouts held their ground as Bill crossed the courtyard that the vehicle had driven into, and climbed the set of stairs that led him directly their way.
The Calendar Club members were hiding within the shadows of the sea-facing rampart of Castle Cornet, which had guarded St Peter Port for centuries. Originally built by the Normans on a tidal island, the castle now anchored one of the port's breakwaters, and was a popular tourist attraction.
Once Bill reached the rampart, he called out, "Olly Olly Oxen Free!"
"Aren't we a bit old for hide and seek?" Fred Weasley called back, as he emerged from the shadows.
"Says the youngest of us," Minerva muttered.
"Am not," Fred replied. "George over there is ten minutes younger than me."
"Likely story," his twin replied. "Mum couldn't tell us apart from the start."
"Enough, boys," Mad-Eye chided, as he walked forward and stopped ten feet in front of their older brother. Hestia, Fred, George, Remus, and Minerva formed a loose semi-circle on either side.
"Rather dramatic location for a meet-up," Bill noted. "Scripting out scenes for a WWN panto?"
"I enjoy the fresh air," Mad-Eye said with a shrug. "The fact that this is the closest spot on the island to the mainland is just a bonus."
Bill smiled as he squinted past the retired Auror's shoulder.
"Line of sight apparition not the easiest when you can barely see that mainland in the twilight."
Fred and George chuckled as they launched into twin-speak.
"Good thing, then..."
"...that we ate...
"...our takeaway dinner..."
"...here an hour ago."
"Leave it be, boys...that's no less annoying outside of Hogwarts."
Mad-Eye held off Minerva's complaints with a raised hand. He nodded towards Bill's escorts and asked, "These Frenchies as friendly as your goblin minders in Marseilles?"
Bill replied with the same kind of shrug that he'd given Mad-Eye earlier that afternoon.
"Don't know if they're just as friendly, but they're damn sure just as competent," he replied. Raising his voice, he added, "So you might as well come out, Tonks and Shack...those red laser spots marking your locations aren't decorative."
"Thought this was supposed to be a friendly meeting?" Tonks whined, as she emerged from the shadows with her hands raised.
"No need for it not to be," said Bill. "They're just rather annoyed with your unsanctioned wand-wielding presence within their magical jurisdiction," he explained. "And rather concerned with any potential threats you might pose to a close friend of their magical first family."
"Which friend is that...you or Potter?"
Bill laughed. "Take your pick, Mad-Eye."
"So this is a set-up, then?"
The red-haired curse breaker emphasized his second shoulder shrug with half-raised hands.
"You wanted some input from Harry, right?" he asked. "Well, he suggests that you don't worry the locals."
"Is that right?" asked Kingsley, and he joined the group with his wand holstered and hands clearly in sight.
Bill nodded. "We're all on the same page, Shack...or at least I think we are. Our French friends are willing not to arrest you lot...if you're willing to graciously accept a ride home tonight."
The gaze from Moody's one good eye narrowed, as his magical eye began to twirl in threat assessment mode.
"Is that ride home going to involve our Ministry?" he asked.
Bill shook his head and snorted.
"Now how would that help Harry...much less you lot?" he asked.
Bill pointed towards the harbour, where a single-mast sloop was anchored a hundred meters off of the breakwater.
"Once our meeting is over, that boat will take you across the Channel to the Isle of Wight," he explained. "I was told that my brothers are familiar with the drop-off point."
Fred and George looked first at each other, then towards the boat.
"Couldn't be the same crew, could it?" asked Fred.
"Be nice if it was," George replied. "About ready to toss those infertile tribbles into dad's gnome launcher."
"Are we going to have a chance to check out of the hotel, at least?" asked Tonks.
Bill shook his head. "Afraid not. They'll settle your room charges, and arrange for your things to be sent on. Stuff might even be waiting for you tonight at the joke shop."
The Calendar Club members looked at each other for a moment, then huddled for a quick (and quiet) discussion. When they broke up, Moody turned back to Bill and said, "As long as they can get us back to magical Britain with our wands in hand and without Ministry alerts, we're in."
Minerva sighed. "So with that out of the way, did you speak with your liege lord and lass about the situation?"
"I did, actually," Bill said with a smile. "They came up with three things where you lot might be able to help. First off...they want you to compile a list of every muggleborn witch or wizard in magical Britain."
"You mean every muggleborn student?" McGonagall asked.
"No, every muggleborn...full stop," Bill replied. "Current Hogwarts students, former Hogwarts students...future students too, if you can swing it. Basically anyone that the Ministry of Magic might identify as a muggleborn witch or wizard."
McGonagall shook her head in disbelief. "How would we even begin to do that?"
Bill snorted. "Hermione anticipated that question, and suggests that it might be worth considering one of her own."
"Right...her question was, 'How did Professor McGonagall know that she needed to hand deliver my Hogwarts invitation?"
"Well that's easy," Minerva replied. "It's the same every year...the names of each new student are read from the Book of Admittance into the black box, and the Quill of Acceptance addresses their invitations. We review the invitations that have muggle street addresses, and weed out the children that we know had a parent that attended Hogwarts."
"Do you keep track of those home visits?" Bill asked.
"No need for that," Minerva stated with confidence. "You give me a student's name and I can tell you whether I hand-delivered their invite."
Hestia Jones shook her head and smiled. "So does the Assistant Headmistress of Hogwarts have access to the school's enrollment records?"
"Well of course I...ahh, never mind," Minerva said with a sigh.
"Why does Harry Potter want a list of British muggleborns?" asked Hestia.
"Have you ever asked Dumbledore why he needs you to do something for the Order?"
Remus shook his head. "But I thought they were setting out to be better than him?"
Bill nodded. "Here's a clue, then... their second request is for you lot to work out how all those muggleborns and their families can safely leave magical Britain without the Ministry knowing about it."
"Oh, shite," cursed Mad-Eye. "They aren't coming back, are they?"
"Would you?" Fred asked.
"Surely things aren't that bad," said Tonks. "Dumbledore might be a right bastard, but at least he's a bastard for the Light."
"And what if he's off the table?" asked Bill. "How long would the Ministry stand?"
"You know something that we don't?" asked Moody.
Bill shook his head. "Yeah, probably...but not about what you're thinking."
"What do you think that I'm thinking?"
"Dumbledore cursed himself in the foot with that vow, and I've been told that his cursed arm doesn't look any better," explained Bill. "Might ask him about his long-term prognosis."
"As if we'd get a straight answer from him," Tonks whined.
Kingsley let out a deep breath. "So if Dumbledore is gone, or weakened to the point that he can't block Voldie and his pure-blood synchophants from taking over the Ministry, then I could see muggleborns being at risk. But if they need to escape, wouldn't it be better and safer for them to use muggle transportation?"
"Yes, of course," said Bill.
"So what makes us experts on muggle forms of transportation?"
Moody rolled his non-magical eye. "How did we get here today, Shack?"
"Exactly," said Bill.
"So does your liege and liege-ette think we should get the muggle government involved?" asked Tonks.
Bill shook his head. "Not right now...no telling where the Ministry may have ears or eyes."
"You mean like the magical portrait that hangs in 10 Downing Street?" asked Kingsley.
"There you go," Bill replied. "We're just planning for the worst."
"Got some place in mind to evacuate all these muggleborn refugees?" Hestia asked.
Harry's liegeman smiled as he waved back towards the port town. "If only there was a part of muggle Britain that wasn't under Ministry jurisdiction, right?"
Mad-Eye chuckled. "And if the Channel Islands get too crowded, there's always the EC?"
Bill shrugged. "Something like that...let's just hope that any plans you come up with don't need to be enacted."
"So you said there were three things they wanted?" asked Mad-Eye.
"Yes," the curse breaker replied. "For the third task, Harry would like the Calendar Club to find out what you can about a certain charitable organization. It's called 'Friends of the Flobberworms'."
George laughed. "Friends of the...really?"
"What the hell is that?" asked Fred.
"That's exactly what Harry wants to know."
"Give us a minute," asked Mad-Eye, as he brought the other Calendar Club members back into a huddle.
Thirty seconds later, the group broke up and McGonagall stepped forward.
"We, the self-organized members of the Calendar Club, agree to work on the tasks that you've described tonight," she declared. "On one condition."
"What's that?" asked Bill.
"That you become the leader of our club."
"Is there anyone else better positioned to act as a go-between between your liege lord and us?" Remus asked.
Bill thought for a few moments, then nodded in agreement.
"Just so long as I don't have to pose for a pin-up."
The jokes about Bill's modesty, and the teasing about what he might expose behind a Praetego spell, were tempered when he reminded the group that his fiancée could shoot fireballs from her fingertips.
Cork Fort, France
While Bill was meeting with the Calendar Club, the rest of the dinner party discussed longer-term housing options over after-dinner drinks.
"So Hermione," her dad asked, "who will be staying at the castle in Canada with Harry and you tonight?"
"I imagine that one or two of the Potter house elves will be there," the teenaged witch replied.
"I thought we decided that Bill and Fleur should steer clear of Harry tonight," Hermione replied. "And that Canada is a safer place for us than France right now."
"Us, as in all of us?" her father asked. "Or just Harry and you?"
Harry tried to guide the conversation towards a less-stressful place.
"Mr. Granger, I would love having you and wife return with us tonight, and stay on the island as long as you like," he insisted. "Merlin knows the place has enough bedrooms. But right now the portkey is only cleared for use by Hermione and me, and we've seen first-hand what happens when someone who isn't pre-cleared tries to tag along."
"Not eager to visit that detention center again," Hermione muttered.
Fleur let out a sigh. "What eef the four of you stayed here, beyond the reach of zee headmaster, until the portkey could be modified?" she asked. "Bill and I could return to the château so as to avoid Harry."
"That's fine with me," said Harry, looking to keep on the good side of his girlfriend's parents. "Hermione, what do you think?"
The muggleborn witch chewed on her lower lip for a few moments before turning towards her parents. "I think that would work, although it might be safer if you two flew…F-L-E-W flew…to Montreal, and then used magical transport from there to the island."
Fleur nodded in agreement "Long portkey trips are supposed to be especially hard on muggles."
"And we could use magic travel once we touched down and got our passports stamped?" Roger asked.
Harry nodded in agreement. "I talked with Welly about that this afternoon," he noted. "Hidden Island isn't connected to a floo network, but he can transport people back and forth from Montreal, one at a time. We also have family portkeys on the island for group travel to Montreal, Salem and New York City."
"We do?" Hermione asked.
The teenager's choice of pronouns brought a smile to Fleur's lips. She asked, "Must you be family to use these family portkeys?"
"Kind of," said Harry. "According to Welly, for the portkeys to work, at least one person on the trip has to be kin or clan."
Fleur smiled, and asked, "How is it known whether a person is one or the other?"
Harry chuckled nervously as he reflexively rubbed the back of his neck. He then gathered some courage, took a breath, and caught Hermione's gaze from across the table before turning towards Fleur.
"Funny you should ask," the teenager replied. "Welly was kind of vague on the details, but assured me that the portkeys would work for anyone at this table."
"Really?" asked Hermione (in a near-whisper).
"Isn't that lovely!" Emily declared.
"Bon," Fleur said brightly. "Tomorrow we can make arrangements for zee trip by airplane, and my leetle seester can travel here by floo to provide her tutelage to Harry."
"And Harry can break the crushing news to her that he won't be staying in France," Hermione teased.
"Better him than me," Fleur declared with a smile.
Harry took in a sharp breath.
"I could still portkey back and meet Gabrielle here each day for the language lessons, right?" he asked.
"Of course," Fleur replied.
"Are you afraid of breaking your French teacher's heart?" Roger teased.
"More afraid of her expressing her disappointment with pint-sized fireballs," Harry replied.
"Speaking of lessons," said Roger, "Bill mentioned that you two could learn how to apparate over there?"
"That's right," said Hermione.
"Do you have to be enrolled in their version of Hogwarts to do that?"
Hermione shook her head. "There are private instructors you can hire...similar, I think, to hiring a driving instructor in the muggle world."
"What are you two thinking, then, in terms of full-time enrollments?" Roger asked. "Not that we're going to force you to return to Hogwarts..."
"It's a good question," said Harry, as he caught Hermione's eye.
"Now that we've passed our OWLs, there no requirement that we continue on at Hogwarts for our NEWTs," Hermione explained.
"Short of the Ministry passing some last-second, half-arsed law at Dumbledore's request," Harry interjected.
"You don't want to continue your magical education, Hermione?" her mother asked.
"Of course I do," Hermione replied. "It's just a matter of where and when."
"So now you're willing to consider transferring to another school?" Roger asked. "What's changed since second year?"
"Well, lots of things," Hermione replied, reaching out for Harry's hand. "The main problem, especially back then, is Dumbledore."
"When is he not the problem?" Harry snarked.
"How so?" asked Emily.
"We learned some interesting things from Bill during our talks about lordships and emancipation," said Harry. "Turns out that once a muggleborn student accepts their invitation to Hogwarts, the headmaster becomes their magical guardian."
"Really?" asked Roger. "We were never told that!"
"Doubt they thought you needed to know," said Harry.
"What kind of powers does a magical guardian have?"
"Basically, full decision-making authority for anything involving the wizarding world," Hermione explained. "Regardless of what the parents might want."
"How could they do that?" asked Roger.
"They think that muggle parents aren't competent to make decisions on magical matters," Harry explained.
"So...if we had decided to pull Hermione from Hogwarts after she was petrified?"
"Dumbledore would have overruled that decision," Hermione said. "And if you didn't pay my third-year tuition and if I didn't show up on September 1, they would have tracked me down and forced a decision.
"Return to Hogwarts or see my wand snapped and magic bound," Hermione replied.
"They would have done that, even if you had been accepted into Beauxbatons?" asked Fleur.
"As long as the magical guardian believes it to be in the best interests of the child," Hermione replied.
"Talk about conflict of interest," Roger whined.
"But you said that's changed, now that you've passed your OWLs, right?" Emily asked.
"Partly," Hermione replied. "They can't break my wand or bind my magic if I drop out of Hogwarts. But Dumbledore is still my magical guardian, so he could still block my enrollment in another magical school."
"Until she turns seventeen next month," Harry added.
"And it will be too late to start at another magical school by then," Hermione noted.
"This is unbelievable," Roger said with a huff. "What else does a magical guardian do? Can they control a muggleborn's finances?"
"Not directly," Harry replied. "I was really worried about that, but the goblins won't allow that kind of interference with Gringotts accounts."
"What's the indirect control, then?" asked Roger.
Hermione shook her head in disgust. "Mum and Dad, did you know that Hogwarts tuition for muggleborn students is fifteen percent higher than tuition for purebloods or half-bloods?"
"We most certainly did not!" Roger hissed. "How could they even begin to justify that?"
"Goblins told Bill that it's a guardianship administration fee," Harry explained, shaking his head. "Excess goes right into Dumbledore purse."
"That's a criminal conflict of interest!"
"Not in the wizarding world, apparently," said Harry.
"And they didn't need to break down these charges to the parents?"
"Why would they?" asked Harry.
"I imagine that they would say that they are providing a beneficial service," said Hermione. "This way, muggleborn parents don't need to maintain a Gringotts account for monthly fee payments, and only need to convert pounds sterling into galleons once a year."
"And nobody thinks this is wrong?" asked Roger. "Doesn't Hogwarts have a Board of Governors to keep tabs on the Headmaster?"
"I'm sure that they think it's a fine idea," said Harry. "They don't need to pay a proper salary to the Headmaster when the job comes with a separate income stream."
Emily shook her head. "This is one more reason why we need names and addresses of British muggleborns and their families...even if they don't need to be evacuated, someone needs to tell them the truth about those Hogwarts invitations."
"So, just to confirm," said Roger. "You two have no intention of returning to Hogwarts on September first?"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other and nodded in agreement.
"And until Hermione turns seventeen, Dumbledore can legally block a transfer to Beauxbatons, or any other magical school?"
"But Harry could still transfer?" asked Emily.
The teenaged wizard shrugged. "I could, but my French isn't nearly good enough yet, and I wouldn't enroll unless Hermione could as well."
"So, what then...an early gap year?" asked Roger.
Hermione shrugged. "We were hoping to sort that out over the next month...with your help, of course. I haven't forgotten that the age of majority outside of the wizarding world is eighteen."
"That's good," Roger replied with a smile.
"Should we head back to Fleur's parents' house, to pack our things for the night?" Emily asked.
Fleur shook her head. "I'm sure zhat the house elves would be happy for that work."
On cue, Pebbles popped into the room.
"Pebbles be most happy to make up another bedroom here at Corkie Fort."
Hermione's eyes widened just a smidge.
"Pebbles, please bring my parents' things to the bedroom that's next to mine...you remember the one that's down the hall from the master?" she asked. "And then bring my things to my bedroom, and arrange to have Harry's things delivered to the master."
The young house-elf caught herself from saying anything too incriminating. But she couldn't keep from glaring a bit at Hermione's parents as she curtsied, and popped away.
Canadian High Commission
MacDonald House, London
When Hector Gutierrez walked into Billy Bucktooth's office, he found his friend sitting behind his desk, reading a letter while nursing a glass of whisky. He smiled, and asked, "So is that a one-shot letter, or two?"
The wizard who ran NAC security operations in Britain looked up and shook his head.
"More like a 'leave the bottle' letter," he whined. He shook the printed letter and added, "Latest bullshit from the ward contractor's legal department."
"Still ducking liability for the house elf breach?"
"Yeah...I just hope this loaner house elf we're getting tonight will prove useful."
Hector chuckled. "Are you going to put them right to work, or at least try to get a few hours of sleep?"
Billy shrugged. "Got some higher-ups who are following this fairly closely...might try to do a quick interrogation and send them something tonight."
The NAC spymaster shook his head. "I'm in the same canoe...wish they'd remember once and a while that we aren't in the same time zone."
"So your home office honchos are yanking your chain as well?"
Hector nodded. "Just got off the phone...they're eager to press our advantage."
"Anything you can share?"
The spymaster shrugged. "A house elf that can help you fix your wards might be able to help me test wards laid down by others."
Billy nodded in agreement. "Oooh, I like it. We've still got first dibs, right?"
Hector rolled his eyes and asked, "So what else you got going?"
Billy shrugged. "Wards are on top of a to-do list that's one task long. I did hear an interesting rumor earlier today, though."
"Head office is quietly lining up support for an emergency ICW session. We want to elect a new Supreme Mugwump."
"Really?" asked Hector. "I thought a weak ICW better served our interests?"
"It did," Bill agreed. "But that was before you gave us a leg up on controlling its leadership."
"I gave us a leg up? How?"
Billy smiled. "We're getting more tonight than a loaner elf and breathing space for Harry Potter, right?"
Hector thought for a moment, then shrugged.
"Okay with me, so long as I don't get dragged into diplomatic service."
"Aren't you already a diplomat?"
"In name only, my friend. In name only."
Hector looked at his watch and nodded.
"We've still got a few minutes...can you put that letter down long enough to help me properly prep our prisoner?"
Billy smiled as he crumbled the lawyer's letter into a ball.
"I'd rather take this letter with me, and stuff it up Snape's ass."
"Why? So it would feel more at home with the other shit?"
The NAC security chief laughed in agreement as he refilled his whisky glass, then poured a takeaway drink for his good friend.
Headmaster's Office, Hogwarts
There weren't many witches or wizards in the world who could place enchanted writing upon an object that could only be read when a specific witch or wizard touched it with their mouth. And only two or three within that small group of magic wielders were powerful enough and talented enough to fashion a hidden door within that enchanted object that would only open when that specific witch or wizard accepted the fact that they needed to sacrifice themselves in order to defeat a dark lord.
None within that handful of elite enchanters were all that good when it came to writing elegiac prose. But that didn't stop Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (O.M. (First Class), Grand Sorc., D. Wiz. (sorc.), S. of Mag.Q.) from trying.
"Use me when it's time to go?" he asked himself.
The frustrated wizard added the phrase to the bottom of a long handwritten list, and stared at the words for a few seconds. Then he shook his head and muttered, "Sounds like I'm enchanting bog paper."
The words were crossed out, just like all of the other discarded phrases that he'd come up with over the past few hours...
"Reach for me when it's time to preach to him..."
"Great, but only after you've accepted your fate..."
"Your hallowed ticket to the next great adventure..."
Dumbledore glanced over at the golden snitch and sighed. If only he had a muse!
The headmaster dropped his quill, grabbed the Elder Wand, and gracefully and efficiently dispelled the ethereal feces that had been aimed towards his head. He glanced towards the source of that scintillating scat and scowled.
"You've delivered your messages...now begone!"
The two baboon patronuses, who had somehow managed to deliver their messages using twin-speak, howled and laughed like, well...baboons. When Dumbledore tried to banish them as well, they ducked, then scampered off in search of Peeves, who was (quite literally) a kindred spirit.
At least the messages that those baboons had delivered had been comforting...he had finally gotten a response from his expeditionary force, and learned that everyone on Guernsey had made their way back to magical Britain. So as long as Harry Potter was still outside of the country, he was relatively safe.
The thought caused Dumbledore to glance up towards his pube-tracking world map. The tracking charm that had seemed to be swimming across the channel at great speed earlier in the day was now in the city of Wellington, and the second marker that had been hovering over Hogwarts was still at Hogwarts. It would be easy enough to warn the Order off from visiting Somerset. And if Harry Potter actually was hiding within Hogwarts (in spite of the Headmaster's extensive monitoring network of portraits, elves, and eavesdropping charms)? Well, then...a vow not to encourage the boy to return to Hogwarts couldn't be broken if the boy already was in Hogwarts, right?
Thinking about that vow, and the reason for it, jolted Dumbledore's memory. He cast a quick Tempus charm...then spat out a string of Mermish curse words that would have made a crustacean blush.
There was no time to come up with the perfect catchphrase for the golden snitch, much less update his animated portrait.
In a rush, Dumbledore took out a delicate silver chisel, and carved "I won your first and last" onto the golden snitch. It wasn't good, but it was good enough for now.
"Canipsy!" the headmaster shouted.
The house elf immediately responded to the call and announced, "There be no change in the addressing of the letters, Headmaster, Sir!"
"And did you find out why there was a charmed pubic hair stuck the back of my shorts today?"
"Canipsy be searching for an answer in between addressing all the letters, but not be finding one yet."
"Very well," the headmaster declared. "I am travelling to Regents Park in London. You will answer my call once I arrive!"
"Yes, Headmaster," the house elf timidly replied.
Dumbledore glared towards the barely reborn chick that was sleeping on Fawkes' perch and shook his head.
"Everyone against me!" he muttered to himself, as he walked towards the fireplace, and made do with a transit option far below his station.
Canipsy shrugged as he watched the headmaster throw floo powder into the fire and disappear into the flames. Why the master of Hogwarts' house elves didn't ask for their help traveling from one place to another was a great mystery, and a frequent topic of conversation within the kitchens.
But Canipsy was a good elf, even when his master wasn't always a good master. So rather than waste time over those thoughts, the house elf popped back to the tower that housed the Quill of Addressing, and fed two more envelopes into the black box.
Changi Airport, Singapore
6:30am local time (GMT+8)
The thirteen hour direct flight from London to Singapore was long enough to drain the energy and enthusiasm of the most ardent air passenger. But Arthur Weasley wasn't your typical air passenger.
Everything about the trip had been completely captivating…from the seatbelts, to the meals, to the headphones that were necessary to listen to the in-flight movies (all three of them!). He might have broken the Statute of Secrecy several times over had it not been for two fortunate circumstances. The other person sitting in his row was from Myanmar and didn't speak English, which limited conversational slipups. And the flight attendants had pegged him as a "special needs" passenger who deserved simple, honest answers to all of his questions, delivered with smiles and an abundance of patience. They even got one of their off-duty colleagues flying jump seat to sit with him for a few hours mid-flight, and provide a much-appreciated tutorial on how jumbo jets managed to fly.
Over the last hour of the flight, Arthur's nose had been glued to the window, especially once they broke through the clouds. It was before the dawn, so he couldn't see all that much, but just knowing that every light represented a muggle community or dwelling or road made the sheer number of lights even more wondrous.
The landing was so smooth that he wouldn't have believed they had touched ground, had he not seen that ground for himself. The captain then announced their arrival, and reported the local time. Having witnessed day turn into night turn into morning dusk from his window seat helped Arthur do the math without too much disbelief. Half six in the morning in southeast Asia was still half ten the night before back home in Britain.
Having just a small rucksack as a carry-on made it easy for Arthur to express his appreciation and shake hands with every single member of the flight crew as he left the plane. One of the flight attendants had arranged for someone from the airline's special assistance program to help Arthur safely get to the gate of his connecting flight. The escort had a cart parked just outside the arrival gate, helped the red-haired wizard buckle up in the passenger seat for the short trip. But someone approached the escort before he could drive off, and presented some identification. Some words were exchanged in a language that Arthur didn't understand. The airline employee gave the other man a short bow, and gestured towards the cart's driver seat, offering its use. The first man then informed Arthur (in English) that the second man would take him to his departure gate.
They drove down the length of the concourse without interference or need to apply the horn to warn off other travelers. Arthur watched the gate numbers pass, and pointed towards one as they drove by.
"I think we may have gone past where I need to be," he stated.
The driver nodded. "You have a three-hour wait before boarding that flight."
Arthur frowned. "Where are we going then?"
The driver smiled. "If you could hold your questions...we will soon be somewhere where we can speak without concerns over any statutes or secrecy."
The red-haired wizard, having picked up on the emphasized words, replied, "Of course."
The cart traveled for another thirty seconds, before the driver turned into a dead-end corridor marked "Employees Only." They drove past several doors on either side before coming to a stop ten meters in front the wall that marked the corridor's end. When Arthur reached down to undo his seat belt, the driver reached out and stopped him.
"Please wait until we've reached our destination, Sir."
Arthur looked around, and asked, "Which door then?"
"None of them."
When an inconspicuous light in a corner of the hallway turned from red to green, the driver instructed Arthur to hold on, and pressed the acceleration pedal to the floor. They hit the corridor's end at ramming speed, but didn't ram anything.
It wasn't until he was on the other side that Arthur made the connection between that "solid" wall and the entrance to Platform 9 3/4, back in London.
The cart had delivered Arthur Weasley to Singapore's magical multimodal transit center. Instead of train tracks and a locomotive, the large, brightly lit room had apparation circles along one wall, and controlled areas for inbound and outbound portkey travel along another. The cart driver explained that this was a secured area where witches and wizards could use safely use magic and shop in magic-friendly stores while they either waited for connecting flights, or waited for inbound friends and loved ones who were arriving by magical means.
Arthur thanked the driver for the trip, and asked where he lavatories were located. The transit hub wasn't very busy that morning, so when he entered the magical men's room he was the only one there. And since Arthur hadn't been alone over the past several hours, it was there that Dumbledore's long-delayed patronus message was finally delivered.
Bill's father mulled over his options as he used the loo and washed his hands. When he returned to the main area, he asked someone for help and was guided to a desk staffed by someone who helped with muggle travel plans. Arthur explained that he needed to return to England as soon as possible, and asked whether the date of his return flight from Australia to London could be changed. The person looked at Arthur's airline ticket, and entered a few things into a couple of different screens on a muggle computer. The travel agent then explained to Arthur that he could return to London from Singapore, without needing to carry on to Australia. Unfortunately, the fee to change his flight schedule was slightly more money than he had with him, and of course there weren't any credit cards in his wallet.
Dejected, Arthur thanked the agent, found an empty seat in front of a television monitor, and started to watch an all-news network broadcast.
A few minutes later, a man wearing a tailored three-piece suit appeared within the international portkey arrival area. A wave of his diplomatic passport got him past customs and immigration officials and in to the center of the room. It didn't take the man long to find what he was looking for.
Arthur reluctantly pulled his attention away from a fascinating television advertisement for home fitness equipment, and looked up at the man who had addressed him with the slightest of French accents.
"How could you tell?"
"I am afraid that your hair color sticks out in this part of the world," the man replied. He offered Arthur a business card that identified him as a cultural attaché assigned to a French embassy in Thailand.
"Is there is anything that I can do to make your short stay here in Singapore more comfortable?"
"Why are you offering to help, if I might ask?"
"Your son is a very important person in the life of the daughter of a very important wizard back in France," the man explained.
Arthur was far too proud a man to reveal any financial difficulties, so he politely declined the offer of assistance.
The French diplomat nodded in response, then pulled out a mobile phone, and asked Arthur if he would like to talk to his son William.
Arthur did want to talk to his eldest son, and he was desperately interested in seeing how a nubile fellytone worked, so he accepted the offer.
The diplomat dialed a very long distance number, introduced himself to Emily Granger, then offered the phone to Bill's father.
Arthur only needed a bit of help figuring out what end of the mobile he should talk in to, and then began talking to his eldest son with an amazingly appropriate voice level.
The diplomat took a few steps away to give Arthur the kind of private space that he didn't know he might expect.
Arthur did far more listening than talking, and after only a few minutes returned the mobile phone to the French diplomat.
"Thank you," he said. "My son has convinced me to ask for your assistance. I need to cut my trip short and return to England as soon as possible."
The diplomat nodded, asked for Arthur's plane tickets, then walked over to the travel agent's desk. A few minutes later, he walked back to Arthur and handed him a first-class ticket to London via Paris, on a flight that left that evening. He then asked Arthur if he wanted to eat some breakfast. The British wizard accepted the offer, and within minutes the two were in a muggle taxi, heading towards the diplomat's favorite Hawker Centre.
Cork Fort, France
It had been a long day for everyone, and Bill and Fleur thought it best that they say their goodbyes a few minutes before midnight (which was 11pm London time), just in case the vow considered time zones. There had been time enough after Bill's return to brief the others on what had been discussed in Guernsey, and for Bill to take his father's call from Singapore. They were all amused by the fact that Bill was effectively the new leader of the Order.
Pebbles had popped up once Bill and Fleur left, and offered to transport Harry and the three Grangers to their respective rooms for the night. Hermione's father preferred to walk, just so he would know where his daughter's bedroom was located relative to her boyfriend's bedroom (not that he was willing to admit the fact). So after hugs and kisses and their good nights, they retreated to their separate rooms, and Hermione was finally able to call for some house elf help to slip into something more comfortable.
A sigh of relief escaped from Hermione's lips as she was liberated from the very pretty, but somewhat restrictive outfit.
"This corkie place be needing a proper dressing room for Miss Hermione Miss," Pebbles declared, as she banished the teen's underthings to a hamper. The house elf offered the teen a red silk dressing gown, and asked, "Can we be moving away the bed that you not be using tonight and make this a proper dressing room?"
Hermione shook her head as she slipped on the thin gown and loosely tied it.
"We need to provide my father some plausible deniability," the teen witch decided. "Maybe you could convert one of the other unused bedrooms?"
"Yes, Miss Hermione Miss, I supposes the one next to the Master is the most appropriate."
There was a knock on the bedroom door, causing Hermione to reflexively reach up and gather the robe fabric that had only been marginally covering her breasts.
"Honey? It's me," her mum called out. "Can we talk for a bit?"
Hermione glanced around the room, searching for anything that her mum shouldn't see. She pulled the covers over the racy lingerie options that Pebbles had set out on the bed, then called out, "Coming, Mum."
"Pebbles be waiting to bring Miss Hermione Miss to her ravishment," the house elf declared, just before popping out of the room.
"Why not announce that to the world?" Hermione muttered under her breath. Then she sucked in that breath and called out, "Please don't actually announce that, Pebbles...that wasn't a request!"
"What wasn't a request, Dear?" Emily asked, as her daughter let her into the room.
"Oh nothing...just have to watch what I say, and remember that we always have hyper-eager house elves listening in."
"Ah," said Emily. She reached out and touch the sleeve of Hermione's dressing gown. "Ready for bed, I see?"
"What? Oh...no," said Hermione. "Just wearing this until I pick something to sleep in." The teenaged witched nodded towards the jeweled headdress that her mum was still wearing and asked, "Planning on wearing your tiara to bed?"
Emily chuckled. "Don't imagine I'll sleep with it, but your father asked me to keep it on until we..."
"Roleplay the naughty version of Sleeping Beauty?" Hermione quipped.
"Something like that," her mum admitted with a smile. Spotting a bit of lace sticking out from the bed linens, she walked over and flipped the duvet up, exposing the lingerie that was underneath.
Emily picked a sheer feathered chemise up from the bed and asked, "Need help picking out something that Harry would like?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "What wouldn't he like? Honestly, Mum...it was Pebbles that laid out those options, not me...and who is to say that Harry will see me wearing any of them tonight?"
"Anyone with a lick of common sense and an inkling of what can be done with magic?"
"Mum!" Hermione whined. "I thought we covered the traditional mother-daughter interrogation yesterday!"
"Yes, yes...I suppose we did," admitted Emily.
"Then you won't be getting daily explicit updates on my love life," Hermione firmly stated. "And as for the clothes...you do recall that Harry and I left ours back at the Burrow, right?"
"Yes, Dear, I remember," Emily replied. "We were instructed to do the same, and just have the clothing that Gringotts provided us at Fleur's parents'."
Hermione's mum dropped the sexy chemise and picked up a black silk slip. "Oh, I like this one...any chance that I could borrow a few things from the grand-auntie's closet?"
The teenage witch shrugged. "Interested?"
Emily slipped her hand behind the intricate black lace that covered the top half of the slip.
"It is rather pretty...but no tags?" asked Emily. "Bespoke lingerie?"
Hermione shrugged. "Why don't you try it on?"
The teenaged witch held her tongue when her mum slipped off her dressing gown and revealed nothing but skin underneath. That restraint was tested when some of the slip material got caught on the tiara as Emily slipped it over her head.
"Very nice," Hermione commented, once Emily pulled the slip free from the tiara and let it drop down her body.
As she adjusted the lace and judged cleavage exposure, Hermione's mum asked, "Think your father would find it sexy?"
Hermione let out a sigh.
"Mum, I'm not going to offer opinions on what my father might find sexy!"
"Fleur doesn't seem mind talking about these things with her mum."
"Yes, well...Fleur is older, and they're both Veela, so I imagine it comes naturally for them."
Hermione sighed. "So was there some other reason you wanted to chat tonight?"
"Oh yes, actually...there is!" said Emily, as she slipped her dressing gown back on, over the borrowed slip. After tying the gown shut, she reached into the gown's pockets and pulled out two glass dropper vials.
"I found these sitting on the nightstand next to my side of the bed...any idea what they are?"
Hermione tilted her head a bit and asked, "What made you think it was your side of the bed?"
"Because there was a full bottle of stamina potion on the other side?"
"And how would you know it was stamina...wait, don't tell me."
"If you insist, Dear."
Hermione took the clear dropper bottle that held a blue solution and read the label. Then she opened the bottle, took a sniff, and used the dropper to place a drop of the solution on the back of her hand.
"This is murtlap essence," she stated. "It's used to soothe cuts and abrasions."
Emily asked, "Do I want to know what a murtlap is?"
Hermione giggled. "Definitely not. Useful stuff, though...did you cut your foot on the beach or something?"
Emily shook her head. "No...no cuts or skin abrasions that I know of."
Hermione considered the logical source of the potion, and where it was placed, and began to laugh.
"What's so funny?"
"It can be taken internally...it's useful for sore throats, and other sore...internal places."
"Ah, I see."
"Have a sore throat, Mum?"
"No I'm fine, just a little...well, hypothetically speaking, what would be the dosage for, say...erm...vaginal chafing?"
"It's applied topically until the pain goes away," Hermione said with a smirk. "Of course the trick for that kind of abrasion is getting it to the right spot."
"Yes, well...we'll figure that part out on our own, thanks."
"Sounds good to me."
Emily tried to control a blush as she handed the other vial to her daughter.
"What about this one, then?"
Hermione read the label on the other bottle, took a sniff, and shrugged.
"They don't teach us how to brew that one at school, for obvious reasons," she said with a smile. "But the smell and color are consistent with the label."
Emily sighed, then asked, "And how would you know what a lust potion smells and looks like?"
"I read a lot," Hermione quipped. "And because of that, I also know that you don't want to take more than one drop at a time."
"Is that so? Dare I ask where that drop has to be applied?"
Hermione laughed. "And I thought that I'd be the one embarrassed by this little chat!"
"Well if you don't want to tell me..."
"Any patch of moist mucus membrane will do," Hermione replied. "Given the goal, I imagine some patches are more popular than others."
Emily let out a deep breath as she pocketed the two dropper bottles.
"Why would your house elf think that I needed that kind of help?"
Hermione smiled. "Remember the trumpeters, and the house elf mechanic, and what I said earlier about house elves always listening in?"
"Yes, but I didn't..."
"Did you whine to dad about...oh, I don't know...being all shagged out after this afternoon?"
The way her mum blushed was clear indication of how close she'd come to the mark.
Hermione giggled, and said, "On a related note...Pebbles really wants to be a nanny elf. So don't..."
"Don't whine about our failed attempts over the years to give you a little brother or sister?"
Hermione nodded. "Unless you still want another child."
"Oh, well then...something to discuss with your father, obviously."
"Sounds good, Mum...anything else?"
"No, no...I probably should head back, just in case your father's already chugged the stamina potion."
"TMI, Mum," Hermione sing-songed. "Good night, Mum."
Emily hugged her daughter and replied, "Good night, Sweetie."
As Emily walked out of Hermione's bedroom-in-name-only, both mother and daughter chuckled at the realization that they'd just completed the kind of frank discussion that Hermione had claimed she was too young for. And Hermione decided that being away from her dear friend and confidant Fleur for the next month might not be so horrible.
The muggleborn witch decided to wait a few minutes before joining her boyfriend in his bed. She used the time to try on the different outfits that Pebbles had laid out for her use (and to also try to ignore the sounds coming through the wall). The black feathered chemise was over-the-top obvious, but it fit well and would certainly catch Harry's eye. And the fact that the front of the matching knickers proudly displayed the Potter crest?
It was just icing on her cake.
The Japanese Island Garden
Regents Park, London
There were any number of places within Great Britain that Hector Gutierrez could have picked for the exchange. But as he was student of history and a fan of Cold War-era muggle spy stories, there just had to be a dimly lit bridge involved. And so it was that Albus Dumbledore apparated from Diagon Alley to Regent Parks' formal Japanese garden island, located within the Queen Mary's Gardens. Within that Japanese garden was a small wooden bridge that spanned a lily pad-covered pond. It was the perfect setting for a prisoner exchange, and the fact that this bridge was within the same park, and less than a mile from the zoo where Snape splinched his arse? Well, that was just icing on Hector's cake.
The moonlight was bright enough for Dumbledore to walk down the garden path without torch or lit wand tip. There were three robed figures with their hoods up standing on the far side of the bridge. He stopped on the near side of the bridge, and cast a Lumos spell to see them better. One of the robed figures stood behind a second, whose hands appeared to be tied behind his back.
The third figure pulled down his hood and turned on a battery-powered lantern that illuminated their side of the bridge.
"Odd-looking torch, Señor," he called out. "It's a good thing that we've laid down muggle repelling charms."
"Yes a good thing...what else have you done to prepare the field of battle, Hector?"
"I am sorry that you consider us combatants, Señor Dumbledore."
"What is the muggle saying about war being a form of diplomacy?"
"Sounds more like something a goblin would say."
When Hector nodded, his colleague pulled the hood back from the third, revealing a ill-looking potions master.
"So we have come prepared for the exchange," Hector noted. "Where's the house elf?"
Dumbledore tried to catch Snape's surface thoughts with a wordless Legilimens spell, but there was too much distance between them, and Snape's gaze was anything but steady. Giving up the attempt (for now), the Headmaster called out the name of his least favorite Hogwarts house elf.
Canipsy immediately popped to the headmaster's side.
"What can Canipsy be doing for the Headmaster?" he asked.
Dumbledore grabbed the house elf shoulder with one hand, and pointed across the bridge with the other.
"For the next three weeks, you will do what that wizard asks of you, within the bounds of your service to Hogwarts and its Headmaster."
"Canipsy will do as the Headmaster commands," the house elf replied.
"Now hold on," Hector called out. "What are these bounds?"
Dumbledore looked across the bridge and smiled.
"They are the basis of the house elf bond, Mr. Gutierrez," he replied. "A bound house elf must keep his master's secrets, and must never betray or harm his master's house."
"And those service oaths will apply to me over the next weeks, correct?" Hector asked.
Dumbledore shook his head. "A house elf can only serve one master at a time."
"So at the end of three weeks, you could command him to reveal everything we asked him to do for us? And tell you everything he saw or heard during that time?"
"That's unacceptable," Hector declared. "You will have to temporarily transfer ownership to me."
The Headmaster shook his head. "I am sorry, Sir, but the agreement was for me to loan you a house elf. I can't loan you something without retaining ownership."
"Then order the elf to never reveal to you or anyone else what he does, sees, or hears over the loan period."
"I think not," Dumbledore replied. "The deal was for the loan of a house elf. You should have been more specific if you wanted that loaned elf to keep your secrets."
A low-pitched growl rose up from Hector's gut as he pulled out a nasty-looking knife. He slapped the side of the blade against Snape's belly, with its tip pointing straight at the potion master's groin.
"You wish to go down that path?" Hector shouted. "My side of the deal was to deliver your boy to you alive and free from prosecution," the spymaster stated. "You should have been more specific if you wanted your boy returned intact."
"Surely the vow wouldn't..."
Hector dragged the knife's tip across the front of Snape's crotch. "Fair is fair. You neuter that house elf's functionality, and I'll neuter Snape."
Dumbledore's gaze narrowed. "Maiming a prisoner violates the Geneva conventions. I'm sure that the ICW will be very interested in a pensieve memory of this conversation."
Hector used his free hand to pull Snape's wand from a robe pocket. "You stupidly thought that I was being literal? The easiest way to neuter a wizard is to break his wand. And the return of this bastard's wand was definitely not part of the deal."
Albus Dumbledore weighed his strong desire not to be bested by another wizard against the odds that Snape could find an adequate replacement wand. Confident in his skills as a negotiator and loophole finder, he swallowed his pride and suggested they work on a last-second supplemental agreement. Hector agreed, and they quickly developed a functional compromise.
Dumbledore got Snape, Snape's wand, and stipulations that Canipsy would not enter Hogwarts, reveal Dumbledore's secrets, or do anything that overtly betrayed or harmed Hogwarts during the loan period.
Hector got Canipsy's services under those constraints and an oath-bound commitment that Canipsy would keep Hector's secrets and not reveal what he did, saw, or heard to anyone, even after the loan period ended.
And all Snape got was a swift kick to his reattached arse, once the compromise was enacted and Hector stuffed Snape's wand into his pocket
The potions master shook his head with disbelief as he crossed paths with Canipsy in the middle of the bridge. Once he was on the other side, he harshly hissed at the Headmaster.
"A loaned house elf? That's all they thought that I was worth?"
Dumbledore shook his head as he banished the muggle handcuffs that held Snape's hands behind his back. He pocketed his wand, then used his free hand to pat the potion master's shoulder.
"You are worth far more than that to me, Severus," he said. "And they knew it."
The greasy-haired wizard scowled. "So where can I get my hands on the Potter brat?"
Dumbledore shook his head.
"For now," he said sadly, "Harry Potter is beyond our reach."
The magnitude of Severus Snape's rage and frustration was far too high to adequately characterize with a handful of rhyming words.
AN1: Why Dumbledore never travels with the help of house elves, and why those who own house elves rarely seem to use them to travel within canon is one of those odd questions that I used to ask at the start of each chapter to this story. While I suppose that DD could have just been accustomed to traveling via Fawkes, and didn't think of it, the easiest answer is that house elf travel is only used when it's a convenient plot device for the writer. I'm just as guilty as JKR here...it was far more fun to have HHr escape the Burrow in this story on broomstick (following behind Naked!Fleur), than simply asking Dobby to show up and bring them to France. Just like it was far more tense/movie-worthy/interesting for JKR to write out "The Battle of Seven Potters," than have just the one Harry escape Durzkaban with the help of his excitable friend Dobby. When I popped the question into a google search, the best on-line response I found was "They just didn't think of it at the time."
For the purposes of this story, I think I can get away with positing that house elves can only bring people from place to place over relatively short distances. So Harry and Bill could be popped from the doorstep of Chateau Delacour to their private beach, and Pebbles could pop Hermione from the beach on Hidden Island to the castle's master bedroom (and canon Kreacher could have dropped Dung on Grimmauld's doorsteps). But it'd be much more taxing and magically impossible for a house elf to carry someone across the Channel (or Atlantic Ocean, for that matter).
AN2: I would be remiss if I didn't lay out the possibility that elements of the last two chapters were influenced by "The Lust of Gryffindors," written by Fearful Porpentine and available for reading and download on this website. More specifically, the repeated use of the term "ravished" and its derivatives, and the inspired idea that Essence of Murtlap could be used internally.