You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com
The Ravenís Call by jardyn39
Chapter 1: Introduction and Prologue
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
The Raven’s Call
Harry is finally about to take over as head of the Auror Office but is growing a little tired of Kingley’s interference. A personal invitation gives him an excuse to escape for a while and presents an opportunity to reopen a cold case. In Nevada, Harry is surprised to meet an old friend living under a new identity (Part 2 of The Traveller Trilogy)
Introduction to Part Two
AN: It is not at all necessary to have read Part One (The Legend) before reading this second part, since the story lines are almost entirely independent.
Part One is here http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com/viewstory.php?psid=327640
The narrative of this story slightly overlaps the events in Part One. This second part is basically Harry’s journey.
Harry here is about to be finally appointed as Head of the Auror Office but feels compelled to accept an invitation to help that will take him abroad to Nevada in the United States where a wizard has been arrested and is in custody. Invited by Muggles, he must endure Muggle air transport to get there.
Harry is older and wiser, and has enjoyed a very successful career thus far as an Auror. Indeed, his field partnership with Ron marked one of the most effective spells in the history of the Auror Office.
He does not regret pursuing advancement, but he does dislike how this has distanced him from some of those that he once regarded more senior to himself.
Harry appreciates that Ron remains fiercely loyal to him, despite his own recent disappointments. Harry is quietly determined to help Ron once he can get past the politics of his own promotion.
Kingsley has always been very protective of the Auror Office and Harry understands that he wouldn’t allow just anyone to take over. Harry has already agreed to several compromises and still trusts Kingsley.
He is, however, looking forward to making his escape ...
This part is complete and about 43000 words long over 16 Chapters. The final part is in progress.
Part Two - Prologue
South coast, England, several years ago ...
Greene allowed himself a small smile as he waited in the evening shadows. He was certainly due a change of luck.
Was it luck?
He mentally shrugged to himself, as he decided to wait a little longer.
It wasn’t that lucky to discover, after such a long and inconvenient journey down to the coast, that he’d been found again so quickly.
Still, me mused, it was lucky that an old friend had tipped him off. He’d have plenty of time to get away this time.
Yes, it was time to be lucky.
If Greene had an ideal comfort zone, it would be down here on the East coast where he’d grown up. That was why he’d headed here, after all.
The sound of a slow diesel tractor passing caused him to shrink further back between the clump of trees he was standing in, but he was quite concealed.
Greene listened and mentally followed the tractor in case it stopped. It was unlikely, since the rear gate was always padlocked shut at dusk, but discovery that he’d broken the lock might raise an alarm.
The tractor passed by without incident, but then he heard chattering as a small group of holidaymakers crossed the road.
Greene listened intently. They should pass through the pedestrian gap policed by a couple of bent steel bollards beside the gate, but if one of them decided to climb the gate, his handiwork might be discovered.
Minutes passed and gradually the lights from inside the nearby caravans went out as families locked up and went off in seek of their evening entertainment.
Greene stayed where he was until the lights in the farthest caravan against the hedgerow went out. This was followed by noises of the young family whose car he intended to steal headed for the entertainment complex on the other side of the camp.
Greene satisfied himself that they had gone and then gave the family no further thought.
In his mind, he was already planning his trip North. He had friends in Liverpool who would help him, but this time he would give no notice of his arrival.
Greene wondered who could have given him away. Only a couple of people had known, but then again perhaps someone had remembered his local connections and taken a chance.
He was about to step out when he heard raised voices. Someone was coming back to his or her caravan, hurrying along a complaining child. It sounded like one of the children had forgotten something.
Greene was content to wait for quiet to return.
He finally stepped out into the path on the far side of the trees and walked the long way round to another gate. It was a common mistake to try and sneak into the camp, but Greene knew he was far less likely to be noticed if walked confidently and in plain sight.
As he rounded the large wheeled bin enclosure, he remembered that he used to have a fake official looking badge that gave the impression that he worked there.
That badge was long gone, of course.
It had been years since he had stolen a car from around here and he was almost sure he’d only ever broken into caravans in this particular camp.
Greene did remember breaking the padlock on the rear gate before, but that was only so that someone else could get away quietly in another stolen car.
Presently he found himself approaching the last caravan.
He was inside the car and working the ignition lock before he remembered he was going to time himself.
Greene knew he had limitations, but thieving cars was something he did well and took some pride in. He never broke windows nor scratched the paintwork and the ignition lock had been removed with no damage at all to the dashboard.
The car started and Greene carefully disengaged the hand brake, slowly rolling the car the car from between the caravans.
Greene followed the long winding access road until he arrived at the rear gate. He very slowly pushed the gate and it opened with a metallic ping sound, swinging wide as the temporary wedge he’d fitted fell away.
He eased out into the narrow country road and drove slowly up towards the main road.
Greene realised he would be passing the entrance to his old council estate at one point, and actually considered turning in to see the state of his old home.
Greene laughed at the notion and turned the radio on, but heard nothing but crackling.
The road weaved left and right before narrowing further.
He then found himself passing more caravans and frowned slightly, not remembering them.
Greene was then distracted by a man standing in the middle of the road.
Whoever this man was, he did not look pleased.
Greene flashed the headlights and made to steer around him when he realised that car was coming to a halt and the steering wheel refused to be turned.
The engine stopped and the man immediately stepped around to the driver’s door.
“Bugger,” muttered Greene as he recognised the man from earlier. He did not look at all happy.
Greene threw the door open and ran, but found himself falling onto the grass.
“My legs!” cried the youth, looking up in panic as the man pocketed something.
Years later ....
Harry woke slowly, only gradually coming to realise that the unfamiliar ringing filling his head was the telephone.
He turned over and reached for the handset, but the ringing stopped before his hand touched the phone.
Instead he groped for his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
For the briefest of moments he wondered why he had dreamt of a minor incident from a family holiday some years before.
Harry sat up, finding himself half-dressed and laying on top of the bed covers. At least he had thought to hang up his suit trousers and jacket or it would have been as crumpled as he now felt.
He staggered over to the large window curtains at one end of the narrow room and opened them, only to find that there was no actual window behind them. Rather than think too long about this conundrum, he pulled the curtains closed again.
Harry suddenly wondered what the time was and stepped back to pick his watch up from the bedside cabinet. It was three minutes to nine, so what time would it be at home?
He ducked down and traced the cable back to the wall. He pulled the telephone cord from the wall socket which was situated awkwardly between the bed and the cabinet.
A moment later the phone rang again.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Hi,” he replied with a smile, sitting back down on the bed. “It’s good to hear your voice.”
“Forgot to pull the cable out, did you?” teased Ginny. “I called earlier but there was no answer.”
“Sorry,” he replied, closing his eyes and laying back onto the mattress. “I was pretty much out of it when I finally got here.”
“What was the delay?”
“My flight was diverted back to the coast. I’m still not entirely sure why. The pilot said there were storms but there was also some sort of security problem that affected all the airports.”
“You should have Disapparated off the plane!”
Harry laughed and said, “They fly a bit too high for that! Besides, that would just have confused them more. From the news coverage I watched yesterday, the airlines were confused enough as it was.”
“This feels like a very strange way to talk. I wish we had a Floo connection.”
“I don’t think they have fireplaces here. Well, at least in this hotel.”
“Hang on,” said Ginny. “Did you say you went back to the coast?”
“Yep,” he answered with a yawn.
“You took that potion, didn’t you?”
“Maybe,” he admitted a little guiltily. Ginny had repeatedly warned him against taking the jet lag remedy on such a long journey, despite Ron’s insistence that it would work.
“Oh, Harry. That potion only works travelling east to west. If you travelled west to east too quickly, you’d have felt double the counter effects.”
“Tell me about it,” he replied dryly. “Still, I think it helped on the Atlantic flight.”
“Get lots of rest,” she ordered.
“Sure,” he agreed, knowing his taxi would be arriving very shortly. “Listen, the Embassy was supposed to call be this morning and I think I’ve already missed one call. I should go.”
“Oh, okay,” she replied, sounding disappointed. “You’re to call me soon, though. I want to find out how much I won!”
Harry snorted and promised her she wouldn’t win.
Ginny groaned and said, “We’ve only got half a minute left on this connection. How long is the place from where you are?”
“About three hours, or so. Maybe four.”
“No. We’re going by car. There is an airstrip quite close to the town, but I think this way must be cheaper.”
“Well, you’ll get more time to enjoy the scenery! Oh, we’re about to get cut off! Don’t forget to call!”
“I’ll call as soon as I get there,” he promised with a smile. “Love you.”
“Love you,” she replied. “Don’t forget the times you can call, or you won’t get through.”
“I’ll remember,” he promised.
There was a harsh click and then the receiver went dead.
“I’ve been half expecting Kingsley to announce that he’s making himself Head Auror, after all.”
The Embassy official calls and Harry decides to make his way alone. On the long trip across the desert, Harry recalls the events at the London Ministry before he left.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Harry only remembered to plug the phone back in as he got out of the shower. He reached between the bed and the side cabinet and blindly reinserted the plug.
The phone rang almost at once.
“Ah, good. This is Ponsonby-Brown from the Embassy. I’m afraid I’ve been delayed again.”
“Oh, right,” replied Harry, rubbing his eyes and trying to wake up. He was still very tired from the long journey despite having a short sleep and a long cold shower.
“Do you want to wait at the hotel? It will be a couple of days, I’m afraid. The Ambassador has asked me to do a couple of errands.”
“I’d rather push on, if that’s okay?”
“Fine, if you are sure? There’s a taxi booked to pick us up in about half an hour. If you ask at the hotel Reception, I’ve sent over all the contact details and directions to the motel. I’m afraid there wasn’t a lot of choice as far as accommodation is concerned.”
“I’m sure everything will be fine,” said Harry.
“I’m terribly sorry about all this,” said Ponsonby-Brown, sounding genuinely apologetic. “What with us dragging you all the way out here and now all these delays.”
“There’s no need to apologise,” Harry assured Ponsonby-Brown. “Hopefully we’ll finally catch up with each other in a couple of days.”
“Indeed. Well, happy hunting,” said Ponsonby-Brown in a bright tone. “If you need to contact me, call through the Washington number. They can get hold of me anywhere, unfortunately.”
“Ah,” said Harry. “It sounds like your errands have sent you further off course than me.”
“Oh, yes,” agreed Ponsonby-Brown with a small chuckle. “Storms and emergencies we can deal with, but edicts from the Ambassador create chaos to a completely new order of magnitude!”
Harry checked out of the hotel using the temporary credit card provided by the Embassy people and picked up a thick envelope with the faxed details sent by Mr. Ponsonby-Brown.
He decided to read the contents during the taxi ride and followed the Receptionist’s directions through the casino to where his taxi would be waiting.
Harry was amazed that the casino seemed to be in full operation so early in the day.
Checking his watch, he dutifully took Ginny’s Twenty Dollar note from his wallet and bought coin tokens for the slot machines.
Harry pulled his luggage trolley through the automatic sliding doors and immediately noticed the increased temperature despite still being in the shade.
He walked along the wide curving concourse until he came upon a dusty saloon car with a sleeping driver at the wheel. The vehicle was in sharp contrast with the immaculate limos waiting behind it.
In the dashboard was a cardboard notice with “Ponsonbee/Potter” written in an untidy scrawl.
Harry tapped lightly on the window but the driver did not stir.
He knocked louder, and this time the driver woke and swore several times.
“I’m Potter,” said Harry, pointing to the sign.
The driver nodded sleepily and opened his door before getting out to load Harry’s luggage.
They were almost at the main road before the driver asked, “Weren’t there two of yer?”
“Mr Ponsonby-Brown got held up. It’s just me today.”
“Right,” the driver replied without much interest.
Quite soon they were at the city limits and speeding into the desert along a long, straight road.
After many minutes of monotonous scenery passing by, a still very tired Harry closed his eyes and thought back to when his journey began.
“Hello, stranger,” said Kingsley as Harry entered the Minister’s office. Ron, who as usual had waited for Harry before joining the meeting, followed him in.
Ron frowned and looked at his wristwatch as he muttered, “Stupid thing must be wrong again.”
“Ha, ha,” replied Harry dryly as he sat down.
“Well, you’re never in this early,” explained Ron with a grin as he sat next to Harry.
“You finished that Benson report yet?” asked Kingsley sharply and not for the first time Harry wondered if he was troubled by something. Kingsley’s irritability at Ron had been growing for no apparent reason, but this time Harry was the cause of his irritation.
Kingsley had not been at all pleased that Harry had decided to finish an assignment that had been given to him prior to his promotion.
He knew he should really have delegated the task, but Harry had decided to keep it for himself. In truth, although Harry had wanted to conclude his report himself, he also used it as an excuse to put his foot down a little. As Harry saw it, if he was going to run the Department he ought to make his own decisions.
Harry had been to visit Azkaban Prison in order to investigate a minor incident and make any recommendations necessary to improve the security. Benson had been the name of the errant Prisoner and the escape attempt had been simply opportunist at the start.
The inmate Benson was being transferred back to the accommodation block when the island had suffered a minor earth tremor. In the confusion, the prisoner had simply pushed the guard over and ran off.
Fortunately, the inmate had nowhere to go and spent the best part of the next two hours running around the exercise yard yelling in triumph how he had evaded his captors.
Yesterday’s meeting at the prison had been arranged to go through the facts and recommendations with the Azkaban staff before the report was published.
The Governor had not argued with him once he had learned that his staff wasn’t being entirely blamed, although they had needed to negotiate the wording of certain critical passages.
The one unsatisfactory element of the report, in Harry’s view, remained a complete lack of an explanation as to why the tremor had been so great. It was certainly worse than anything similar in living memory, and had even been reported on the Muggle news although no damage had been suffered.
“Yes,” said Harry, answering Kingsley. “You’ll get the final version in a day or so. We went over the final draft with the Governor yesterday.”
“Good,” replied the Minister. “Did that Professor help at all?”
“Nope,” admitted Harry.
“What Professor?” asked Ron interestedly.
“Professor Templar is apparently the foremost Muggle authority on earthquakes in Europe, and I thought he could let us know if Azkaban might be on some kind of new fault-line.”
“No idea, really,” admitted Harry. “The good Professor has a seat at the University of North Anglia, but he spends most of his time chasing around the world after earthquakes. Our tremor wasn’t nearly big enough to attract him back.”
“Shame,” agreed Ron with a smile.
“I did manage to speak to him over the phone and he said tremors just happen sometimes. He was a bit curious as to why I was interested, since nothing was near enough to the epicentre to feel more than a mild vibration.”
“Well, the Muggles think it’s just sea, don’t they?” said Ron.
“The important thing is that this looks like a one-time event,” said Kingsley. “So, what have you got planned now?”
“Me?” asked Harry in surprise. “I promised Mrs Abrahams I’d sit in on her misuse of magic hearings. I do owe her for all the times I’ve been forced to cancel.”
Ron smiled but said nothing, knowing Harry made a point of sitting in on as many underage misuse of magic hearings as he could.
Fortunately, Mrs Abrahams preferred to hold hearings that were rather less intimidating than Harry had suffered. Even so, Harry would often feel compelled to speak. He had interrupted so many that he was getting a reputation as an unofficial advocate for the defence.
“Hm,” mused Kingsley, looking down at a single piece of parchment.
“I can cancel again,” suggested Harry, noticing that Ron was trying hard to read the upside down script.
“No,” said Kingsley finally. “We’ve had a slightly unusual request, but clearly you won’t be able to deal with this personally. I’ll write and give our apologies.”
Harry held out his hand for the parchment and it was clear that Kingsley was not inclined to give it to him.
“If that request was to the Auror Office, any apology ought to come from me,” said Harry. The only part of the letter he had been able to read was his own name at the top.
“I suppose,” said Kingsley, and Harry took the sheet and put it with his papers without reading it.
“Oh. Brookes is looking for you, Ron,” said Kingsley. “Something about another request from the Muggle Liaison Department.”
“Has Kingsley let you make a decision on your own yet?” asked Ginny cheekily as they sat down in the restaurant. Their table in the small Muggle run establishment was out of the way, making conversation easier.
“One or two,” Harry admitted with a smile.
As Harry was presently only the acting Head of the Auror Office, Kingsley was supposed to be overseeing his actions during his probationary period. Harry’s appointment would be formally confirmed providing there were no slip-ups.
Harry had spent quite a few years now as the chief Deputy to the Head of Department and so was well used to running the office as well as being involved in almost every decision.
However, as Kingsley often liked to remind him, Harry did see things rather differently now that he was expected to be entirely responsible for the Auror Office.
In the beginning, Kingsley has insisted upon listening to Harry’s reasoning behind every decision that came before him in a private meeting conducted at the beginning of every working day.
As a result, Harry was often late arriving at his desk of a morning.
Now that his probationary period was almost up, Kingsley’s attention was mostly focussed on Harry’s chosen successor to his old job: Ron Weasley.
At first, Harry thought this was a good thing. He trusted Kingsley implicitly and wanted him to see Ron as a valuable and capable asset to the Auror Office.
It was becoming clear, however, that Kingsley was determined to block Ron’s ambitions at least in the short term.
Kingsley had needed to remind Harry several times of the agreements he had made as a condition of him taking the top job, and Harry knew he had to tread carefully.
It was therefore rather fortunate when that opportunity had come up through the Muggle Liaison Department. Harry saw the secondment as an opportunity for Ron to prove his worth.
Unfortunately, Kingsley seemed just glad he was out of the office.
“I’ve been half expecting Kingsley to announce that he’s making himself Head Auror, after all.”
Harry chuckled and nodded. He had heard something similar spoken by several people.
“I think he does miss being an Auror,” admitted Harry. “Still, to be fair Kingsley has had his Minister hat on for most of the time. He hasn’t flat out argued with me since I said I wanted to handle the Benson matter personally.”
“Kingsley thought you should have delegated that, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but he kept his criticism private. He did have a point, but it didn’t sit right with me.”
“Stick to your guns,” advised Ginny. “Oh, I’ve invited Hermione over to stay for a few days while Ron is away.”
“Sure,” agreed Harry. “I’m glad you’ll have some company.”
“I’ve been asking her to come for ages, but she only agreed today. I wanted her to come this evening but she knew you had booked the theatre and table.”
“I’m sure we could have got her a ticket or done something else,” Harry assured her.
“Why did he need to go, anyway?”
“To be honest, Ron was a bit over-keen to impress Kingsley. He got himself attached to a Muggle police unit that has been following a suspect. They have to be on watch twenty-four hours a day.”
“Don’t they have shifts?”
“Yes, but Ron was pretending to be a new neighbour and has to been seen. Actually, he’s pretending to be a police technician pretending to be undercover.”
“So, why can’t he Apparate home at nights?”
“His Muggle companions would notice him going missing, so he has to sleep at the house they are using. The place is practically derelict and there’s not even decent bathroom facilities.”
“I bet he’s loving every minute,” predicted Ginny with a smile.
“The last I heard, the surveillance is due to be pulled after the weekend anyway, so Ron won’t be away for much longer.”
“Why are they stopping?”
“No evidence of any wrong-doing, from what Ron said.”
“Do you know what it was that got the Ministry involved in the first place?”
Harry smiled to himself.
“Spill,” ordered Ginny, seeing his expression.
“I know that look, Harry. I won’t even tell Hermione. Promise.”
“Well, alright,” said Harry reluctantly. “I just asked Mr Brookes if he knew of anything going on that Ron might be interested in. I suspect he found out the Muggles had a problem and generated the liaison request.”
Ginny sighed deeply.
“Ron has been so miserable with work lately. I’m sure he’d have quit ages ago except for fear of letting you down.”
“I know,” admitted Harry softly.
“The sooner you take over the better,” she said firmly. “It is a bit unfortunate that you seem determined to slow down the whole process.”
Harry rolled his eyes.
“Everybody’s talking about it,” Ginny confirmed.
“What are they saying?” he asked without any curiosity but knowing she wanted him to ask.
“I just get asked about what you are doing. Don’t worry, I’ve only said what you’ve told me I can say; that you’re responding to a personal request and will have to travel abroad using Muggle air. It just seems so strange. Dad can’t remember anyone ever doing that before.”
“Responding to a request or travelling by aeroplane?”
“Both! Dad thinks you’re being smart, of course, and he’s so envious that you’ll travel abroad with the Muggles. He’s desperate to be asked along as an assistant.”
Harry snorted with laughter.
“So, are you being smart?”
“Part of the reason that I’m going is to try and improve relations. It was very clear to me when that family went missing over here, that things were distinctly frosty with the Americans.”
“But you found them in the end, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but before then we also found several wizard agents who had been sent over here without even informing the Ministry.”
“Are the Americans as secretive as people say?”
“I suppose,” admitted Harry. “They still won’t admit how many magical people they have and we have no idea where any of their communities are based apart from the Salem lot who famously shun all the others. I’m assuming I will show up on their radar and that should give me an opportunity to, um, talk to them.”
Ginny smiled at him and said, “You haven’t a clue what you’re going to do, have you?”
Harry shrugged and admitted, “Maybe the finer points haven’t resolved themselves yet.”
“But, why go now, of all times?”
“I may not get another invitation. In fact, if they find out I’m planning on going, I’m pretty sure they will block my arrival.”
“Oh, that’s why you’re going by aeroplane?”
“Yes. I’m hoping they are as confused by Muggle airlines as we are. The Ministry has arranged everything through the British Muggle Foreign Office.”
“These Foreign Office people have no idea wizards are involved?”
“Nope. They think I’m going to see a British National, not a wizard in custody.”
“Won’t the Americans know the Muggles have a wizard in custody?”
“If they do, they’re not doing anything about it.”
“Why is he still there? I mean, he should be able to break out on his own.”
“That’s something I’m hoping to understand when I’m there. I can’t really phone up and ask, can I?”
Ginny laughed and said, “I would have!”
“Maybe he’s injured, or lost his wand or something,” suggested Harry. “Someone needs to go and see.”
“Maybe, but so far I’m not hearing why you need to be the one to go,” said Ginny shrewdly.
“They asked for me,” he said simply.
“No, sorry. You wanted them to ask for you and that nice Mr Brookes is very capable. You’ve told me how good he is and Ron seems to have an endless supply of stories about times he rescued the pair of you.”
Harry smiled and shrugged. It was true, Mr Brookes would not have needed a request to know what Harry wanted. In fact, it was the only explanation Harry himself could think of.
“So?” prompted Ginny.
“Alright, but this isn’t something I want to get around, okay? Ron knows, but that’s it.”
“Okay,” promised Ginny with an arched smile that Harry had first seen after she had scored a particularly easy goal in a Quidditch match.
Harry paused, gathering his thoughts.
“A while ago now, something happened that Ron and I investigated. We drew a complete blank. It involved an object that simply had to have been dropped magically and there was not a shred of evidence that any magic had been used at all.”
“What was the object?”
“It was a piece of rock, actually,” said Harry. “It appeared overnight and the Muggles have no idea how it got there. It was probably magic, but like I said, no trace could be detected.”
“Why should anyone be interested in that?”
“The Muggle Police investigated after someone reported what looked like blood coming out from under the stone.”
Ginny pulled a face and said, “Someone was underneath?”
Harry just nodded.
“It took them days to tunnel under to retrieve the remains and we still have no positive identification and no way of knowing if it was an accident or foul play. We know he was a wizard, but his wand was completely crushed.”
“But there’s some sort of link to the person Ron is following?”
“I suppose there must be, but all I know is what Ron told me before he went under cover. I’m looking forward to finding out what happened with that artist.”
“Well, sculptor,” said Harry. “He’s from some kind of commune for artists next door to the rock. He’d started carving a statue when the blood was reported and he was arrested for attempting to destroy evidence.”
“Didn’t he find the sudden appearance of a giant rock or blood oozing out from underneath a bit suspicious?”
“Nope,” replied Harry with a smile. “Just a rock that needed shaping into art.”
“Was the rock delivered for this commune?”
“No, they said they hadn’t ordered anything. In fact, the rock was actually placed in a car park for a neighbouring office one plot along. There’s no way he could have mistaken it for something delivered to the wrong address. Besides, it was massive. Too big for a normal Muggle crane to lift.”
“Why did he do it?”
“Apparently the unfinished sculpture inside the rock was calling to him.”
Ginny laughed and said, “Well, I’m convinced! Let’s hope the Magistrate will be just as forgiving.”
“Well, since the rock is almost twenty feet tall and he only managed to chip away a foot or so, not much evidence was disturbed.”
“Is it this Artist that Ron is following?”
“No, he’s still locked up. He was bailed for the sculpture thing, but then he attacked a policeman outside the court as a protest against the price of chisels, or something equally daft.”
“Good grief,” said Ginny.
“Well, I hope they took his hammer and chisel away before locking him up,” joked Harry.
Ginny sighed, clearly too preoccupied to enjoy his joke.
“Do you really have to go?”
Harry just smiled and shrugged.
“Well, I think you’re mad. If something happens while you are away that those idiots can’t handle you’ll end up being the shortest serving Head in the history of the Auror Office, including that blabbering idiot who challenged all the Aurors to duel him to prove how good he was on his first morning.”
“That was two centuries ago,” he reminded her gently.
“It’ll be even worse if nothing happens at all. I mean, why do they need you if they can cope on their own?”
“I mean, flying thousands of miles in a Muggle contraption just so you can prove to Kingsley that you’re prepared to countermand his advice?”
“It’ll be fine,” he assured her gently, reaching over to touch her hand.
“Aks mi wa I is wearing.”
Harry continues to recall events before he left, including a mysterious telephone call. He wakes to find the cab driver may have been dozing too. Harry buys a hat.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
While dozing during the long cab ride across the desert, Harry continues to recall the events before he left ...
Harry was hurriedly trying to clear the last of the memos and papers in his in-tray when raised voices coming from outside his office door came to his attention. He looked at his watch and grimaced to himself, knowing he would need to depart soon.
A rather severe looking woman appeared at his door carrying a cup and saucer.
“You’re a life-saver, Mrs Twinn,” he said as she placed them down on his desk.
“I didn’t think you’d be in this morning, or I’d have brought you a tea earlier,” she admonished.
“Just a couple of loose ends to clear up,” he admitted, as cries from outside made them both look back towards the door.
“No chance of a truce while I’m away is there?” he pleaded.
Mrs Twinn ignored these words but looked at him with an expectant expression.
Harry cleared his throat and said, “I’m considering young Mr Vettes to look into that, um, matter we discussed.”
“Such a polite young man,” she answered, which Harry took to mean she approved.
“He might need some, er, tea and encouragement.”
Mrs Twinn smiled and said, “We’ll see he gets plenty of both. Anything else, Mr Potter?”
“Um, no. Thank you, Mrs Twinn.”
She nodded and left the room, leaving Harry to wonder yet again if the venerable tea-ladies of the Ministry weren’t actually the ones in charge of the place. He’d lost count of the times one would turn up and offer tea, occasionally a biscuit but usually some good advice.
Harry had only recently been served tea by Mrs Twinn, since she only dealt with Heads of Department.
“That damn woman’s got it in for me!”
Harry suppressed a smile as his two Kingsley appointed acting deputies were finally permitted to enter his office. The first was straightening his robes and hair but the second looked relaxed and immaculate as he sauntered into the room.
Harry, who as a junior had himself often been blocked from entering an office by a ferocious tea-trolley, gathered up his papers and dropped them all in his out tray.
The two men sat down in front of his desk and the contrast between them could not be more obvious.
Kingsley had insisted that the Department should not be left in Ron’s hands while he was away. It would have been a little unfair to give Ron such a responsibility so early, but initially Harry had been unconvinced that Smythe and Neville were up to the task either.
“Ready for the off?” asked Smythe with a grin.
Smythe was a gregarious wizard who seemed to know everyone who worked at the Ministry. He worked hard at his reputation as being on friendly terms with everyone, but Harry had reservations.
Neville, in contrast, was introverted and ponderous. In fact, he hardly ever seemed to actually accomplish anything simply due to his chronic indecisiveness.
Smythe, who had tried to nurture Harry’s friendship long before his earliest promotions, told him once that Neville was actually once of the very best people to have take charge during a crisis.
Harry had been somewhat sceptical about such a claim.
Smythe insisted that so long as he was under pressure, Neville had such a single-minded approach that led to him issuing orders without hesitation. However once a crisis had passed, Neville would once again become paralysed through indecision and self-doubt.
To his amazement, Harry had only recently discovered that Smythe had been quite correct in his assessment of Neville.
A swarm of Billywigs that had escaped into the warm London Underground just before rush-hour. Neville managed to organise several teams of wizards at very short notice to deal with all the stung commuters, several of whom had floated along the tunnels.
At the time Harry had sought Neville out to congratulate him, only to find Neville behind the ticket offices at Charing Cross. His problem was that a Muggle staff member, who had been hit with a stray confunding spell, seemed to be considerably more responsive to customer enquiries and Neville was agonising over whether or not to perform a counter-charm.
Smythe, by contrast, was no-where to be found.
Smythe’s problem, which he freely admitted to Harry, was that in a crisis he would “simply fall apart.”
It was fair to say that this was not the kind of attribute that Harry was looking for in any deputy of his and Harry was very much looking forward to imposing some changes just as soon as Kingsley could be persuaded to let go.
To his surprise, Harry had actually grown to rather like the unlikely duo. This view was somewhat reinforced when he encountered the pair of them actually arguing with Kinglsey over Harry’s very first and utterly disastrous operation as acting Auror in charge.
Smythe, having privately advised Harry of the risks he was facing, had been loudly arguing in support of Harry’s decision not to delay matters. Even Neville was there nodding his support.
Harry just hoped they could manage without him for at least a few days. In truth, he would be relying upon Kingsley and the more experienced Aurors to help out should something come up.
“It bit me,” complained Neville, poking a finger through his torn robe.
Harry was about to say something when his telephone rang. He sighed heavily and picked up the ancient looking receiver.
“Aks mi wa I is wearing.”
“Sorry?” asked Harry in confusion, wondering if the Maintenance Department hadn’t confused the connections again. He checked to make sure the long, fabric covered lead wasn’t connected to the wall.
“Change ya flight and join mi on ma island beach,” the voice demanded.
Harry felt himself blush deeply.
“It’s far too at to wear mi gansey, but I need ya to put some oil on.”
Harry smiled and said, “Oh, hang on. Aren’t you that girl from the supermarket fish counter? You really shouldn’t call me at work, you know? My wife might get suspicious.”
He glanced up see Neville looking very embarrassed and pretending that he wasn’t listening. Smythe simply grinned and winked back at him.
“What’s the price of halibut, today?” Harry asked.
Harry smiled hearing the sound of Ginny’s suppressed laughter.
“Don’t be late leaving,” she managed to warn before hanging up.
He would need to compliment on her new accent. Usually she pretended to be French but this time there was definitely a Caribbean lilt.
Harry cleared his throat and said, “Sorry about that. Is there anything important we need to cover?”
“No, I’m sure we have everything in hand,” said Smythe confidently.
“Well,” began Neville uncertainly.
“What?” asked Harry.
“What about Ron Weasley?”
“What about Ron?” asked Harry.
“Um,” said Neville unhelpfully.
Harry frowned and looked at his watch. He would be late if he didn’t leave now.
“Leave Ron to carry on at his own discretion and give him help if he asks for it.”
Harry was dragging his luggage across the Ministry entrance lobby when Mr Brookes came out of one of the fireplaces.
“Hello, Mr Potter. You off then?”
Harry smiled and said, “Hi Eric. Yes, finally.”
It always grated him a little that the old Warlock no longer called him by his first name. Harry knew Brookes was just being respectful now that he’d been promoted, but he felt the kindly old wizard would always be his superior.
He’d lost count of the number of times that Brookes had come to Harry and Ron’s rescue.
“I saw Ron yesterday,” continued Brookes conversationally. “I was going to ask about the ID papers.”
“Is there a problem with them?” asked Harry.
“Oh, no. It’s just that there are a number of supporting papers I’ve kept on file. I’ve moved them to a new identity file, but you can have them if you want?”
“No. Ron might need something while I’m away. Give him anything he asks for, would you?”
“Of course,” replied Brookes.
Harry took a pinch of Floo Powder and a moment later was gone in a surge of green flame.
Brookes turned and was surprised to see Smythe just behind him.
“Hello, Eric,” he said loudly. “What’s that about papers?”
“I was just asking what Mr Potter wanted me to do with a file. He asked me to keep it.”
“Jolly good,” said Smythe with an ingratiating smile that made Brookes even more ill at ease. “How is that charming daughter of yours?”
Harry felt the car lurch and he woke with a start. He blinked and wiped his face, looking at the unending desert either side of the road they were travelling along.
He noticed that the driver was also wiping his face, and wondered if he wasn’t the only one in the car who had just dozed off.
“I can’t get over how big everything is over here,” he said conversationally.
There was no immediate response from the driver, and Harry was about to say something else when the man stretched in his seat.
“This is all Nevada, right?”
“Yep. We crossed into Lincoln County a while back. See that mountain?”
Harry squinted towards where he was pointing but could only see a few hills in the distance.
“Our town is in the valley just past there.”
“Our town?” repeated Harry. “You live there?”
“I’m sorry you had to come such a long distance to pick me up. Say if you need to stop for a rest, won’t you?”
“Nah, I’m fine. No place to stop around here, anyways.”
Harry nodded. He had seen few places to stop since they had left the city.
“You know the area well? It’s just that I may need to take a couple of trips around the town. Would you be available to drive me?”
“Uh, sure, I guess,” he replied, taking a white business card and handing it back to Harry. “We may need to borrow some wheels if you want to go offroad, though.”
“Right,” agreed Harry, noting the many rocks strewn around the arid desert.
The card read “Cabina Car Services,” and had a mobile number but no address.
“You’re from London?”
“Close enough,” agreed Harry. “I work in London, but I live in a county just outside.”
“Ah,” replied the driver before lapsing into silence again.
About an hour later they pulled into a gas-stop and Harry took the opportunity to get out and stretch. He dutifully put on the wide-brimmed camouflage hat Ginny insisted he should wear in the sun.
A figure appeared at the door to presumably operate the petrol pump but the driver waved him back inside, picking up the hose nozzle and began filling the car himself.
“Don’t mind me sayin?” asked the driver in an undertone.
Harry shook his head and listened.
“If you want to use the facilities, ask inside for the key. Folks around here don’t get much custom, so you might want to make a small purchase.”
“Okay, thanks,” said Harry, adjusting his hat. “What?”
The driver appeared to be wrestling with himself. In the end he said, “Don’t mention anything about working for the Federals. They shoot Feds around here.”
“I’m not actually,” began Harry, but stopped realising that a fine distinction wouldn’t really count. “Duly noted. Thanks.”
“Just, act like a tourist. No, be a London tourist.”
Harry nodded and went inside, wondering just what would be expected of a London tourist.
He quickly decided to ask them if they had a more suitable hat for sale.
Once inside, it took Harry a long moment for his eyes to become accustomed to the dark interior after the extreme brightness outside.
He savoured the air conditioned interior.
“Good morning,” said Harry to the elderly man behind the counter as he removed his hat.
The man just nodded back at him.
“I was wondering if you could recommend a suitable hat.”
“You come to see the snakes?”
“Um, no,” admitted Harry. “But, I’d be interested in seeing them as well. Do you have a snake attraction?”
“Snake exhibit is closed. It closed years ago.”
“Oh, that’s a shame,” said Harry. “Why was that?”
Harry nodded in what he hoped was a sympathetic way.
“Um, would be okay if I looked at your hats?”
“Them ain’t my hats. Those Ruth’s hats.”
Harry nodded and was considering his response when the man pushed open a sliding door just behind him.
The man didn’t look away from Harry as he shouted, “Ruth? Some nut’s lookin’ at yer hats.”
A moment later a rather confused white-haired woman appeared.
“Good morning,” said Harry again. “I wonder if you could sell me a hat?”
Ruth smiled and said, “I’d be delighted to.”
A few minutes later they drove out of the gas stop with the driver shaking his head for a full mile.
“They’ll be talkin’ about you for years.”
Harry just smiled and shrugged.
He had actually ended up buying rather more than just a hat.
For himself, Harry rather liked the one that Ruth had immediately picked out for him. He’d seen several similar items since arriving in the country and he didn’t think it would mark him out too badly as a tourist.
However, as soon as Harry had seen the other one he just had to buy it. The hat had a ridiculously wide brim and of course he had to get the matching accessories including a belt, wallet and a couple of other items he wasn’t sure shouldn’t actually be worn by a horse.
In any event, it would make an ideal gift for Ron.
He just hoped Ron wouldn’t wear any of it where they might be seen by anyone he knew personally.
“Hey, I’m totally legit now, Harry. I’m a leaf that is totally turned.”
They finally arrive and Harry checks in with the local Sheriff where Harry is amazed to meet someone he knew now living under a new identity.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Presently they began to pass an odd assortment of cabins and isolated storage containers as the desert gave way to a small settlement. If there was a sign announcing the name of the place Harry must have missed it.
They also began pass the odd vehicle coming from the opposite direction and it got busier once they went past one particular junction. Most vehicles were heading back out into the desert to some unknown destination.
“We’re here,” announced the cab driver, following a twist in the road that seemed out of place. “You want to go to the Sheriff’s office or the motel first?”
“Um, Sheriff’s, I think,” replied Harry, noticing that the volume of traffic was increasing to the extent that there was almost a queue.
“Want the tour? Ain’t much to see.”
“Sure,” replied Harry, who wasn’t in any particular hurry and was interested to see more of the place.
They turned off the now busy through road and drove down a wide street with a few scattered shops. All were single storey buildings with a variety of sun bleached signs. Most had verandas providing shades and some provided raised sidewalks.
“We got Post Office here,” the driver pointed out. “The bank is still open, but not sure how long for. Guess they’ll be here until all the foreclosures are done.”
Harry nodded, although he didn’t know why there’d only be foreclosures for the bank to complete.
“There’s the Assay Office here, and that’s the General Store,” said the driver.
“Assay Office?” asked Harry interestedly.
“Yep. Young George is usually up at the mine, but he’s in most days doin’ his reports. You goin’ to stake a claim?”
Harry laughed and shook his head.
“No, not me.”
“The Sheriff’s Office is ahead, but we’ll turn off here so you can see the School and plots. The town is very proud of the School.”
The school was actually quite modern looking, but the residential plots were in a sorry state. The plots were large and divided up into a grid by mostly dirt roads. Most of the plots were empty but some had temporary cabins. A few plots looked like more permanent building projects had begun but there appeared to be no construction activity going on that Harry could see.
“This is going to be quite a town when all the building work is finished,” said Harry.
“Hm,” said the driver in an undertone.
They turned again and returned to the Main Street where Harry saw more road traffic.
“That’s the old fire house and the original Sheriff’s Office. There was talk of restoring them as a kind of historical monument, but they cancelled the work due to lack of funds.”
Harry turned his head to look and the old horse-drawn fire tender that sat next to the fire station, but he wasn’t sure which building was the old Sheriff office.
The car wallowed as they turned off the road. Ahead, Harry could see a large modern looking building with three police cars parked outside. The ground was uneven and with many wheel ruts that looked out of keeping with the new building.
“Thanks,” said Harry as they drew to a halt. “Would you wait a few minutes while I see if the Sheriff is in?”
“Sure, but Velasquez ain’t in. He always parks in the same place, over there.”
“Oh, well let me leave him a message and perhaps you could take me over to the hotel?”
The pair of frameless tinted glass doors slid apart as Harry approached and the blast of cool conditioned air enticed him to hurry into the lobby.
Harry blinked as the inner doors opened revealing a dark interior that was even colder than the lobby had been.
By the time he got to the reception desk, his eyes had become a little more accustomed to the light levels.
Harry waited for the desk officer to finish her telephone conversation and busied himself by removing his hat and the clip on shades from his glasses.
“Welcome to the Sheriff’s Office, Sir. How may I help you?”
Harry smiled and said, “Hello. My name is Harry Potter and I’ve an appointment to see the Sheriff. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if I need to see Sheriff Velasquez or Sheriff Browning.”
“Oh, but you’re British!” she exclaimed in delight.
“Yes,” admitted Harry.
“I’m afraid Sheriff Browning is out at the moment and Sheriff Velasquez isn’t actually based in this building. Was your appointment for a particular time?”
“No, I wasn’t sure what time I’d be arriving. Perhaps I could leave a message?”
“I’ll see if an Officer is available to help,” she suggested helpfully. “Mr Potter, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” confirmed Harry with a nod.
Harry heard the inner doors slide open behind him but didn’t turn around until he heard his name being called.
“Harry Potter! Well, I’ll be damned!”
Harry turned, wondering who on earth it could be.
“Harry Potter! What the hell are you doin’ here boy?”
It took a moment for Harry to recognise the uniformed patrol officer marching towards him, but the wide grin was unmistakable.
Harry was simply stunned.
“What?” he managed to say.
“Ha!” cried the patrolman as he hugged Harry.
“Gloria, this is Harry Potter,” explained the man, giving Harry a hearty slap on the back. “He and his family showed me an uncommon kindness when I was in England.”
Gloria smiled and added, “Well, I’m sure he regrets that now judging from the way you’re wrestling him!”
“Damn, it’s good to see you, Harry! How’s the family? Ginny and the kids fine? What’s Ron up to? What took you so long to come over and see me?”
“Geesh, Dan,” said Gloria as the inner doors slid open yet again.
This time two more officers came inside escorting a handcuffed prisoner.
“Sheriff?” asked Gloria, but she was silenced by a hand being raised.
“Officer Goodwin, please advise Judge Johnson that the prisoner we spoke about is back in custody and ask if he wants us to keep him overnight or whether he wants to sit later today. Then call his Lawyer and let him know what the Judge decides.”
The other patrolman escorted the prisoner to a side door and the Sheriff turned to Harry and said, “Made yourself another arrest, Dan?”
“Heck, no, Sheriff,” said Dan. “This is Harry Potter. He’s an old friend. His family put me up when I stayed in England.
“Harry, this is Sheriff Browning.”
Dan released Harry and he shook hands with the Sheriff.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Potter. Dan has often spoken about his time in England.”
“I must admit it was a surprise seeing him here, Sheriff,” admitted Harry. “Please, call me Harry.”
“Forgive me, Harry, but I’ve some tasks that won’t wait. Perhaps we can catch up later?”
“Mr Potter was asking to see Sheriff Velasquez, Sheriff,” added Gloria.
Browning frowned slightly but said, “I’m afraid he’s been off the radar today. Perhaps Officer Johnson will be able to help.”
“You bet!” cried Dan.
“Sheriff, Judge Johnson is calling you on line five.”
“Harry, forgive me,” said Browning, shaking Harry’s hand once more. “I have to take this call.”
“Of course, Sheriff,” replied Harry.
“Where is your luggage, Harry?” asked Dan.
“Um, still in the cab outside.”
“Back in a mo’,” said Dan, immediately heading back out through the doors.
Harry followed, mentally working out how much he should give as a tip since the cab ride had been pre-paid by Ponsonby-Brown.
“Thanks for your help,” said Harry, holding out two Twenty-dollar notes.
Dan quickly grabbed the notes and handed only one to the Cabina driver.
“Hey!” complained the driver.
Harry took the second note from an unresisting Dan and handed it to the driver.
“Thanks,” repeated Harry.
They re-entered the Sheriff’s Office with Dan still grinning at the names the cab driver had called him as he drove off.
“Come on back to the office,” directed Dan.
“Dan!” complained Gloria as Dan pushed Harry through the counter opening. “All visitors are supposed to be signed in! Sheriff’s orders!”
“So?” called Dan over his shoulder. “Sign him in if you want.”
Harry turned back to Gloria but her phone rang again and she just shooed him on.
Harry found himself being ushered into a glass walled meeting room at the side of an open plan office.
“We can talk in here,” explained Dan as he closed the door. “Apologies for earlier, only I didn’t want you blurting out any names that didn’t fit.”
The young man calling himself “Dan” suddenly appear to realise something.
“I apologise if I’ve blown your cover, Harry. I was so surprised to see it was you. I really should have thought about you using a different name.”
Harry marvelled at the change. Dan’s accent had changed subtly, so that he sounded more like an American attempting to speak with an English accent.
Harry snorted with mild amusement and pointed at Dan’s name badge.
“Officer Johnson,” he read aloud. “Any relation to Judge Johnson?”
Dan chuckled at the joke and shook his head.
“New name, new identity, new me,” he explained. “Well, almost new me.”
It seemed to Harry like his new American accent was perfect when he wasn’t thinking about it. It was impossible to believe he was really English. It was amazing that the charms were still working after all this time.
“Isn’t becoming a law officer a little too ironic, though?” asked Harry with a smile.
“Hey, I’m totally legit now, Harry. I’m a leaf that is totally turned.”
“Is the witness relocation working out for you? They certainly sent you a long way away, didn’t they?”
“It was rough at first, but the trial is long behind me now.”
The trial had actually collapsed when the judge dismissed all charges on a technicality, allowing several very dangerous criminals to go free. Most were later convicted on other charges, but every one had sworn revenge on the few witnesses that had been brave enough to come forward.
“Not tempted to go back?” asked Harry, knowing that for relocated witnesses missing their family and old haunts could became unbearable over time.
“Not after they tried to kill me. Besides, things are working out for me here. The Sheriff has been really decent about taking me on. He only knows I came from the witness relocation programme, but he assumes it was the Feds and I was a law officer from another State.”
“Didn’t you need qualifications or anything?”
“Well, they faked some of the entry and high school stuff, but I’ve been studying and taking genuine courses since I arrived.”
Harry nodded, pleased that he appeared to have finally turned his life around. In truth, Harry hadn’t held out much hope.
“So, what brings you here, if not to check up on me?”
“Well, the Muggle Foreign Office put in a request that came through to the Ministry. It seems Sheriff Velasquez arrested a UK national who also happens to be a wizard. Actually, there is some confusion which Sheriff I should be talking to.”
“Well, you may be in for a wait to see your man, Harry. There was a bit of excitement earlier today at the courthouse. There was an escape attempt. So far, two have been caught and one male remains at large.
“The Sheriff is still trying to put together what happened, but the pressure’s off a bit because they weren’t in our custody at the time.
“Anyway, everyone got pulled off the search to set up road blocks.”
“Search?” asked Harry.
“Oh, yeah. Velasquez seems to be missing and we’ve been tryin’ to find him. Most likely he broke down somewhere, but it’s unusual that he didn’t tell someone where he was heading out too.”
“So, he might still be out in the desert?” asked Harry with concern.
“He’s an old hand, Harry. We won’t be officially concerned until tomorrow.”
Harry nodded and asked, “Um, how come you’ve got two Sheriffs?”
Dan barked a laugh and said, “Velasquez is about to retire, but as a matter of fact we did have two Sheriffs for a while. Sheriff Browning has been officially in charge for a while now, though.”
“You said one man is still at large?” asked Harry.
“Yeah,” confirmed Dan. “The State Police have been very reluctant to admit that they lost him. I fully expect them to blame us during this evening’s press conference.”
“Is the escapee considered dangerous?” asked Harry.
“He is a piece of work,” admitted Dan. “However, he’ll probably head back to Vegas and then lie low.”
Harry nodded, wondering if his long trip had been a waste of time.
“Can we find out if my man is still in custody?” asked Harry.
“Sure,” agreed Dan. “You got his details?”
Harry handed Dan a folded piece of paper and he went off to make enquiries.
He was back within a couple of minutes.
“Okay, so is my man still in custody?” asked Harry.
“Yep, but he’ll be kept in the court-house lockup tonight,” said Dan. “Say, how come he even got arrested if he’s a wizard? Also, why did you get sent for?”
“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” admitted Harry. “Actually, I kind of volunteered to come. You see, some evidence in one of my own cases indicated a link to this region.”
“Just tell me to butt out if you need to,” advised Dan. “I won’t be offended.”
“Actually, it would be a big help if I could confide in you. I’m going to have to get used to calling you Dan, though,” Harry added with a smile.
“Tell me about it! I tried to persuade them to keep my old name, but they said it was too distinctive.”
Harry nodded in understanding.
“You know? I hardly recognised you.”
“Yeah, I miss my hair,” admitted Dan as he felt his close cropped hair. “Sheriff Browning insists. You need to remember that before agreeing to let him deputise you!”
Harry laughed and said, “I’ll remember.”
“Harry? Are you booked to stay anywhere?”
“Um, yes. I’ve got the address here somewhere,” he answered, fumbling in his pockets for the details. “My cab driver said it was fairly easy to find.”
Harry offered him the piece of paper and asked, “Mrs Smith’s place. Is it decent?”
Dan laughed loudly and said, “That depends. There are two Mrs Smiths and one of them runs a house of ill-repute, as I think you Brits call them.”
“I expect it must be the other Mrs Smith’s place, then,” suggested Harry.
“Wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t, Harry,” said Dan with a grin. “You’re staying with me!”
Next time:- (Revised to insert missing chapter)
“She drives me nuts, she really does!”
After checking in at the motel, Harry returns to brief Sheriff Browning who has received an official introduction and request for prisoner access. Harry has to use a mix of truths and half-truths to explain his presence.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
A few minutes later, Dan eased his patrol car out of the lot with Harry in the passenger seat.
“You sure you want to call in at Mrs Smith’s?”
“Yes. I may have some messages,” Harry replied. “How many people live in this town?”
“The official population is down to around four hundred or so, but we have a bunch of migrant workers that come and go. There was also a lot of new construction until recently.”
As they entered what seemed to be the heart of the small town, Dan waved easily at an elderly man sitting under a shade outside a store, who nodded his acknowledgement.
“Sheriff likes us to drive slowly down the main street,” Dan explained.
They continued at almost walking pace before Dan was forced to stop after a car ahead of them stopped in the middle of the road.
To Harry’s surprise, the woman driving got out leaving the car door wide open and went over to the sidewalk, leaving their way blocked. There was actually plenty of room for cars to pass, but clearly just abandoning a vehicle in the middle of the road offended Dan’s sense of duty.
“God, damned!” cried Dan, putting the car into park and opening his own door.
“You can’t just stop in the middle of the road!”
Harry decided to get out as well and went over to where the woman was standing, now speaking to a middle-aged gentleman on the shaded sidewalk.
“George,” the woman was saying. “I just heard. Have you heard anything at all?”
The man just shook his head sadly.
“Gail, how many times do I have to tell you?” demanded Dan. “You can’t just stop in the middle of the street. It’s an obstruction and if the Sheriff finds out he’ll insist I write you a ticket.”
The woman turned and gave Dan such a fierce look that it silenced him.
She turned back and said, “I’m sure everything will be alright, George. It’s probably just his radio or car trouble.”
Dan mouthed an obscenity and stepped back to her car, bending to wave at a small girl sitting happily in a car seat. The child grinned and waved back, clearly recognising Dan.
There was a soft beep of a car horn and Dan groaned seeing Sheriff Browning winding down the window of his patrol car as he approached from the opposite direction.
Gail stepped off the sidewalk and went straight over to the Sheriff’s car.
“We’re looking,” he replied to her unasked question before addressing Dan. “You think maybe we should make room to let folks pass?”
“Sorry, Sheriff,” said Dan at once, turning to Gail.
“Don’t look at me like that, Dan Johnson,” she said at once. “You’re the one who blocked the traffic.”
“Yeah, and you’re blocking me,” Dan replied through gritted teeth.
“Only because you’re keeping me from driving off.”
“Have a good day, Gail,” said the Sheriff as he drove off.
Dan was looking daggers at her as she got back in her car and drove off, leaving his patrol car blocking the three or so cars that were now waiting behind.
They both got back in and Dan sped off with a squeal of wheel spin before he remembered himself and slowed down again.
Dan muttered various curses before he caught Harry’s eye. Harry sniggered and a moment later they were both laughing.
“She drives me nuts, she really does!” Dan assured him.
“Who was that?”
“Our town lawyer. She just handles civil matters, like property and wills, though. The guy on the side walk is George Velasquez. He’s Sheriff Velasquez’s son.
“George reported Velasquez missing last night. He hasn’t been heard from since yesterday morning. Usually he calls in.”
“Can his vehicle be tracked?” asked Harry.
“The newer patrol cars can, but we don’t think Velasquez’s car was equipped. We’ve got a chopper coming over from Dry Lake and the Sheriff said the Air Force will help out if he hasn’t turned up by the end of tomorrow.”
“Can anyone survive for that long?”
“I told you, Velasquez is an old hand. He should be fine unless he’s hurt.”
“There’s an Air Force base around here?” asked Harry.
“It isn’t exactly local, but they have choppers that can cover the county if they need to.”
Harry nodded as Dan turned right and pulled into a motel car park. The place had definitely seen better days.
“Mrs Smith?” asked Harry as they entered the small reception. “My name is Potter. I understand you have a room reservation for me?”
The old lady behind the counter just looked at him blankly for a moment before calling loudly. Another woman appeared at once through the curtain of hanging beads that separated the office from the reception.
“Welcome, Mr Potter!” she cried enthusiastically. “You room is all ready. Hello, Dan. How’s the family?”
“Just fine, thanks,” he replied with a smile. “We just popped in to collect any messages and let you know. Harry’ll be staying with us.”
Mrs Smith’s smile faded and she said, “You don’t want the room?”
Harry looked at the almost full board of room keys behind her and said, “Actually, I’d like to keep it, if I may? It would be useful to have a base to work from and perhaps you could take messages for me?”
Mrs Smith’s grin reappeared and she said, “We can provide a desk and you can always use our office fax.”
“Thanks,” said Harry. “That’d be great. Do you have a safe?”
“Yes, Sir!” she replied. “We have to charge to cover the insurance and there’s a $500 cash limit.”
“That’s fine,” Harry assured her. “Is there anything I need to pay now?”
“Harry? Don’t put anything confidential in that safe, will you?” pleaded Dan as they left. “Mary’s fine but that mad sister of hers will go through anything you put in there.”
Harry smiled and nodded.
“Well, it’s good to know that some things never change,” continued Dan. “Harry Potter is still as soft as ever.”
Harry snorted and said, “Hey, they looked like they needed the business.”
“True. You know they’ll sting you for every imaginable extra?”
“Maybe I should have booked in at the other Mrs Smith’s?”
“Ha! Wait till I tell Ginny that!” cried Dan with a laugh. “Say, how is she?”
“She’s fine. She’ll also be amazed I ran into you. We were both convinced you’d be hidden away forever.”
“What about her parents?” asked Dan, “And Ron?”
This continued as Dan remembered acquaintances he had made during the brief period he had stayed with them. Harry patiently gave reports on each and reminded Dan of the few names he got wrong or couldn’t remember.
“Did Ron ever perfect his John Wayne impression? He promised me faithfully he would practise every day until he got it right!”
Harry laughed. Ron’s often repeated but always entirely wrong pronunciation of “Howdy Partner,” had got so wearing that in the end Harry and Hermione had insisted that Ron’s rendition was so perfect as to be indistinguishable from the original.
Fortunately, Ron then decided that he no longer needed any more practise.
“Um, don’t mind me asking, but what family was Mrs Smith asking you about?”
“Oh, hell,” said Dan suddenly. “I forgot. I need to call home.”
He dialled into a cell phone and Harry half-listened to his side of a conversation.
“Harry Potter. I said he should stay with us.”
“Just a couple of days.”
“Of course there’s room. Listen, if there was room for your stupid Aunt then there’ll be room for Harry. He can sleep in the den.”
“When? Now! Tonight! He’s sitting right next to me!”
Dan pulled the phone away from his ear as he was shouted at.
“Okay, we’ll see you later,” continued Dan, ignoring the distorted protests coming from the earpiece. “Love you!”
Dan disconnected the call and said, “She took that better than I expected.”
“It sounds like I won’t be the only one sleeping in the den,” observed Harry dryly.
“Why’d you think I keep the beer cooler in there?”
They arrived back at the Sheriff’s Office and this time Harry was signed in properly as an official visitor.
Dan then showed him into the Sheriff’s office.
Browning was on the phone but pointed at the two visitor chairs in front of his desk.
Once he was seated, Harry looked at the collection of trophies and banners mounted on the wall behind the Sheriff. There were also several team photographs and a couple of Diploma certificates.
Presently the Sheriff hung up the phone and said, “Thanks for coming in to see me. Harry, a load of paperwork arrived earlier. It basically introduces you and some guy called Ponsonby-Brown and formally requests a prisoner visit on the grounds that he’s a British National.”
They both reach across the desk to shake hands again and Harry said, “No problem. I understand from Dan that we’ll have to wait until tomorrow before interviewing the accused.”
“Yeah. The prisoners were taken to the courthouse jail for safe-keeping until a review of the security has been completed, but I’ve been recommending that they should be transferred to the County lockup as soon as possible.”
“How did they do it?” asked Dan.
“Apparently, the shackles were faulty,” replied Browning, lifting a heavy set of chains onto his desk. “Personally, I have some trouble believing that.”
Dan reached out and lifted one of the shackle sets from the desk. He then began to examine the locking mechanisms carefully.
“Judge Johnson put us in charge of the investigation. The Feds won’t be interested unless Valla crosses the State line and the Judge didn’t want the State Police investigating themselves. I only agreed because if State take charge they’ll only find a way of blaming us.”
Dan muttered something rude under his breath.
“Valla?” asked Harry. “He’s the one that escaped?”
“Yes,” said Browning as they both watched Dan offer out the shackles to Harry.
“Put them on me, Harry?”
“Dan, they’re faulty,” said Browning in an exasperated tone. “Our keys may not work.”
Harry snorted with amusement and took one end of the shackles while Dan secured his own ankles. Harry then put the handcuffs on Dan’s wrists before checking everything was properly secure.
Dan bunny hopped to clear a space in front of the glass screen. Several uniformed police officers were standing up and gathering to watch from the other side.
Harry watched as a couple of handshakes appeared to confirm that Dan’s colleagues were betting how long it would take him to escape, if ever.
Dan pulled the chains taught for an instant before relaxing. The chains simply fell open at his feet, leaving him to take a theatrical bow.
Dan acknowledged the cheers and called, “I’m here all week, folks!”
“They are faulty?” asked Browning as Dan returned the shackles to his desk.
“Nah, they’re stage replicas,” advised Dan, sitting down again. “If you flex the latches in a particular way the ratchet skips.”
“They look genuine enough. Were they made especially, do you think?”
“Can’t say,” admitted Dan. “They’d be expensive.”
“Only someone with access to the prisoners could have substituted them,” said Harry.
“Yep,” said Browning slowly.
“Wouldn’t the prisoners have to be taught how to do that trick?” asked Harry. “Three of them?”
“It does seem unlikely,” agreed Browning. “The other strange thing is that one of the prisoners didn’t actually attempt to escape. His shackles were clearly off, but he just sat down and waited to be re-arrested. The other two just ran off.”
“Was there a waiting car or anything?” asked Dan.
“We think not,” replied Browning. “Valla held up a haulage lorry this afternoon, so either he didn’t get a ride or something went wrong.”
“He was armed?”
“Nice State Police issue revolver, actually.”
“Ah,” said Dan.
“Anyway, the guy who didn’t run is Harry’s man. I’m looking forward to speaking with him myself.”
“What is he charged with?” asked Harry.
“Second Degree Murder,” replied Browning.
“You guys call that manslaughter,” explained Dan. “He was in court for a bail hearing which obviously didn’t happen. Judge Johnson seemed impressed that he didn’t run, so I imagine he’ll consider bailing him.”
“More chance than the guy who got caught, anyways,” added Dan.
Browning nodded before asking presently, “Can you tell us anything about your other investigation, Harry?”
“Well, I’ll try,” replied Harry, knowing he needed to stick to his script which was a carefully prepared mix of truths and almost-truths. He had been mentally re-editing this script to take into account the unexpected appearance of Dan. He could tell Dan a fuller story later, but Sheriff Browning still needed to be told something believable.
“About a year or so ago we were tipped off that a person of interest was coming out of retirement. That individual was an expert in tunnelling; specifically, tunnelling into bank vaults. We were in the process of trying to tack him down when a body turned up.
“He was found under a solid piece of rock that was only recently identified as being native to Nevada. We’ve no idea how or when this rock was transported.”
“This tunneller was murdered?”
“The forensics were inconclusive. There is no clear cause of death and the victim has never been formally identified. The autopsy couldn’t confirm if the rock fall killed him or if he was already dead. In fact my only firm lead is the rock. I’ve brought samples.
“To answer your question,” continued Harry, “Yes, I believe the tunneller was killed but I’m not convinced it was murder. I thought it was probably an accident.”
“Did you send samples to any US labs?”
“I got reports back from three University departments, but they could only give general advice. The last one recommended trying to get local geologists involved, but we don’t really know what local really is.”
“How will knowing where the rock came from help?”
“It may not, but it was of an unusual size. It was about fifteen feet along each side and almost twenty feet high. That's about four hundred tonnes in one solid piece of rock and there were no lifting hooks. It took a demolition crew four weeks to shift it, although that was mainly because they weren’t allowed to use as much explosives as they wanted in such a built-up area.”
“How the hell was it transported?” asked Dan.
Harry just shrugged.
“So, when I heard our Foreign Office had requested we attend to an incident in Nevada, I volunteered to come out here. I should explain, the FO were advised because he is a British citizen, but his name had been flagged as another person of interest.”
“Why is he of interest?” asked Browning.
“According to his file, he has been associated with a number of persons. There aren’t any with serious convictions, though. They do have a certain notoriety.”
“More bank robbers?”
“Not exactly. In the East End of London there was until recently a small community of artists. Their thing was building very large sculptures.”
Harry had decided not to mention the fact that the mysterious rock had appeared very close to the Artists’ communal workshops.
“They gained some notoriety when one of their statement pieces collapsed making a very convenient escape ladder for several prisoners. Of course, investigations are continuing into who permitted them to erect the thing so close to a prison wall.”
“How big was it?”
“The structure was over sixty feet tall and constructed in scaffold tube. The strange thing is it was quite a long way from the prison. It’s as if the thing walked there and fell onto the wall and bridged the internal security fencing as well.”
“What was the sculpture supposed to be?”
“If you squinted it was supposed to be a figure stretching out to the heavens. It was called, Freedom.”
Browning smiled but managed not to laugh.
“So, those artists weren’t the flavour of the month for a while?”
“You could say that, although in truth it was difficult to actually blame them. They just designed the thing. Others built it and the Local Authority provided the land and gave full permission. The local Police Chief Constable even did several TV appearances praising the use of young offenders to help erect it.
“Anyway, this artist community had several internal disputes and in the end they all went their separate ways. The interesting thing is that several of the founding artists were reformed minor criminals and one in particular has a very high profile in the media.”
Next time:- (Apologies for any confusion - I found I had two Chapter fours!)
“She took that better than I expected.”
Dan takes Harry home and introduces him to he wife and children. Harry learns about the town’s troubles. Gail and Harry watch a news item from England about a student prank involving a Muggle Professor that Harry consulted before he left.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
“Wow. This is impressive,” said Harry as Dan pulled the car to a halt under the shade of the car port. The adjacent house was much bigger than Harry had been expecting.
They had stopped directly behind an old dusty Ford that looked a little familiar.
“Yeah, we were lucky to get the place. Actually, the impressive part is the view from the back.”
Harry got out and looked around at the stakes and tapes that defined the neighbouring properties. Dan’s was the only plot with an actual building, with all the others either with a caravan or small piles of building materials.
Dan pulled open the insect screen and unlocked the front door.
“Oh, Harry?” he asked in a low voice before opening the door. “Young William might be acting up. He ain’t a bad kid, but he’s under a bit of strain from school. Just cut him some slack, okay?”
“Sure,” said Harry as Dan shouldered the door open.
“We’re home!” called Dan, dropping Harry’s travel bag down at the side.
Harry stepped into the wide entrance lobby as a woman appeared at the opposite door opening. She hurriedly pulled off her hair scarf and quickly brushed back her long dark hair. It was a moment before Harry realised he had seen her before.
She had been the lawyer who had blocked them with her car earlier.
“Hi,” she said with a smile. “Welcome to our home, Mr Potter.”
Harry held out his hand and said, “Thank you. Please call me Harry.”
“Harry, this is Gail. Will? Come and say hello!”
There was no sign of William, but the small girl that Harry had seen in Gail’s car appeared holding onto the doorframe.
Dan swooped her up in his arms and said, “This little princess is Summer.”
“Come and have some iced tea?” offered Gail, turning back to the kitchen. “Just leave your things there.”
Harry took off his shoes and folded his jacket over his bags before following.
“Wow,” Harry, seeing the view from the large kitchen window. The desert seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance.
The centre of the room was dominated by a large dining table and chairs with a cooking range at one end of the room, but Harry’s attention was immediately drawn to the many examples of Indian art hanging from the walls.
“Is than an eagle?” asked Harry, gratefully taking the tall glass offered by Gail.
“Ravens are more common in Native American artwork,” she replied. “But if you look closely, there are often other figures within the outline.”
Harry nodded, seeing that there was indeed a face of sorts within the raven’s body.
“Did you make any of these?”
“I did some, but most of these were by my mother. Your raven there was made by William and his Great Grandfather.”
Harry turned hearing a chair scrape on the tiled floor and was surprised to see a small boy emerge from under the table.
He looked shyly at Harry as he took the beaker offered by his mother.
“If you want to practise before dinner your drum is in the den,” said his mother.
The boy shook his head silently.
“Sure? You won’t be able to later after Summer goes to bed.”
William shrugged his shoulders.
“You’re not vegetarian, are you, Harry?” asked Gail. “I thought we’d have steak tonight, but please say if you’d rather have something else.”
“No, steak sounds great,” Harry replied.
“I expect you’ve had enough of airport food,” she commented, opening the fridge and taking out various packets.
Presently the sound of soft rhythmic drumming was coming from somewhere else in the house.
Gail smiled and said in an undertone, “They’ve got a sort of test tomorrow. The drums are a tradition of sorts.”
“Tradition?” said Dan as he re-entered the kitchen. “No-one I’ve spoken to ever heard of that tradition before five years ago.”
Gail rolled her eyes before saying lightly, “Well, who knows when a tradition really starts. Besides, the whole town will be there to encourage them. I think it’s a good thing that everyone comes together for a common good and if that good happens to be a Native American tradition so much the better.”
“Hmpf” said Dan as Summer wriggled out of his arms.
“If you have the time you’d be more than welcome to attend, Harry?”
“Sure, I’d be honoured,” Harry said at once.
“Cynics are less welcome,” she added in an undertone directed at Dan.
“What was that trick you were doing with Summer?” Gail asked interestedly as she handed Harry a mug of coffee.
Harry gave an embarrassed laugh as he and Dan exchanged a knowing look. Summer had not been at all happy to be stuck in her high chair while they waited for dinner to be served. This was something Harry was all too familiar with, and he had charmed a small foam ball to bounce around her tray, occasionally flying off just out of reach.
A giggling Summer had finally caught the ball just as Gail brought the dishes to the table.
“I was just messing around,” replied Harry.
“I think you should know,” said Gail as she sat down next to Dan. “I definitely predict a demand for a repeat performance at breakfast!”
Harry nodded and sipped his strong coffee.
“Hm, this is nice.”
“You should have watered it down,” teased Dan. “The English don’t generally take their coffee like we do.”
Gail just rolled her eyes.
“I noticed there were several plots of land with mobile homes around here, but hardly anyone has built homes yet. Is that to do with the weather?”
“Nope,” said Dan. “A lot of folks moved out here intending to settle down and build, but there have been a lot of job losses. The only big employer left now is the mine.”
“We got a Federal grant to develop a small light industrial estate over on the east side of town. That’s still going, but they don’t need much labour. They are mostly server farms and such.”
“What’s a server farm?” asked Harry.
“Computers,” replied Dan. “They’re all run remotely and the owners send out their own maintenance teams. The only local labour is security.”
“We had high hopes that we could attract other businesses and people to the town,” said Gail. “It was going well until the Mayor skipped.”
“Sorry?” asked Harry in confusion.
“It all started many years ago,” explained Gail. “You see, we are fairly close to the State Line, and when the area was surveyed for the railways the town was plotted in two different places. No-one knows why, but there was a slight disagreement on where we actually are.”
Harry nodded in understanding.
“Anyway, it made little difference until the town started making applications for State and Federal aid. Sometimes we got money for education and such, but it would come through different State agencies.
“The story is, quite by accident, a small grant was paid twice. It was only a few hundred dollars to help pay for some books, but it was clear that somehow they thought they were paying two different sets of books in two different towns.
“Anyway, we only got one set of books and the extra money got spent elsewhere.
“Then about a year ago, the Mayor announced we were to have a distinguished visitor all the way from Washington State. As part of his audit he wanted to inspect our brand new school, and the Mayor clearly wanted to make a civic occasion of it.”
“And try and get more cash out of the guy,” added Dan.
“Anyway, the day arrived and Mr Washington arrived all the way from Washington,” continued Gail.
“I still can’t believe that was his name!” said Dan.
“Mr Washington arrived and the children sang songs to welcome him. He sat through several boring speeches before being lifted up onto a flatbed. He and the entire town’s population then when on a grand tour, ending up at the school.
“He was very nice man. He congratulated all the children on their artwork and hoped they would all continue to work hard. He insisted upon paying his contribution to the lunch and even pointed out some extra grants we could apply for.
“At the end of the day, he was persuaded to stay over and travel back the next morning. The Mayor was over the moon!”
“It went down-hill after that,” said Dan.
“Yeah,” agreed Gail with a sigh. “You see, Mr Washington called his office to tell them his travel plans and they asked him to look at another school project before he left, since he was in the same vicinity.”
“No,” said Harry as he realised the significance.
“Yup,” agreed Dan. “You got it. Our dear Mayor had been making multiple grant applications. Someone must have tipped the guy off because he was gone the next morning.”
“Mr Washington was very nice about the whole thing, but explained that we’d have to pay all the grants back from town funds. He’s still helping us to fend off the lawyers, though.”
“We caught the Mayor trying to fly out of Vegas,” added Dan. “All the money was gone, of course. They tried to get him to enter into a plea deal in exchange for the money, but he claims to have been ripped off himself.”
“Is that why you’ve got two Sheriffs?” asked Harry.
“Kind of,” agreed Dan. “The Mayor faked what he could, but he couldn’t get around the legislation governing election of the local Sheriffs. Of course, neither knew that their territories overlapped. Each Sheriff assumed the County line marked the boundary of their authority.”
“Actually, technically it was the population that was duplicated on the electoral rolls,” corrected Gail. “The Mayor made it look like we were much bigger than we were.”
“When the fraud was discovered they fudged the County lines and decided to close our original police department,” continued Dan. “The neighbouring county’s police headquarters would be relocated and our original Sheriff would retire.
“However, Sheriff Velasquez refused to go early. He took the Mayor’s betrayal pretty hard and blames himself for not seeing the guy for the crook he was. Velasquez has been trying to track the money ever since.
“Sheriff Browning was pushed pretty hard to force Velasquez out, but he stood firm and said Velasquez should serve out his term. He’s only got a few more weeks now, anyway.”
“We had to lay off half the teachers and assistants from the school, the paid firefighters all went. The Mayor was forced to sell his family land to cover his defence fund, so a lot of plots went for a song. We got this place out of the first auction, but we couldn’t afford much land besides.”
“It is quite a place, though,” said Harry.
“We’re just about keeping up with the mortgage repayments, but the value has dropped so much we’d never be able afford to move. At least those with mobile homes can follow the work.”
Harry nodded and could tell they were concerned about an uncertain future.
He realised they were expecting the Police department to be further downsized as well. Even covering a large territory, the lack of people around here would mean that the need for the police numbers must be reduced.
If Dan were to be made redundant, they would be forced to move since Las Vegas was not within a reasonable commuting distance.
Harry asked, “So, what kind of mine is it?”
“We don’t know,” admitted Dan. “It was originally gold, but they closed when that ran out. The mine has only just re-opened and they are still preparing to recommence.”
“The rumour is that they are going for some rare earth element, used for making computer chips.”
“Really?” asked Dan. “I was told they found a cheaper way to get the remaining gold out. There’s a lot of security there now.”
The next morning Gail was casually clicking through stations on the small kitchen television when something caught her eye. She turned up the volume.
“And finally we have a cautionary tale all the way from England. Carole Martin brings us the story.”
Harry looked up at the TV which showed a very cold looking reporter struggling to stand up in the back of a small fishing vessel in fairly strong seas.
“It all began with some anomalous readings back at the University of North Anglia which indicated that something unusual was going on under the North Sea.
“A research group under the leadership of eminent Professor Templar undertook an extensive sonar and radar survey that took over three months to complete. It took some time for them to analyse the data but this culminated in them returning earlier today for a live dive to investigate a small area of particular interest.
“Some of the most experienced North Sea divers were assembled and we were exclusively invited to report on the dive which was privately financed.”
The picture changed to show a group of divers preparing their equipment and readying themselves to dive.
“At ten o’clock this morning local time, dive commander Evans approved of the weather conditions and ordered the divers over the side.
“Several tense minutes later they radioed up to confirm they had found something and were bringing it to the surface. This was an unexpected move since they were actually looking for a geological anomaly.
“Professor Templar was with us when they finally broke the surface again and it is fair to say we were all rather taken aback by what they brought up.”
The scene changed to a calmer looking sea. The camera was looking over the side down at several divers swimming around something large just under the surface. They lingered on this shot for some time before cutting to a later shot taken as they were hoisting something out of the water.
The first thing to emerge was a flag pole, followed by a small new looking timber garden shed complete with a bright green felt roof. The shed and pole were tied down onto a platform that appeared to be covered in artificial grass. It even had a low white picket fence and a sign that read “Keep off the grass.”
The camera was pointed at the reporter who immediately pointed for the cameraman to pick up the professor’s reaction as the shed door fell open to reveal a mannequin holding a different sign that had been damaged. It only read “This land is the property of-”
The poor Professor looked mortified as the shot cut back to the reporter.
“That was some hours ago, and in the intervening period a group of students have admitted to setting up the prank except they claim that it was supposed to be much closer to the coast and had been intended to reveal itself at low tide. It seems the sunken raft slipped its anchors and drifted out to sea where it was picked up by the poor Professor’s survey.
“Although Professor Templar declined to comment to us on camera, there were no hard feelings amongst the dive team who seemed to rather enjoy the joke. They did express regret that the flag and customs sign had been lost, however.
“The mannequin has been promised a promotion and is, as I speak, being toasted in student union bars all across the East Coast. This is Carole Martin handing you back to the studio.”
Gail looked at Harry’s shocked face and then snorted with laughter.
“What, you don’t have student pranks in England?”
“No, that’s not it,” said Harry. “I spoke to that Professor just before I left about a tremor in the North Sea. I wonder if that got him looking at the survey data?”
Gail considered and then said, “Didn’t she say the survey took three months and then they had to analyse the results? No way did the guy take a call from you and then decide to go fishing for geological anomalies.”
“Wouldn’t he have said if he was about to launch a dive?”
“How big is the North Sea, anyway?” she asked.
“Plenty big enough for me,” admitted Harry. “Especially when the weather is bad.”
“So he might not have immediately linked your questions with his project, and besides, maybe he was being cautious. Maybe he thought you might be Press or something.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Harry.
“Hey, we’re going to be late,” said Gail, looking at her watch. “Dan said you should come with me as he has to pick up something.”
“I tried to track them entering into town again, like I do every year. Damn things just appear from no-where.”
Harry attends the children’s tribal induction that William has been practising for. Browning confides that he was baffled by the annual appearance and disappearance of the wolf-like creatures. Harry visits the county jail to see the wizard in custody and asks why he hadn’t simply escaped.
Chapter 7: Chapter Six
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Harry was invited to take a place on a bench in the small seating stand that had been erected for the occasion. Bunting had been wound around the railings at the front but there hadn’t been quite enough to do the sides as well.
He nodded polite hellos to the few other guests whom he guessed were mostly parents and grandparents, and he noted that several looked rather uncomfortable at the way the stand moved slightly as more people took their places.
The stand had been positioned parallel to the main street which had been blocked off to road traffic for the morning. Harry could hear cars moving somewhere behind him so he assumed there was a diversion.
To their left was a wide empty compound with a low livestock fence around it. The gates were open wide and unattended.
A door opened to a shop on the opposite side of the wide street and a group of children filed out and took up position just in front of the side walk. A teacher followed and whispered some last minute instructions.
The children all looked of a similar age and Harry recognised William standing nervously at the end of the row. They each carried a small drum and wore a simple feather headdress.
The teacher smiled encouragingly and then moved to the side.
Everyone then looked to the right along the main street, and Harry could see several police officers standing in the shadows.
Someone muttered something Harry could not hear but his fellow guests murmured in agreement. A silver mare and her foal trotted down the middle of the road. They hesitated and then entered the livestock compound where there was a small bale of hay that Harry hadn’t noticed before.
A woman sitting on a bench ahead of Harry was fumbling with her bag, but her husband nudged her and whispered something that drew her attention back to the children.
It wasn’t long before the mare seemed to become visibly nervous and trotted to the entrance. The foal followed obediently, but didn’t seem alarmed.
Harry heard gasps and he had to raise himself up slightly to see what was happening.
Moving from shadow to shadow under the shop canopies was something dog-like that looked even bigger than Sirius had been. Harry strained to see whether it was a wolf or a coyote.
“There’s another one,” whispered someone else, pointing the other direction along the main street.
The mare was by now ready to run, but had clearly seen the threat coming from two directions. Harry, though, was more concerned for the children who looked a much easier meal.
The teacher, though, seemed unconcerned as she stepped out and began to conduct the drumming.
It began softly but then grew louder as the children got into their rhythm.
Harry had no idea how, but somehow the rhythmic drumming gave him a sense that there was no real danger so long as the drumming continued. He also thought he heard chanting, but had no idea who was singing.
The creatures walked out of the shadows and headed straight for the trapped horses. There were five now, and Harry thought they looked like wolves.
The drumming intensified and the wolves suddenly looked uncertain and nervous. They looked around, as if sensing that they themselves were walking into a trap.
There was a loud cry and suddenly the wolves ran. From the far end of the main street, a group of horses charged past the stand as people stood and cheered. When they had gone, so too had the mare and foal.
The children were clapped as they were led back over to the stand.
Gail stepped forward and spoke to the children in a loud carrying voice. She was now wearing a leather dress that was elaborately decorated with beads.
“Thank you all. You have shown bravery and protected the weak and defenceless. You have also shown how by working together we can overcome our adversaries.
“For your bravery, you will each be awarded one additional feather which you will wear with pride. Well done to you all.”
Harry looked around at the audience. Many now wore bead broaches and a few had put on decorative necklaces that were almost as ornate as the one Gail wore.
Harry decanted from the stand but left Dan and Gail to congratulate their son and walked over to Sheriff Browning.
“That was pretty impressive,” he said.
“Don’t ask me how it was done, Harry. I’ve no idea. Those wolves are not indigenous to this county and we won’t see them again until next year.”
“I’ve never seen a real wolf, but they looked big.”
“I tried to track them entering into town again, like I do every year. Damn things just appear from no-where.”
Harry looked around and saw an old Indian watching him from the shadows opposite, but a moment later he was gone. He vaguely wondered if he had done the chanting.
“You and Dan still going over to the prison?” asked the Sheriff.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I’d like you to join the search for Sheriff Velasquez afterwards. It’s been too long, even for him.”
“Sure,” said Harry.
“Just stay with Dan while you are out in the desert. You’d be amazed how quickly you can get disoriented out there. I don’t want to have to send another search party out to look for you.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Dan into the telephone handset. “We’ll finish up here and then head on out.”
Harry was only half listening to Dan as he stood looking through the one-way glass into the brightly lit interview room. It had taken them a long time to get permission to interview the inmate, even with Sheriff Browning’s blessing and the Embassy paperwork.
A door on the far side opened and a shackled man in an orange jumpsuit was escorted into the room. He was quickly directed to sit at the table and his hands were then chained to a small hoop on the table top.
Dan hung up and turned to look at the prisoner.
“Does he need to be restrained like that?” asked Harry.
“Yes, it’s standard procedure,” replied Dan. “The best we can do is get this over quickly so he can go back to his cell.”
“Okay,” agreed Harry.
They exited the observation room and were met by one of the prison guards.
“Just knock on the door when you’re done,” the guard advised as he opened the heavy steel door into the interview room.
The door closed behind them with a loud clanging sound but the prisoner didn’t move. He had long, greasy hair and was staring down at his handcuffed hands.
“Good morning, Mr Stephenson,” said Harry, sliding into the seat opposite.
The prisoner looked up in surprise, clearly not expecting to hear a British accent.
“My name is Harry Potter and I was asked to visit you by the Embassy. As a British Citizen, we are obliged to see that your welfare is satisfactory and that you have access to proper legal representation.
“I should advise you that this interview is being recorded by the prison authorities. I’m not a lawyer and anything you say to me is not privileged.
“You are not obliged to speak to me, but I would like to help you if I can. Do you understand what I’ve said to you?”
The man frowned slightly, but nodded slowly and then looked at Dan.
“This is Officer Johnson. He’s a policeman, not a prison official, but if you’d rather he stepped out of the room while we speak he won’t object.”
The prisoner’s eyes flicked up to the camera in the corner of the room and he smirked as the small red light went out.
“Any audio devices will just be recording static for the next few minutes,” advised Harry. “The cameras will show picture break up only, but will show that you are not being harmed in any way.”
The man nodded again.
“Does he know what you are?” he asked quietly.
Dan smiled and said, “Yup.”
“Officer Johnson knows I am a Wizard, but no-one else does here. I think it would be best if we could keep that between the three of us.”
The man shrugged his shoulders.
“The name on your Passport checks out but it was issued by the Muggle Liaison Office in a different name two years ago. Why did you have the name changed to Stephenson?”
“I change it for every trip,” the man admitted.
“What is your real name?” asked Harry.
There was no response.
“May I ask, why did you allow yourself to be captured?”
“I need to finish my work. I’m innocent and I need to finish my work. Can you help me get bail?”
“Your lawyer will deal with that.”
“He’s a useless public defender and I’ve no money for anyone better.”
“Was bail opposed?” asked Dan.
“The hearing was interrupted before my turn came.”
“It’s been rescheduled for tomorrow,” advised Dan. “The Judge was impressed that you didn’t run when you had the chance, and in my experience you’ll probably get bail.”
“Will you put up the money for the bond?” the prisoner asked Harry. “It probably wouldn’t cost you a thing if you got the charms right.”
“No. Could anyone at home help? What about family or your Employer?”
“No,” he replied simply. “I have to get out of here!”
“What is the work you have to finish?”
“I’m setting up a series of servers. The data has taken months to collate and the calculations are at a critical stage."
“Couldn’t you do that remotely?” asked Dan.
“No. I designed the special interface that links the servers up. Sometimes I need to make minor code adjustments. You can’t do that remotely without having to restart the entire run. That would have added months to the whole process. Besides, it was too important to sub-contract and in a few hours time I need to set the final run.”
“How long will that be?” asked Harry. “How many hours or days are you talking about?”
“I’m not sure,” the prisoner admitted. “The calculation should be okay for at least another 48 hours. After that, it could finish any time up to 72 hours depending upon how good the data is.”
“You’re planning on breaking out of here during that time period, then?”
“Only if I have no other choice,” the man assured him. “Look, I really didn’t do anything. The Sheriff arrested me because I was the only one he could find.”
“Let’s talk about those charges,” suggested Harry, opening a thin file folder. “Resisting arrest?”
“That oaf crept past the office where I was working at one of the terminals and he had a gun in his hand. He didn’t identify himself at all. I had already stunned him before I realised he was a police officer, so I dragged him outside and revived him. I tried to kid him that he’d tripped and knocked himself out but he wasn’t wearing that and arrested me.”
“He was looking for an intruder?”
“I’ve no idea what he was doing there.”
“A body was found the next morning?”
“Apparently. He was trying to get me to confess to murder when the coroner’s report came in. It apparently confirmed the man probably died as a result of a traffic accident, except the fact that I don’t have a car or anything didn’t impress the Sheriff.”
Harry looked over at Dan and he just shrugged. This clearly wasn’t out of character for Sheriff Velasquez.
“I take it you’ll need some time to complete your work on the servers?” asked Harry.
“I’m not sure, but probably. I couldn’t afford to assume the police wouldn’t find me.”
“I will not break you out of here,” he said firmly. “I would urge you not to make any attempt or you risk being hurt or killed in the attempt.”
The man said nothing.
“Is your wand in a secure place?”
“Yes. It’s hidden at the server farm.”
“The place will be watched, you know?”
“Do you want me to contact anyone for you?” offered Harry. “Family or your Employer?”
“No thanks. The Muggle lawyer sorted that.”
“Is there anything else before I allow the recording to start again?”
The prisoner shook his head, no.
Harry released the secrecy charms and then finished the interview with a series of simple questions that the Embassy would expect him to ask.
“Stephenson’s going to have outside help breaking out, isn’t he?” asked Dan as they drove back onto the highway.
“Yes, I think so,” agreed Harry, raising his voice slightly to overcome the loud road noise since they had swapped Dan’s patrol car for a jeep.
“Must be,” agreed Harry. “He couldn’t afford to buy a Muggle escape from that place, even if he knew who to ask.”
“Do we need to contact any American Aurors?”
“I’ve no idea how to do that. I could try to get someone from the Ministry in London to pass on a message, I suppose. The American Wizards don’t exactly trust London, though. They might think it was just a wind up.”
“Wouldn’t they know you were here already?” asked Dan.
“Yes, that would seem likely. Maybe they’ll get curious and reveal themselves.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“Dan, did you have anything to do with the arrest or interviews?”
“Nope, I’d have said,” he answered at once. “Velasquez runs his own office. He still has a couple of part time Deputies that help out when he needs them.”
“You didn’t seem that surprised that the charges sound trumped up,” said Harry. “Has he done that kind of thing before?”
“Velasquez does bend the rules to suit himself, but it sounded to me like he wanted an excuse to keep the guy locked up for a bit longer. If Velasquez hadn’t disappeared on us, I’m sure the main charge would have been dropped and a brand new set of charges made instead.”
“Oh, right,” replied Harry. “I wonder if Sheriff Velasquez had a good reason to keep him locked up. Well, other than being knocked out by him.”
“That’d be enough for me. Can you force him to give you his real name?” asked Dan. “He might have a record.”
“I didn’t recognise him. If he does have a criminal record, he got it before my time. Oh, no, there isn’t much point in trying to force a name out of him.”
“Okay, so why is a wizard working with Muggle computers?”
“That’s what I was wondering, too,” admitted Harry. “Wizards are generally poor at doing the sort of calculations that computers are good at.
“Is there any way we could get into that server farm? Using too much magic to get in might mess with the computer workings, though.”
“Hold on!” yelled Dan without warning. “We’re headed off road!”
“What?” called Harry, as Dan turned the steering wheel violently and yelled “Yeehaw!” at the top of his voice.
The jeep veered off onto a dirt track and they headed out into the desert.
“Slap me again, boy, and I’ll tear your head off.”
Harry and Dan join the search for Velasquez and visit the mine. They find the old Sheriff barely alive together with the body of Gail’s grandfather, a local Shaman and tribal leader.
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Dan skidded the jeep to a halt a few miles from the road and clouds of dry dust enveloped them as they got out and climbed some nearby boulders to get a better view.
Dan unfolded a large terrain map and took a moment to orient himself while Harry just coughed and wiped his glasses.
“This is our search area,” he explained, vaguely pointing at a large featureless area of desert.
“We’ll start at the mine, because that’s the only place Velasquez would want to visit out here. Then we’ll head out into the flats.”
“Once we’re out in the desert, it’ll be pretty isolated,” explained Dan. “Could you locate a person or a vehicle from a distance?”
“Not a vehicle, no. I might be able to detect a living person, but I’m only really sure at fairly close distances. We might end up following an animal of some kind.”
“Okay,” said Dan. “Let’s try and see. Can you tell where the mine is? There’ll be quite a few people working there, but most are probably underground.”
Harry drew out his wand and concentrated. Holding his wand at arms length, he pointed out at the horizon and slowly began to turn.
After a complete arc he reversed direction and repeated his sweep.
“I’ve got two general directions. The strongest feeling of life comes from over there,” he said, pointing over to a dark hill in the far distance. “The other is out over there, but that’s much weaker. I’m sorry, but that’s the best I can do at this range.”
“Well, you found the mine,” said Dan. “I think the other one might be a coyote, but let’s try again after we check the mine out. It’ll take about an hour to get there from here.”
“Why isn’t there a road?” asked Harry.
“This is a road, Harry! At one time they hauled tonnes of equipment and ore along this track. Mind you, it has seen better days.
“A new road will probably be built but only if the mine can be fully opened again.”
It took almost an hour to reach the mine entrance along a heavily pitted dirt track that got wider as they approached.
There was a new looking chain link fence and Dan beeped his horn as they drew up in front of a wide pair of closed gates.
The door to a small cabin opened and an elderly man stepped outside. He was adjusting a new looking cap on his head that was quite out of keeping with the dishevelled overalls he was wearing.
“Morning, Officer,” the man said as he approached.
“How come the gates are closed?”
“Orders,” he replied simply. “The exploratory workings were finished a few days ago and the surveyors have all gone now. Everyone is waiting for the lab to finish all the testing before a report can be finalised. The manager seemed hopeful they’ll green light for fully reopening the mine.”
“That’s good,” agreed Dan.
“Sure is. Anyways, the Manager decided to give the crew a few days off until the report is issued. Matter of fact, the last crew to leave only left a few hours ago.”
“We didn’t pass them along the track here.”
“Oh. They must’ve made good time then.”
“Probably keen to get home.”
“I’m sure they respected the speed limits, Officer,” said the old man with a grin.
“You not going too?”
“Well, there’s a legal requirement to have a presence on the property or the licence will lapse early. I was allowed a few days off last week so I’m stuck out here this week.”
“Yes, the owners needed a temporary licence to re-open the mine. There’ll be a new application if the mine starts up production again.”
“Well, I’m sorry we disturbed you,” said Dan. “We’re actually out looking for Sheriff Velasquez. Have you seen him or could anyone else have?
“Well, I’m on my own at the moment,” explained the guard. “The Sheriff was up here a couple of weeks ago, but this is my first day back. I didn’t hear anyone say he’d looked in since then.”
“Is this place manned at night as well?”
“I’ll be here from tonight. The gates are locked up at night, though, and there’s been no-one manning the gate at all for the last few nights.”
“What about the licence?”
“The Manager figured no-one would bother to check.”
“Do me a favour? If you see Sheriff Velasquez or hear anything about his whereabouts, radio it in to the Sheriff’s Office.”
“He’s been out of contact for a while, that’s all.”
“Okay. Sure, I’ll radio.”
Harry looked over to Dan as they drove further out into the desert. Dan looked deep in thought.
“It’s nothing,” Dan explained. “I was a bit surprised he pretended not to know Sheriff Velasquez was missing. They’ve got a scanner in that hut and they all listen to the police radio traffic.”
“It that legal?”
“Depends who you ask, but I was hardly going to write him a ticket, was I?”
“Sheriff Velasquez must have had a reason to come out here,” suggested Harry.
“I’m sure he did but who would know why? I doubt he would confide in that guard. Maybe the site manager could help if we can find him. I’ll get the office to call around the Vegas motels, but that will probably be a waste of time.
“We should be far enough from the mine for you to do your wand trick again. We’re due a bit of luck, ain’t we?”
Harry pointed his wand back in the general direction they had just come from. He frowned, unable to detect the guard at first.
“We too far away?” asked Dan.
“Shouldn’t be,” said Harry, sweeping his wand to the left. “Ah, got him. I think he’s moving. He must be in a car or something.”
“I wonder where he needs to be in such a hurry?” asked Dan. “There’s no point in going back now, though. He’ll be long gone before we could get back to the main road.”
Harry stood out in front of the jeep and scanned the horizon ahead for signs of life.
“Would more height help?” asked Dan. “Climb up onto the jeep if you need to.”
“No, I’m good,” said Harry as he repeated his sweep.
“I get something over there, but it isn’t clear. Maybe the distance is too far.”
Dan used a hand to shade his eyes as he stared out in the direction that Harry was pointing.
“Oh, darn,” he muttered. “Those are buzzards circling. Come on, we might not be too late.”
They got back into the jeep and Dan drove off. This time he drove even faster and several times the vehicle seemed to take off as the wheels hit rocks and pot holes. Harry held a handkerchief across his face and squinted against the clouds of dry dust flying into the cabin.
Finally there was a loud bang and the rear end of the jeep jumped up violently before crashing down again.
Dan swore loudly as he fought to control the jeep until they came to a stop.
“Let’s see what damage we’ve done,” he said as they got out.
One of the front wheels was jutting out at a very odd angle and a sizeable rock was jammed underneath.
Dan swore louder this time and looked anxiously out into the direction they had been going in.
“I’ll radio our position in and tell them we’re heading out on foot,” said Dan. “Harry, you want to check our water supplies? I want to carry as much as we can manage.”
As Dan radioed in their situation, Harry looked in the back of the jeep. He found a first aid kit, two fuel cans and two large plastic water cans.
“Here, we have these too,” said Dan, handing him a smaller water flask. “Drink at least half now and then refill it. Keep that one on your belt. We’ll each take a larger can, but we need to keep some for Sheriff Velasquez if we find him.”
Harry opened the smaller flask and drank deeply. He then refilled it from his wand.
“Woah, that’s a neat trick,” said Dan, offering out his own flask for Harry to fill.
“I can get us there quicker than by walking too,” said Harry. “I can’t move the jeep, though.”
They Apparated in short hops but at the third time Dan shrugged out of Harry’s grip and staggered to the side. Dan bent over, breathing heavily.
“I’m sorry,” said Harry. “Apparition gets a bit of getting used to. A lot of wizards choose not to bother.”
“Yeah?” Dan managed to mumble before straightening up and waving Harry away.
“Let’s walk for a bit? There’s a trail just up ahead and I want to see if there are any fresh tracks.”
Harry wasn’t sure that was true but nodded and they walked on together.
In the distance they could see birds circling.
“Here it is,” said Dan.
Harry was sure he would have walked right across the dirt track which could only be seen clearly when standing in the middle and looking along the single winding track.
“Has this been used recently?” asked Harry.
“No way to tell,” admitted Dan. “How many more jumps?”
“One, I think, but we should walk the last bit in case someone sees.”
“Okay,” said Dan, coming closer so that Harry could take a firm grip of his arm.
“You want a drink first?”
“Nah, I’ll only throw it up again. Let me point you to a spot you should aim for?”
“Okay,” agreed Harry.
They Apparated only a few yards from the circling buzzards and Harry was surprised how big the birds looked even from a distance.
Dan seemed to be ignoring his discomfort and was looking around.
“Where’s that track?” he asked himself before striding off.
They crossed the track a few yards on and this time Dan took much more of an interest.
“Here. He was dumped here and crawled off towards those rocks.”
Harry couldn’t honestly see anything in the dirt marks, but followed as Dan followed some form of trail.
“He was bound,” said Dan. “See? He used that rock to free himself.”
Harry squinted at the short length of dusty twine the Dan was holding up.
“Let’s get a move on.”
They hurried towards some distant boulders but it was several minutes before they came close.
Dan headed for the shaded area in the middle, shouting, “He’s here!”
Dan dived into the gap and Harry fumbled to retrieve the medical kit.
“Harry? Gimme water! He’s alive.”
Harry followed and handed his small flask to Dan. He immediately felt the relative coolness from coming out of the direct sunlight.
Harry crouched down next to Dan. The Sheriff was unconscious and covered in a sheen of sweat. A bloodied leg was positioned awkwardly and Harry guessed it was badly broken.
He could see that the Sheriff was a heavy set man, but probably quite tall as well. He was mostly bald and his short hair looked rather too dark for a man his age.
Dan poured water over Velasquez’s face and slapped him hard.
“Wake up you old fool,” shouted Dan. “Thought you’d like to top up your suntan, did you?”
Velasquez coughed and Harry heard a deep voice say, “Slap me again, boy, and I’ll tear your head off.”
Dan barked out a laugh and patted the Sheriff on his chest.
“Take it easy, Sheriff. If you can manage some water, I’ll radio for help. We’ll have you out of here in no time.”
“Who’s that with you?”
“He’s a friend, Sheriff. Harry, get him to drink something, will you? I’ll call Sheriff Browning.”
Velasquez grabbed Dan’s arm and said, “Don’t say I’m alive over the air. You don’t know who’s listening.”
“Wow, I’d never have thought ‘o that, Sheriff,” replied Dan sarcastically, getting up and stepping outside.
Harry stepped closer and gently lifted the Sheriff’s head, placing his now empty pack under him as a pillow.
“Here, try to take a drink.”
Velasquez took a sip of water from the flask lid Harry was holding to his lips. He was clearly very weak from dehydration.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Drink first,” Harry ordered, refilling the lid. “We can talk later.”
A few minutes later Dan came back and said, “I can’t raise anyone. I need to get back to the car. These hand radios just don’t have the range.”
He nodded backwards at Harry to indicate they should talk alone outside.
“Okay, if I knock him out, could you jump the three of us back to the jeep?”
“It would be a bit risky,” Harry admitted. “A Portkey might be safer in his condition.”
“It’s a bit gentler and can be used if we have a firm destination. The landing might be a bit rough on his leg, though.”
Dan sighed and said, “The trouble is it would be obvious to anyone that the old guy could never have survived if we said we found him where we totalled the jeep. There’s no shelter at all.”
“I could get you back to the jeep and then come back here in one jump. I wouldn’t need to leave him alone for long.”
“Yeah, we’ll do that. There’s one other thing, though. The buzzards aren’t circling for him. I think there’s someone else up on the boulder behind, and he ain’t moving. I want you to come and witness how we found the body.”
“Sure,” agreed Harry, wondering why.
“I’ll explain once we climb up there, but I’ve a feeling there’s going to be trouble.”
“Hey! What’re you two conspiring about?” demanded Velasquez loudly from the shade amongst the boulders.
They ducked into the shade again and Dan began to explain that he was going to get help.
“How long will it take you to get back to a radio?”
“Just a few minutes,” Dan assured him.
“You’re a damn lier! You think I didn’t hear you making your way across my flats? You think I don’t know your friend here is a Shaman?”
“You’re delirious!” said Dan at once.
“I saw the dust from when you crashed from here, boy. It should take you over three hours to get back on foot. Browning notices those kinds of discrepancies. You really need him distrusting you, boy?”
“No,” admitted Dan.
“So, this is what you are going to do,” said Velasquez. “You will walk back and raise the alarm. You should hint that I’m dead. Did you check on old Billy? I’m pretty sure he’s gone but I’d be grateful if you’d make sure. Don’t mention that, whatever you do. Are we clear, boy?”
Dan grimaced but nodded.
Harry refilled Velasquez’s water flask and then followed Dan outside into the bright sunlight.
They walked around to the back of the boulders and then climbed up to the top of the largest.
“Oh, damn,” muttered Dan as they approached the figure sitting cross-legged and wrapped in a heavy blanket.
Harry looked at the face of the ancient looking indian.
“I’m seeing no sign that would indicate an unnatural death,” said Dan. “He looks like he was up here praying or something. You agree?”
“The way he died just sitting up like that doesn’t look natural. Shouldn’t he have slumped over?”
“Actually, he sat like that a lot,” said Dan. “He always preferred the floor to a chair. See how his face looks relaxed? He’d have been facing the sunset.”
Harry walked around the body, trying to take in every detail. It seemed to be important that he was sure.
“Yes,” he said finally. “I see no sign of obvious trauma. Should we cover or move the body?”
“Hell, no,” said Dan. “The tribal elders will see to him.”
“Who was he?”
“Oh, sorry, Harry. This is old Billy Chaman. He was the local Shaman and Gail’s grandfather. He was a good man.”
“You know? I thought I saw him this morning,” said Harry.
“No way,” said Dan at once. “He’s been out here at least three days. I don’t understand why the buzzards haven’t started on him yet, though.”
Harry took out his wand and pointed down at the rock.
“This boulder has some sort of a weak repellent charm,” he said.
“Okay,” said Dan, standing up. “It’ll take four hours for me to get to the jeep and I won’t risk travelling back after dusk. I’ll wait by the jeep so I can keep badgering them to send out a chopper for us. Can you put up with him for a few hours? Knock him out when he gets too much for you.”
Harry snorted and nodded his agreement.
“I’ll try to make him more comfortable, but I think he may have blood poisoning,” warned Harry. “I’m afraid I’m not up to healing that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, I could see he wasn’t in great shape,” agreed Dan. “If he gets any worse, try and persuade him to transport him, but don’t do anything against his will. He’s right about how suspicious it would look.”
“Okay,” agreed Harry.
“I’ll send up a flare so you know I’ve got back to the jeep.”
“No, you’d better save them for when the rescue party arrives.”
“You realise we’re helping someone get away with murder?”
Harry stays with Velasquez while Dan goes for help. Velasquez accuses Harry of being a Shaman like his friend Billy.
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Harry refilled Dan’s water flasks and placed a temporary expansion charm on one of them to make it last much longer before running empty.
“You know, I can put a charm on your legs to make the walk easier, at least at the beginning. It will wear off quite quickly, though.”
“Nah, I’m good,” replied Dan as he set off.
He watched Dan for a while as he started out but then went back into the shade to tend to Velasquez.
“I’m sorry, Mr Chaman is dead,” said Harry. “There’s no sign of trauma.”
“Poor old Billy,” said Velasquez. “I’ll miss him.”
Velasquez was obviously in a lot of discomfort.
“I can do something for the pain, but you have to stay awake. Drink as much water as you can.”
“No, I’m good.”
“You don’t look it,” said Harry. “Look, go ahead and relieve yourself. I’ll clean you up afterwards.”
Velasquez’s mouth turned into a snarl as he said, “That obvious, eh?”
Harry just took out his wand and waited. Presently the Sheriff made a sound of relief and Harry cleaned him up without a word.
“I have two young boys,” Harry explained. “You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve had to learn to clean up after them.”
Velasquez chuckled and relaxed back.
“Thanks,” he said finally. “What’s your name, again?”
“Potter. Call me Harry.”
“Well, Harry, what brings an English Shaman all the way out here?”
Harry made himself as comfortable as he could and began to explain his presence, omitting only what he knew about Dan’s past and his witness relocation. He decided that since Velasquez knew he was a wizard, there wasn’t much point in maintaining more of a deception.
“Hm,” said Velasquez when Harry had finished.
“What did you intend to charge Stephenson with?” asked Harry.
“I was sure he had to be involved somehow, especially once I realised he was a Shaman too. It kind if fitted, what with all the weird stuff going on at the mine.”
Harry didn’t know what he meant by that.
“He’s a wizard, actually. We call ourselves wizards.”
“Okay, but you can do magic just like Billy could. I wanted the guy locked up until I could get Billy to look over those computers.”
“He was a computer expert?”
“Hell, no! He knows even less than me! No, I wanted him to check for the presence of magic. That guy was up to something.”
“Magic and electronics don’t usually mix well,” Harry advised.
“Hm,” said Velasquez, sounding unconvinced.
“He could have escaped at any time, you know?”
“I guessed as much,” admitted Velasquez. “I never could keep Billy locked up either. So he’d have to have a pretty good reason to stay, right?”
“That’s what I was thinking, yes,” agreed Harry. “I think he wanted a safe place to stay where Muggles couldn’t get hold of him. Those servers have to be part of a Muggle scheme.”
“Sorry, that’s an English phrase. I meant non-magical people.”
“Oh, right. So was he employed because he’s a wizard or because he happens to have a talent for computers? My guess was this was some kind of bank heist. You know, breaking the bank’s encryption and stealing money by wire transfer.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” admitted Harry. “Is the server farm used by any banks?”
“Not that I could find. They say the computers are mostly used for weather predictions and things like that.”
“Yeah, I was stumped about that too. Their clients also hire them for earthquake predictions and sometimes share price and currency analysis.”
“Earthquakes? I recently contacted a Professor Templar about a small tremor. He was on the news last night about a student prank that he’d fallen for. This was in England.”
“Templar? The name isn’t familiar, but maybe his research is linked somehow. Do people bet on earthquakes? We’re not far from Vegas, after all.”
Harry vainly tried several times through the night to persuade Velasquez to let him take him to hospital, but this just made him more short tempered. Harry could see that Velasquez was deteriorating and knew that he needed to keep the Sheriff awake.
“So, how did you end up all the way out here?” asked Harry. “Do you know who dumped you?”
“Not for sure, no. I came out here looking for Billy, but I stopped by the mine first. I found the place deserted with the gates wide open, so I had a little nose around.
“The mine is pretty deep but they’ve carved out a new cavern. I’ve no idea what they are looking for, but the mine workings are nothing like I’ve ever seen before. For one thing, there’s no spoil.”
“That’s rock they’ve mined but don’t need?”
“Could the workings be older than they look?”
“Yes, but like I said, it’s strange. The rock surfaces look fresh, but there are no blast marks nor chisel marks. It’s weird.”
“I’d like to take a look at that mine. We stopped by this morning and it was closed but for a single guard. He said he saw you a couple of weeks ago but claimed he wasn’t here for the last week or so.”
“Yeah, I bet. He was afraid of being accused of something.”
Harry nodded in understanding.
“He’s there to keep people from prying. I’ll bet my patrol car is still there.”
“Is that where you were attacked, then?”
“Yes, they were waiting for me as I climbed up out of the main shaft. I think there were three of them, but I’m not really sure. The next thing I remember is being kicked off the back of a pickup. It was a good bet I’d be dead before anyone found me.”
“I think we should think about getting you to a hospital,” said Harry. “Your temperature is far too high.”
“Nope,” replied Velasquez stubbornly. “You think I didn’t know I was dying before Johnson went for help? I was beyond help before you found me.”
“There’s always a chance,” insisted Harry.
“Just keep those buzzards of me, would you, Harry?”
Harry sighed and said, “Do you have a message for your son?”
“You met George?”
“Almost. I wanted to consult him on the sample rocks I found.”
“Yep, he’s real good at rocks.”
“Tell me about him?” asked Harry, hoping to keep the Sheriff awake.
“I wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing going off to college rather than following me as a peace officer, but I was so proud when he got those degrees. He’s considered quite an authority, you know? All sorts of folks call on him to advise on samples and such.
“I attended one of his lectures once. I sneaked in and sat right at the back. Still have no clue what it was all about, but he sure had everyone else’s attention.”
Harry smiled as he listened to Velasquez tell his son’s story, which soon widened to include his late wife and many of the town’s characters including his old friend and sometime adversary Billy.
Harry extinguished the small fire and shivered in the early morning air. He got up and went out to see the breaking dawn, leaving Velasquez’s covered body behind. The sheriff had died peacefully in the early hours after Harry had increased the pain relieving charms on his leg.
He heard the helicopter shortly before he saw the black outline heading towards him.
Harry could see the helicopter was actually white with medical markings as it landed. He was surprised that the pilot hadn’t come down closer but given the amount of dust thrown up it was probably just as well.
Two figures emerged from the side and hurried towards Harry and he could see that one of them was actually Sheriff Browning.
“He didn’t make it,” said Harry to their unanswered question.
Browning nodded sombrely and headed for the shade where Velasquez was laying.
The paramedic confirmed there was nothing to be done and said they needed to radio in so that the Coroner could instruct them.
“Thanks for staying with him, Harry. I appreciate what you did.”
“I wish I could have done more. How’s Dan?”
“Oh, he’ll be fine. I sent him back to get checked out, but the medics said he was suffering from a combination of too much sun and over-exertion on the hike back to the jeep.
“You’re both lucky to be alive, you know? I don’t know how fast you were driving but it was sure too fast for this terrain. If that jeep has flipped I’d have four bodies to bring back, not two.”
“We saw the buzzards and wanted to get here as quickly as possible,” said Harry.
“You need to get checked over too, Harry.”
“I’m fine,” he replied at once. “I’ve had a few hours in the shade to recuperate.”
“I’m going to pay my respects to Billy. You up for a climb?”
“Yes, I am,” said Harry. “Sheriff Velasquez told me a little about Mr Chaman.”
“Yeah, those two went way back,” replied Browning with a sad smile. “Billy was quite a wild one in his youth, by all accounts. He mellowed with age, though.”
“Yes. The Sheriff came out here looking for him for help.”
“Really? Did he say how?”
“No, he wasn’t very lucid. Especially towards the end.”
They climbed back up to where the old Shaman sat and Browning stood respectfully in silent prayer for a few moments.
“You know? It was Billy here who first advised me not to push Sheriff Velasquez into retirement. He was right, too. Many folks weren’t happy to see some upstart take over and building a new central office a stone’s throw from the old one seemed disrespectful.”
They lapsed into silence again.
“The elders are gathering from the three tribes and they’ll set off on foot tonight. The Coroner has a tribal representative who will join them later on. He’ll see that the legal niceties are seen to.”
“Dan seemed to think there might be trouble.”
“I don’t thinks so, provided we respect the tribes’ traditions and wishes. Billy wasn’t a young man and, well, we’ve had time to make plans. The complication was that Billy wasn’t a member of one tribe. He’s claimed by three tribes.”
“Let’s hope they all agree, then,” said Harry.
“Hey, there it is!”
“Sorry?” asked Harry, following Browning as he climbed down the opposite side.
“I was wondering where Sheriff Velasquez’s patrol car was,” said Browning.
Harry said nothing. He was sure the car hadn’t been there before and certainly Dan hadn’t seen it or they would have at least tried to use it to get them all back.
He was also sure Sheriff Velasquez had no reason to lie about the car being left at the mine and he was at a loss to explain how the vehicle could have been placed there without his hearing something.
Harry decided it would be best to say nothing until he had conferred with Dan over the appearance of Sheriff Velasquez’s patrol car.
Browning had been at pains to stress that the car had been undriveable even if Harry had known it was there. The Sheriff also seemed convinced that Velasquez had suffered an unfortunate accident rather than being attacked.
The flight to the Las Vegas hospital didn’t seem to take very long, although Harry had to admit to being distracted. Browning and Harry both accompanied the gurney trolley with Sheriff Velasquez’s body down into the basement where the mortuary was located.
Several police officers silently lined the long corridor, each removing their cap or hat as a sign of respect.
They were finally met by a mortuary technician who tactfully said they would take care of the dead peace officer, and thanked them for their help.
The two of them stood silently as the swing doors closed.
“Let’s go and check on Dan,” said Browning. “Then I want you two to make a written statement, and then we’ll get you home.”
“Can’t the statement wait?” asked Harry.
“You’ll be glad you got it out of the way,” Browning assured him. “Remember, you’re here as a witness rather than a police officer.”
Harry nodded and said, “I’ll stay for as long as I’m needed, of course. Will there be an inquest?”
“Yes, but it won’t be up to us to decide when that will be convened. If we have your statement it should be sufficient. If it isn’t we’ll ask you to visit again.”
“Of course,” agreed Harry.
They took the lift up from the basement and could hear Dan’s loud voice as soon as the doors opened. He seemed to be demanding to discharge himself.
“Ahem,” said Browning dryly as they approached.
“Sheriff, I’m fine,” insisted Dan. “I need to get home to Gail.”
“One thing at a time, Dan. Nurse, has my colleague Officer Johnson here been seen by the doctors?”
“Yes, Sir,” she replied at once. “Doctor Medley indicated that he expected to discharge Officer Johnson once he had received more fluids.”
“Is the good doctor expected soon, Ma’am?”
“Yes, Sir. He’ll be here in five minutes unless there’s an emergency admission.”
“Sheriff,” pleaded Dan.
“If I hear one more word of complaint I’m sure the good doctor will insist upon keeping you in overnight,” said Browning. “The pair of you can go and wait quietly and patiently in that nice cubicle over there. Go on!”
Dan mumbled complaints all the way into the cubicle as Harry followed. They each sat on one of the treatment couches.
“He wouldn’t let me get him out of there,” said Harry in a low voice.
“Yeah. He could be a stubborn so-and-so.”
Harry had pleaded with Velasquez through most of the night, but there came a point when he knew it was too late anyway.
“I hear they found the car,” Dan said quietly.
“Yes,” confirmed Harry in a low voice. “I can’t see how we missed it and Velasquez thought it had been left at the mine. That’s where he was attacked.”
“Okay, but we’ve no evidence, do we? Someone wants it to look like an accident.”
“We have to make statements,” said Harry. “Velasquez said some things, but he was delirious at the end. I’m going to say nothing made any sense to me.”
“Right,” agreed Dan. “You realise we’re helping someone get away with murder?”
“Let’s agree we’re lulling someone into a false sense of security,” suggested Harry.
“That’ll do,” agreed Dan darkly as the doctor entered the cubicle to look them both over.
“You heard the song. I knew you would, but you see I never have.”
Browning returns Harry to his hotel. Harry and Mary pay their respects to Velasquez’s son, George. Harry tells George how proudly his father spoke of him.
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
It was very late when Sheriff Browning and Harry entered the Smith motel reception. Harry wanted to pick up any messages and they had agreed that Dan should spend some hours alone with his family following their bereavement.
Harry had suggested that he should spend the night at the motel to give them more time, but Dan insisted that Gail would want Harry to stay with them. Dan also thought he could distract the children a little if needed.
“Good evening, Sheriff. Hello, Mr Potter,” said Mary brightly.
“Evening, Mary,” said Browning. “I’m sorry we disturbed you so late. It’s been quite a day.”
“No trouble, Sheriff. Is it true about poor Sheriff Velasquez?”
“I’m afraid so, yes.”
“Poor George,” she replied with feeling. “I’ll pay our respects to him tomorrow.”
“Say, Mary, is there any chance of you organising a pot of coffee? I hate to ask, but we have a few minutes to kill and I’m parched.”
“Of course, Sheriff,” she replied at once. “Won’t take a moment. You’re welcome to come through to the office if you’d like to talk in private. You won’t be disturbed.”
It was very quiet outside and Harry thought it was unlikely that anyone would disturb them. The same thing apparently occurred to the Sheriff.
“No, I think we’ll be comfortable enough out here,” he replied, indicating the visitor chairs beside the check in desk. “That okay with you, Harry?”
“Sure,” Harry agreed at once.
They sat and the Sheriff groaned with the relief of someone who hadn’t sat and relaxed much recently.
“Oh, what a day,” he said.
“Sheriff, would it be out of order if I paid my respects to Sheriff Velasquez’s son? You see, he spoke rather kindly of him before the end. He mentioned how proud he was of his son.”
Harry turned to see a watery eyed Mary smiling at him and wobbling slightly as she carried a tray with a tall coffee pot and two large white cups.
He got up and took the tray from her.
“Won’t you join us?” he asked, figuring that she was going to listen in anyway. “Put this all on my bill, please.”
“Why, thank you.”
Mary quickly returned with a third cup and soon they were all sipping hot black coffee.
“That’s a nice thought,” said the Sheriff, returning to Harry’s question. “No need to mention how we found him, though.”
“No,” agreed Harry. “He was clearly very proud him, though.”
“It’ll do George good to hear that,” said Mary. “He and his father didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”
“Oh, that was ages ago,” said the Sheriff.
They spent a few pleasant minutes listening to Mary’s gossip before Browning said they ought to make a move. Mary offered to refill his thermos flask for the journey home and Browning accepted gratefully.
They thanked Mary again and drove off into the cool night air.
“I wonder where her sister got to?”
“Well, it depends on who you believe. Some folks insist that our dear Mary doses her evening malted drink with enough tonic to keep a horse knocked out. Others say her sister takes the tonic on her own account.”
“Personally, I suspect she’s tucked up in your room hoping to surprise you!”
Harry grimaced but had to laugh at the thought.
Harry entered the kitchen and found Gail at the kitchen table. She was red eyed and had obviously been crying.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said in a quiet voice, knowing the children were in bed.
“Thank you, Harry,” she said, getting up. “You’ll take some coffee with me?”
He couldn’t refuse.
“I wish you could have met Grandfather,” she said. “He used to have a way of seeing right into a person.”
Harry smiled and nodded.
“Harry, could I ask you something personal?”
“Of course, ask away.”
“This morning, during the drum task. Did you hear the song?”
“Um, I’m not sure. I thought I could hear chanting that was a bit song-like. Was that it?”
Gail nodded and fresh tears poured down her face. Harry was mortified that he might have said something wrong to her.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean-”
“No, Harry. You heard the song. I knew you would, but you see I never have. Grandfather said no-one chooses whether they can hear the song. It’s just nature’s way, but I always felt I let him down.”
“No,” said Harry at once. “That’s silly.”
“Dan can hear the song too, but he pretends he can’t,” she continued defiantly.
“Ah, well,” replied Harry, who was beginning to understand the significance of hearing the song, if not the song itself.
“Listen,” he said, beginning again. “When I heard those drums, it gave me a feeling of trust inside. Like it would work out fine. That’s why the wolves scattered, because there was no fear. All that was left was confidence and bravery.”
He rested his hand on hers and said, “Don’t tell me you didn’t look at young William and felt nothing. You can’t truthfully say that. You were proud of how brave he was, weren’t you?”
“Sure, but I was scared too.”
“So you did hear the song, Gail. You just didn’t know what it sounded like.”
She sniffed and wiped her eyes again, but finally she smiled.
“You and Grandfather would have got on just fine,” she said thickly as Dan entered the kitchen.
“Asleep at last,” he whispered.
Harry called Cabina early and asked him to drop him off at the Motel. He wanted to try and call Ginny from his room but also to ask Mary where George would be that morning.
“Oh, he’ll be at the church rooms,” said Mary. “The Reverend opens the smaller hall to anyone who might like to call in when there’s a bereavement in the town. He’ll always offer to sit with family, but often they won’t want too many callers.
“I’m planning on calling in this morning, if you’d like to join me? It’s only a short walk from here.”
“Thanks, that’s very thoughtful,” said Harry. “I’d like to try and call home first, though. Will it be a problem calling to England from my room?”
“Oh, no, dear. There’s a label by the phone with the prefixes to dial direct.”
“Okay, thanks,” he said. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
Harry went outside and walked through the small parking area to his room.
It was still early morning, so would be the middle of the night back in England. He wouldn’t have disturbed her, but Ginny had been out when he had called before having missed their pre-arranged call time.
Harry took his phone number sheet from his wallet and compared them with the faded prefix instructions that had been stuck on the wall beside the telephone.
On his first attempt he only got as far as Mary at the reception. His second dial was abandoned when he got a couple of digits confused but his third attempt was rewarded with a ringing tone.
“Hello?” said a sleepy voice.
“Sorry, Hermione. Did I wake you?”
“Harry! Hang on, I’ll give Ginny a shout.”
There was a brief pause while she covered the mouthpiece.
“She’s coming. So, how have you been?”
“Fine,” he said. “Sorry to call in the middle of the night.”
“Well, you were lucky because we’ve just got in ourselves. Hang on, here she is. Bye, Harry!”
“Bye,” he said, laughing.
“Harry? Why didn’t you call?” demanded Ginny.
“I did try but you must have been out or too drunk to answer.”
“Cheek! So, how have you been? Is your head any clearer?”
“I’m much better now, thanks. I slept most of the drive out here.”
“Will you be there much longer?”
“Can’t say, really. A few days, maybe. So, where did you go this evening?”
“Just a quiet girl’s night in. I had to stay close to the phone, you know?”
Harry snorted and said, “Sorry, but Hermione kind of gave you away.”
“You should never believe an intoxi-interxi-intoxicated person, Harry.”
“Sounds like good advice.”
“I missed you.”
“Oh, you brought a black tie with you,” Mary said, tucking away the black armband she had brought out for Harry wear.
“Is that the custom?” asked Harry, unsure if his transformation efforts had been wasted.
“You’re fine, dear. I just assumed you wouldn’t have anything. Of course, no-one would have expected you to wear anything special, but it is nice to show a sign of respect.”
They stepped outside and Harry felt more than a little relieved that Mary’s sister wasn’t coming with them.
Mary opened a delicate lace umbrella for shade and then looped her hand through Harry’s arm. They set off towards the church. Mary was clearly in no hurry and they stopped to chat with everyone they came across.
Finally they arrived at the church but crossed the road and walked up a wide gradual ramp to a low cream coloured building with a front facing pair of doors that had been propped open.
Just inside the lobby they were greeted in hushed tones by one of the church volunteers.
“The Reverend is over at the church but is popping in when he can. Mr and Mrs Benquerencia are sitting with George at the moment, but I should go right in.”
Harry held open the inner doors and then followed Mary inside. It was pleasantly cool within the small hall, and surprisingly light. There were several small groups of people inside.
Mary went straight to the back of the hall.
“George, I am so sorry.”
George got up and allowed Mary to hug him. The Benquerencias also got up and moved to take seats at a neighbouring table.
Harry waited patiently until Mary introduced him.
George indicated for them to take a seat but Mary too charge and said, “Why don’t you two take a turn around the yard? Some fresh air will do you good and we’ll have a fresh pot of coffee on when you get back.”
George seemed quite grateful for this suggestion and the two of them went out through a side door.
“Goodness,” George said once they were out of earshot. “Everyone has been very kind but it is a bit overwhelming. Did I see you with Dan Johnson the other day?”
“Yes. Dan and I are old friends.”
“Please give him and Gail my condolences for their loss.”
“I will,” promised Harry. “Dan said they would try to pop by to see you, but things are a bit hectic at the moment.”
They followed a white picket fence beside a play area that had seen better days.
“I understand that you found Dad out there and was with him at the end?”
“Yes. That’s why I wanted to see you. We spoke at length during the night, and he spoke very highly of you. He was clearly very proud of you and what you’ve achieved. I think he wanted me to pass that on.”
George smiled and nodded.
“Thank you, Mr Potter.”
“Please, call me Harry.”
“Thanks, Harry. We didn’t always get on, you know? Dad always hoped I’d follow him as a peace officer, but I was never really cut out for that kind of thing.”
Harry recalled the things George’s father had recounted in his last hours, hoping to stir some happier memories.
Finally they lapsed into silence again.
“Say, if you’d rather go out of the sun,” said George.
“I’m fine,” said Harry. “This place is so different from home there’s always something interesting to see.”
“So, what did bring you out here?”
“Um, a piece of rock, actually. I was going to ask your opinion on a sample I brought with me.”
“Really? I’d be happy to help, but I’m sure there must be many British geologists that could have helped.”
“Yes, but our experts said the sample may have originally came from this region.”
“I’m intrigued, Harry. Do you have the sample with you?”
“No, it’s at the motel but you don’t want to be bothered with that now.”
“To be honest, I’d welcome any excuse to take a break. I’ll have to take luncheon with the good Reverend and his guests, but how about afterwards? You’d really be doing me a favour? I’m not exactly looking forward to-”
“Ah, talk of the devil,” said George in an undertone.
“Reverend, may I introduce Harry Potter. He’s visiting from England. Harry, this is Reverend Prior.”
Reverend Prior was a very short man but had a most infectious smile.
“An honour to meet you, Reverend,” said Harry as they shook hands. “Thank you for your hospitality on such a sad occasion.”
“You’re more than welcome, Harry. Please, do join us for lunch?”
“I’m sorry, Reverend. I need to check in with Sheriff Browning.”
“That’s a pity. Perhaps, another time? George, a number of well wishers have called if you’re up to seeing them.”
“Of course, Reverend.”
The Reverend led the way back inside but it was only as they crossed the threshold that Harry remembered one more thing.
“Oh, George? I forgot to mention something.”
George turned interestedly, as did the Reverend and a number of nearby guests.
“Your father said he once sneaked in to listen to one of your lectures. He said he didn’t understand what it was about, but he seemed to appreciate that your audience did.”
George chuckled and said, “I wonder when that was? It must have been a while ago, at one of the Universities. I usually only lecture smaller groups these days.”
Harry made his way over to Mary who was sitting with a friend at one of the side tables.
“You’ve cheered George up a little,” she said, smiling up at him. “Are you going over to the Johnson’s now?”
“I’m going to see the Sheriff first,” he advised in a low voice. “Can I call by later to get something out of the safe?”
“Sure, dear. You need it now?”
“No, thanks. I’ll pop in this afternoon.”
“Damn, I’m going to catch hell for this.”
Harry and Browning return to the grieving Johnson household and Harry is invited to participate in a sand painting. Late at night, Harry and Summer are treated to a spectacle of ghostly animals. The raven appears.
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Harry knocked on Sheriff Browning’s office door and waited until he saw him wave him in through the glass panel.
“Morning, Harry,” he said without looking up. “Close the door, would you? Take a seat.”
Harry sat down.
“I’ve been going over your statements and I realised something interesting. You probably weren’t even aware of it, actually.”
“What’s that?” asked Harry, wondering if he hadn’t made a mistake. He had been careful to omit certain facts from his statement.
“Well, it concerns the timings. You see, you left the prison at eleven o’clock and it would have been mid-day before you got to the mine. You crashed my jeep shortly after then, and it should have been an eight to nine hours round trip before Dan radioed for help. In fact, he radioed in a full three hours before he should have.”
Sheriff Browning looked up and grinned.
“Um,” began Harry. “Could we have got to the mine sooner?”
“No, not that I can figure. Give up?”
“Yes, I suppose,” said Harry.
“Billy told me about this once. He explained that there are certain tracks that are almost invisible, even to experienced desert travellers like him. He said the trick was to try and cross one of these paths and hope you’d get diverted onto it.
“The way Billy described it was, you gradually go into a kind of trance. He thought it was to do with your steps becoming in sync with the ground rocks. You actually speed up without even knowing it.”
“Well, we did seem to veer off course quite a bit,” admitted Harry, who was pretty sure the old Shaman was probably using some form of Apparition to get across the desert as well.
“There you go!”
Harry nodded and returned the Sheriff’s smile.
“I’m sure the coroner will be satisfied with your statement. You shouldn’t need to attend court anyway and the medical examiner’s report didn’t raise any concerns.
“The only thing that concerned me a little was the fact that Velasquez didn’t radio in from his car. I know that radio contact is intermittent at best out there, though.”
“Yes. Dan had trouble with the radios too.”
“Well, I should go and see Dan and Gail, now. Do you want to come? Actually, it’s Gail I probably need to see. The Elders are in town now and are due to set off this evening. They will want to know if she wanted to come too or if she’d like any words spoken.”
“No disagreements between the tribes?”
“Oh, they still have plenty of time for that. Actually, I doubt if there will be any arguments over Billy. He was well liked and respected around here, so none of the elders would want to be seen as obstructive. Billy will get his wish.”
“I got the impression from Dan that you’d been preparing for his passing?”
“Well, yeah. He was quite an age and I’ve been trying to discretely prepare people. You’ll appreciate there are some differences between the legislature and the traditional rites. All I’ve really done is make sure no-one is fool enough to point those differences out.”
“Would anyone really do that?” asked Harry.
“There are some who are nervous about be accused of failing in their duty. I’ve basically agreed to fabricate or lose any incriminating paperwork and Judge Johnson has issued a vaguely worded court order that’ll never be seen by anyone.
“The fact is, it’s in no-one’s interests to interfere and it was largely thanks to Billy that relationships between the communities around here has never been better.”
“Let’s hope common sense prevails,” said Harry.
They parked outside on the street as there were a number of old pickup trucks on Dan and Gail’s front drive.
“Let’s go around back,” advised the Sheriff, straightening his black armband.
They followed the path along the side of the house and through an open gate into the rear yard.
Dan was sitting in uniform at a table near to the house with three visitors. It was noticeable that Dan was drinking coffee while his guests had bottled beers.
A large tent had been erected that now dominated the rear yard.
“Hi, Sheriff,” said Dan. “Thanks for calling by. Harry.”
Sheriff Browning removed his hat and said formally, “My sincere condolences.”
The three visitors nodded their acknowledgements to the Sheriff and Harry was wondering if he should also say something.
“Harry? Gail and the kids are inside the teepee. She wanted you to see it before it’s finished.”
Harry nodded but wondered what he was referring to.
He went over to the tent and as he approached an old woman opened the entrance and beckoned him inside.
Harry carefully stepped inside. It was much cooler within the tent than he had expected, but very dark. Harry waited a moment for his eyes to become accustomed, and he realised that several people were sitting around in a circle.
“Harry, come and sit next to me,” directed Gail. “Be careful where you tread.”
In the centre of the circle was a brightly coloured pattern illuminated from an opening high up in the teepee.
He felt his arm being pulled down and he sat.
Gail said something in a language he didn’t understand, but William and Summer smiled and waved from the other side. He smiled and nodded to the others in the circle, who seemed to be older women.
It became clear that William and Summer each had someone directing them in soft encouraging tones and it was with a degree of astonishment that Harry finally realised what was in front of him.
The complex and brightly coloured artwork was actually created entirely in loose grains of sand, precisely laid out in many intricate patterns.
“Here, you add some too,” said Gail, sliding over a small area of cloth with tiny pots and lids with different coloured sand.
“I don’t know where to begin,” admitted Harry.
“Take a pinch of a colour and see where you think it goes. Grandfather was quite modern in that respect.”
Harry took a pinch of fine red sand, but then regretted he’d chosen such a vivid colour. The more he looked, the more patterns and shapes within shapes he could see.
Finally, he chose a small square and thought it wouldn’t notice too badly if he messed up.
Harry began to add sand practically a grain at a time. He wasn’t entirely sure what he would end up with, but he decided to stay within the confines of the original square.
He looked up to see everyone was looking at him.
“They’re trying to work out what it is,” advised Gail. “Is it finished, yet?”
“Um, not really. You see, they are actually a bit wider than that.”
“So keep adding,” directed Gail, who was working on a spectacular raven, standing with wings raised.
“It’ll go over your raven’s feet,” complained Harry.
“That’s not really the point, Harry. You and Grandfather might not have met, but your lives did cross.”
Harry was not at all clear about what she meant, but reluctantly continued to add more pinches of sand. He even decided to add yellow and white highlights.
When he had finished, he stepped around to see the work of the others. Summer had drawn a pony and William had created a wolf but Gail’s raven dominated the piece. The others had created geometric patterns of extraordinary complexity that framed and joined the main features.
Harry’s only regret was that his effort somewhat spoilt the overall symmetry of the piece, but in fact the fine border patterns reduced the effect.
“Let’s step outside,” suggested Gail, and the four of them left the older women. Harry’s addition seemed to have generated quite a bit of discussion.
“Harry, what did you draw?” asked William.
“It’s a stag,” replied Harry. “They are like a horse, only a bit slimmer and the males have big antlers on their heads.”
“Are they your favourite animal?”
“Yes, I suppose. But I also like owls as well.”
William nodded and turned back towards the teepee.
“Mum, can we watch?”
“Yes, darling,” said Gail. “They are deciding how to include Harry’s stag in the prayer song. They won’t do anything until that’s decided. It’s a powerful symbol, so it must be sung just right.”
Harry looked at his watch and couldn’t believe the time.
“Drink, Harry?” asked Dan, who was now out of uniform.
“Um, actually I was supposed to see George Velasquez. I ought to go and apologise for my absence.”
“No, the Reverend called and said George couldn’t make your appointment. He didn’t approve of you bothering George with business at such a time.”
“Actually, it was George who insisted we meet this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. George will be available tomorrow morning, if you can bear the good Reverend’s disapproval.”
“Are you taking any time off?” asked Harry.
“The Sheriff has offered, but we decided William should go back to school tomorrow. It’s almost the weekend.”
“Did the Sheriff tell you about something he noticed in our statements?” asked Harry.
Dan nodded and rolled his eyes.
“Here’s to another one I owe you, Billy,” he said, clinking bottles with Harry.
The Johnsons had a number of visitors who came to pay their respects until the early evening when Gail was called back to the teepee. There was a short discussion at the entrance before the women returned inside.
Shortly after they began to hear low chanting.
A space was then cleared and an open fire prepared. William, who seemed enthralled by their visitors, sat and listened as the men began to tell stories of his great grandfather.
Summer preferred to stay by her father’s side.
“What was the discussion about?” asked Dan.
“They were reading quite a bit into Harry’s stag,” she said, turning to Harry. “I just told them you heard the song and that seemed to settle things.”
“That’s Harry,” muttered Dan with a smile. “Always has to be the centre of things.”
“You can talk,” replied Harry with a laugh.
“Hey, no jokes you can’t explain to me,” directed Gail.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Dan replied with a wink at Summer.
“I do hope they’ll be finished sometime before dawn,” said Gail, looking at her wristwatch.
“Today is for family,” explained Dan for Harry’s benefit. “There’ll be another ceremony out in the desert, and then three more for each of the tribes reflecting Billy’s official status.”
William walked by and Gail opened her arms and grabbed him. She kissed him and said, “You’ve been too close to that fire.”
“No, I haven’t,” he insisted, although Harry could see he looked flush and smelled strongly of wood smoke.
“Will Grandfather like the picture?”
“Of course he will, darling,” she replied. “It includes all his favourite animals.”
“And Harry’s stag,” William reminded her.
“That’s right. If you remind me tomorrow, I’ll show you something. It’s too dark now, but I just remembered something Grandfather drew one day while you were at school. I think you’ll like it.”
“What is it?”
“You’ll have to wait and see,” she teased.
William moaned and wriggled free, going back over to the fire.
“Tease!” admonished Dan. “So, come on? Don’t leave us in suspense as well!”
Gail just smiled back at him.
It was almost one o’clock at night when one of the women in the tent emerged and directed the men to take down the teepee. This was done with great care so as not to disturb the sand painting.
Harry was thankful it wasn’t a windy night, but the bright moonlight gave the painting a quite ethereal quality.
They all gathered around and watched as the painting was carefully swept up and placed in a small leather bag which was then handed to a rather tearful Gail.
That seemed to be the end of the ceremonies and everyone began to say their goodbyes, with the children receiving small token gifts of feathers or buttons and blessings followed by long hugs.
Harry sat alone in the dark, partly wishing he was home but mostly wishing he hadn’t drunk so much coffee and beer.
Sleep just would not come.
His mind kept going back over the day and to the old Shaman who had meant so much to just about everyone he’d met.
A flash of light crossed his vision, making him start.
He blinked and looked around. The den was lit only by moonlight shining into the room through the full height glass windows that went wall to wall. He adjusted his glasses and looked outside, but he could not see anything. The distant mountains were black against the night sky and the yard was now empty.
The light had been too slow for lightning, not that there was a storm.
He must have imagined it.
Harry’s eyes drifted to where the teepee had stood that afternoon, and he pictured again the sand painting they had made for Grandfather Billy.
He would ask Gail about that again if he got a chance.
The light moved right across the ceiling and this time was accompanied by a small giggle.
He raised his head from the old settee and saw Summer standing in her pyjamas, propping herself against the glass windows and laughing at something outside.
A bright shape moved low down, just outside and Summer cooed with delight. It moved away from the window and Harry could see it was a large hare. Rather, it was more like a ghost of a hare.
Harry wondered if it could be some form of patronus.
Three ghostly dogs came up to the window and one hopped inside through the glass, playfully running right around Summer and then jumping outside again. She laughed with delight and twisted around, trying to stroke the silvery translucent animal.
Catching Harry’s eye and becoming distracted, Summer fell down onto the carpet. He hurried to pick her up and they both then sat at the window to watch the animals.
A herd of ghostly wild mustangs tore through the yard, but no dust was raised at all. There were too many to count but one, who must have been the dominant stallion, reared up before dashing off into the night.
Below, the ground was covered in smaller animals including snakes and mice.
A raven flew low over the yard and landed just where the teepee had been placed.
It took Harry a moment to realise that the raven, unlike the other animals, wasn’t ghost-like. It was jet black with intelligent looking eyes.
It walked right up to the window just as the remaining animals turned to vapour and disappeared.
Summer tilted her head to one side and the raven copied her. She tilted her head in the other direction and laughed as the raven did exactly the same thing.
She stood, or rather climbed up Harry, and turned on the spot before the window. The raven hesitated, and then turned as well.
Summer laughed and reached up for the handle that slid open the window.
“I’m not sure we should,” whispered Harry, reaching out and gently pulling her away. “It’s a bit big for an indoor pet.”
Summer protested, but then an arm reached over the both of them and slid the window open.
“Damn, I’m going to catch hell for this,” whispered Dan as the raven hopped inside. “You just better be house trained, bird.”
Dan closed the window and said to the bird, “One peck and you’re out of here, pal. No second chances!”
Dan pointed at the bird for emphasis and of course it tried to peck his finger.
“Let’s make a cage,” suggested Harry, taking out his wand.
“What do these things eat, anyway? Apart from little girls’ fingers, of course.”
“Just what would I tell Gail, anyway?”
Harry and Dan consult George in his Assay office about some rock samples. Dan admits that Billy knew he was using a false identity. Harry conspires with Sheriff Browning to keep Dan out of trouble.
Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Dan accompanied Harry to the assay office, insisting several times that he wasn’t simply avoiding Gail. She hadn’t been at all happy to discover the family had acquired a new pet overnight, especially as now William wanted parity.
Fortunately, he hadn’t yet decided what kind of pet he wanted, but had narrowed it down to something with claws and fangs.
Harry could tell that the Johnsons were struggling to pay their bills at the moment and this would hardly help matters.
Harry knocked on the office door and entered to find George looking through some reports.
“George, I’m very sorry about yesterday. I got caught up with Gail and the children and didn’t realise the time.”
“It’s me who should apologise, Harry,” said George as they shook hands. “I let slip to the Reverend that we were meeting after lunch and he kind of got a full head of steam up.”
Dan entered the office carrying the sample case Harry had brought with him.
“Hi, George. How are you holding up?”
“Fine, thanks,” he replied.
“Gail sends her love. She really appreciated your note and wanted me to say if there’s anything she can do for you, please ask. That goes for me too.”
“Thanks,” said George.
“You going to take some time off?”
“I will, once the funeral is over. I really only opened the office today because I’m expecting some important laboratory test results back. Do you have the samples you were asking about?”
Dan handed the case to Harry, who handed the case across to George. He opened the outer case and removed the two pieces of red coloured rock from the evidence bags onto two white plastic trays.
He took the smaller sample and examined in with a watchmaker’s glass. With a practised hand he removed the dust cover from a microscope and placed the sample in clamps underneath.
“I’ve been trying to trace where these samples could have originated,” said Harry. “Right now I’d just settle for your opinion on the likely region.”
“Hm,” said George. “Harry, are these samples evidence? I mean, can I drill to get a small sample for analysis?”
“Yes, that’s no problem,” Harry confirmed. “I can get more but I’d have to send to London.”
“Hm,” George said again. “Well, your samples are common red sandstone and the subtle graining does indeed look very reminiscent of sandstone I’ve seen here. I mean, locally to here and elsewhere in the State.
“I’d need to do more tests to be sure. I can do a limited range of tests here, but we need a laboratory to undertake a particular range of tests. Right now all I can offer you is my best guess. I’ll be a couple of hours before I can be more certain, but to be honest even having the chemical makeup won’t really narrow down the location.”
“Anything you can tell us would be a great help, George.”
“Let me show you on the map,” he said, pointing up to a map that covered almost the entire country.
“We’re here,” he said helpfully. “This general type of rock is common to a big region,” he continued, sweeping his hand across a vast area. “Now, from the colour and composition, I think we could be talking about this range of mountains which is practically next door.”
George opened up a wide drawer and selected a map showing the local region.
“This is a geological map, so it doesn’t show too many man-made features like roads and towns. Now, there were a great deal of speculative surveys conducted in this region to the west, but relatively few towards the east. I guess I’m saying I’ve a reasonably high degree of confidence that this sample came from somewhere covered by this map.”
“That’s still a hell of a big area, George,” complained Dan.
“Ah,” George said with a smile. “I’m not quite done yet.”
“Apologies, George,” said Dan, raising his hands.
“Well, I have the benefit of a little local knowledge. It’s a fairly good bet that this sample same from a region to the west.”
He indicated a wide curved area on the map.
“Now, and I must emphasise that I’m making a speculative leap here, I think we can narrow this down to somewhere around here.”
He pointed to a point on the map.
“Um,” said Harry. “Can you explain your reasoning, George? We’ve gone from an area covering half the country to just a few square miles.”
George chuckled and reached for the second, slightly larger sample.
“Take a look at both samples together,” he advised, pushing the two trays together and returning the original sample there. “What do you notice?”
“Not a lot,” admitted Harry.
“Here,” said George, picking up a white bottle with a curved plastic tube in the top. “This is pure water. Watch again.”
He squeezed the bottle over each sample and drenched each in water.
“Hey, the colours and graining are slightly different,” said Dan.
“We were very lucky. I’m betting that the samples were cut from different levels? They must have been several feet apart.”
“That’s right, George,” agreed Harry. “But to be honest, it all looked the same.”
“I’ve seen core samples cut from all over the state, and I can tell you that both samples are common, but the there are two factors to be considered. Firstly, in the southern regions I’d expect to find a more obvious transition. You’d have seen a lighter rock, in the form of a reasonably thick vein.
“Secondly, there are very few locations where workings cross where we know there isn’t a transition layer.”
“Workings? Like a mine?”
“Yes, but it could be a quarry or even a fresh landslide that exposed the rock. However, I should point out that this kind of sandstone would not be quarried. It has no construction value as there is better quality obtainable from cheaper sources. I’m assuming the samples originally came from somewhere that has something more valuable underneath.”
“George, have you made any other assumptions to arrive at that location?” asked Harry.
“Yes. I’m assuming that the workings are man-made and that the survey has been published. I could point to a number of locations that should you decide to sink a mine or dig out a new quarry, then you’d find samples such as these.
“It has to be a quarry, since you couldn’t get a large contiguous rock out of the ground if you only had mine workings.
“I have also assumed that there’s be decent transport links, since we need to ship to England. That means road and rail.”
“Okay, George you’re doing great,” said Harry. “Let’s call that area your highest confidence zone.”
“I’m really only guessing,” George admitted. “Even if the lab confirms all this, I might be sending you off on a wild goose-chase. Colorado has sandstone like this too.”
“Let me ask you a trick question?” asked Harry, and George frowned in puzzlement.
“He means ask an awkward question, like an lawyer might if this ever gets to court,” Dan interpreted for him.
“Ah, of course.”
“Well, if you were to discount transport links and it having to come from a quarry, what would your best guess look like then?” asked Harry.
“But, how would you get it out of the ground?”
“Forget reality, George. If Harry ever puts someone in the frame, his lawyers will want to argue that this rock could have come from anywhere. He just needs to know how wide the net could be.”
“Hm,” said George, rubbing his face and studying the map. “I’d have to say the area will be rather large.”
George placed both index fingers on the map and moved each along the mountain line.
“Hang on, we need to go bigger,” said George, moving his left finger again. “That’s my best guess.”
“Okay,” said Harry. “Now, in your experience have any precious metals or valuable mineral deposits ever been found near to rocks like these?”
“Oh, yes,” said George, lifting his fingers from the map. “Gold mostly around here. Silver towards the north. Rare earth minerals have been found, but so far nowhere really economical to extract in this County but there are some big open cast mines in the North.”
Harry looked down at the map and noted some hand drawn markings. He asked, “Is that the mine everyone is hoping will be re-opened?"
“Yes. I’m sorry, but I’m not allowed to tell anyone anything at all about the surveys. They will be released eventually, but it could affect stock prices if information was leaked early and besides the lab work isn’t entirely finished yet. The mine owners should very shortly have enough information to make their decision, but I’ve really no idea when they will make an announcement.”
Harry smiled and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. You’ve been incredibly helpful, George.”
“Do you want me to do a formal report and send your samples off for analysis? I think you’d be wasting your money, though, unless the lab finds something unusual.”
“I’d need authority to do that,” said Harry. “You could put together a quotation for a laboratory analysis of the samples and another for your assessment of the original locations. I know you’d have to qualify your opinions.
“But please don’t do anything until you’re ready to return to work. This has been a cold case for a while now so there really isn’t any hurry.”
“Dan? Did Sheriff Velasquez leave any notes or reports on the things he was investigating?” asked Harry.
“Sheriff Browning went through his office and home papers, including the contents of his safe. If he left anything current it’s hidden or in safe keeping.”
“If he was investigating the missing town money, who would he confide his suspicions to?”
“No-one I can think of. Billy, maybe.”
“Did Billy have a house?”
“No. He had that old teepee, but he hardly ever used it. He really just bummed around, staying with friends.”
“Alright. Now, let me ask you a question? Billy was a Shaman. How many people believed he could genuinely perform magic?”
“He never claimed to do magic,” Dan advised. “He always said being the Shaman was a position of trust. He performed ceremonies and acted as a spiritual guide.”
“Okay,” said Harry. “You never had a conversation about magic?”
“Sure, we did,” agreed Dan. “Two days after I started work, I was called out to Billy. There was a complaint he was drunk and disorderly, but he was as sober as a judge when I got there.
“He kind of squinted at me and said I was a liar. Straight out. I mean, we’d never even met before. He told me I was using a false name. It was uncanny.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I felt I had no choice. I admitted that I was in a witness protection programme and that if anyone found out I’d likely end up dead. He nods and asks what happened to my wand?”
“Really? What did you tell him?”
“I said a friend was keeping it for me. I was vague because I didn’t want him to know that I couldn’t perform magic any more. I kind of gave the impression I could get hold of my wand at short notice if I needed to.
“Old Billy wasn’t fooled for a moment, though. I’m sure he knew my wand was stuck in England.
“He said that if I ever betrayed the Sheriff’s trust he’d summon my wand to me. That was a blow too. He somehow knew my wand would identify me to the people I was hiding from.
“I said good luck with the summoning as it was protected by strong magic and he said it wouldn’t be string enough. I’ve no idea how he knew I even used to have a wand.”
“He specifically mentioned the Sheriff?” asked Harry.
“No, not by name. He actually said something like, your future. I just took him to mean Sheriff Browning since my future is pretty much in his hands.”
“Okay, so you and Sheriff Velasquez knew Billy had magical powers. If Sheriff Velasquez asked Billy to keep something safe, he would have made sure someone he trusted also had access if anything happened to him.”
“I’m not sure Billy actually trusted me, as such. He just knew my secrets.”
“No? Did he object to you dating Gail?”
“We had words,” Dan admitted. “He was a bit cool towards me, which isn’t surprising considering my background, I suppose. Actually, he was fine about us getting married.”
“So, think,” directed Harry. “Where did Billy leave something he would want only you to find?”
They were silent for a long moment.
“Dan, is it traditional for there to be an apprentice Shaman? Who’s going to be the new tribe Shaman?”
“I’ve no idea,” admitted Dan. “Gail might know.”
“It isn’t you?”
“Me? No way! No, Billy knew I couldn’t perform magic. Besides, the tribe would never accept an outsider like me. No, it’ll be someone chosen by the elders. Could even be one of them.”
“Okay, but keep thinking and watch out for any signs. I keep thinking about that artwork in your kitchen.”
“You’ve been in the sun too long, Harry! So, you want to break into the server farm tonight?”
Harry entered Sheriff Browning’s office and said, “Sheriff, thanks for seeing me.”
“Take a seat, Harry. What’s on your mind?”
“Thanks. I wanted to ask your advice on a hypothetical situation.”
“Oh, darn. What did Dan talk you into?”
“Nothing, yet,” admitted Harry. “Like I said, this is all strictly hypothetical. Let’s imagine that I and an unnamed accomplice were to, um, enter a certain premises.”
“These premises locked and the owner hasn’t given permission for you to enter?”
“Yes, and the astute local Sheriff has probably directed the place to be watched in case a certain other individual decides to return.”
“He’s still locked up,” confirmed the Sheriff. “I’m getting hourly updates.”
“Well, for the purposes of this discussion, we should assume there might be a hypothetical breakout.”
Browning raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“I tried to get permission to enter the server farm, but the managing agent wants a search warrant and the judge isn’t inclined to grant one at the moment. Judge Johnson isn’t impressed that such weak charges were brought in the first place.”
“Okay. So, when will he be released?”
“Tomorrow morning, unless we can come up with solid grounds to re-arrest the guy.”
“So, what do you think?”
“I think you’d better not get caught, Harry. In fact, I’m changing the roster so that a certain Officer Johnson is on duty all night.”
“Good idea,” agreed Harry. “Thanks.”
“As for you, well, I can’t order you to be no-where near the server farm at 2:00 am because the patrol car will be called away for a false alarm. Those units are all alarmed and there are cameras everywhere. The best I can offer, hypothetically, is a confused response.”
“Don’t delay too long. I’m counting on hearing sirens.”
“Harry, don’t take this the wrong way, but how the hell will you know what to look for?”
“I’m going to conscript an expert to help me,” replied Harry with a smile. “Just remember, make sure that patrol doesn’t leave early. There might be more than one false alarm tonight, and I don’t want to lose the initiative.”
“Harry, just don’t get caught. Your Ambassador might have immunity from prosecution, but you sure as heck don’t.”
“I’ll try not to get caught,” he promised, turning in response to a tap on the office door.
Dan opened the door.
“Sheriff, why can’t I swap shifts with Bud?”
“Because you can’t afford to get sacked,” replied Browning evenly.
“You don’t understand, Sheriff,” began Dan.
“I beg your pardon, Officer?” said Browning in a raised voice. “Is there any aspect of my orders that are in any way unclear?”
“No, Sir,” said Dan, bowing his head.
“Hell. Just what would I tell Gail, anyway?”
“Ha! I knew you weren’t really Harry Potter! His scar is bigger and he’s taller too.”
Stephenson is broken out of the county jail and is taken to the server farm. Gail quizzes Harry about Dan’s former life.
Chapter 13: Chapter Twelve
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
“I’m sorry, but I’m feeling unwell,” insisted Stephenson, holding a hand up to his chest for emphasis.
Stephenson only had a limited view of the guard on the other side of the narrow and tinted security glass window but he looked unmoved.
“It’ll be lockdown in less than half an hour,” said the slightly distorted voice from a concealed speaker. “There are no movements permitted after eight unless there is a medical emergency. You should have reported sooner.”
“I didn’t feel ill before.”
“No-one’s available to take you to the nurse. Go back to your cell.”
The guard had moved now so Stephenson could only see the side of his head. The guard was clearly uninterested in helping him and he began to feel his time was running out.
“Please,” pleaded Stephenson with renewed emphasis.
The speaker crackled slightly as presumably the guard looked through some paperwork.
“Go back to-” repeated the voice. “What? You sure?”
Stephenson tried to see the person the guard was talking to on the other side of the screen, but his vision was limited.
“Inmate, report to the lock and prepare to be searched.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied Stephenson. “Thank you.”
The glass door slid open and Stephenson stepped inside and listened to the low motor hum as the security door slid closed and blocked out the noise from the wing.
He submitted to a pat-down search and allowed the shackles to be put on him.
An older guard then took his arm and led him through another security door into an interconnecting corridor. It was only a short walk to the small drug testing unit where a nurse sometimes administered medication.
“Wait in here,” directed the guard. “It’ll only be a couple of minutes.”
Stephenson was locked inside a small waiting booth. There was barely room for a chair and the door had a large mirrored one-way window. He knew there was a good chance he was being observed, so he put on a bit of an act. He lowered his head and began to breathe in a laboured manner.
Stephenson hoped it would not be too long before he was seen, or the effects from the powder he had taken earlier might have worn off too soon.
The door opened and a male nurse directed him to stand. Stephenson was escorted into the medial treatment room where he was surprised to see a doctor. This was unusual at this time of day.
“What is it?” asked the doctor.
“I’m feeling unwell, doctor. I feel a tightness in my chest and earlier I felt faint. I was fine before the meal tonight.”
The doctor put his stethoscope to his ears and pulled open Stephenson’s collar, placing the cold bell just below his neck.
“Hm,” said the doctor. “Do you have any history of heart problems?”
“There may be something. You certainly have irregular arrhythmia at the moment.”
“Doc? I need to take him back to the Wing,” said the guard.
“No, he needs to be under observation for tonight. We’ve a bed over on the Medical Wing. I’ll call and let them know they have a late admittance.”
Stephenson tried not to look too pleased with himself as the prison’s regular routine was momentarily interrupted while he was escorted over to the medical wing and admitted.
He was even assigned one of the isolation cells since he was an unplanned admission. These rooms were much larger than normal cells since they accommodated a full hospital bed.
The doctor appeared to re-examine him and was annoyed to discover that there was by now no evidence of arrhythmia at all.
“Well, it’s too late to send you back. I’m going to attach an electronic heart monitor to you. Don’t remove or tamper with the sensor or the alarms on the reception desk will go off.”
Stephenson lay back on the bed, wondering when the breakout would begin. He had no idea at all how they planned to get him out of there, either.
He hoped they would remember to bring him something to wear. He had changed back into his overalls but it would be cold outside tonight.
Everything was quiet for a few hours, but just after one o’clock the cell door opened and in stepped the doctor.
“Another check up, doctor?” asked Stephenson. “I’m feeling okay.”
The doctor placed a coat on the bed, looked at his watch and seemed to be waiting for something.
Stephenson swore as the doctor’s face began to distort as the Polyjuice Potion began to wear off.
Harry took his glasses from one of the white coat pockets and put them on. He then put the coat from the bed on top of his white laboratory coat.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t break me out?” said Stephenson.
“You changed your mind?” asked Harry. “I get paid either way, but if you refuse to come with me I’m ordered to silence you.”
“I still want out,” insisted Stephenson immediately.
Harry took out his wand and tapped the heart rate monitor device. He pulled at the wires to remove the sensors still attached to Stephenson but no alarms were sounded.
“Ha! I knew you weren’t really Harry Potter!” said Stephenson. “His scar is bigger and he’s taller too.”
“Keep your voice down,” instructed Harry. “The server farm is being watched, so we might not have long. Are you sure you need to be physically on site?”
“Yes! Did you bring a coat for me?”
“I can’t afford for you to make a sound, so if you’ve anything important to say, say it now.”
Without waiting, Harry pointed his wand at the man’s throat and fired a hex.
Stephenson mouthed several silent obscenities before Harry pushed his head against hard against the wall. There was no sound at all.
“Don’t try my patience,” Harry threatened in a dangerous voice before grabbing an arm and dragging him roughly to his feet.
They Apparated into a shallow ditch just outside the industrial park. On the other side of the road they could clearly see a parked patrol car, mostly hidden behind a large sign.
Headlights swept over them and they ducked down.
Another patrol car drove slowly along the road and stopped next to the surveillance car.
Harry could see a worried looking Dan in the driver’s seat, looking around for any sign of Harry. Sheriff Browning was in the passenger seat and got out to speak to the others for a moment.
A short while later, the patrol car continued on its way.
“Which unit do we need to enter?”
“Number twelve,” mouthed Stephenson, pointing into the estate of metal clad buildings.
Harry was immediately suspicious. He knew Stephenson had been arrested in the adjacent unit, not number twelve.
“What about alarms and cameras?”
“We can turn them off from inside,” mouthed Stephenson.
“Will Apparating inside affect the servers?”
Stephenson shook his head.
Harry let go of Stephenson as soon as they had Apparated. It was dark inside the unit apart from a couple of emergency light charging indicators.
Stephenson scurried silently off into the darkness and a moment later the lights inside a small booth came on.
Stephenson was desperately looking around for something, looking in several drawers.
Harry looked around, taking advantage of the light spilled out into the rest of the open warehouse which appeared to be empty.
He walked over to the office and said, “You won’t find your wand here.”
Stephenson looked furious.
“How do we get into the server farm?”
“I need my wand!” mouthed Stephenson.
“I don’t think you do,” insisted Harry. “Turn off the alarms and cameras in the other unit. Then we’ll go in. I don’t have all night, you know?”
Stephenson put on a snarl but then seemed to accept his situation.
He turned on a computer screen and waited for it to boot up. A few moments later he was typing quickly and entering various commands. Harry had no idea what he was doing, but finally Stephenson nodded and mouthed, “Clear.”
Harry walked over to the fire escape door that joined the two units and pushed it open.
No alarms sounded.
He moved inside quickly, sensing that Stephenson had been trying to creep up silently behind him. Harry had no doubt that Stephenson would have been tempted to try and knock him out and steal his wand.
A disappointed looking Stephenson entered and switched on some of the lights.
Harry had not expected to see the place quite so packed full of electronic equipment, all humming away. The temperature was a little warm in there too.
Stephenson snapped his fingers and pointed to his throat.
“Voice activated systems,” he mouthed.
Once again, Harry thought this was probably a lie but then he couldn’t prove otherwise.
He aimed his wand at Stephenson’s throat and performed the counter-charm.
“Where’s my wand?” demanded Stephenson.
Harry looked at his watch and said, “You have no more than half an hour.”
“That’s not enough time!”
“Keep your voice down,” directed Harry. “I suggest you get started.”
Forty minutes later, Harry was watching six computer terminals, each with meaningless figures scrolling up the screens.
“Ten more minutes, at least,” advised a distracted Stephenson. “This is the critical part. I need to combine the new results with the previous data.”
“So, the calculation is okay? It’s finished?” asked Harry.
“In that case, I’m instructed to-”
Stephenson looked up at him with a suddenly terrified expression. Clearly Stephenson thought his Employers were ruthless enough to kill to ensure his silence.
“No,” said Harry patiently. “I’m instructed to ensure that any identifying data is permanently destroyed. I was thinking about a fire, but you can probably suggest something better.”
“There’s nothing on these machines that can identify anyone,” insisted Stephenson, still typing quickly. “I was very careful about that!”
“That’s not entirely true, is it?” said Harry calmly.
“Yes, it is!” replied Stephenson, pausing and looking up from his screen. “Well, apart from-”
Harry just smiled knowingly. He might not know anything about computers or what Stephenson’s purpose here was, but he knew people.
Text on all the screens stopped scrolling at the same time and cursors blinked at the bottom.
Harry started to read the final lines but it was all meaningless to him. If he had to guess they were confirmations that various parts of the code had finished. Harry didn’t bother to read to the end.
“Okay. I’m ready to send the calculation now,” said Stephenson.
“Do it,” directed Harry.
Stephenson pressed a single button and suddenly looked very relieved.
“There,” he said. “It’s done. They’ll be able to do the rest remotely.”
There was a ping sound from one of the terminals.
“The data has been received and error checked,” confirmed Stephenson. “I’m starting the wipe now. It’ll take a while, but the servers are programmed to continuously write random numbers to all the storage drives. That’ll continue until noon tomorrow, but in truth nothing meaningful should be recoverable after ten minutes or so.”
“Don’t you have to physically destroy anything?” asked Harry.
“Yes. There are two rack drives that I need to pull. I have a hammer for those.”
“Okay. Now, I know you kept a little insurance and I would have too. You really don’t want me to be in any doubt about this, unless you want to stay here while this place burns down. Maybe the air conditioning failed or something?”
“It’s all on a separate drive,” said Stephenson miserably.
“Show me,” directed Harry as distant sirens began to sound. “Oh, dear. We’ve just run out of time.”
Harry tapped softly on the front door so as not to disturb the children. He had telephoned a little earlier to say that he would spend the night at his motel but Gail insisted that he stayed with them no matter how late he would be.
She smiled as she opened the door but looked tired and worried in the harsh reflected security floodlight from the front of the house.
“Dan hasn’t called yet,” she said, closing the door.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Harry said at once. “I saw him with the Sheriff in their patrol car earlier.”
“We’re in the den. I gave up trying to get them to sleep,” she explained. “I was trying to work out how to clean out that bird cage.”
Harry followed her through the kitchen and into the den with the wide windows. They had pulled the large bird cage that Harry had transfigured into the middle of the room.
“Hi,” he said to the children. “Does it need cleaning out already?”
Summer shrugged uncertainly but William nodded.
Harry undid the hook on the cage door and said to the bird, “Out you come.”
The raven just tilted his head at Harry.
Harry knelt down between the children and said, “Summer, he’s your raven. Why don’t you point to that old newspaper so he knows where you want him to go.”
Summer timidly pointed down and was somewhat taken aback when the bird immediately hopped out through the cage door and stood obediently before her.
“I think this must be a very young raven, you know?” said Harry gently. “Look at his beak.”
Summer made to stroke the bird but quickly pulled her hand back, perhaps mindful of all the warnings she had been given.
“These aren’t exactly usual pets,” said Harry gently. “He won’t tolerate hugs nor anything that messes up his feathers. He might put up with a gentle stroke, though.”
He reached over and very gently stroked the bird’s chest plumage.
Summer copied Harry and was soon grinning with nervous excitement.
“Have you thought of a name for him? Actually, he might be a girl bird.”
“No, not yet,” said William.
“I had an owl named Hedwig, once,” said Harry nostalgically. “There were times when she seemed like she was my only friend in the world. She was a white snowy owl and she could always find me, no matter where I went.”
“What did she eat?” asked William.
“I used to get owl-treats for her, but most of the time she hunted for her own food. She liked mice, but she also caught frogs sometimes.”
“Maybe we should do that,” suggested Gail. “It would be kinder to let it out to fly and we’d be sure that it got the right kind of food. We can get treats as well once we know what to get.”
Summer seemed to have an uncertain expression, and Harry thought he knew what concerned her.
“He will come back, you know? He’ll even tap on the window to let you know when he wants to come inside.”
Harry looked around and saw there was a small bowl of dried fruit and nuts. It looked like breakfast food.
“He won’t touch that,” said Gail. “We tried already.”
Harry picked out four nuts and said to Summer, “Hold out your hand?”
He placed them on her palm and gently encouraged her to hold her hand closer. The raven pecked suddenly, making Summer jump and the remaining pieces of nut shot out of her hand.
Harry chuckled and picked out some more.
“He mustn’t have too much of this,” he warned. “No more than four pieces a day, okay?”
Summer was much braver at the second attempt and both she and the raven were disappointed when they reached Harry’s limit.
“If he’s still hungry, let him outside,” said Harry. “We should put some water out for him as well.”
Gail got up and opened the sliding window.
“Summer, take him to the window so he knows its okay for him to go.”
She used the cage to pull herself to her feet and then made her way to the window taking a wide route so she could prop herself up on various items of furniture, walls and finally the wide, full height windows. Harry thought she was on the cusp of walking independently but wasn’t quite there yet.
Harry smiled seeing the raven walk patiently behind her, pausing each time she turned to look back at her new pet.
Finally they got to the open part of the window. The raven hopped outside and then took off with a great beat of its powerful wings.
Summer crawled directly back to Harry. At first he thought she wanted a hug, but he felt a tug on his pocket.
“Oh, you want to have a try, do you?” he asked playfully, taking out his wand. “Please be very careful with it. I’d be quite lost without it.”
Summer swished the wand in a fair imitation of how she’d seen Harry use it when transfiguring the bird cage. Unfortunately, nothing happened at all.
Harry smiled at Gail, but she was wearing a very thoughtful expression.
“Had any better ideas for what kind of pet you’d like, William?” he asked. “You were still keen on a shark this morning, but they have teeth but no fangs or claws. In fact, the only one I could think of with those was a dragon.”
“Dragons aren’t real!” said William with a laugh. He was now lying on the old settee and had pulled various cushions over himself.
The fresh air coming in from the open window seemed to make the smell from the cage noticeably worse.
“We probably should have put a bigger door on this cage,” mused Harry. “Maybe if we undid the side panel and re-fixed it with hinges and a couple of catches?”
William yawned widely and closed his eyes. He would be asleep very soon but his sister was wiping her eyes, determined to stay awake.
“Sleep,” whispered Harry, gently taking his wand back from her unresisting fingers.
Summer practically sleep-walked over to her mother’s arms.
“Harry?” asked Gail some time later.
“Did you know Dan well? Before, I mean?”
“He didn’t spend that long with us, but we got to know him pretty well, I think.”
“What kind of a life did he have?”
“Not great, to be honest. Nothing like as good as his life is now.”
“Nothing to tempt him back?”
“No,” said Harry, not wishing to elaborate. “He had no family left and few friends to speak of.”
“But, he did have friends?”
“Those so-called friends turned on him very quickly. He was hounded from one end of the country to the other, and everyone he turned to for help betrayed him.”
“You didn’t, though?”
“I wasn’t really a friend in the beginning. We just kept him safe for a while when it became clear he was in danger.
“You know, the only reason he hasn’t told you more is simply to protect you and your children? I’m surprised he even hinted that he was in a witness protection programme.”
“Well, Grandfather warned me that Dan was concealing something. I wouldn’t let it go, I suppose.”
“He must have had a good reason to stay then? Not everyone would have been so trusting. One call to the right person in England and he’d have been finished.”
“Dad! You’re on TV!”
Gail and William help Harry access the information from Stephenson. Harry and Dan search Sheriff Velasquez’s old office for clues.
Chapter 14: Chapter Thirteen
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
“You know, I can put William in his own bed so you can get some rest, Harry?” said Gail. She had just returned Summer to her own bedroom.
“No, don’t disturb him. I don’t think I could sleep now, anyway.”
“Me neither. I hate it when Dan’s out all night. I think I’ll bake something for breakfast.”
“Gail? Do you have any way to access files on a computer disk?” asked Harry, showing her the small black box and cable.
“Sure, you can use my laptop. It’s a bit old and slow, I’m afraid.”
“Could you show me? I’m not really sure what I’m doing and I don’t want to mess anything up.”
“If that drive contains evidence you should get the contents copied before we even plug it in. There might be software on it that erases and scrambles the contents.”
“Well, I’m not sure I want to turn the contents over to an official investigation until I’m sure what is on here,” he explained.
“Let’s plug it in. If it asks for a password we’re stuffed anyway,” said Gail. “You want to use my office?”
Gail plugged the drive in and booted the laptop.
“It seems to be a normal USB drive, only the box looks custom made,” she said. “There you go.”
Harry looked at the laptop and said, “Um, what do I do now?”
He usually called on Ron to help him these days, since he was so much more familiar with Muggle computers.
Gail snorted and showed him how to view the drive files and click on them to open. The picture files she opened all appeared to be weather charts going back several months.
Harry thanked her and began to go through the files and directories. There were all kinds of odd records, including scanned copies of newspaper articles and screen grabs.
The meteographic information mostly centred on the North Sea and went back over two years. Initially sparse, the reports seemed to be daily for the past six months or so.
He found a collection of articles about earthquakes generally, and records of recorded events centring around the British Isles.
Frustratingly, he could find no explanation for the calculation the server farm was being used for. He had hoped there might be some kind of briefing document.
He did find some scans of a hand written flow chart, but there was nothing he understood to explain what it was for.
It was looking increasingly likely that he would need to track Stephenson down again and try to force him into telling him.
“Is Dad back yet?” asked a tired voice from the open door.
Harry turned and smiled seeing William wipe his eyes.
“No, but I’m sure he won’t be long,” he replied. “Why don’t you go back to bed?”
“What you doing?” William asked, coming into the room.
“I’m trying to understand what all this means,” explained Harry, stretching his arms up and yawning.
William expertly took the mouse and began to quickly flick through sub-folders.
“Wait a moment,” said Harry. “Can you go back? I didn’t see those files before.”
Gail appeared at the door carrying a mug of coffee for Harry and she brought with her a delicious smell of freshly baked biscuits.
“Hi, honey,” she said to William, handing Harry the mug. “You want a drink?”
William nodded. He immediately abandoned the laptop mouse and headed for the kitchen, no doubt motivated by the cooking smells.
“I’ve counted them,” she warned with a smile.
“Thanks,” said Harry, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Not really, but William showed me some files I missed before.”
“Well, shout if you need any help,” she offered, returning to the kitchen.
Harry looked back at the screen. There were a couple of folders with very interesting names that had apparently been hidden from a casual reader such as himself.
He began clicking again and this time began to make notes.
Dan arrived home a couple of hours after dawn and immediately turned on the kitchen television to watch the local news.
“You weren’t following this?” he asked incredulously.
“You know why,” replied Gail evenly, and Harry knew she was afraid of hearing about some shooting that might have involved Dan.
The screen just showed a series of shots of various patrol cars with flashing flights passing at great speed. The rolling text and the bottom of the screen mentioned a prison riot and possible breakout.
“There was a riot?” asked Harry.
“Yep! All the doors on one of the accommodation wings opened during the night and there was a bit of a commotion. The brawl started when a group dressed as guards appeared and demanded to know where a particular inmate was.”
Harry nodded in understanding.
“It turned out he’d been moved to the hospital wing, although none of the real guards on duty seemed to know that.”
Dan turned back and grinned at Harry.
Harry smiled back, not bothering to pretend to look innocent. It had been his instruction note and small sachet of powder that had been smuggled in to Stephenson.
He had thought it would be prudent to move Stephenson off the main Wing and into somewhere quieter before attempting to break him out, but clearly Stephenson’s genuine colleagues hadn’t bothered.
“Dad! You’re on TV!”
The screen showed a senior uniformed man in front of several microphones. He was wearing a hat almost as big as the one Harry had bought for Ron. Behind him were several uniformed officers including Sheriff Browning and Dan.
“Is that how you’re supposed to look when you’re on TV?” asked Harry.
“It is when you’re trying not to laugh,” admitted Dan.
“What was funny?” asked Gail who was trying to read the screen text while listen to the screen commentary and Dan all at the same time.
“I swear, I don’t know how I didn’t burst out laughing. The prison Governor did his statement again a few minutes after this was recorded.
“He needed to ask the Press for a do-over because the head guard admitted there hadn’t been an escape after all and that they were conducing another count because they appeared to have more inmates than they thought they had.”
“Really?” asked Harry. “I would have thought the fake guards would have left at once.”
“No, they were still looking for their guy when the genuine guards began to take back control. We were posted to watch the perimeter and listened to all the radio traffic from inside.
“It was strange. It sounded like they were wearing fake uniforms that were really obviously out of place. It was like they didn’t know what a guard was supposed to look like. If it had been me, I’d have dressed them in orange overalls. At least then there’d be more confusion.”
“How many of the fake guards are in custody?” asked Harry.
“None,” replied Dan. “It was like they vanished into thin air. Unfortunately, the CCTV tapes are mostly scrambled.”
Harry raised his eyebrows and nodded. The breakout attempt must have been conducted with the help of Wizards.
“Stephenson was officially reported missing after the first count. Then someone checked the hospital wing records and found out about the transfer. They found him in one of the isolation cells and he was quietly moved to the court holding cells about an hour ago.”
“Is Sheriff Browning going to offer him protection?” asked Harry. “He was pretty nervous of his colleagues, whoever they are. I assume he’ll be bailed this morning?”
“All the charges are going to be formally dropped, so yeah he’ll be freed. I’ve not heard of any protection being offered, but Sheriff Browning is going to have to personally apologise to the guy.”
Harry nodded and watched as the television news reports began to repeat.
“What do you want to do next?” asked Dan.
“I’d quite like to go and see inside that mine,” said Harry. “I’m curious to see the caverns that Sheriff Velasquez described seeing.”
“Okay, but I need time to shower and change.”
“Dan!” complained Gail. “You’ve been out all night.”
Dan parked in his usual spot outside the Sheriff’s office and Harry opened his door to get out. Dan, though, did not open his door and this made Harry hesitate.
“I am a bit slow on the uptake, Harry, but I just realised something.”
“What?” asked Harry.
“Those rock samples we showed George,” said Dan. “You already had those tested, didn’t you?”
“Yes. That’s how I knew they were probably local to this State.”
“But you didn’t tell George what the labs found.”
Harry raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
“You were waiting for him to ask to see the lab test reports, weren’t you? Only, he didn’t.”
“We actually had quite a few samples sent off for testing, and those two came back with very interesting reports. The sampled sandstone is very common, just as George said it was. However the graining hints at a slightly unusual make up and they found trace amounts of a rare earth mineral called Bastnaesite.”
“Bastnaesite,” repeated Harry.
“I’ve never heard of that. What’s it used for?”
“No idea,” admitted Harry. “All I know is that just recently the value of pure, processed Bastnaesite has gone through the roof over the last couple of years. This mineral was known to exist in Pakistan and Sweden. Prospectors have speculated where else this stuff might be found, but no-one ever thought of Nevada. Our experts all agreed it should not be here.”
“Okay, so this might indicate a valuable find?”
“It might,” agreed Harry.
Dan thought for a moment before saying, “Are you thinking that our mine might be this new source of Bastnaesite?”
“No. I put it to the geologists that this mineral might be just be undiscovered. Every mountain in the world gets formed by being pushed up over millions of years and I asked how they could be so sure that a pocket of Bastnaesite wasn’t formed. They agreed that all kinds of exotic geology might exist, but they all insisted that it was all too deep for current Muggle technology. Even if it was there, it couldn’t be mined.”
“Couldn’t a volcano or something have brought the mineral closer to the surface?”
“They pointed to the fact that no known discovery has even hinted at there being Bastnaesite on this continent.”
“Experts can be wrong, you know?” said Dan.
“Yes,” agreed Harry. “But, let’s think through another possibility. What if they are right and there’s no Bastnaesite.”
“So, the samples didn’t come from here at all?”
“Oh, no. Let’s assume the sandstone samples definitely came from somewhere around here. No, I’m thinking that maybe the Bastnaesite was some kind of contamination. Either it was exposed to the stuff accidentally or on purpose.”
“Woah,” said Dan. “On purpose?”
“Well, it has happened before. Rumours about a new strike could affect the market price if speculators believe the supply could suddenly become greater. They don’t call these minerals rare earth for nothing.”
“So, someone in the market for Bastnaesite might want the price to drop. Wouldn’t that just be temporary, though?”
“Yes, I’d have to agree. Anyway, a fake strike is more plausible than the samples becoming exposed by accident.”
“Could it have happened at a lab?” asked Dan. “What if a block of this Bastnaesite was being cut up on the bench next to our samples?”
Harry chuckled and said, “Well, at least you’re getting into the spirit. This whole puzzle has been driving me nuts for months. Welcome to my world!”
Dan laughed and finally they got out of the car and walked into the office.
“So, was he trying to divert our attention?” Dan asked obliquely as they entered the reception. They wouldn’t refer to George Velasquez by name in case they were overheard.
“Well, to be fair he has probably signed non-disclosure agreements that would put him in an awkward position,” said Harry. “Besides, we’ve no evidence that he actually lied to us. He simply didn’t ask all the questions I expected him to.”
“Let’s go and take a look for ourselves?” suggested Dan.
Harry looked over to Sheriff Browning’s office but Dan shoved him towards his own desk.
“The Sheriff isn’t in and wouldn’t be interested anyway,” insisted Dan, picking up and opening a small padded envelope that had been left on his desk. “Hey, cool. Let’s go.”
“What have you got there?” asked Harry.
“Keys,” replied Dan over his shoulder.
They exited through a rear door and walked across the road and past a plot with assorted rusting machinery.
“This is Velasquez’s cabin. He used this place when the original office was demolished for the new place.”
Dan unlocked the cabin and entered, pausing to put the lights on. Inside was surprising spacious and there were several empty desks.
Harry followed Dan into a separate office that was clearly still being used until very recently.
A uniform in a clear plastic cover had been hung from a hook behind the desk and there was a large hat inside a translucent bag on the filing cabinet.
Harry looked at the large desk and comfortable looking office chair and imagined Sheriff Velasquez barking out orders from there.
“The Sheriff has already been through all this and taken most of the files,” Dan said, sitting down at the desk.
Harry looked down and saw that a large document safe on the floor had been left ajar. He pulled open one of the metal filing cabinets and found it was empty.
“I don’t see anything out of place,” said Dan.
Harry was about to pull the cabinet away from the wall when he noticed that the vinyl floor tiles had been scuffed.
“Someone has already searched for documents that might have fallen behind here,” said Harry. “Would Sheriff Browning be that thorough?”
“Yes,” admitted Dan. “However, he admitted to me that he also thought someone might have searched this place before he got here.”
“Above the false ceiling?” suggested Harry without much enthusiasm.
“Too obvious,” said Dan, now sitting and looking around. Finally he swivelled around in his seat and looked at the pinboard behind him. Only pins and scraps of torn paper remained.
Dan turned his attention to each wall in turn until finally he looked back down at the desk. He got up and stood in front of the desk, which Harry assumed would have been his usual perspective.
Dan leaned over and straightened the pen holder and name plate. He looked at the left and right hand corners of the desk.
In one corner there was an empty double stacked wire file basket. Another file tray occupied the other corner, but this one was a leather effect cardboard drawer.
Dan lifted up the cardboard drawer and found a red flyer stuck underneath. He made to put it back down, but paused and tugged at the forgotten piece of paper.
“One like this used to be on the Sheriff’s board,” said Dan. “It was all faded, though.”
Harry looked over Dan’s shoulder and read the flyer. It was a call for residents to attend a town meeting to discuss restricting the times that miners could come into the town.
“This was all way before my time,” said Dan. “There was a problem with drunken behaviour I think. The town didn’t mind them spending their money here, mind.”
“Why did the Sheriff keep it on the board?”
“I think it was just a reminder for certain visitors. There were a couple of shootings and I heard the Sheriff helped out a couple of local dignitaries. Say, what happened to all the others?”
“Harry, check the other desks back there would you? There were boxes of unused flyers for Sheriff Velasquez’s re-election. He had them all printed before they persuaded him to take his retirement.”
Harry went out into the general office and checked the first couple of desks, but these were empty. He then spotted some cardboard boxes stacked up against the far wall. Underneath were several packets tightly wrapped in plain brown paper.
The top packet had been partially torn open. Harry ripped back the wrapping paper and was rewarded with a grinning colour photograph of Sheriff Velasquez. He grabbed a few of the flyers and said, “I think I’ve found them.”
Dan appeared and took one of the flyers from Harry.
“Check the other boxes, would you?” asked Dan.
“Sure. What am I looking for?”
“There was a printing error. They got the phone number wrong. I only knew because I was studying for my exams, but this one looks correct.”
“Maybe he had the printer do them again?” suggested Harry as he ripped off the tape seals and checked the contents of the rest. All the flyers seemed to be identical.
“I guess,” agreed Dan. “I’m sure they were all over town when I spotted it, though. It was the area code, but I can’t remember if it was petty theft or grand theft. 487 or 488. We use the Californian police codes, you see?”
“Why not dial both and see?” joked Harry, but then they both paused for thought.
They were looking for something Velasquez knew Dan would recognise. Could Velasquez have somehow left a message on the misprinted number?
“Would Sheriff Velasquez have been looking for the town’s money then, or was that later?” asked Harry.
“No, he’d have been investigating all right.”
“Do the phones here still work?”
Dan picked up a receiver and dialled. His first attempt resulted in a dead tone but he got a ringing tone when he dialled the flyer number substituting 487 for the local code.
“It’s being diverted,” said Dan as he waited. “Hello? I’m sorry to bother you, but my name is Officer Dan Johnson. I’m calling on behalf of Sheriff Velasquez.”
Dan paused and listened. He cupped the mouthpiece and whispered, “It’s a message service. They’re putting me through.”
“Hi,” he said. “You do? Could you give me your location so we can send someone to collect the package? What, it must be me who collects? Sure, I’ll bring ID.”
Dan pulled out his notebook and quickly wrote down an address.
He thanked the person on the other end of the line and hung up the phone.
“Damn, Harry. You were right. I wonder what’s in that package?”
“Say, you folks want to come on up? Keep your hands where I can see them, though.”
With the raven’s help, Harry makes a disturbing discovery in the desert. Harry, Dan and Gail wait at the hilltop tribal burial grounds, overlooking the mine entrance.
Chapter 15: Chapter Fourteen
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
They had quickly agreed that Dan should go and retrieve the package as quickly as possible from the Vas Vegas storage depot.
In the meantime, Harry decided he would investigate the mine alone. Dan wasn’t that keen but acknowledged he ought to be safe enough just scouted the place out and didn’t venture underground. For his part, Harry only agreed not to take any unnecessary risks.
They had no luck in tracking down the mine manager, but a call to the mining company office confirmed that the site had been closed pending a review of the survey findings. There would be no security since the entrance had been sealed and the temporary licence had expired, but they had offered to provide any assistance if they needed to inspect the premises.
Dan had been a little wary that they hadn’t demanded a search warrant but otherwise thought the company was being straightforward with them.
Harry disapparated directly from Velasquez’s offices to a vantage point behind the fenced off mine entrance. It was a long distance but he’d got his bearings now.
The compound appeared to be deserted and the gates were chained and padlocked shut but there were many huts and storage containers that obstructed his view. It would be very easy to hide out of view and Harry was wary of bumping into the unidentified helpers that tried to break Stephenson out of jail.
He looked behind him and up at the rocky hill. There was hardly any vegetation and every surface looked worn by countless sandstorms.
Harry wondered if there might be a better view of the compound further along the path, so he set off and climbed quite a bit higher until he found a wide outcrop. He crawled to the edge and finally lay down, looking down over the edge. Here he would be almost impossible to see from the compound below.
He turned over and looked back. There was no sign that anyone had been here recently, but Harry had the strangest feeling. It was like the place was trying to tell him something.
There was a sudden whoosh of air and a raven landed next to him. He was sure it was Summer’s raven.
“Hello,” said Harry. “Got a name yet?”
The bird just tilted his head quizzically and then set about preening itself.
“Okay, how about a bit of help? I’ve felt a compulsion to come here but honestly I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to see.”
The bird just ignored him.
Harry looked over the edge again to select a point to Apparate to, when he felt a peck on his leg. It wasn’t anything viscous, but he knew the bird was getting his attention.
The raven spread its wings and took to the air, flying up to a ledge about fifty feet higher.
Harry groaned and began to climb up the smooth rock. He was moving away from the compound and was unlikely to be seen, but he made sure to keep down until he was sure he was out of view. It was a fairly shallow climb, but he was breathing heavily when he finally got to where the bird was waiting.
“Okay, I’m here. Why did I climb up here?,” he asked, looking around.
The raven walked over to a wide crevice in the rock where Harry thought snakes would probably be enjoying the shade inside. Harry followed warily until he stood at the edge next to the bird.
The bird pecked his ankle and took off again, this time gliding down to his original ledge.
Harry groaned and looked down.
Then he froze in astonishment.
From this height he could see the wide ledge from where he had looked down into the compound, only this time he could see carvings. He’s been too close to see before, but there was a great stylised eagle with spread wings cut into the rock below. He had been lying across one of the wings.
“Not an eagle,” Harry corrected himself. “That’s a raven.”
As he looked down, the raven once more landed next to him.
“Okay, I see the carvings this time. Does that mean this area is significant?”
The bird pecked his ankle again.
“Ow! Okay, so the entire hill is important?”
He skipped when the bird made to peck him again.
“How about the hill and whatever is underneath?”
This time the raven left him alone and Harry relaxed.
“Oh, great,” he said aloud as he realised the significance of what the raven had shown him. “They may have found an incredibly valuable mineral under a sacred mountain.”
Harry and the raven pondered this for several moments.
“Oh, well, I’m going to have a look at the mine now,” he told the bird.
Harry took one step forward, when the bird took off and flew directly at him. Harry ducked and watched the raven fly right to the top of the hill.
He Apparated next to the bird at the highest point, but it did not seem surprised by his sudden appearance.
The raven walked over to a shallow recess a few feet across and stood on the edge.
Harry followed and squatted down next to the bird. He counted about a dozen very old looking skulls that had been sun bleached amongst several carefully arranged long bones.
“They are going to bring Billy’s body here, aren’t they?” he said to the raven. “How ever did they get a licence to mine under a religious site, anyway?”
The raven hopped away from his side and presently Harry followed. He looked down on the other side of the hill.
Harry frowned seeing another compound, except this one was unfenced and had a lot of activity with vehicles moving tonnes of broken rock out along a road that headed off into the distance. He hadn’t heard a thing down on the other side.
A siren wailed from down below and suddenly all activity seemed to stop. Bunches of tumbleweed were hurriedly dragged out into the compound and the trucks were either covered with camouflage netting or reversed into an opening that Harry could not see properly.
Once the dust settled there was no sign that there had ever been any activity at all at the foot of the hill and Harry realised he could only see part of the road. It seemed to just blend into the landscape.
A couple of minutes later Harry heard a distant helicopter flying several miles away. At one point he thought it might fly closer, but it must have turned away and silence returned.
The siren sounded again and within a few minutes the compound was clear and the trucks were moving once again.
“What’s the bet that road goes to another mine?” Harry wondered aloud. “I bet it doesn’t go anywhere near another road or rail track. They could extract the stuff here and then transport it a few miles and claim it was mined there. If no-one knows it comes from sacred ground, then there’s no-one to complain.”
Dan opened the door and looked relieved to see that Harry had got back okay.
“We got your message, thanks,” he said. “We had a bit of trouble persuading the damn bird to hand it over, though.”
“Really? Well, it was his first attempt,” said Harry. “I told him to take it to Summer since I thought she’d be easier for him to find.”
“Yes, well she was a bit scared to take it and the bird wouldn’t let anyone else near. Stupid thing is too big to fly around this house.”
“Ah,” said Harry. “Maybe I shouldn’t have tied the message to his leg after all.”
Harry followed Dan into the den where the others were waiting. There had clearly been some commotion, but the raven was now sitting on top of its cage and Summer was timidly stroking it with one finger.
“Sorry,” said Harry. “All my fault. I told the bird to take it to Summer but I should have given clearer instructions.”
“Not to worry, Harry,” said Gail, still trying to tidy her hair. “Come and have some coffee?”
They left the children and went back to the kitchen.
“Gail, were you invited to attend the desert ceremonies?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I have some standing in the tribe, but they knew I would decline. I wasn’t going to attend.”
“Do you know everyone who will be attending?”
“Most that might attend, I suppose. Actually, there are two new members of the Council that I’ve not met. They are from Lewis, which is a few miles away. Not everyone on the Council will make the journey, though. There will be separate more formal ceremonies as well where everyone can pay their respects.”
“Okay, so of those that are attending, how many would you say have a local interest?”
“Local meaning just the town?”
Harry nodded and said, “Well, the town and the mine.”
“None, really. Grandfather was the last member on the Council who was local. Why do you ask?”
“I think you should come and see for yourself,” said Harry. “Do you have walking boots and something warm to wear? It’ll be cold up there.”
“Harry, you can’t go onto sacred land. It would be regarded as a terrible insult.”
“I’ll risk it,” he said. “What about Dan?”
“Hey, I’m coming too,” he insisted. “We’ll get Mrs M over to mind the kids.”
“What about that other matter?” asked Harry cryptically. “Did you find anything useful?”
“Hell, yes,” Dan replied in a low tone. “I took it straight over to the FBI Vegas office and they allowed me to call Sheriff Browning from there. They’ve been investigating for a while now and agreed that he’s not involved.”
“Good,” agreed Harry, turning to Gail.
“Gail, what would your Grandfather have wanted you to do?”
Gail flushed and Dan put his arm around her.
“Billy nominated you for the tribal Council despite your objections,” Dan said gently. “He wanted you to have a voice; to speak for your people.”
“I say we should review the no fire policy,” said a shivering Dan from atop the sacred hill.
“We shouldn’t give ourselves away,” said Harry. “How about a few heated rocks?”
“No,” said Gail, who was looking down into the brightly lit compound. “If there are cameras pointed up here the infra-red might give us away.”
Gail had been furious to see the illegal mine workings, but had by now calmed.
“Did we have to be this early?”
“I thought the operations would close down when the tribal party got close,” explained Harry. “Although, as I said before, I didn’t hear anything when I climbed up here earlier.”
“I’m surprised they are not noisier,” said Gail. “The floodlights make it look like the road is actually cut into the ground. Maybe that would have an effect too. They must have been here for months.”
“Not necessarily,” said Harry. “I wondered if they only ramped up extraction very recently.”
“You mean, since they heard Grandfather had died?” asked Gail.
“Yes. If he’d known about this, he’d have told you,” said Harry.
“You sure about that?” asked Dan. “I mean, how would Billy have known who to trust apart from maybe Velasquez. In his place, I’m not sure I’d have risked telling Gail for fear of her making waves.”
“That’s true,” agreed Harry. “He wouldn’t have wanted to put you in danger.”
“Okay, so they discover a valuable strike under a sacred pile of rocks,” said Dan. “They must know they’ll be discovered.”
“Is there another mine near here that’s struggling to stay open?”
“Walker’s mine was rumoured to have reached the end of their main gold seams. Production has really fallen away.”
“That’s not exactly close,” said Gail. “They are miles from here.”
“Sure, by public highway,” agreed Dan. “But if you put your own road in, it wouldn’t be very far at all. Twenty miles at most.”
“If you announced a fake strike and had enough ore to back it up, maybe your stock price would go up enough for you to sell up,” suggested Harry.
“Why would they need a lot of ore for a fake strike, though?” asked Gail. “You’d have to bribe your experts anyway.”
“If the Bastnaesite here is concentrated enough, maybe they could actually start selling the stuff. That’d get the investors’ attention.”
“Sure,” agreed Dan. “Like, by chance we found this in our spoil and now we’re looking for the mother lode?”
“Well, that’ll sound plausible enough for the authorities to start an investigation,” said Harry.
“Hell, I am the law!” said Dan.
“Actually, Dan,” said Gail. “This would be a Federal crime. That brings with it a whole new set of factors.”
“You’re afraid they won’t close down the mine?” asked Harry.
“Yes. If this Bastnaesite is as rare and valuable as you’ve hinted, they may not be very sympathetic to local concerns.”
“So, you’d prefer to deal with this locally?” asked Harry. “You’d have to deal with any consequences.”
Harry couldn’t see Gail’s face in the darkness.
“Sheriff Browning won’t allow a federal matter as serious as this to go unreported,” said Dan quietly.
They fell silent for a moment.
“If this hill is sacred land, how come the mine was allowed to open again?” asked Harry. “They even got a license.”
“Well, Grandfather agreed they could,” said Gail. “The entrance looks like it goes deep under us, but actually the shaft goes down a short way and then extends out into the desert. The story is that the original miners got spooked and turned around.”
“It wouldn’t have been a problem to reopen the mine, then?”
“Not so long as operatives kept off this hill. There were talks of fencing it off and they will probably sink a new shaft somewhere out in the valley anyway.”
“What’s on your mind, Harry?”
“Did the people surveying the old mine workings have anything to do with what is going on down on the other side? I find it hard to believe that they weren’t curious.”
“You said you had no idea until you got up here and looked over the edge,” Dan reminded him.
“Are you worried the survey findings might have been faked?”
“It would be better for this new crew if the old mine never re-opened,” Gail agreed.
“I guess that brings us back to good old George, doesn’t it?” said Dan.
“Shh,” said Harry, pointing his wand down the hill. “A small group of people has started to climb up here,” he whispered. “Gail, I need your answer. I’m a visitor here and I’ll protect you to the best of my abilities, but if you want to deal with this as a tribal matter and not involve the police, you have to be clear.”
“What are you saying?” she asked in a whisper.
“I need authority to act.”
“I don’t understand,” said Gail.
“I’m pretty sure that your Grandfather summoned me here,” said Harry. “I’ve no idea how he did it, mind. He was a Shaman after all.”
“Yeah, I think so too,” agreed Dan. “I mean, it’s an incredible co-incidence that Harry and me ever met up again. I also wondered about that raven and if Summer was the reason.”
“What about Summer?” demanded Gail, her voice rising.
“Hush, honey!” whispered Dan. “We can talk about that later. Right now, we have more important things to deal with.”
Harry could hear Gail’s short, shaky breaths. She was clearly upset.
“I think Grandfather would want-”
“Gail,” said Harry, interrupting her. “Your Grandfather wanted you to decide. It has to be your decision. It’s your authority that I need.”
“I, um,” began, Gail.
They could hear the small party making their way up by now and occasionally they could see flashes of torchlight below.
Gail sighed and said, “As a lawyer, my first duty should be to the law. But as a member of the tribe, and a Council member, I cannot allow the desecration of this place. In the name of the tribe and the spirits that rest here, I ask you to help us, Harry, to stop this mining permanently.”
“Okay,” said Harry.
He stood up and pointed his wand down along the path.
His stag Patronus erupted in a blinding flash from the end of his wand, making Gail gasp. The stag lowered its head and charged the group who were no more than twenty yards from the peak.
They scattered in shear panic.
“Accio!” said Harry, and several handguns and knives flew harmlessly over their heads and fell down on the other side of the hill.
Harry watched as his glowing Patronus got to the bottom of the hill and then hurtled off into the desert. It was soon gone from view.
“Say, you folks want to come on up?” shouted Dan. “Keep your hands where I can see them, though.”
“Harry, look! It’s an old friend!”
The illegal mining operation is disrupted and closed down. The tribal elders are not pleased. The group inspects the strange cavern mined from solid rock.
Chapter 16: Chapter Fifteen
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
It took some moments before the advancing party recovered from the shock of being charged by Harry’s Patronus, and they now seemed to be a little farther down the hillside than they were.
Harry found himself distracted by several crashing noises accompanied by loud shouting from the compound below.
Gail couldn’t resist looking down over the edge and said, “They’ve lost control of the trucks. They are crashing into each other. Is that you, Harry?”
“No. Help got here quicker than I thought it would that’s all. We can go and watch the fun later, but right now we ought to light these lamps.”
They had brought several oil lanterns with them, since Harry hadn’t known if electric torches would work. He heard the lanterns rattle as Gail set to work but Dan concentrated on the people coming up from below.
Harry gathered up three lamps and was about to light them when he felt a sharp peck on his ankle. He looked down but it was too dark to see very much.
“Ow!” he shouted as he received another peck.
He lit the end of his wand and saw Summer’s raven holding a small piece of paper in its beak.
“Well done,” said Harry. “Very good message carrying, but I don’t really have time to write you a reply at the moment.”
He bent down and picked up the piece of paper and read the carefully printed words. He guessed William had written them.
“Grandfather’s painting changed and I copied this number down from it.
“From William and Summer.”
The number was framed in yellow crayon.
“Do you recognise this number?” asked Harry, passing Gail the note while he lit the remaining lamps.
“It isn’t a phone number,” she said. “Maybe the picture gives a clue.”
Dan was still concentrating upon the advancing group that was now very close.
“Come on into the light, friends,” said Dan, pointing his handgun at the group.
Harry counted five figures in the group dragging something that made a dull scraping noise.
“Say, which one of you distinguished gentlemen is representing the Coroner’s office?” Dan asked in a loud voice. “Don’t be shy, friend. Take off the hood.”
The figure standing in the middle of the group dropped the rope he was pulling and pulled back his hood.
“Why, don’t you get around?” said Dan brightly. “Harry, look! It’s an old friend!”
Stephenson knew he had no-where to run and just stood there silently in an official looking black jumpsuit which he was wearing under a long hooded cloak.
The two old men at the back of the party looked at Stephenson in obvious confusion and carefully lowered the makeshift travios that carried Billy’s wrapped body.
Harry looked into the expressions of the other two and realised at once that they already knew Stephenson had nothing to do with the Coroner’s office. They were much younger too.
One of the older men walked forward and spoke angrily to Gail.
Gail replied in a hostile tone that left Harry in little doubt what was being discussed. One was angry that strangers had been brought onto sacred land and the other was equally angry that they had allowed a desecration.
The other old man stepped aside and peered down over the ledge.
He turned and looked accusingly at the two young men. One bowed his head but the other looked back defiantly.
“What have you done?” asked the old man in a low, deep voice.
The defiant looking young man clutched his throat and collapsed, falling hard onto the rock.
“I will not hear more lies,” said the old man, and suddenly the young man relaxed, breathing heavily.
“Surefoot, speak now,” directed the old man. Harry watched as the other young man’s face distorted with emotion.
“We were promised money,” said Surefoot desperately, sounding even younger than he looked. “He told us about the Bastnaesite and that if we went to Malaminera and told him how he could keep his mine open.”
“There is no Bastnaesite.”
“Yes there is, Uncle! I’ve seen the test reports. We had to give copies to Malaminera because it was the only way he would believe us.”
“You idiots. He’s a stranger who simply got bored with having to stay here for months and decided to break the monotony by becoming a confidence trickster like his brother. It is a good job you were so gullible, or he’d have worried about not being able to skip town before now.”
“Excuse me,” said Harry, stepping forward. “Could you please tell us his real name? He has been going by the name of Stephenson.”
“You are a Shaman,” said the old man. He said this as a statement not a question.
“Why can’t you tell for yourself?”
“I don’t have your skills, sir,” said Harry.
“Hm,” said the old man.
Gail cleared her throat and spoke.
“Harry, this is Chief Blackheart. He is leader and Shaman to the Hidden Paiute tribe. Chief, this is Harry Potter. He’s a Wizard and we think Grandfather summoned him.”
“Ah, that was your stag?” Blackheart asked with a smile.
Blackheart considered for a moment and then exchanged a look with his silent companion. They nodded together, apparently in agreement.
“Well, I’m not sure even he knows his real name,” said Blackheart. “He has many aliases, but his brother goes by the name of Stapler, although that’s not the name on the posters.”
“Um, why didn’t he run the moment he was freed by the court?” asked Harry.
“His brother wanted him to finish something. He’s very afraid of his brother, even from a great distance. He hasn’t done this thing yet, and he’s worried about it.”
“Is it related to the server farm?”
“I see nothing that looks like a farm in his conscience mind. He’s too worried about how his brother will react. He’s using that to block my enquiries now. Ah, he’s finally thought of a plan to escape.”
There was a loud crack and Stephenson vanished.
“Why did you let him go, Uncle? He’s the one to blame! Punish him!”
Blackheart gave the young man a withering look that made him cower down.
“You have shamed us. You will both return home and await your punishment. I forbid you from warning Malaminera. He will also be punished for this.”
Both young men set off back down the rock path.
Blackheart looked up to the stars and said, “Oh, Billy, my friend. I thank you for wanting to spare our feelings, but I wish you had spoken to us about this.”
He turned to face Harry.
“Shaman Potter, would you assist us? I’d like to tend to Billy’s rites first. Then we can go down and see the extent of the mine workings.”
“Of course,” replied Harry.
It was almost dawn by the time they carefully made their way down on the other side of the hill.
Harry had not understood any of the chanting and strange rituals that had taken several hours to complete, but Blackheart had seemed pleased to give directions and a commentary. It was clear that he was not doing this just for Harry’s benefit, since Gail and Dan clearly had no idea either.
It occurred to Harry that Gail’s desire to include all the school children in their recent wolf-trial, and not just the children from tribal backgrounds, was possibly an indication of her feelings generally. From what Dan had said, Gail hadn’t been keen to take up her position on the tribal Council. Perhaps she had rejected the tribe for being too insular.
Whatever her feelings had been, Chief Blackheart seemed to be ready to build bridges between them and had made several addresses to Gail as a full Council member. There was no question that her Grandfather’s wishes would not be respected. It had simply been a matter of her accepting them.
Wreaked machinery was strewn all over the compound but no-one was to be found.
Harry heard a soft cough from behind him and turned.
“We got your message, Mr Potter. As a matter of fact, we’ve been watching you for a while.”
“How diligent of you, Captain McAvery,” said Blackheart coldly. “Rather a pity you didn’t manage to spot all this activity, though? Remind me, Captain, whose responsibility is it to monitor and protect the sacred sites in this district?”
“Ahem, that would be ours, Sir. Well, mine, actually.”
“Rest assured, Sir, that we’ll reinstate everything before we leave. The access road will be gone within a week and tomorrow night we’ll begin to bring all the rock back. We found where they were stockpiling it all.”
“No, Captain, that won’t do at all,” said Blackheart.
“But, we’ll need night cover. That’s a lot of rock to move.”
“Leave the rock where it is,” Blackheart ordered. “There are old mine workings all over these parts. All you need to do is conceal the entrance and remove this compound which you will complete today. Oh, and I want all this machinery removed. Not buried and not transfigured. Am I clear?”
“Oh, but,” began McAvery.
“Am I clear?” demanded Blackheart angrily.
“Um. Yes, Sir.”
“Good. You may go now. I’m sure you have much to attend to.”
McAvery shook his head apologetically.
“Actually, Sir, we do need just a quick a word with Mr Potter here.”
Blackheart flicked his fingers and the captain vanished in a crack.
“Thanks,” said Harry with a smile.
“Let us go and see the workings before they organise themselves enough to close the entrance,” said Blackheart.
Blackheart raised both arms and muttered something. A great silvery eagle appeared and glided up into the darkness. As it flew close to the cavern walls, they became visible and somehow stayed visible. After only a few moments the entire cavern was illuminated in a soft yellow light from some unseen light source. The cavern was simply vast.
The eagle glided back down to them in wide circles before vanishing.
“Whoa,” said Dan, straining his neck.
“Did they dig all this lot out?” asked Gail in amazement.
Harry just stared up in wonder into the cathedral sized cavern.
“No,” said Blackheart. “It looks like Malaminera’s people were just clearing debris that fell down after this void was formed. This wasn’t formed using explosives or cutting. Someone used a magic beyond any power I know to form this cavern.”
“Why?” asked Harry, who was still marvelling at the intricate patterns in the sandstone walls.
“This place was in Stephenson’s mind. He has stood here as we are, but he didn’t think of this as a cavern,” explained Blackheart. “His mind was full of numbers and strange calculations. He used numbers to create the shape of the cavern.”
Harry frowned and asked, “He was using the computers to perform some complex calculation. We thought it had something to do with the weather.”
“He thought of this cavern as a shape not a void and the shape and size was very important. The base had to be a particular shape and size. It had to be a precise height to the peak and the shape of the sides was important.
“Do you see those spiralling shapes climbing up the walls? Well, he was interested in the shape cut out of the rock. Those shapes, or rather their reverse, is what he thought was important.”
“Like a jelly mould?” asked Gail. “He wanted a reverse shape.”
“But, this is massive,” insisted Dan. “How could they cast anything this big even using magic?”
“This isn’t a mould,” said Blackheart. “This is just what’s left over. It was the rock that stood here that they wanted. It had to be without any natural fault lines, which is why they came here. I think they must have removed it in a single piece, too.
“I don’t think Stephenson really knows how they did it. His job was to calculate the shape very precisely, and to find a suitable rock from which to cut it.”
“Weren’t we so lucky to have a rock that fitted his requirements?” said Dan in a sarcastic voice.
“Have you any idea what they wanted with a piece of rock this big?” asked Harry.
“The world’s biggest paper-weight?” suggested Dan.
“Perhaps I can tell you where you might find an answer,” said Blackheart. “I saw something similar in Stephenson’s mind. It is near a casino, but I cannot show you myself.”
“Is gambling against a Shaman code?” asked Gail.
Blackheart’s companion broke his silence and barked with a laughter that echoed around the cavern.
“No, he and Billy are banned from every casino in Vegas!”
“I had a slight gambling addiction in my youth,” explained Blackheart with a smile.
“And he cheats!” yelled the other elder into the cavern, laughing loudly as “Cheats” came echoing back at them.
The next morning the children took Harry right down to the end of the rear yard and out through an old gate in the low fence.
Just beyond was a low smooth mound of worn sandstone that just protruded from the dirt covered ground.
The first thing Harry saw was the stylised raven with outstretched wings. The drawing appeared to be black charcoal and white chalk, but had used the red sandstone background to great effect.
“Summer spotted it first. See the shape of the raven’s wings? Those are antlers, aren’t they?”
Harry crouched down and gently touched the face of the stag that had been so cleverly incorporated. It was as if the image had been waiting to be revealed.
“Oh, I see the numbers now!” exclaimed Harry, and traced the outlines running along the border. Once you saw the stag, you could bee the numbers.
“That’s clever,” said Harry, grinning at the children.
Summer’s raven landed at her feet and looked at her expectantly.
“Oh, he want’s another message,” said William. “We don’t have any paper. Bring paper and a pen.”
Summer nodded in agreement and the raven took off at once.
“At least he’s keen,” said Harry, hearing distant shouts back at the house.
“We’re going to owe Mr Washington another civic reception.”
Mr Washington has good news. Billy ensured the town would prosper. Harry invites Dan and his family to stay over in Las Vegas where they take in a magic show. McAvery and Harry finally talk. McAvery is not impressed with Harry’s demands.
Chapter 17: Chapter Sixteen
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Gail wore an expression of total bewilderment as she sat in her small office speaking to Mr Washington on the telephone. Harry and Dan were standing in the open doorway.
“I don’t understand, Mr Washington,” she said. “The mine won’t reopen. There isn’t anything that can be economically extracted. The reports were published today and it wasn’t the good news we were all hoping for. They found some gold, but it will cost more to extract than they could sell it for.”
Gail shook her head as she listened again.
“Okay, then. You’ll call me as soon as you hear more?”
She said goodbye and hung up the receiver.
“He’s going to do some more checking, but it appears that Grandfather submitted a fresh claim application. That’s what the number was from. The co-ordinates on the paperwork are for a new mine a short distance from the old mine workings.
“The application was in the name of the original mine company. It seems Grandfather bought the company years ago for One Dollar. It was worthless since all it owned was one disused mine, but the company also retained perpetual rights from when it originally prospected the whole region decades ago.”
“How did Washington find out all this?”
“Apparently, Grandfather made a will and asked Mr Washington to act as an executor. He wouldn’t have agreed normally, but since the sole beneficiary is the entire town, he agreed. He got the paperwork out as soon as he got our message.”
“We sent him a message?”
“Well, I didn’t,” said Gail. “Anyway, Mr Washington thinks we can get funding to commence mining. He said we could either re-negotiate with the company who funded the recent survey or start out on our own.”
“How easy is the Bastnaesite to mine?”
“I’ve no idea, but the find wasn’t Bastnaesite. Mr Washington said it was something less valuable. We won’t get rich but there could be a lot of long term jobs that are created. Thanks to the perpetual rights, we’ll be able to cut through most of the red tape too. Technically, we wouldn’t need to apply for a new license, either.”
“Does this mean we’ll have a strip-mine on our doorstep?”
Gail suddenly blanched.
“I hadn’t considered that,” she said, reaching for the phone again.
“Hey, relax. I was kidding,” said Dan. “Billy would never allow an open cast mine so close to a sacred site.”
Gail was scribbling something down on a legal pad. Harry got the impression she wasn’t going to leave the matter to chance.
“Um, how does Washington know what’s down there?” asked Dan.
“He’s got a survey report and he’s verified the laboratory findings as genuine. It was delivered to him personally by the Site Manager who oversaw our survey. He told Mr Washington that Grandfather commissioned it privately and swore him to secrecy. He cut a single borehole exactly where Grandfather told him. He was even told to use out of State laboratories for the testing.”
“Well, at least we know where the guy took his vacation now,” said Dan. “Is this Manager guy expecting to be paid?”
“I think Mr Washington paid for the lab testing, but Grandfather promised the Manager a small share in the mine.”
“We’re going to owe Mr Washington another civic reception.”
Harry turned to Dan.
“How could Billy have known about the find?” asked Dan, anticipating Harry’s question.
“There’s only one way,” said Harry. “Billy knew when people were lying. He’d have known if the reports were faked just by speaking to George.”
“George faked his reports?”
“Well, more like he probably just kept quiet about one of the findings. The mining company was only looking for gold. They probably didn’t ask him to test for anything exotic.”
“I’ll call the Sheriff,” said Dan without much enthusiasm. “We’ll take him in for questioning.”
“You should also check for any claims George himself might have made,” said Gail.
“Do you think old Velasquez knew about George?” asked Dan.
“He definitely suspected something was up,” agreed Harry. “I assume he went to the old mine, but he must have stumbled upon the illegal mine instead. It’s a pity we’ll never prove that.”
Harry had been pleased that Gail had agreed with Dan’s pleas for them to take the children with them to Las Vegas. With a little help from Mary, Harry had managed to book a restaurant table, get tickets to an early evening magic show and reserve a family suite for them to stay overnight.
They had just finished their meals and in a few minutes time they would make their way across to watch the show. Dan was busy demonstrating to the children the evils of slot machine gambling while Harry and Gail watched from their table.
“You booked your flight home?” asked Gail.
“I’m not flying back,” Harry admitted.
“Oh, right. I do hope you’ll be able to come back again. Bring your wife and kids. We’d love to have you stay.”
“That’s kind, but that won’t be possible,” said Harry sadly. “Dan is protected by secrecy charms that I helped conjure. By the time I get home, I’ll have forgotten that I even saw him again.”
“Will you forget everything?”
“No. Dan Johnson will be just someone I met out here. I won’t link him with anyone I knew and eventually you’ll all fade from my memory.”
“It’ll keep you all alive, and that’s what really matters. Listen, we probably need to talk about Summer.”
Gail sighed and nodded.
“She’s a Witch, isn’t she?”
“I think so, yes,” agreed Harry. “Both William and Summer are far too young to really tell, but that raven wouldn’t come to just anyone.”
“I think she got it from my mother,” said Gail. “Grandfather said she was gifted, but neither of them showed it off. The other night was the first time I’ve seen Blackheart even hint at being a genuine Shaman.”
“It’s the tradition the world over,” agreed Harry. “I live in a very secretive community.”
“So, is it all natural? There’s no-one to teach them, is there?”
Harry smiled and said, “You’ll be surprised at the help you’ll get. I went to a school to learn how to control my magic, and they will be just the same. The schools are pretty secretive too, so you won’t learn anything about them for a few years.”
“What should we do?”
“Just continue to be loving and supportive parents.”
Gail nodded but still looked worried.
“Can I ask you something, Harry?”
“Dan’s English, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Harry replied, and he was pleased she hadn’t asked him about Dan and his magical past. He couldn’t have been entirely forthcoming about that.
“Did he have to learn his American accent?”
Harry smiled and said, “We placed a charm on him to help him along. He was originally going to be an American relocated to Canada.”
Gail went quiet and Harry leaned forward to speak confidentially.
“There’s something strange with magical accents. The charms are designed to work best when the person is under stress. Trying not to get found out, in other words. Still, they do fail sometimes.”
“Well, it hardly ever happens, but if ever the charmed person says something completely and utterly honestly, then they can only say it in their original accent. This isn’t something like saying what day of the week it is. This is speaking aloud some profound truth; a pure honest truth.”
Gail blushed deeply and Harry got up and helped Dan and the children pick up his winning tokens that were being scattered across the carpet and under the other tables.
The magic show turned out to include several support acts. Harry thought the best of these were a group of acrobats who performed high above the audience, but the children seemed to prefer the clueless but comedic Master of Memory who hadn’t been able to remember anything at all.
The majority of the audience for the early evening show was made up of families with younger children and they were soon yelling so loud Harry felt like covering his ears.
A waiter appeared at their table with a fresh round of drinks and a note for Harry.
He excused himself and went off to the bar which seemed incredibly quiet by contrast.
Harry paused to look around and saw Captain McAvery waiting for him at one of the window tables.
Harry went over and McAvery got up to shake his hand.
“Harry! Enjoying the show?”
“It’s a bit loud for me, but the children are enjoying it.”
They sat but neither touched the drinks on the table.
“Good. I just wanted to touch base with you before you went. Oh, I took the liberty of leaving your Portkey in the Johnson’s suite. I also checked you out of the motel and your luggage is all upstairs too.”
“How kind,” said Harry flatly.
“Well, you’ll want to be on your way, won’t you?”
“Me? I’ve not really got as far as I’d have liked in my investigation. Maybe I’ll stay a bit longer.”
Harry watched with amusement as McAvery fought to control himself.
“You haven’t reported the illegal mine yet, have you?” said Harry. “You want me gone and then you intend to erase all evidence that I was even here. Don’t even bother to deny it.”
“This looks bad enough as it is,” complained McAvery. “If my superiors find out you were here, of all people, they’ll never leave it alone.”
“Well, you should know that even if I left this very minute, you’d still have a problem.”
“How’d you work that out?”
“Three things, really,” replied Harry. “First, I was summoned here by a Shaman whose magic was so strong it even survived his death. Mess with his protections at your peril, Captain McAvery.
“The second thing concerns Chief Blackheart. How do you think he will react when he finds out you are interfering with his oldest friend’s final wishes? Did you hear what happened to Malaminera, the illegal mine’s financier?”
McAvery gulped dryly and took a sip of his drink.
“What’s the third thing?”
“I’m going to amend Dan’s protections. Now that he has a family, it’s right that they should be protected too. Otherwise, if his children should ever travel to England they might get targeted.”
“That must be unlikely, after all this time. Besides, how will you be able to? You’ll forget all about them the moment you arrive back.”
“Don’t concern yourself with the technicalities,” said Harry. “The point is that they have been good to me and I’m extending to them my protection.”
“You have no jurisdiction here.”
“I’m not offering them the protection of the Auror Office; I’m extending my personal protection and since I’m an invited guest of a Shaman who regrettably passed away-”
Harry didn’t need to finish his sentence as McAvery appeared to understand at last the full implications of what Harry was telling him.
“None of our concealment charms will work,” he said. “Whatever we do, your magic will prevail. I guess that explains what happened at the breakout.”
“Maybe,” agreed Harry. “My magic is now enhanced by Billy’s and he was particularly skilled in some areas. Did you manage to catch any of them, by the way?”
“No-one who knew why they were there,” admitted McAvery. “All they said was that the one giving the orders had a British accent but they hadn’t a clue who he really was. We just caught the local hired help.”
“That’s interesting,” said Harry.
“Yeah, and the fact that they weren’t very well organised,” said McAvery. “Everything seemed very rushed and last-minute.”
They were quiet for a moment and both looked out at the show through the sound-proof window.
“Now, I’m not going to abuse what was simply happenstance,” said Harry carefully.
“Really? I would,” said McAvery before turning back.
“That would hardly help our international relations, would it? In fact, given how frosty things have been between our Ministries, I’d rather you kept this just between ourselves. We can call this a favour you owe me and leave it at that.”
“Uh, a favour?”
“That’s for another time. Right now, all you need to do is deal with a short list of matters that I know you’ll want to do.”
“Oh, yes,” said Harry, taking a small sheet of paper from his pocket and sliding it across the polished table.
McAvery took it and read.
“You should be asking for a lot more than this,” said McAvery.
Harry’s list was indeed fairly modest. It included promotion for Dan to the detective grade he’d already qualified for, as well as increased passing trade for Mary and Cabina.
The trickiest request was to help the town out of its many ongoing legal difficulties after their mayor was jailed.
“Yeah, okay. Say, what’s this last item?”
“I want to transfer some gold for the children’s education.”
“Tell you what? I’ll tell the school to notify Gringott’s. They’ll let you pay the fees anonymously if you want, I’m sure.”
“Thanks, but you’re paying the fees. I’ll pay for the rest. You know, wands, books and uniforms,” said Harry, glancing through the window again and seeing that the main act was about to begin.
“Say, did you work out what they did with all the missing rock?”
“No, not yet,” Harry admitted.
“Is that your card?”
The magic show leaves Harry baffled. Afterwards, Harry must leave to return home. The raven is named. Harry meets with Billy’s spirit who admits that he summoned Harry and explains that he will not be permitted to keep the magical gift.
This will be the final chapter proper, with a mini-epilogue to follow.
Chapter 18: Chapter Seventeen
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Harry sat back down just in time to join in with the applause for a tall, thin magician with short grey hair and a precisely trimmed beard. Fortunately several others were also dashing back from the bar as well.
The Great Zoltan wore a jet-black suit and a rather shorter cloak than the earlier magician performers had preferred.
The magician began with some card tricks after removing his jacket and cloak. Rolling his shirt sleeves up, he beckoned two cameramen with large shoulder mounted video cameras to come forward.
Two large screens behind him then showed close up views of his hands.
Harry was impressed by the slight of hand tricks, but noticed that the performer seemed to loose the attention of the younger members of the audience. The severe expression he wore on his face was also rather intimidating for such a young audience.
Things picked up quite a bit when the magician called for a volunteer and unfortunately chose none other than the Master of Memory who “happened” to be passing the stage at the time.
This time the children shouting out corrections to the hapless volunteer who managed to mess up every direction given to him by the now blindfolded magician who was pretending to be ignorant of the chaos.
“Your chosen card will be under the blue hat,” said Zoltan confidently.
Despite several protests the Master of Memory lifted the blue hat off the table and a dove flew out.
“Is that your card?”
The orange hat was lifted, just as the dove returned and landed on the Master of Memory’s head. As the laughs subsided, the bird flew off stage.
The Master of Memory looked inside the hat and suddenly he was enveloped in an explosion of dense smoke that left him covered in purple powder.
Finally, only one hat remained.
Still smoking, the Master of Memory staggered over and lifted the hat and then took a card into his hand. The dove returned to perch once more on the man’s head.
“Is that your card?”
The Master of Memory struck a pose that made it clear that he couldn’t remember what his card was, despite having written his name on the back.
The children were all shouting as the Master of Memory seemed to offer the card up to the dove for its opinion on the matter.
“This is my card?” asked the Master of Memory.
“Ah ha!” shouted a delighted magician, removing his blindfold and the pretending to be taken aback at the sight of his props that had generally been destroyed by the volunteer.
He politely thanked the volunteer who staggered off to much applause and still wearing the dove on his head.
Meanwhile, a group of anonymous helpers had removed the debris from the stage.
The younger audience seemed to warm to Zoltan as the act continued, and it wasn’t long before many arms shot up when he asked for volunteers. Most were rewarded with small souvenirs.
Finally, the back curtains were raised and something tall and heavy was wheeled forward into view. It looked about five feet wide and deep but at least fifteen feet tall and entirely covered in full length dark curtains.
“For my final illusion, I will vanish before your very eyes a solid piece of rock,” announced the magician.
Harry and Dan exchanged looks as the magician tugged at the curtain.
The cloth fell away to reveal nothing but an empty frame and something small and white at the bottom.
“Oh, dear,” said Zoltan. “That’s not very impressive, is it? Perhaps we ought to do something about that.”
The magician waved a hand over the object and it began to shimmer in the bright spotlights.
He carefully picked up a large tray and carried it and the white object to a small table with a clear glass top and four tubular metal legs at the front of the stage. He then picked up the table and went down the steps until he was close to the audience, all the while being very careful to keep the tray level.
“If anyone would like to come closer to see, you are most welcome,” said the magician.
“Please, Mom,” pleaded William.
Several families decided to take a closer look. Harry stood towards the back as the children got closer for a better view.
He was a little concerned about blocking the still seated audience’s view but those that had remained seated were chatting and he assumed they had seen the trick before or weren’t that interested.
The small object was actually a tiny waterfall. Roughly pyramid in shape, the water flowed in spiralling patterns.
Harry did a double take and realised that the water, or whatever it was, was actually flowing up the sides and not down. In addition, apart from a minor amount of spray, the water was somehow going down an unseen drain at the top. Along the edges all around the object Harry could see a narrow gutter from which the water emerged.
The strange thing was that the water wasn’t being forced up the sides. The very convincing illusion made it look like the water was flowing just as if gravity was somehow reversed.
The magician looked delighted at the baffled looks of his audience.
He addressed the children closest and said, “Who can spot what is happening, apart from the water? If you look very carefully, you should begin to see something else.”
They all looked intently at the strangely hypnotic waterfall.
“It’s getting bigger!” exclaimed a girl at the front.
The magician laughed and nodded.
Harry could now see that the pyramid had grown so that it was now nearly as big as the tray.
The table legs began to bow outwards and the heard a loud metallic straining noise that Harry was sure was artificial. He also doubted that all four legs would really bow in unison like that under a genuinely heavy load.
“Perhaps we ought to step away now,” suggested the magician, walking around and gently obliging the closest children to move back.
The top dropped with a thump and when the magician stepped aside, the pyramid was almost as tall as his waist.
As soon as this happened, Harry realised that he had been distracted both by the magician’s movements and his concern for the children being too close.
Harry looked at the edges of the pyramid, but the water was actually concealing any clear view. He was sure there must be a gap.
Frustratingly, music with increasingly dramatic drumming was being played when Harry particularly wanted to listed for any mechanism sounds from below the pyramid.
There was a deep rumble and suddenly the pyramid grew several feet taller. Then the water flow stopped.
The magician kicked the solid base and said, “Yes, this is much better. Come and satisfy yourself that this is solid rock.”
Harry went forward with the others and actually touched the cold surface. It looked like solid sandstone, not entirely dissimilar to the samples he’d brought from England but the surface looked slightly polished. It wasn’t at all like the cavern rock faces that he’d seen.
He looked up. The original pyramid shaped water feature was well out of reach now, but looked much smaller.
Harry looked down at the edge of the carpet and could see no sign of an opening.
The magician now asked everyone to return to their seats and his helpers returned to quickly erect a framework around the stone pyramid. Shimmering satin curtains were dropped around each side and spotlights were trained upon the sides.
Finally, Zoltan stood in front of the curtains and only the very tip of the white water feature was visible to the audience.
Harry ignored the magician’s theatrical arm gestures in time to the dramatic music, but jumped when there was a flash and the curtains fell down on all sides. The water feature dropped and was caught by the magician in his hands. The stone pyramid had vanished, complete with the glass table and original tray.
The audience applauded and the magician bowed and waved.
He then threw the now tennis ball sized water feature high and out into the audience before vanishing in a cloud of smoke as a small bang sounded at his feet.
A waiter deftly caught it in one hand, put his tray down and then held the object up in one smooth movement. He was grinning widely.
It took a moment for the audience to recognise the waiter as being none other than the Great Zoltan himself. He bowed deeply and then jogged out of the nearest exit as the audience cheered and clapped louder.
“Want to ask him how it’s done?” asked a grinning Dan as they clapped.
Harry wasn’t the only one to go down to examine the carpet as the magician’s helpers quickly and silently removed the remains of the framework and set. Soon there was nothing left at all apart from a mild fireworks smell that lingered.
Harry found absolutely no sign of a trap door and the carpet itself showed no sign that several tonnes of rock had been seated upon it only minutes ago. It was also completely dry.
“It was just a trick,” he assured himself.
A master of ceremonies appeared and hoped everyone had enjoyed the evening and asked patrons to leave quickly so they could get ready for the later shows.
He pointedly hurried everyone away from the show area, giving Harry no opportunity to investigate further.
Up in the hotel suite, Harry presented gifts to the children. He gave Summer a pair of falconer’s gloves and a giant bag of bird treats that McAvery had assured him would be suitable for ravens. He also gave her a book of famous animal familiars, to help her pick out a name for her raven. McAvery had helped him order them from a magical catalogue supplier that had traded since the earliest pioneer wizards had gone west.
William got a box of Muggle magic tricks that Harry had bought from the hotel’s gift shop, so they watched another impromptu magic show before the children bid their goodbyes and finally went to bed.
Finally, just Harry, Dan and Gail remained to enjoy a final drink together.
“That cloak that came with William’s magic set,” said Harry. “It’ll look different in the morning. It is actually a gift from Chief Blackheart. He lent it to me and I put a temporary transformation charm on it for this evening.”
“Um, okay,” said Dan.
“It’s a traditional cloak used by Shaman around here for centuries,” explained Harry. “It allows the wearer to travel the desert. It will be cool in the day and warm at night. It also has pockets to conceal things in and you can travel about twice as fast as someone walking without it.
“The only thing it can’t do is give you water, but it can take you to water. For an experienced wearer, the cloak will help devine all kinds of things.”
Gail gasped and put her hand to her lips.
“Mother gave me a cloak years ago. She just said to never sell it or lose it. She never explained what it was, though.”
“That’s the thing,” agreed Harry. “Apparently, the cloak needs to be in the wearer’s possession for a while before the magic will work properly. Blackheart said it was something to do with giving the spirits time to get to know you.
“It might take a couple of years before William gets full use out of his cloak, but you should be good to go. Summer will get one when she’s a little older.”
“But, I’m not a Shaman,” said Gail. “I don’t have any magic.”
“The magic is in the cloaks,” Harry assured her.
Harry turned to Dan and said, “I’ve told McAvery to keep an eye on you all for me, but if you ever need help send Summer’s raven to him with a message. Don’t ever try to contact me directly.”
They heard a tapping on the window and Dan cursed as he got up to let the raven inside.
“I thought you were told not to follow us,” he said to the bird as it hopped inside through the opening.
It walked over to Harry and dropped a small scroll of paper by his feet.
He picked it up and unrolled the scroll to read it. Then he smirked.
“Really?” he said to the bird. It nodded its head and walked nonchalantly out of their room and towards the children’s room.
Harry held the note up so the others could read it and then they all burst out laughing.
It read, “My name is Harry.”
“Well, I really ought to be going,” Harry said finally. “Thank you for all your kindness and help.”
They said their goodbyes and hugged before Harry put on his hat, picked up his luggage and touched the Portkey.
Harry knew the international Portkeys were different, but he hadn’t expected to reappear in a white mist. His luggage seemed to have gone on ahead of him too.
“That’s a stupid looking hat,” said a voice.
“Hey,” said Harry, sounding offended. “This is a genuine cowboy hat.”
“No cowboy ever wore such a thing,” the voice insisted.
Harry turned and wasn’t entirely surprised to see the figure before him.
“Thank you for helping my family, Harry Potter. I hope you didn’t mind my summoning you. I don’t think I truly appreciated the distances involved.”
“Not at all, Billy,” said Harry. “May I call you Billy?”
“It is my name,” said the old Shaman. “I looked into the boy’s past and saw you. Your protections were powerful. I saw very little of his memories before I was shut out. Powerful indeed, but I believe I chose you because he respected you.
“The boy had known nothing but cruelty, dishonesty and crime, and yet you showed him a new direction. He respected you even more than he respected your powers.
“He and my granddaughter are a good match, although I worry for their future. It will not be easy for them, especially as she has always distanced herself from the tribe.”
“Why didn’t you tell her you were magical?”
“Magic can’t help with the important things in life, can it?”
Harry shrugged and said, “Can you help me learn how to use your magic? Being able to see the truth in people would be really handy.”
“No, Harry Potter. We are here so that I can remove those borrowed powers. It is regrettable that you never learned to use them, but this is a tribal thing.”
“Oh,” said Harry. “Does anyone need to tell McAvery that?”
Billy chuckled and said, “He will remain deceived.”
“The Shaman does not conjure magic, like you wizards,” continued Billy. “We merely ask the spirits to help us.”
“You’re saying I probably wouldn’t have been able to use your kind of magic, anyway?”
“Actually, you have been using the gift to a limited extent. It is interesting that you could not tell.”
Harry frowned, trying to remember.
“Are we so different?” asked Billy. “Tell me, do you think of your Stag Patronus as a depiction or as a living creature.”
“Alive, definitely,” replied Harry.
Harry felt a tingling sensation as Billy’s charms were lifted from him.
“There. It is begun. I can see your own protection charms beginning to react, so the process won’t be complete until you are home.
“Your memories may be a little confused for a while, but you expected that.
“I will help you in one way, however. Do you remember the Muggle magic act? Well the fountain that appeared to work in reverse is a thing worth remembering.”
“Remember the fountain.”
Harry landed heavily in the middle of the foyer at the Ministry of Magic with those three words ringing in his head.
AN: This is the end of this part of the story proper. Dan and his family won’t appear in Part Three, so I’d like to add one further chapter which will be a mini Epilogue just to round things off.
Epilogue to Part Two. Years later, Harry tells Summer a little about her father’s original background and the circumstances in which he departed in search of a new life.
Chapter 19: Chapter Eighteen (Epilogue to Part Two)
[Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]
Epilogue to Part Two
AN: This is a short scene intended to fill in some of Dan’s back story and has nothing at all to do with Part 3 which will begin immediately after Harry’s return.
Years later ...
Harry relaxed back into his chair, savouring the late August warmth outside the recently revamped delicatessen in Diagon Alley. The whirlwind shopping trip had been rather more tiring than he wanted to admit.
The waitress caught his eye and came bustling over at once, expertly weaving her way through the many bags of books and Hogwarts supplies that surrounded the small table.
“What would you like now, my dears?” she asked expectantly.
Harry raised his eyebrows enquiringly at his young charge who had just finished her second ice cream sundae.
“Nothing more, thank you,” she replied politely.
“Sure?” asked Harry. “We have plenty of time and I could manage another coffee. How about another drink?”
The girl nodded slightly, and the waitress instantly loaded the empties onto her silver tray and hurried back inside.
Harry had to feel sorry for the other customers who were being ignored by their waitress.
His eyes fell again on the young girl sitting opposite him. He had hardly recognised her when they had met again after so long early that morning. Her eyes were just as quick and intelligent as he remembered, but inevitably almost everything else about her was new.
Harry could see Summer Johnson was already growing to be tall and slim like her mother. Her facial features and long, dark hair were also her mother’s which made the girl’s shyness even more out of place. As a lawyer and increasingly a strident member of the Tribal Council, her mother Gail had been anything but shy.
A small group of shoppers passed by and Harry nodded hello to a witch he vaguely remembered worked at the Ministry, although he couldn’t remember which department. The rest of the party, in common with almost everyone else that had seen them that day, was much more interested in Summer.
This was largely due to a series of articles that had appeared in the Prophet, culminating in a special edition the evening before which marked her arrival.
Summer meanwhile stared down at the small table top. She was clearly uncomfortable with all the attention she was getting.
“They don’t mean to stare,” said Harry softly, once the group had gone. “We don’t get too many celebrities around here.”
Summer gave him a dark look, making him smile.
“I am not a celebrity,” she said firmly.
“You’re pretty close to one, actually. You’re the first person from Native American decent to choose what I would call a traditional magic education. It’s never easy being the first or being singled out.”
Summer just shrugged.
“How is William doing at college?”
“Oh, he’s fine. He’s turning into a real jock. He loves all the sports ‘n stuff. Uncle Blackheart complains a lot about him not studying hard enough, but actually he’s very pleased with his progress. He thinks William will be a powerful Shaman one day.”
Harry smiled and nodded.
“I’m sorry,” she said abruptly.
“What ever for?” asked Harry.
“Captain McAvery told me when we arrived how much you paid to send us both to school. I’ve cost you a small fortune, and now you’ve paid for all this as well.”
Summer gestured at all the bags that surrounded them.
“No,” said Harry. “Anything spent on you has hardly been wasted. You studied hard in your first year and made good use of your education from what I can see. Besides, I only contributed a bit. McAvery paid your actual college fees.”
Summer had completed her first full year at school before requesting a transfer. Now aged almost thirteen, she would be starting over again at Hogwarts.
“What if I can’t keep up at Hogwarts? I’ll have wasted even more money.”
“That’s unlikely, but we’ll work something out, whatever happens,” Harry assured her. “You’ll be starting Year One at least year older than everyone else. You have the advantage of having a full year of magical education behind you. I think the others will struggle to keep up with you.”
“But, it’s wand magic,” she complained.
“Well, Mr Ollivander didn’t think you’d have any trouble, even if you have to use an inferior brand of wand.”
They exchanged smiles at this. Harry had offered to buy Summer an Ollivander wand, but this was where Captain McAvery drew the line. No American student was going to attend Hogwarts using anything other than a wand made in America.
Even Ollivander, who famously favoured his own creations, had admitted it was a fine wand. He even enquired about obtaining some of the Red Oak heartwood for use himself.
“Your Dad’s letter said you’ve always wanted to do wand magic, ever since we conjured that bird cage.”
Summer smiled and nodded.
“I can’t believe he wrote to you about that.”
“He just wanted some advice about you getting a wand, that’s all. It was Captain McAvery who had the idea of asking about you attending school over here.”
“McAvery thinks that was your idea, actually.”
Harry shrugged and smiled. Summer had certainly inherited her Great Grandfather’s gift of seeing the truth in anybody.
“He’s getting suspicious, by the way,” continued Summer. “McAvery can’t really understand why you’ve kept your word for so long.”
“I wasn’t allowed to keep Billy’s gift, as I’m sure you know by now, but I told Captain McAvery that I still had it but wouldn’t actually use the gift to expose any of their secrets. I had hoped it might improve relations between our Ministries. I hope I can rely on your discretion?”
“Sure. Uncle Blackheart says it’s our duty as native Americans to lie to McAvery as often as possible.”
Harry laughed but said, “He’s actually worthy of a little trust, you know? He cares a great deal.”
“I know,” said Summer with a small smile. “So does Uncle.”
Harry rolled his eyes.
“Oh, Dad gave me a message for you. He said not to sugar-coat anything.”
Harry chuckled and nodded.
“Ask me anything you want, Summer.”
“Why did you wait so long to remove the secrecy charms? Didn’t you have questions?”
“Well, that’s the problem with secrecy charms. You can’t always remember why you did them You just have to trust that you had a good reason to hide something. In this case, the only thing I couldn’t remember was anything about your Dad’s original identity.”
“But he remembered you?”
“Oh, yes. If his memories had been altered, he wouldn’t have known if one of the people he was hiding from turned up unexpectedly.”
“Did you alter his appearance?”
“No, not using magic, anyway. Remember, he had to live the rest of his life. An artificial look is hard to keep up without magic. We did change his accent, though, but people tend to take on the accents around them to fit in.”
“Will he be able to do magic again?”
“No, he gave up all his magic. He knew he would never do magic again when he agreed to go into the witness protection programme.”
“You caught all of the people that were after him?”
“Yes, but he still won’t ever be able to return. I’m sorry, but it would be just too dangerous.”
They fell silent and the waitress returned to serve their fresh drinks. Harry realised she must have been waiting for a pause in their conversation, perhaps not wishing to interrupt or appear to be listening in.
“Thanks,” said Harry as she departed.
“If the secrecy charms have been removed, you remember everything, right? Only, I wanted to ask about Dad,” said Summer. “I mean, what happened that forced him to go away and why would he say not to sugar-coat anything?”
Harry sighed. He had been expecting her to ask about her father’s previous life.
“I’m surprised you don’t know most of it already,” he said. “You have Billy’s gift, so why not simply look into my memories? I know you can do that.”
“No, I won’t do that,” said Summer. “It’s true I can see memories and to a certain extent make people recall things, but Uncle says that is intrusive. No-one would trust you if they thought you knew all of their secrets or had seen intimate or private moments.”
“True,” agreed Harry.
“But, the truth is I’m afraid to read you, Harry. You’ve seen and experienced things that I’m just too afraid to experience, even second hand.”
It struck him that this was the first time she had called him by his name.
“I do have some good memories,” he promised her.
“We studied you at school last year, you know? Whatever Uncle said, I was burning to see for myself some of the things that happened. I was tempted, but I got scared. I simply couldn’t do it.”
Harry realised this might explain some of her earlier shyness.
“I’m glad you respect people’s privacy,” he said. “I’m also glad I didn’t waste my money on this thing.”
Harry removed a plain looking cardboard box from one of the bags. It was covered in “Weasley” branding, but there was only a small white sticker that told what the box contained. He opened one side and slid out a round flat object that was about the size of a dinner plate.
Summer reached over to read the box label.
“What’s a Photo-Pano-Plate?”
“It’s a George Weasley invention. This is actually one of his early models he let me have. I think he’s trying to find a more catchy name before he launches it.”
“What does it do?” asked Summer, looking into the mirror-like base.
Harry reached back into the bag next to him and took out an old cardboard shoebox.
“I collected these from our official files and a couple we had at home,” said Harry, taking out a stack of old photographs.
He offered the first one to Summer. It was a photograph of Ginny, James, Albus and Lily standing in front of a caravan.
“This was taken on the day I met your Dad,” said Harry.
Summer nodded but quickly handed the photo back. It wasn’t particularly interesting and clearly she hoped one of the others would show her father.
Harry took the old photo and dropped it into the plate. The photograph vanished as did the silver backing to the mirror. Looking down into the plate, they hey could now see some grass and a pair of feet.
“Huh?” asked Summer.
Harry picked the plate up and switched seats so he was sitting next to Summer and they could both peer into the plate at the same time. It was like a porthole window that looked at the scene of the photograph, only the view moved as they moved the plate.
It took Harry a moment to position the plate correctly.
“That was my car and it’s parked next to a caravan we hired for the week.”
“That’s a car?”
“Hey! It’s not that old.”
“Why’s it so rusty?” she asked, leaning closer to take a better look. “It has dents too.”
Harry frowned and said, “Actually, I don’t remember it being that bad. Ginny made me get rid of it after began to break down so often.”
“That caravan looks very small. How did you sleep five of you in there?”
“It was a bit cosy,” Harry admitted. “We were saving up for a house at the time.”
“Where was Dad staying? Did he have a caravan too?”
“No. He only came into the camp that night to steal a car. Our car, actually.”
“No way!” exclaimed Summer. “That was poor judgement. Couldn’t he find anything better than that heap of junk?”
Summer took the plate and swung it around. She could now see Harry holding up the camera that took the photograph.
“What are you wearing?!” she cried with laughter.
“Hey, I was on my holidays. Besides, that was the fashion.”
“Sure,” she answered, going very red and trying hard not to laugh.
Harry couldn’t help but chuckle. His own children had said much the same thing whenever they looked through their older albums.
He felt for the photo and replaced it with another.
Summer gasped. This photo was of her father, with Harry and Ginny on either side. All three were grinning into the camera.
“He has hair!”
Summer moved the plate down and sniggered at the style of trousers both Harry and Dan were wearing. Then she rotated the plate around.
“Who’s that taking the picture?”
“That’s Ron Weasley, and next to him is his wife Hermione. That was taken on your Dad’s last day with us. I handed him into the care of the witness protection people that night and I honestly never expected to see him again. He was supposed to go to Canada, I recall.”
“Wasn’t he sad to be leaving?”
“Maybe,” agreed Harry. “He was looking forward to a new life, and to be honest his life up to then hadn’t been great.”
Summer looked at the rest of the photographs expectantly.
“I’m afraid we’re out of sugar-coating,” said Harry.
“Already?” asked Summer with a little trepidation in her voice.
Harry placed a passport sized photo on the plate. This one showed a gaunt looking Dan, sporting a black eye and still dripping blood from his nose onto his shirt. He was very young looking.
“This is the earliest one I could find, but his file shows he was arrested several times before this. It was taken after he’d been caught breaking into a warehouse. His accomplice got away, but Dan was convicted. He spent a lot of time in borstal and some short stints in juvenile detention. Unusually, he served no actual time in adult prisons.”
“Later on he was mixed up with a Wizard criminal gang that used Muggle accomplices. We think that’s how they discovered your Dad was a latent wizard.”
“What’s a latent wizard?”
“He didn’t show any signs of magical ability when he was young, so his name got missed off the school enrolment scrolls. Latent wizards are very rare but typically develop their magic much later than the rest of us. They have a hard time learning how to use it. It’s much easier when you start aged eleven or so.”
“But, he had a wand?”
“Yes. I bought him one and tried to persuade him to get some proper tuition. Up to then he’d just used his magic for stealing things or breaking locks. He refused but kept the wand. He must have used it a little.”
Harry placed another larger photograph on the plate.
Summer recoiled at the sight.
“This is one of the places he was staying. He was sharing this house with several other squatters. That means, they broke into an empty house and stayed there for free. At this time we were actively looking for him, along with several others.”
“What happened?” asked Summer.
“You can see this photo, but I don’t want to put it on the plate. It’s a bit too vivid and shows a dead body. I can just tell you, if you’d prefer, or we can skip over this part entirely?”
“No, I want to see,” she replied.
Harry placed the crime scene photograph on the table. The body was covered with a sheet but there was a lot of blood around the corpse.
“Who was it?”
“He was the leader of a rival gang. We think the two gangs had formed a temporary alliance to do a heist. Of course, they fell out and this was the result. It all happened in a restaurant in clear view of the other diners.”
“Dad didn’t do it, did he?”
“No, but he witnessed the whole thing along with three other associates. Their gang’s leader at the time was a witch named Ondville. She was identified by a waiter who later turned up dead. None of the other witnesses agreed to give statements, but one by one Dan’s fellow gang members began to disappear. That’s when your Dad went on the run again, with everyone including us in pursuit.”
“Wait, I thought you said Dad was on the run when he stole your car,” said Summer.
“He was, but that time he was running from someone else. He did a lot of hiding from people who wanted to hurt him.”
“Why didn’t he stay with you?”
“To be honest, I didn’t make him an offer to stay the first time. I bought him his wand, but he was practically feral. I couldn’t trust him and besides the children were pretty shaken.
“It was a few months later that we set out to find him. We’d heard that Ondville was trying to wipe out any witnesses, and then we found one of the gang member’s bodies.
“I used the wand to trace him and finally caught up with him in a squat in Liverpool. It was incredibly dirty and squalid, but what really struck me was how much your father had changed. Before he defiant but just then he looked like he’d reached the end of the road.
“I was in the middle of trying to get him to testify when the house was attacked. Ondville brought the place down around us. If it hadn’t been for Ron, neither of us would have got out of there alive.
“Anyway, we decided to keep him away from the cells and off our books. Ginny wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the children were all away at school and so in the end she agreed that your Dad should come and stay for a while.
“Your Dad went into the witness protection programme shortly before he was due to appear as a witness. Ron and I were witnesses too, but we never saw your Dad.”
They were quiet for a long moment.
“A strange thing happened, though. When he came to us the final time, I really didn’t think it was going to work out. He was scared but actually quite hostile towards us. He was probably expecting us to betray him, just like everyone else had.
“His personality seemed to change almost overnight when we charmed his new American accent. It was like he was a new person.
“I can’t really explain why, but perhaps it was what he needed to let go of the more unpleasant parts of his life.”
“What happened to Ondville?”
“Ondville got acquitted of the murder charge, but she was convicted on a number of minor counts.
“She was still in Azkaban until quite recently, but she got early parole due to her plea deal. We think she was murdered about an hour after her release. That’s still an open case, but it was probably a former associate. None of them are particularly pleasant people.”
“Would any of them still want to hurt my Dad?” asked Summer.
“Yes, I’m afraid they probably would,” answered Harry. “That’s why we’re not actually removing the protection charms. As I explained earlier, we can relax them a bit if you want. At the moment, I’ll still remember everything until midnight tonight unless we amend the wards.
“You’ll still remember meeting me all those years ago, but you’ll forget that your father had any link with me or England.”
“I think Dad wanted me to know the truth about him,” said Summer.
“That’s because he remembers what Billy told him he could see. He thinks you will see the same thing in him as well: that’s he’s a liar and deceiver.”
“No, I’ve never seen that in him.”
Harry was about to speak when Summer suddenly said, “Do you remember the animal spirits? It was the night I got Harry.”
“Of course I do,” he relied with a smile. He and Summer had watched as the ghosts of hundreds of animals danced through the back yard of their house in Nevada.
“I remember it so clearly, like it was yesterday. I also dreamt of that night again last night, only this time Grandfather was there.”
“I’m sure he was the one who summoned them,” said Harry. “That was how I knew you had magic in you.”
“I asked Uncle if it meant anything, but he just smiled and said he would have liked to have been there to watch.”
“What do you think it meant?” asked Harry.
“I wondered if Grandfather wasn’t bequeathing his spirit guides to me. Only that isn’t right. You can only ask a spirit for help. You can’t force them.”
“Maybe he just wanted to introduce them to you; and you to them?” suggested Harry. “Wand magic won’t stop you from asking them for help, you know? I rather like the idea of them running up and down the castle towers of a night.”
“Perhaps-” began Harry again, but the beating of wings interrupted them.
“Harry!” cried Summer with delight as her raven landed and perched on the back of a nearby chair. “I’ve got some treats for you somewhere.”
Before she could look in any of the bags, the raven had hopped onto the next table where another group of shoppers had been enjoying a meal. The bird resisted all attempts to shoo it away and proceeded to walk across their plates and help itself to scraps of food.
“Harry! Will you behave?!”
Harry left Summer to chase after her bird while he tidied away the photographs and re-boxed George’s Photo-Pano-Plate.
They had booked a large private dining room at the Leaky Cauldron for this evening and Harry was looking forward to catching up with everyone in their extended family after their separate holidays. Harry himself had returned early to meet Summer, leaving Ginny and the children to enjoy a last day at the beach.
Summer would be staying with them for the final few days of the holidays before she caught the Hogwarts train from Kings Cross station.
Harry had been hoping Summer would agree to a little wand practise, but Ginny thought she might prefer to simply relax or perhaps let them take her to see some of the tourist spots.
Harry wasn’t sure they ought to let her raven near the Crown Jewels, though, in case it actually managed to steal something that sparkled.
The raven seemed to pause a moment and was looking at Harry in a most disquieting way, leaving Harry to wonder if the bird hadn’t actually read his mind.
Summer took the opportunity to make a lunge for the bird, but it easily hopped away and then took off high into the air. It circled once before calling out loudly and heading off in the direction of the Tower of London.
END OF PART TWO
AN: Thanks for reading. Part Three of the story is currently in progress. I’m well on with it but I won’t start posting until it is complete.
Part Three of the Traveller Trilogy
The Dash of the Trening
A new island is about to break surface in the stormy North Sea only a few miles from Azkaban and a flamboyant magician, master manipulator and conman may be responsible. As the Muggle media whip themselves into a frenzy, Harry attempts to keep the peace between Draco and Ron as they ally to investigate either an elaborate hoax or a new technology beyond the understanding of wizards.
Just what has Draco done and why is he so keen to remain with Harry as they chase their quarry across land and sea?