Chapter 1 : The Council of Seven and One
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In the summer after Harry Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts, the wizarding world seemed to enter a sort of limbo. Most remained in a state of shock, grieving the loss of their most powerful weapon of good: Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter had become everyone’s last remaining hope, but he seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth and people were beginning to shake off their numbness in favour of fear. But even in times such as these, they managed to find those quiet moments of contentment and short times of tentative laughter.
Ginny Weasley was among those most affected by the disappearance of the Boy-Who-Lived. She spent the first week of the summer holidays locked in her room until her mother could stand it no longer and practically force-fed her a three-course meal. Dragged back into the land of the living, Ginny resignedly began to function as a human being again and something of her old spark returned. She particularly perked up when her friend, Luna Lovegood, came to stay for a couple of weeks. Luna provided her with sufficient distractions from the person her mind centred on the most, and Ginny’s brothers also helped out. Fred and George were among the most active in the Cheer Up Ginny Campaign, constantly inviting her to spend days at Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes either helping out or trying out some of their products. Ginny found the sheer busyness of the shop soothing and often got herself caught up in the running of it.
It was on one such day when Ginny was visiting the shop with Luna that our tale begins.
Ginny opened the door to her brothers’ shop an hour before it was due to open. Luna had woken her early (an emergency concerning chasing a Snazzburg, which had got in via the open window according to Luna, from the room), so she had seen no reason for waiting when she knew that George was getting set to leave later that day. He would be travelling to Italy in the hope of expanding their business in the magically concealed village of Segreto.
“Wow, that one is massive!” George enthused, watching Fred and standing with his back to the door.
Ginny and Luna observed their antics curiously; Fred seemed to be blowing the air in front of his mouth with no apparent result. A loud popping noise made the girls jump, though they could not locate its source.
“What are you doing?” Ginny asked, bemused.
“Huh?” George said, turning around.
Ginny jumped back in shock and then proceeded to gape at what she took to be her brother. He was wearing the oddest looking goggles she had ever seen; his eyes magnified fourfold behind lenses that had an odd gleam to them.
“Gin! Luna! So glad you could both make it. These,” he said, indicating his goggles and nodding in the general direction of Fred, “are our most recent inventions.”
“Invisible bubblegum,” Fred interrupted, making the popping noise again.
“Urgh, that could get anywhere and you wouldn’t know it,” Ginny pointed out. Fred’s look told her that she was missing the point.
“And anti-invisi goggles,” George finished as if there had been no interruption, his eyes blinking owlishly.
Luna nodded wisely.
“Ah, did you use the coating from an Eradeous tree?” she asked.
“Well, no,” he admitted, grinning at her and looking thoroughly insane with his huge eyes. “We used a spell of our own making, and combined it with a potion or two, also of our own design.”
“The coating from an Eradeous tree would’ve been easier,” Luna informed him seriously.
“We’ll keep it in mind for the next batch then, Luna,” Fred cut in, amused.
“When are you off?” Ginny asked George, though she found herself unable to look at him seriously.
“In about ten minutes,” George informed her, glancing at the clock hanging on the wall and removing the goggles from his head.
“Oh,” Ginny said, sounding a little deflated.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be well shot of him, Gin,” Fred said, winking at her and eliciting a smile in response.
“Where is it you’re going?” Luna asked from where she was picking up random items in the shop and looking them over critically.
“Segreto,” George replied. “It’s like the Italian version of Hogsmeade, I guess.”
“Don’t get him started,” she warned. “He’s been practicing Italian and researching the region of Umbria for weeks.”
“You, little sister, would not understand the pains one has to put oneself to in the name of forwarding one’s business,” George said loftily.
“All right, now say that in Italian,” Ginny challenged, raising an eyebrow.
“I… like I’m ever going to need to say that,” he said, grinning good-naturedly at Ginny.
Ginny laughed, finding herself relaxing as easily as she always did when she came to the shop. It was hard to explain; it was sort of like Fred and George had created a place where you were allowed to laugh and be yourself in a time when everywhere else alienated such things. Whatever it was, Ginny was glad that it had come about, and she wasn’t the only one.
“About time to be off, isn’t it?” Fred reminded George, looking up from behind the counter where he was readying various things for opening time.
“Yeah; you got everything under control here?”
“Reckon I can handle a couple of Hogwarters,” Fred replied, deliberately misunderstanding him.
Ginny rolled her eyes before taking Luna off to the back room to show her some more of the shop.
“Right then, see you in a few days,” George said, scooping up his magically shrunk trunk from the counter.
“Don’t come back until you’ve made a deal,” Fred warned lightly.
“Course not,” George replied in mock surprise that Fred would ever think such a thing.
With a hollered goodbye to the girls, George turned on the spot, disapparating with a loud crack.
George appeared in a sunny street. Looking around, he guessed it to be the main street in Segreto, for it was quite busy even though it was still early. Witches and wizards were going about opening their businesses and other morning activities. George noted that there were a lot more open restaurants than he was used to in England, though the thing he noticed most was the heat. Even relatively early in the morning, it was already quite hot; much more so than he was used to at the same time of day in England.
He stood for a while longer, trying hard to remember the directions he had been given. There was a shop somewhere on the street that was up for sale, and he had been in contact with the owner prior to agreeing to come here at the other’s invitation. He finally spotted the correct street he was supposed to turn down and set off to find the villa he was looking for.
After getting lost down many narrow streets, and having to ask for fresh directions twice, George finally found what he thought was the right villa. Located on the very edge of the village, with rolling green hills behind it, was a small, neat, white villa. He strode up to the front door via the wooden porch, looking interestedly at the front garden. He could see a gnome peeking out from under a bush and he grinned, thinking of home. Turning his attention back to the villa, he rapped the door with his knuckles and stepped back to wait.
Eventually, the door opened, and George stared at the person standing before him. A petite girl with waist length blonde hair and startling blue eyes regarded him distractedly, her hair falling over half her face and her cheeks flushed.
“I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time,” she told him in perfect English, sounding out of breath.
“Erm…I’m supposed to be meeting Mr Paliani about the shop. Have I got the wrong house?”
“Oh,” she said, pushing her hair back from her face in frustration. “You’d better come in then.”
Suddenly, a large crash and resultant shriek came from inside the villa.
“I told you this was a bad time,” the girl said resignedly, holding the door open for George to step past her.
“What happened? Can I help at all?” he asked at once. If nothing else, Molly had tried hard to ensure that all her children were brought up with good manners; of course, whether they chose to use them or not was another matter.
The girl did not reply, but hurried through the house, which was a lot larger inside than it appeared on the outside, with George in tow. Opening the door to what was obviously the kitchen, George was able to see exactly who had screamed and why. A House-elf was valiantly trying to catch hold of what appeared to be a fine china teacup. The teacup evidently had no wish to be caught, and was systematically pushing things off shelves and onto the House-elf’s head.
“She tried to pick it up to dust it. I’m afraid that teacup doesn’t like to be touched,” the girl said sadly.
“Of course,” George said, unable to think of anything else to say.
The teacup seemed to tire of pushing things off shelves, and for all the world looked like it had turned its attention to the newcomers and was weighing them up.
“Oh, no,” the girl murmured.
“What?” George asked, feeling utterly unprepared for this situation and taking out his wand.
“Run,” was all she said, turning around to do just that and calling the same instruction to the House-elf.
“It’s just a teacup,” George said, confused, but following her all the same.
“Never underestimate your opponent,” the girl replied crossly.
“Opponent?” George said incredulously. “What on earth does it plan to do?”
He got his answer when he turned to see how close the teacup was to them and where the House-elf had got to. The House-elf had disappeared from sight, but the teacup was gaining, flying through the air and glowing an ominous red colour. Skidding to a halt to turn a corner, George saw the teacup take its chance and shoot some sort of red missile or spell at them. He felt the heat from it as it whizzed passed, perilously close to his ear, and burnt a hole through the wall beside him. He wasted no more time looking behind him and dived into the nearest room, where he’d seen the girl disappear into.
It was obviously used as a front room, with large windows looking out onto the picturesque countryside, and comfortable chairs arranged neatly around the fireplace. George quickly jumped behind one such chair, almost landing on the blonde girl, who was already there. She glared at him and pressed a finger to her lips.
George, who could just see the door from where he was crouched, caught sight of the teacup hovering uncertainly in the doorway. It had lost its red colour, but he could swear he heard a low humming noise emanating from it.
“If you distract it, I’ll get it from behind,” the girl whispered, making to crawl behind the next chair in the room without waiting for a response from George.
George swallowed his annoyance and stood up to do as she asked. The teacup at once turned to him, if it is at all possible that a teacup could face someone, and the humming grew louder. George pointed his wand threateningly at it, but apparently it wasn’t stupid, for the next moment it appeared to lose interest in him and fired another spell towards where George knew the girl to be kneeling.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” he muttered when the spell sank deep into the chair’s arm. “Reducto.”
The spell shot straight at the teacup, which did not have time to move, and George grinned triumphantly as it shattered.
“What did you do!” the girl exclaimed, springing up from her hiding place.
“It was going to attack you,” George said, a little defensive.
“So? That was Grandmother’s china.”
George wasn’t sure what this was supposed to mean to him, really. The girl sighed, looking sadly at the pieces of teacup littering the floor.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do to change it,” she said, her anger appearing to vanish. George had never met anyone quite like her; she was certainly making some first impression.
“What do you mean? Can’t we just use magic and fix it?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said scornfully, and offered no more explanation. “Horatio will be home soon, and he won’t be happy if you aren’t settled in yet.”
“Well, perhaps we could start with your name?” George asked, feeling that this family was madder than his own.
“I’m Soleil,” she said, turning to exit the room.
“Isn’t ‘Soleil’ French?” George asked, puzzled.
“My mother was French,” she replied. “Your room is this way.”
She walked out without bothering to see if he was following. Shaking his head, George moved to go after her, carefully avoiding the pieces of broken teacup.
As evening was drawing in, George decided to take a walk in the area behind the villa and made his way back towards the front door. He hadn’t thought the day could get much stranger, but as he opened the door, he came face to face with the oddest looking man he had ever seen.
A tall, thin man, looking to be in his fifties or sixties, was standing on the porch. It looked like he had been trying to grow a neatly curling moustache, but it wasn’t trimmed quite right and tufted out rather fascinatingly. His clothes were normal wizard robes, but they were certainly not what attracted your attention most when looking at this man. On top of his head was the brightest coloured hat George had ever seen. It was a round, knitted hat, which somehow made the man look even taller, perhaps because it simply drew people’s attention right to the top of his head.
“It’s a tam,” the man said.
“What?” George asked, too busy staring at the hat.
“The hat you cannot take your eyes off of is a tam hat,” the man replied grumpily, making it obvious he thought this was something that everyone should know.
“Oh, of course. Who are you?” George couldn’t help asking.
“A figment of your imagination,” he replied unhelpfully, striding past George and into the villa.
George hastily followed him inside, thinking that this could only be Horatio. He realised when he followed the man into the dining room that it had been a good job he hadn’t gone out for his walk, seeing that the table was already set out for dinner. Soleil was already there and gestured for them both to take a seat.
“Who’s this?” Horatio asked Soleil, tilting his head in the direction of George.
“He’s come to see you about the shop,” she replied, serving the food out.
“Well, you’re wasting your time,” Horatio informed him promptly, turning to look at George. “It’s no longer for sale.”
For a moment, George could only gape at him.
“But why?” he finally asked, too bewildered to even feel angry yet.
“Take it up with the council. It’s their fault.”
With that, Horatio stood and left the room, leaving his food untouched.
“Er…what was that about?” George asked Soleil.
“He must have been kicked off the council again today,” she explained, digging in to her food as if this were perfectly normal. “I’m sorry you’ve had a wasted trip, but that shop has been up for sale five times and each time he hasn’t sold it.”
“What council are we talking about?”
“The town is run by a council, and lately Horatio has been trying to persuade the rest of them to get the Italian wizards involved in the war with Voldemort.”
George stared; whatever he had been expecting, it wasn’t this.
“But why would he want that? And why would it get him kicked off the council?”
“Ah, well, he was what you might call the voice of reason in the council, so anything he did say or suggest was generally met with a none too enthusiastic response,” Soleil said derisively, letting George know exactly what she thought of the views of the council. “As to why he’d suggest it in the first place…it’s a long story.”
When George’s mind had stopped boggling at imagining Horatio as the voice of reason, he could not help feeling immensely curious as to what the long story was. Soleil’s tone left him in no doubt that he would not do well to inquire further, though.
“All right, so what does him being on the council and the shop have to do with each other?” he asked instead.
“If he isn’t on the council, he needs a different job, so he will be using the shop himself.”
“I see,” George said distantly, his mind in other places. “Well, I had better go write to my brother and work something out. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Wait… you’re not leaving?” Soleil asked, sounding confused.
“Of course not. You don’t get rid of me that easily; you don’t think I’ve gotten as far I have by giving up at the first hurdle, do you? Besides, my brother told me not to return until I had a deal, and I don’t intend to let a little thing like the shop not being for sale at the moment stop me.”
Soleil looked at him properly for the first time, taking in the bright gleam in his eye at the prospect of a challenge, the determined set to his jaw, and his stance. A little against her will, she found herself smiling at him.
“Good luck then; I’ll help you if I can, but no one’s convinced him to change his mind before.”
“Well, there’s a first for everything,” George said, refusing to let her dissuade him. “Good night.”
“Good night,” she replied, watching as he left the room, a thoughtful look on her face.
George awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to take on the challenge of acquiring the shop when it wasn’t for sale. He had thought long and hard late into the night and had finally come up with what he thought was a good idea. First though, he needed to talk to Soleil.
He found her on the porch, frowning over some document or other.
“Morning,” he said cheerfully, taking a seat beside her.
“Be quiet a moment,” she said,” I’m trying to work out our finances.”
George obliged without protest, getting used to Soleil’s mannerisms and not minding. It didn’t take her long to finish doing whatever calculations she was doing, and soon she looked up and asked what it was he wanted.
“Is Horatio not here?” he asked instead of getting straight to the point.
She shook her head.
“He’s usually at the council house during the day, and I expect that’s where he is now.”
“But I thought he got kicked off the council?”
“Won’t stop him,” she said with a shrug.
George was all the more puzzled by the man, but he let it go without question.
“Well, if he were guaranteed a place on the council that could not be revoked, would he agree to sell the shop then?” he asked.
“Of course, there would be no need to keep it then, but the chances of that happening are almost below zero, I’d say,” she told him bluntly.
“I’ve taken on worse odds,” George said with a grin, but she continued to look at him blankly, clearly not believing he could bring about such a thing. “How many council members are there?”
“Seven now,” she answered, not knowing where George could be taking this.
“Right, good. So if the majority signed a magically binding contract giving Horatio his permanent place on the council, that would hold, right?”
“And you said the other council members aren’t the most sensible sort of people?”
“Yes; look, where are you going with this?”
“Ever run a prank campaign?”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Soleil whispered as they crept through the council house building.
“Yes; my brother and I ran what I consider to be a successful campaign against an imposter Headmistress one year at Hogwarts,” George whispered back confidently. Soleil, however, took note of his words as well as his tone.
“What you consider to be successful?”
“Well, technically our campaign wasn’t what drove her out, but I’m entirely sure it more than contributed.”
“Well that’s reassuring,” Soleil snapped sarcastically.
“Shh, I know what I’m doing,” George whispered impatiently.
Soleil pursed her lips but said no more. She led George to the main room in which the council apparently spent most of their time, stopping at the door to keep a lookout for anyone coming, though it was unlikely anyone would be along at this time of night.
Glancing around, George walked over to the end wall, pulling a scroll of parchment out of his pocket as he went. There was a large, oblong table of highly polished wood in the middle of the room. Surrounding it were seven chairs, and George could see an eighth pushed into one corner of the room, next to a large cupboard. He paused for a moment, staring at the cupboard and thinking of Horatio complaining that afternoon of being locked in it by the council. Cupboards did not lead to good places, he thought to himself, remembering the vanishing cupboard he and Fred had used once in a prank.
“Hurry up,” Soleil hissed from the doorway, jolting George out of his reminiscences.
He hurried to the wall, pulling out his wand and waving it in a complicated pattern over the back of the parchment, muttering a spell as he did so. With a slight sucking noise, the parchment attached itself to the wall, held in place by a Permanent Sticking Charm. George stepped back to admire his handiwork, reading the gleaming gold ink in the dark demanding Horatio’s reinstatement and warning of the consequences of not cooperating. He had carefully made it not too threatening but had still made it get the point across. There was an area with seven spaces for signatures under the names of each of the wizards on the council; he had also left a large blank space that would fill with a list to keep track of what would happen if they didn’t agree.
“All right, let’s go,” he said quietly, coming up behind Soleil and noticing the slight jump his sudden speaking had caused her to make.
They left the building quickly and quietly, careful to leave everything as they had found it. They didn’t speak until they were nearly back at the villa, and only then to argue about who had brought the key with them.
“Remember not to tell Horatio,” George muttered quietly as they slipped in the front door.
“I won’t,” Soleil said impatiently, “I can see the sense in keeping him in the dark.”
“The other council members will probably be round tomorrow sometime to protest about the contract.”
“I know,” Soleil said, annoyed that he thought she needed to be told these things when she was perfectly capable of working them out for herself. George heard the undercurrent in her voice and hastily backed off.
“I’ll see you in the morning then,” he said, bidding her goodnight and heading up the stairs. Tomorrow, the real fun would begin.
“Morning, Horatio,” George greeted as he stepped from the stairs the next morning. Horatio, who was sporting a very tall top hat, muttered something about layabouts contributing nothing to his household before stalking off to read a newspaper on the porch.
George shook his head and made his way to the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice. He was just about to go and find Soleil when he heard angry shouting coming from the direction on the front garden. Glancing through the window, he saw a small, squat man yelling obscenities in Italian at Horatio, who was looking just as angry.
After hastily placing his glass on the sideboard, George ran out into the hall, almost crashing into Soleil, who was hurrying down the stairs.
“Watch where you’re going,” she snapped, leaping out of the way quickly and glaring at him.
“Sorry,” George apologised, holding his hands up. “Do you know what’s going on out there?”
“Well, if you’d stop holding me up, I’m about to go find out,” she said, turning on her heel abruptly.
“Someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning,” George muttered to himself as he followed her out.
They were just in time to see the squat man cast Legilimens on Horatio, wielding his wand like a sword. The battle that followed only lasted a few seconds before Horatio managed to throw the man out of his mind. The other man looked shocked and confused, clearly not having found what he was looking for. Of course, George and Soleil knew exactly what he was looking for, but Horatio didn’t.
“Was glaubst du eigentlich was du tust? wie kannst du es wagen, hierher zu kommen und unberechtigte Beschuldigungen gegen mich zu machen! Runter von meinem Grundstück und komm ja nie wieder zurück, du Mistkerl!” Horatio yelled indignantly, taking out his wand and blasting the guy down the path. He quickly picked himself up and tried to stroll off in a dignified way, but with grass and mud stuck to his robes, the effect was a little lost.
“That didn’t sound very Italian to me,” George said quietly to Soleil as Horatio stomped past them, looking very put out.
“No, it was German. His father was German,” she explained, shrugging.
George watched the man walking away from the house. People were leaning out of windows to see what the commotion was about. Grinning to himself, he whispered a spell to tie the man’s shoelaces together. Soleil gave him a withering look as the man fell over.
“What? We start small; I’m the expert with this remember,” George reprimanded cheerfully.
“Sure,” was all Soleil said.
A little while later, Soleil and George headed into the town on the pretence of getting some more food. They’d left Horatio none the wiser as to what was going on, but had promised to bring him back a hat. George had brought a carefully packed rucksack that he had refused to show to Soleil, who was subsequently sulking because of this. However, he did not have time to deal with moody females; he had a shop to acquire.
“When do the council members meet?” he asked, intending to grill her on the separate members as they walked.
“Usually after lunch,” she replied shortly.
“Can anyone go into the council house before then?”
“Yes, it’s open to everyone except during meetings.”
“Do all the council members live relatively nearby?”
“Yes, all within walking distance.”
“Do they change especially for the meetings? Also, do any of them have wigs?”
“Oh yes,” Soleil confirmed.
“Excellent,” George said with a wicked grin. “Let’s go to the first house, but we mustn’t be seen.”
“You do a lot of sneaking around,” Soleil commented as they walked around to the back of a large house.
“Are you complaining about my morals?” George questioned, raising an eyebrow.
“Just observing,” she replied lightly, using magic to carefully open a window that she took a guess to be the council member’s bedroom. “How are we supposed to check the room out? If we go in, the House Elves will know.”
“Ah, you have so much to learn,” George said with a pitying sigh. Soleil’s only response was to glare. “Did you really think I’d come unprepared?”
George took out several items from his rucksack.
“What are they?” Soleil couldn’t stop herself from asking.
“Extendable Ears, Extendable Eyes – messy business creating those, I wouldn’t recommend it – and a pair of Shrinking Shoes.”
Soleil did not ask what each of them did – their names were pretty self-explanatory. With these items within their use, checking out the room and replacing the shoes that were set out with some robes for wearing to the meeting with the Shrinking Shoes was relatively simple. Within a few minutes it was in place, and they had moved onto the next house. It only took about an hour to make careful changes to some aspect of the clothing the council members were planning to wear.
After the two had quickly whizzed around the shops to get some food like they’d told Horatio they would, they returned to the centre of the town to watch the council members walk to the council house.
The guy with the Shrinking Shoes was first, trying to stroll down the street with his usual decorum but finding this almost impossible when his shoes kept steadily getting smaller and pinching his feet. Before he resorted to actually hopping down the street, he stopped angrily, wrenched the shoes off his feet, and suddenly found they were their normal size. Blinking in bewilderment, he replaced the shoes and the whole process started again. George could hardly keep the gleeful look from his face, and even Soleil couldn’t hide a small smile.
The council members’ walks to their workplace were the source of much amusement for everyone that day, in fact. After the Shrinking Shoes came the Self-Colouring hair – a wig that changed colour every minute and was inspired by Tonks, as George explained to Soleil. After that came robes that tangled themselves around every post or light and refused to untangle for at least three minutes, hats that emitted high pitched squawks, glasses that concealed some objects from view, and many others that quietly impressed Soleil with their ingenuity.
“And you make a business out of this?” she asked curiously.
“Oh yes, we have a big shop in Hogsmeade,” George informed her proudly, not noticing the rather bemused stare she was giving him. “Now we just need to check the contract in the building to make sure it’s working properly.”
“Surely you can’t have made a mistake with it,” Soleil teased suddenly, her eyes dancing.
“I said we’re checking. There will be nothing wrong with the spells I put on that contract, of course,” he replied, making Soleil smile.
They patiently waited for the council members to conclude their meeting and leave, looking rather ruffled. Slipping into the council house, they told the wizard at the door that they had come to file a complaint about a neighbour throwing rubbish onto their land. After he had sent someone to escort them to the correct room for such business, George slipped out for a few minutes on the pretence of finding a toilet and managed to look in on the contract as he passed that room. He was pleased to see the golden scrawl that had appeared where before the scroll had been blank.
Returning to the room he’d left Soleil in with their escort, he gave her a barely perceptible nod and they made their excuses and left.
“Was it working all right?” she asked as they stepped out into the sunlight.
“Do you really need to ask?” George said smugly.
Soleil didn’t give him the satisfaction of a reply, and they walked back to the villa at a leisurely pace, planning future pranks.
Over the course of the next few days, the council members found themselves under siege of multiple pranks. Objects appeared in their houses that scratched or bit before disappearing, clothes got misplaced, changed, or vanished completely, items they picked up would change into other things, rodents ran riot, and they constantly found themselves publicly humiliated in a multitude of ways.
Horatio was in a very good mood of late, having found out about the scroll and being happily oblivious to who was conducting this war on the council. He only asked George and Soleil once why they were out so much, and didn’t seem to take much note of their very vague answers.
Finally, four days after the start of the prank war, George and Soleil got their first signature, and later that same day, their second. The other council members were not happy, and soon they even had guards posted to stop themselves entering their own council house so that no one else could be tempted to sign.
“They’re not going to give in,” Soleil said with a sigh as she approached George from behind. He was sat at the top of a hill behind the villa, writing a letter to Fred while basking in the sun.
“Oh ye of little faith,” George scolded, capping his ink bottle and moving it so she could sit down beside him. “We have the final big prank tomorrow; they’ll sign, don’t worry.”
“Well, you have been right so far,” Soleil admitted reluctantly.
“Naturally,” George commented. “Hey, you know something that’s been bothering me? When I first came here, you immediately addressed me in English. Why was that?”
Soleil gave him a pitying look.
“You have English written all over you,” she informed him, mouth twitching at his indignant look.
“I do not!” he protested.
“I bet you don’t know a word of Italian,” Soleil retorted.
“Yes, I do! I can ask for directions to the nearest toilet and thank them after. And I can also order a glass of water in a restaurant; my twin and my sister helped me out on them.”
“Go on, then,” Soleil encouraged when he didn’t continue.
“You don’t believe me? Fine, then. Mi scusi, poeresti dirigermi al bagno piu vicino. Ho grande bisogno di rimanere mia testa laggiu. Dopo, il mio fratello avra bisogno della tazza del gabinetto,” George recited.
Soleil bit her lip to keep from laughing.
“And – and the other one?” she pressed.
“Vorrei che tu baciarmi adesso; la mia vita dependerlo su. See?” George said triumphantly. Soleil couldn’t stop herself any longer; she burst out laughing.
“You – you just said…” she began, but trailed off as she laughed some more. Calming herself, she looked him in the eye. “You said, ‘Excuse me, can you direct me to the nearest toilet as I need to stick my head down it. My brother will require the toilet seat.’ And then you said, ‘I’d like you to kiss me now; my life depends on it.’ Really, imagine if you’d actually asked a waiter that!”
George looked at her oddly for a moment as she laughed again, but quickly shook himself.
“Well, don’t think my darling siblings aren’t going to hear about it; how was I to know what I was saying?” George pointed out, but even he couldn’t help grinning, imagining if he’d said it to anyone but Soleil.
Soleil seemed to hesitate for a long time before she next spoke.
“George…when you go back to England, can I come with you?” she asked anxiously.
George stared at her.
“Why? What about Horatio?”
“It’s just…I strongly believe in fighting against the terror Voldemort is using to gain control. If we get Horatio his place on the council, he’ll be fine here; it’s time I moved out anyway,” she explained, and George did not miss her hesitation at the beginning; he knew there was something she wasn’t saying, but he knew better than to push her.
“Well, you can come back with me, if that’s what you really want,” he agreed slightly reluctantly, not really wanting to get her involved in the war.
She smiled in relief.
“It is; your country is living in such fear, and I’d like to do what I can to stop that.”
“You know, we aren’t without hope,” he told her, thinking of the strength he saw in those around him at home.
Soleil gave a sad smile, and began to recite:
“No, never without hope. Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. My favourite poem,” she concluded softly. “Emily Dickenson.”
“It’s a lovely poem,” George agreed. “Wasn’t she an American poet?”
“My aunt’s American,” Soleil said, off-hand.
George wondered if there was any country Soleil didn’t have family connections to.
“Come on,” he said, getting to his feet. “We’d better go in and make sure we have everything ready for tomorrow.”
Soleil allowed him to pull her up and together they walked down to the villa. Tomorrow would be very interesting.
The day, as every day so far of George’s trip to Italy had, dawned bright and clear. George and Soleil were up early, gathering together everything they had organised the previous day. This day was a special day in Segreto’s history; it was the day it had been founded and a single great wizard had used powerful magic to prevent Muggles crossing its boundaries. He had been buried many centuries ago in a nearby necropolis – a city of the dead. It was the council’s responsibility to pay tribute to him by visiting the tomb. Of course, they had to be careful to fit in with the Muggles that frequented the necropolis, and had to dress accordingly. The tomb itself was protected by wards to keep Muggles away, but everywhere else was really their territory, and it always made the council jittery going there. George and Soleil planned to make them a little more jittery than normal.
George passed Horatio’s room to inform him that they were going out for the day and admiring the hat Horatio had chosen to wear; it was made of palm fronds – a little feminine looking for George’s taste.
Soleil had seemed to be opening up a little in the last day or so, but now she walked along sullenly, not saying a word to George. He recognised it as her being completely focused on the task at hand though, and didn’t take her silence personally.
They arrived at the necropolis by nine; they knew that the council usually visited around eleven and that they only stayed an hour.
“Have you ever been here before?” George asked as they walked in the entrance.
“Once; I hope we can find our way to the right tomb, it’s like a labyrinth down there,” Soleil replied honestly.
“Quite creepy really,” George observed as they walked down into the darkness that was lit at intervals with low lights.
“Everyone should visit at least one necropolis if they visit Italy,” Soleil said firmly. “And the Etruscan people shaped Umbria like no others have; we owe much of what is known today of our history to them. They built these cities of the dead; I’ll have to show you some of their artwork and jewellery sometime.”
“Great,” George said unenthusiastically; he decided Soleil was worse than his mother.
Soleil ignored his tone and continued to lead him down the winding, dark passages of the necropolis. After getting lost three times, they reached the correct tomb. George then went about casting certain spells and charms and setting up some things he’d brought in a bag.
“All set?” Soleil asked when he stood up and cast around the room as though checking everything.
“Yeah, I think so. We’d better find our way back to the entrance so we can follow them in.”
“Have you got the contract?” she asked, just as they were about to step from the room.
“Of course. It’s all set up in there, don’t worry,” George reassured her with a grin. He had summoned the contract earlier that morning, being the only who could remove it.
Soleil nodded and led the way back to the entrance. They got back with ten minutes to spare and quickly hid themselves in one of the tombs near the entrance; there was no chance of the council going anywhere but the single wizard tomb.
It wasn’t long before the council arrived, nervously walking down the dark passage one after the other. George and Soleil carefully slipped out of their hiding place and drew their wands.
“Are you sure this will work?” Soleil questioned. “I mean, they are wizards; they know about things like ghosts and poltergeists.”
“Yes, but we’re in a Muggle place, remember? Besides, the poltergeist type tricks are just the beginning.”
George whispered a spell, and all the electric lights turned to flaming torches. He had made sure that no Muggles would come down this passageway or around the tomb for the next hour, posting signs outside directing them away and backing them up with a touch of magic. Soleil then murmured another spell, and a gust of wind whistled down the passageway, causing all but one of the torches to blow out.
“What’s going on?” the council member at the back of the line asked nervously, drawing closer the man in front of him. Up front, the leader tripped over and pulled the man behind him down too.
“This is ridiculous,” someone said angrily. “Lumos.”
The others followed suit, and soon light spread around them again.
“Come on. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can leave.”
Finding the tomb proved much harder than any of the council members remembered. George had placed a mild Confounding Charm on them to knock off their sense of direction, but none had worked it out yet. They’d walked in a circle seven times already when George and Soleil decided it was time they actually got to the room and removed the charm.
“It’s this way,” the squat man who had attacked Horatio spoke up confidently. George was almost tempted to make them get lost again just because it was him, but in the end he allowed them to find the room.
As soon as all the council members were inside, there was a sucking noise.
“You’re late,” a voice whispered, somehow managing to echo around the whole room.
The man on the end turned to try to leave, but found himself stopped by some invisible barrier.
“Bubble Barrier,” George explained to Soleil in a low voice as they watched from outside. “Took seven months to develop those.”
“Who’re you?” one member spoke up bravely.
“The spirit of the wizard you have come to honour,” came the reply as if from everywhere at once.
“Don’t be silly; our founder made no ghost,” another man protested.
“No,” the voice agreed. “I am not a ghost. You have woken me from the world in which I was at peace. Do you know why?”
“Um…no,” the bumbling man at the back piped up.
“There is one of you missing,” the voice hissed angrily. All the lights on their wands went out and they found themselves unable to cast spells. This, more than anything else, scared the council witless.
“Tricky piece of magic, that,” George said conversationally to Soleil, watching her smile in the darkness. “Remind me to explain it later.”
“I can assure you we are all here,” their pompous leader spoke up.
“No,” the voice disagreed. “There have always been eight who govern Segreto.”
“Ah,” the leader said, nothing else springing to mind.
“You have failed in your duties. New members must be elected. Unless…” the voice trailed off.
“Yes? What?” one of them said eagerly; none of them wanted to give up their cushy jobs and the houses that came with them.
“He must be reinstated,” the voice said menacingly. With a snapping noise, the contract that had hung for so many days in the main room of the council house appeared on the back wall of the tomb. George would have loved to have seen their faces properly, but with no light and them all facing away from the entrance anyway, it was pretty impossible. One of the members cursed in a language George didn’t recognise.
“That was Finnish,” Soleil said quietly to him. He rolled his eyes.
“Let me guess; your cousin is Finnish,” he replied.
“No; he’s Russian, why?”
George shook his head, and they turned back to what was happening in the tomb.
“I’m sure we can find someone else,” the leader began weakly.
“Only the people may elect and dismiss members. Make your decision quickly; the alternative is to stay here.”
“For how long?” one of the braver members asked.
You could almost feel the wicked grin in the darkness.
“Oh, I’m thinking a little longer than an hour. Let’s try forever.”
The voice quieted, and their magical abilities were restored so that they could sign the contract. One member did so immediately, but the leader quickly stepped between the second who had moved to follow suit and the contract.
“I will not allow you to damn this council to his insanity,” he said importantly, puffing out his chest.
“I’m getting really tired of him,” George said to Soleil, who nodded in agreement. He lifted his wand and carefully aimed a spell at him, able to see now that the light had been returned to some of their wands.
“You must-” the leader broke off as his voice went from the authoritative tone he always talked in to a very high pitched squeak. Perhaps no easier to listen to than his droning, but at least it would discourage him from opening his mouth for a while.
While those two members had been arguing, the man from the back of the line had snuck around the leader and was now signing his name anyway. As soon as the name was on paper, the contract rolled itself up and vanished in a spray of sparks. The council members found they were able to leave the tomb again, and hurriedly did so. George could not resist one more prank as they filed past, and cast a Glamour Spell over them.
The two followed the council members back outside and grinned at each other when they saw the stares the council was receiving on account of them all appearing to be clothed in flowery dresses – each topped with a palm frond hat.
George lay on top of the hill he had come to like relaxing on. He was leaving later that day, and he knew he was going to miss the place. Horatio had smugly reclaimed his place on the council two days ago, and had easily accepted that Soleil was moving out. He’d also signed the paperwork for the deeds to the shop yesterday, and George couldn’t wait to tell Fred. Horatio had apparently spent half of the previous day in the cupboard at the council house, but he seemed happy enough – or at least as happy as Horatio ever got.
George didn’t open his eyes as he felt Soleil sit down next to him. He had to make some reaction when she poked him in the side, though, and sat up abruptly to glare at her.
“Some of us are trying to relax here,” he said pointedly.
“Some of us are being lazy,” Soleil retorted. He had to concede that she had a point: he’d been lazing on the hill for the better part of the morning while she’d been packing her things to go back with him.
“All ready to come to England?” he asked, sitting up.
“Yes, I’ve written a letter to my dad and half-sister too,” she added.
“You have family in England?” he asked.
“Yes, the Lovegoods,” she said absently. She noticed George staring incredulously at her. “What?”
“Oh, nothing. That just…explains a lot,” he said, keeping a straight face. “If you don’t mind my asking, why don’t you live with them, then?”
“My mum and I always lived with my grandfather, and I guess I just got to being in Italy. I don’t know the Lovegoods very well, and I preferred to stay here,” she explained with a shrug.
George nodded and they lapsed into companionable silence, feeling the calm of the hilltop they were sitting on.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Soleil said suddenly.
“That’s all right; it wasn’t like I got nothing out of it,” he reminded.
“Well, no, but that’s not what I meant. Thanks for not asking why I want to come back with you.”
“If you wanted me to know, you would tell me,” he said. There was a long silence before Soleil spoke up.
“My mother went to England when I was very young,” she began softly. “She was a Healer and got involved in the first war. When she was…killed, I wasn’t allowed to see her body or visit the place where she died. Voldemort took everything of her from me.”
George wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’m sorry,” he said stiffly.
“Don’t be; it’s not your fault. And now you’re taking me back with you,” she said with a smile.
George nodded in agreement, lost in thought.
“Do you have any vacancies in your joke shop?” she asked suddenly, changing the subject completely.
“Well, as a matter of fact, we could do with someone else,” George replied. “Did I inspire you with all our pranks?”
“Now you’re not taking all the credit for making me want to work there,” she said sternly. “How do you know I wasn’t already interested in pranks before you got here?”
George watched the way the sun seemed to gleam from her hair as she tossed her head. He couldn’t seem to help noticing these small details about her every time she laughed. Shaking his head slightly, he let the thought drift from his mind.
“Well, if you like jokes, you wouldn’t be averse to wearing this.” George took out the red nose he had shown her earlier. Once attached to someone, the Tickling Charm in place on it went into effect.
“Oh, no, you’re not getting me to wear that,” she said, edging away from him.
“But you like these things; as an employee of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes you’ll be expected to try out and demonstrate our products,” he said evilly, getting to his feet
Soleil was faster and went charging down the hill, laughing as he chased after her. She tripped as she reached the bottom and grinned as George fell next to her to avoid treading on her. She plucked the red nose from his hand and carefully composed her face to look at him seriously.
“Vorrei che tu baciarmi adesso; la mia vita dependerlo su,” she instructed.
“Well, wouldn’t want to risk your life,” George responded, equally serious. Leaning forward to do as she requested, he knew that perhaps he wouldn’t miss this place as much as he’d thought. After all, he was taking the most important part home with him.
Author's Note: Well I have a lot of people who helped with various parts of this story so firstly thanks and credit must go to them. Both the summary and banner are by Sauerkraut_Poet, and she also beta'd for me, her help was invaluable in writing this :) . Thanks to Haronione for letting me try out ideas on her, and both her and Scarhead for reading this through when I was done. The Italian wouldn't have been remotely as good without the help of PaMuggles, and the German wouldn't even have got off the ground without LisaMackay. And of course thanks to all the prefects who offered opinions and help along the way.
The poem used in this story is called 'Hope' and is by Emily Dickenson.
The name of the village, Segreto, means (or at least I hope it means) 'hidden (secret)' and is set in Umbria which is an often overlooked region of Italy and derives from the Latin word for 'shadow'. All in all, I thought it fitting for a magically concealed town. Any inaccuracy about any historical facts that featured in the story can be blamed on the various websites I used to look them up :P .
The various bits of Italian mean exactly what Soleil tells George they mean. The German that Horatio says means 'What do you think you are doing? You can't come here and start making unfounded accusation. Get off my property and don't come back, you jerk!'
In case you didn't know what a tam hat is (how could you not know?;) ) here's the definition: "The tam is a tall, round knitted cap, usually brightly colored. It can be crocheted, knit, sewn, or constructed in a number of different ways. The name tam is also given to a 4-, 6- or 8-sided flat cap worn as part of American academic dress by holders of doctorates." And also, if you hadn't realised, I used the first sort of tam in this story :D .
Finally, thanks to Shade for being the great person she is and all her work around the site, I hope you liked it :) .
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