Chapter 10: Shéhú

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Not my work - you can find the artist here: https://www.artstation.com/jung_min

August 1881

Loch Morlich had a soft sandy beach around it, bright against the green pine and birch trees surrounding it and the grassy stone snow-patched mountains of the Cairngorms. “What a beautiful lake!” Rose exclaimed happily. “We should go swimming!” 

“After I teach you to deal with snakes,” Remus reminded her.

“Is the Manor far from here?” Sean asked.

“It’s on the other side of the lake, but you can’t see it from here. It’s hidden by the wards.”

“Wards?” Harry asked.

“Magical barriers protecting the village and manor. Do you see those oaks on the other side of the lake?” They all nodded. “The oaken forest is Potter land, and Shéhú is within its bounds.”

Harry gazed at the treeline as they turned around toward the nearer side road along the lake. The oaks stretched along two sides of the lake, in the rougher, rockier cliff-banks of the mountain. Compared to the straight and narrow birch and pine trees, these woods seemed wilder and older.

“I can see why the Potter’s have been able to hold onto it,” Rose pointed out as they made their way down the less maintained road. “These oaks must be a nuisance to clear. They’re so close together and deep-rooted. Despite the value of the wood, the labour alone makes it a harder profit.”

“Exactly,” Remus nodded, impressed with her business senses. “It’s more expensive to care for this land compared to the easy pines and birches. They don’t even have ground-cover moss, while these woods are littered with low herbs and lichens. The wildlife is more cultivated here as well, meaning that any damage to the ecosystem risks the value of the forest as a whole. It’s a lot of work to civilize such terrain.”

“So, it’s not as valuable?” Harry asked.

“Not to Muggles,” Remus clarified. “For magical folks, woods like these are ideal. They have a lot of natural magical forces and creatures that have been protected, bred, and cultivated for centuries by the Potters and other magical families from here. When it was Druid’s Grove, a few prominent magical families lived here – the Prewetts, the Selwyns, the Fleamonts – your great-grandmother’s family – and the Lovegoods, if I remember correctly. But the Lovegoods moved down to England. The Prewett brothers died, and their sister married an English family. The Fleamonts ended with your grandmother. The Selwyns are still around, though, probably still living in their old house, if it survived the fire. They have ties to this land going back at least to Camelot.”

“Was Merlin real!?” Rose asked excitedly.

“He was,” Remus nodded. “But he wasn’t at Hogwarts – Hogwarts came five-hundred years after Camelot.”

“What’s that?” Marie asked, pointing ahead. Harry turned and looked again and saw an ashen brown gate, much like the ones they’d seen in Diagon Alley. It had no doors – just a squared arch over the road ahead.

“That’s a torii gate,” Remus said.

“Tory?” Rose asked. “As in Tories and Whiggs?”

“No, no – t-o-r-i-i. They’re Japanese – gateways. That is the entrance to the ward. Whoa – whoa.” He stopped the carriage before reaching it, and Rose halted the horse, dismounting fluidly. Remus helped Harry down from the horse while Sean and Marie left the carriage in interest. “Now, we could just walk through this,” Remus explained to Harry, guiding him over to the structure. “However, we need to see the state of the blood charms, so I need you to activate them.”

“How?” Harry asked nervously. The gate was bigger than he’d thought, reaching all the way to the tops of the trees, at least as big as the staircase at 4 Privet Drive. The posts were big enough that he could fit inside of them.

“It’s tricky. I’ll walk you through it.” Remus went to a little birdhouse-like-structure on the side and pulled out a long and thick rope, three tassels, and four long strips of paper. He sat down with Harry in the middle of the path. “What we need to do is put your blood on the tassels and amplify the talismans – these papers – with your magic. Then we just tie them to the rope and hang it up.”

“How much blood?” Harry asked worriedly.

“Not much,” Remus said, pulling a knife from his boot. Harry offered his hand, but Remus rolled up his sleeve to his arm. “Your hand has sensitive nerves in it. You don’t want to go cutting into it. Your arm heals better. Here we go. Brace yourself.”

Harry winced as Remus sliced lightly into the back of his forearm, then grazed the tassels over the cut to bloody them. He nodded to Rose, who wrapped a handkerchief around the wound while he tied the tassels to the middle of the rope. He took the paper pieces and folded them so that they resembled angular spirals.

“Okay, now take these in your hands and focus on them. I want you to try to think of the feeling that you have when you use magic. You’ve done it a few times now. It should feel a certain way.”

The teen nodded and took the talismans between his palms, closing his eyes. He thought about how he’d felt when he’d had the vision earlier that day, that comforting cold rushing through his veins. As if summoned, he felt it again, and had a quick image in his mind of his father kneeling the very same way with the very same talismans. The paper felt cold to his touch now, and he looked down to see that it was almost frosted, as if carved by snow and ice.

Remus patted his head, accepting the talismans and hooking them with fishhooks into the rope between and around the tassels. They stood up and he held the rope on his open palms. As if enchanted, the rope levitated on its own up to the top of the gate, the ends wrapping around the tops of the posts and the middle draping down. The man guided Harry to stand before the gate now.

“Okay, now put your hands together, close your eyes, and focus on those talismans. When you feel them, clap, bow, and clap again.”

Harry took a deep breath before doing as he was bade, closing his eyes and concentrating. It took a moment, but he felt the cold of the talismans as if they were hovering over his skin.

He clapped, and it was as if an electric pulse shot through his centre, making him gasp.

He bowed, and he could feel the ground tremble slightly, the trees rustling loudly in the wind, the birds panicking and fluttering up out of their nests.

He rose and clapped again, and a white-hot strike flushed him from tip to toes into the ground.

Hchoah—!

As if a breath had been breathed into the forest, a wind passed out from Harry with a shimmering misty glimmer. The torii blushed a bright red as if freshly painted. The trees dropped loose leaves. The grass seemed to instantly gain another three inches. The mushrooms popped out from the tree roots curiously. The moss seemed to plump up like a fluffed pillow. And all at once, a plethora of wildflowers burst out to greet them between the trees. It was as if the forest was welcoming him.

A haze of dizziness made Harry swoon and Remus caught him as he shook his head to clear it. “Beautiful! Great work, Harry! Great work! The wards are in much better condition than I’d thought.”

“Are you okay?” Rose asked.

“He’s going to be a little dizzy for a while,” Remus said. “It’s the link.”

“Link?” Sean asked.

“Blood charms link a person to the charmed item or location. Now that he’s activated the wards, he’s linked to them. He’ll know anytime someone’s passing through them, and one day, he’ll be able to control them from afar – opening and closing them, expelling people, summoning people, things like that. But for now, it’s just a little weight on your magic.”

“But he’s already drained,” Marie argued. “Won’t this drain him more?”

“The opposite,” Remus corrected. “These woods are magical. They’re fuel him and help revitalize his magic.”

“Is that why you were so impatient to get him here?” Rose realized. “You wanted the wards to recharge his magic for him?”

“It’s a perk,” Remus shrugged, helping Harry up. “I know you’re dizzy, but it’s best for you to walk.”

Harry nodded and passed under the gate. The feeling was instantaneous – like popping his neck but deeper inside of his mind. It wasn’t painful, but noticeable. He felt it again as the others followed, allowing him to recognize what the feeling was – entry into the wards.

The road went on for a short bit alongside the lake, and Harry's dizziness faded, leaving him with a light headache. About half-way down the lakeside, they came to a river with a distinctly oriental bridge. Three stone breaks cut through the current and supported the bridge, and three small houses atop them for the fishers that were perched on railings and tugging up short basket nets.

Remus set the horses up at a small stable next to the river, speaking to the caretaker who was smoking a pipe, and he pulled out his wand, flicking it at the luggage.

“AHH!” Marie and Rose yelped, jumping back in shock as each piece of luggage sprouted spider-like legs and walked off the carriage, forming a line in front of the wizard. Harry and Sean looked at each other in surprise, then appreciation – how useful such a spell would have been for them at the Dursleys!

The fishers took little notice of them as they crossed the narrow bridge, just as they took little notice of the fishers. Instead, their eyes were locked on the structure ahead. Harry had expected a village to be on the ground, but he had clearly underestimated what magic could do for a town in such an uneven cliffy environment. The other side of the bridge had a narrow pass between house-high rocks, but the villagers had simply built the village on the rocks instead with balconies of curious faces looking down at them as they passed under bridges to a fork.

The way south seemed to be the end of the village, leading back into the woods, but the way west led into a curved village square with a well against a pointed miniature mountain. Across from the well was a semicircle of stacked balconies.

Looking at the structure, Harry felt nostalgia, but it wasn’t for someone else’s memories – it was his own. A brief flash of a memory crossed his mind – a dark and dingy dirty street full of sailors, stacked balconies of apartments with exhausted women and children sharing banisters to hang clothes lines. And at the same time, there was a cold nostalgia of the phantom of a memory of coming here before that he was sure belonged to his father.

The residents here were not dirty or familiar, though. They were brightly adorned in silks of many colours. Men and women were looking at the newcomers with interest. Children were piling along the lowest balcony to stare at them, gossiping loudly.

“Remus Lupin,” a smooth female voice called out. They looked toward the river to find an enchanting woman wearing a blue flowery gown with a Mandarin collar and closure loosely fitted to the torso and slit at the hip with a flowing white skirt beneath. Her shoes were interesting to Harry – high heeled, much higher than anything he'd ever seen before, and yet she seemed to be in no pain walking down a staircase toward them with a smile on her pink lips. “It’s been a while.”

“Lady Li,” Remus said, bowing to her. Harry and the others did as well, immediately following his lead until Remus noticed and pushed Harry up.

She chuckled at Harry's confusion. “Wen-gongzhi, you and I are distantly related by marriage. You need not bow so deeply to me.”

“We’re related?” Harry asked.

“Your grandmother Wen’s mother was from the Wen Clan, but her father was from my family, the Li Clan. She took her mothers name because the Wen Clan is more prominent. Your great-grandfather, Li Kun Lan, is also my grandfather. My mother was Ann Wen’s half-sister from Grandfather Li’s second marriage. For simplicity, why don’t you just call me Aunt Mei Ling?”

“Aunt Mei Ling,” Harry repeated in awe. “Wait – I still have family alive?”

“I told you had Wen family,” Remus reminded him.

“Well, hearing it and seeing it are two different things,” Harry grumbled. Mei Ling chuckled again.

“Grandfather Li sent me,” she explained.

“Wait!” Harry said in shock. “Wait – my great-grandfather is still alive?”

“Indeed,” she nodded. “He is nearly 100 years old now, so he is very slow to move like a great tortoise, but he is on his way here to meet you. He used to live here, you know, when your grandmother was still alive, but he returned home to Shanghai after her death. He wishes to return here to die in these peaceful woods one day rather than put up with the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.”

“That’s a hard trip,” Remus pointed out. “Are you sure he’s up for it?”

“He is quite determined, and he’s slowly crossing the Arctic Ocean. He wants to be here by your birthday.”

“What a wonderful birthday present!” Rose said happily.

“Lady Li, this is Rose Evans, Harry's cousin on his mother’s side,” Remus introduced.

“I feel we will be very good friends,” Mei Ling smiled. “Perhaps closer than Lao Lupin, who insists on calling me Lady Li no matter how many times I tell him to call me Mei Ling.” The children on the banister giggled furiously as Remus’ ears went a bit red. “And these are?”

“Sean Figg and Marie Harding,” Rose introduced.

“Welcome to Shéhú,” she said, gesturing round. Many people hurrahed in welcome, making the visitors smile. Mei Ling nodded to a pair of teenagers, who guided the luggage back ward the road, but she guided the visitors up the stairs she’d come from to an upper landing on the rocks that had a covered market around the edges and a bridge to a small watch tower overlooking the river.

A covered bridge led over to the miniature mountain where a building was built into the rockface, the balcony of which served as a passage round the perimeter. They passed another covered walkway over the road they’d taken to the square which led to a small but tall stacked building overlooking the lake. Instead, they turned onto an exposed bridge to a veranda with an excellent lake view just in time for the sunset. Up a short staired bridge took them to a larger building poised on a large rock at the edge of the lake. They walked around the terrace to the entrance, which had two bridges veering away, a covered one toward the village square and an uncovered one to a ramp that vanished into the woods.

Mei Ling led them into the building, which turned out to be a cosy inn with a small sitting room, where the teenagers had already led their luggage. There was a staircase along one side up to the second floor with the landing overlooking the lobby. “You can stay here as long as you’d like,” she informed them. “This village rarely gets visitors, so the owner is more than happy to house you here.”

“Are you staying here, too?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” she nodded, pointing to one of the lower rooms. “Right next to Lao Lupin.”

Remus smiled, but it was a tight, nervous smile. Harry could tell by the way they acted that something had happened in their history, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was.

“Why don’t we freshen up and then grab some dinner?” Remus suggested to the party.

“Any chance those legs work on stairs?” Sean asked hopefully, pointing to the luggage. Mei Ling pointed at the trunks and bags, flicked her wrist toward the rooms, and they dispersed automatically between the rooms. “Thanks!”

Harry and Sean smiled at each other in relief and amusement that they didn’t have to haul everything up, climbing the stairs to their room. As they were closing the door, Harry heard Mei Ling speak again and glanced over the banister to see her leaning into Remus, speaking quietly in Mandarin. Remus leaned away from her and said a few words before slipping into his room, and Mei Ling looked coyly at his door before sitting down at the table in the sitting room.

~~~

Not my work - you can find the artist here: https://www.artstation.com/jung_min ~~~

~~~

The room that Harry and Sean shared was small, but at least larger than Sean’s room had been at 4 Privet Drive, and with a large enough bed for them to easily share with a comfortably firm mattress. Harry was sure it was uncomfortable for Rose, but for servants like he and Sean, it was certainly an upgrade to their usual situation – definitely an upgrade to the cupboard by the stairs or storeroom.

Once they’d freshened up, Mei Ling took them through the covered bridge to an open common space and up a staircase to a staired bridge. At the top was a terrace around what smelled like a kitchen. They could see through the windows as they passed with the other villagers, smelling the rich meats and vegetables, the sweet desserts and aromatic drinks. A final wide staircase brought them to a long dining hall, and Harry glanced out a window to find that the hall bridged two of the tallest little spire-like mountains, towering over the forest and overlooking stepped agricultural fields hidden behind the apartments.

“Wen-gongzhi!” Harry looked up to see an elderly woman at the head table at the end of the hall with a younger attendant, beckoning them toward them. Mei Ling nodded to him and their party of six joined the woman at her table.

“Wen-gongzhi, this is Zhang Rei Ming,” Mei Ling explained. “In English, she would be the Mayor of the village of Shéhú.”

“Oh, it’s an honour,” Harry said, bowing automatically before Remus could stop him. “Please, you can just call me Harry.”

“Your humility is so very benevolent,” Madam Zhang said, but her eyes were critical. “How gracious Little Lord Potter is.”

“Please, take no offence,” Remus said, kneeling and bowing his head, shocking Harry and Rose both. “It’s my fault that he’s not yet knowledgeable about the cultural norms. Please forgive him. He means no disrespect toward you. He is not being cynical.”

Harry swallowed and looked to Mei Ling with fear. Had he done something wrong? He’d thought he was being respectful. What had he said? But she wrapped her arm around him reassuringly. “Wen-gongzhi is not yet used to the prestige of his family,” she explained. “He takes your words as flattery and sees you as his superior. Perhaps for his benefit, we could refer to him in a lighter way? Xiao-Gong, perhaps?”

Madam Zhang laughed at this nickname. Harry thought quickly. Remus had told him that ‘xiao’ meant little and ‘gong’ meant prince, so Little Prince? That seemed worse!

“This is acceptable,” Madam Zhang said with a bow of her head, allowing Remus to retake his seat. “Xiao-Gong it is.” Harry smiled tightly and bowed his head just as she had, but he felt uneasy as he sat back in the chair, looking over the low table before them.

Food was delivered to each of the tables on trays, separated into little bowls and plates. Thankfully, Harry had managed to get the hang of chopsticks at the bathhouse, so he didn’t make a fool of himself by asking for a fork. Once the meal was under way and Mei Ling was chatting with Madam Zhang, Harry leaning into Remus for an explanation of the dispute.

“You showed her too much respect,” Remus whispered. “She took it as you making fun of her because it was inappropriate. She thought you were being satirical.”

“But she’s a Mayor, I’m just a boy—”

“You’re not just a boy. You’re the young lord of the Potter estate. The very land that this village resides on belongs to you. You’re her landlord. Everything here – every building, every crop, every deed – technically belongs to the Potter estate and so to you. In the hierarchy, you’re above everyone here, including me.”

“Is that why Aunt Mei Ling said to call me prince?”

“It’s a play on words,” Remus murmured. “Your Chinese name is Wen Xu Gong – gong means Prince. Calling you Xiao-Gong means two things at once – Young Master and Little Harry. This way, it’s both a formal address and a familiar nickname. It can be interpreted both ways and so is not offensive to anyone, nor does using it overstep any hierarchical lines.”

“Clever,” Harry nodded. “What’s the story with you and Aunt Mei Ling?”

Remus choked on his tea, coughing before looking at Harry with wide eyes. “Nothing!”

“Come on,” Harry insisted. “Did you two court or something?”

“No…despite her attempts.”

Harry smirked. “Oh, I see.”

“It’s not what you think—”

“She’s a beautiful woman who knows what she wants. Why resist?”

“You know, I think we need a rule – no talking about my relationships until you’ve at least had one.”

“Are you blushing, Lao Lupin?”

“I am a grown man, not some teenager like you,” Remus hissed at him, pinching the top of Harry's ear playfully. “Now eat your meal. You’re skinny enough.”

“Madam Zhang!” a jovial man’s voice called. A Scotsman approached the high table in a kilt and vest with a girl beaming beside him. She was very pretty with curly brown hair left untamed and warm brown eyes in a round face. Her green dress seemed to have come from a hundred years ago with a high Georgian waist and fitted sleeves, lace sewn to the bodice and draping down from the waist around the sides and back but not the front. Her collarbones were visible, and Harry looked away shyly as he noticed that such a cut accented her plump bust.

“Lord Selwyn,” Madam Zhang nodded. “I’m glad you could join us.”

“I came to pay my respects to you and to young Lord Potter,” he said, giving Harry a small bow while the girl curtseyed. “Lord Arnold Selwyn, young master, and my daughter, Miss Elizabeth Selwyn. If my mathematics is not incorrect, I believe you are to be classmates this year at Hogwarts.”

“I look forward to getting to know you better, Lord Potter,” Elizabeth said, curtseying deeper this time and tilting her head down. Harry blushed at her respect and hurriedly bowed in return.

“Miss Selwyn, I don’t deserve your—”

“—gentility—” Rose whispered helpfully.

“—gentility,” Harry continued. “I’m at your service, my lady.”

Elizabeth smiled sweetly at him, looking down then up again with a tilt of her head as she put her hands together. Harry's lungs seemed to flutter like internal wings, and he swallowed nervously.

“Well, may we offer—”

“Yes,” Harry said immediately. “What – sorry? What was that?”

Remus snorted and covered his mouth, looking away while Lord Selwyn grinned broadly. “I was just going to offer to accompany you—”

“Please,” Harry said, immediately pulling out his chair and offering it to Elizabeth.

Remus couldn’t hold back a laugh at that, gripping Harry's wrist. “Harry, he’s not talking about dinner.”

“I was going to offer to take you up the trail tomorrow to the Potter Manor,” Lord Selwyn said, licking his canine and giving Harry a knowing look.

Harry flushed pink. “Oh—” he cleared his throat, for his voice had suddenly gone very high. “Oh, that’s very kind of you, sir.” He cleared his throat again for good measure.

“We go up that way every few weeks,” Lord Selwyn explained. “My family’s been in these parts quite a long time now. Your great-grandfather’s brother, Charlus, who built the Manor, had a daughter, Miss Elinor, who married my great-aunt Rosemary Selwyn. We’re related through marriage, you see. Why, you’re practically my nephew!”

“Not really,” Remus muttered.

“Nope,” Rose mouthed.

“I don’t think that’s quite—” Harry started.

“Nah, you’re right,” Lord Selwyn chuckled, throwing an arm around the teen. “If we want to be related – why – there’d have to be a wedding, eh?”

“DA!” Elizabeth yelled in outrage.

“Oy, I’m only—”

“You’re only humiliating me in front of a cute—” Now it was her turn to flush, and a swell of appreciation ran through Harry that his insane family magic had rendered him handsome. He suddenly had no qualms about the beautification potions that Lady Shizumi had sent. “—in front of Lord Potter.”

“Zhang-fūrén!” An excited call echoed over the murmur of the dining hall, and another father and daughter came to the high table. Cho Wei Jing and his lovely daughter Cho Xiang bowed before Madam Zhang, then Aunt Mei Jing, then Remus and Harry.

“Cho-xiānshēng,” Madam Zhang greeted, nodding to him in return. “Your wife will be so happy to have you and Xiang-meimei home.”

“We came from Shizumi-ayi,” he said, “with medicine for Wen-gongzhi.”

Cho Xiang smiled sweetly at Harry as she offered him a small bottle. “For you, Gong-gege.” Remus’ eyebrow tilt told Harry that there was something to that honorific that he didn’t know, as did the smile on Aunt Mei Ling and Madam Zhang’s lips. Harry suddenly felt flustered with two charming girls apparently flirting with him. He accepted the bottle and Xiang took his hand. “Oh, Lady Shizumi said that you should only take it every other night and with food, starting tonight.”

“Um – thank you, Xiang – eh – meimei.”

“Will you excuse us for just a second?” Remus beamed at them, grabbing Harry by the arm and pulling him into a room behind the table, closing the door for privacy. There was a staircase leaving up, but no one was in this room, which gave Harry the leave to let out a breath, rubbing the back of his neck with both hands. “Bloody hell – and I thought your father’s pranking was an issue – you flirt!”

“What!?” Harry replied in outrage, putting his hands on his hips. “Me! They’re—”

“Oh, I know it,” Remus nodded. “They’re throwing themselves at you, and you’re gladly catching them – all three of them!”

“They – wait, three?”

“Have you forgotten about Draco?”

“Oh, come off it, he doesn’t count!”

“He does in this world,” Remus laughed.

“What does gege mean?”

“Brother,” Remus said.

“Ah – see – she’s not flirting—”

“It’s often used by crushes and lovers – as is meimei, which means sister, by the way – and you using the equivalent title with her has basically told everyone at that table that knows Chinese that you return her affections, you little flirt!”

“No! I didn’t mean – you know I don’t know these things!”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” Remus asked smugly, crossing his arms and smirking.

“Do?” Harry repeated. “What do you mean?”

“Well, with both of them fluttering their eyelashes, you’re going to have to pick one.”

Harry looked around, biting his lips, then waved his finger at Remus. “You know what, I think I liked your idea better – not talking about relationships until I’m in one – or better, until we’re both in them.”

He threw open the door and returned to the table, only to find that Rose, Sean, Marie, and Cho Wei Jing had vanished, and the others had sat down around the table. The only seats left were the two end seats. Lord Selwyn sat across from Madam Zhang in the middle. Mei Ling and Zhang’s attendant held one end, and Elizabeth and Xiang held the other, putting both Remus and Harry in the awkward position of each being surrounded by women.

Remus chuckled humourlessly at the arrangement. “Where have the others gone off to?”

“Oh, Rose-meimei was tired,” Mei Ling explained. “Mr. Sean and Miss Marie accompanied her, and Cho xiānshēng went to greet his wife. He’s asked if we could walk Xiang-meimei home after the meal. I didn’t think that Xiao-Gong would mind.”

“Of course not!” Remus said chipperly, giving Harry a hard pat on the shoulder. “Ever the gentleman, this one. Well, shall we?”

“Don’t you dare,” Harry hissed.

“Good luck,” Remus sang quietly, taking his own seat. Harry looked at the two smiling girls, who seemed to have somehow gotten even cuter in the minute he was away and forced a tight grin before sitting down and putting his hand on his thigh, looking across the table at Remus, who offered him a silent toast.

“How was your journey, Gong-gege?” Xiang asked softly.

“Um – very pleasant, thank you,” Harry said. “You know, I’m still getting used to all of these honorifics and whatnot. You can just call me Harry, if you’d like – for you both, of course.”

Elizabeth giggled a little, and Xiang unfurled a fan to cover her smile. Her eyes seemed to sparkle even more looking at him over the edge of the fan, half her face hidden mysteriously, making him even more nervous than before.

“Then you should call me Xiang,” she said.

“And Elizabeth – I’ll have none of this Miss Elizabeth nonsense, you hear?”

“Of course, Miss – eh—”

They both giggled at that and Harry felt as if they were teasing him. He found himself thinking of Draco out of nowhere – ‘He’s such a natural flirt. What would he do? But wait – do I want to flirt with them? Even if I did, it would only be one of them at a time….but which one?’

“My father and I are taking Harry to the Potter Manor tomorrow,” Elizabeth told Xiang in a friendly gossiping tone.

“How wonderful!” Xiang said. “I would think that he would want to stay at the Wen estate, though.”

“Sorry, estate?” Harry asked.

“The one that your great-grandfather built here. He has it cleaned every year for New Year’s, but he hasn’t returned in ages. I’ve never met him, but my father says that he’s very kind.”

“He’s coming here,” Harry announced. “Aunt Mei Ling said that he’ll be here by the equinox.”

“Oh, he’ll be here for your birthday!” Elizabeth said. Harry jumped.

“You know my birthday?”

“Of course, I do,” she said coyly, patting his wrist. “I know a lot about you.”

“Everyone does,” Xiang said, waving her fan, which made her eyelashes flutter attractively. “It’s such a blessed day, after all. The Moon Festival for you, and the Winter Solstice for your father, the longest night of the year. Such a connection is very lucky, you know,” she said, tapping his forearm with her fan. Her dexterity was impressive, and Harry found himself smiling at it.

“And where on earth did you two clever girls learn such things?” Harry asked with interest. “I don’t even know the Queen’s birthday, and yet you know mine?”

“I know more than just your birthday,” Elizabeth said proudly. “I know that you prefer Chinese clothing and that you accused the owner of Slugg and Jiggers of poaching.”

“It was in the Daily Prophet this morning,” Xiang said less mysteriously, giving Elizabeth an amused look.

“What else was in the Daily Prophet?” Harry asked curiously. “Anything about Draco Malfoy?”

Both girls looked at each other before looking at Harry, and Xiang unfurled her fan again. “Harry is so interested in Draco Malfoy. Why?”

“I’m worried those scurvy reporters have imagined some triste between Draco and I,” Harry admitted. “He’s such a peacock that it might have given them the wrong idea.”

“And what’s the right idea?” Elizabeth asked, rolling her shoulder toward Harry.

“He’s my friend, that’s all,” Harry said, taking a drink of tea.

“So then, you’re not currently bound to anyone?” Elizabeth asked, making Harry choke and cough.

“No, I’m – I’m quite unattached.”

“How fortuitous,” Xiang said, fluttering her fan faster. Harry noticed that both girls seemed to lean closer to him, causing him to lean away with a nervous smile.

“Enough about me. Tell me about you! Your father seems to know Remus.”

“Lupin-shushu is a friend of the family,” Xiang grinned. “He knew my mother at school.”

“And my mother knew your mother,” Elizabeth said, putting her hand on Harry's forearm and leaning toward him. “Our families are so interconnected, Harry! We might as well have grown up together!”

“But if Harry grew up here,” Xiang said, “he wouldn’t have that charming Irish accent.”

“Or that lovely sun-kissed hair,” Elizabeth said, reaching up and catching a strand of it to twirl on her finger. “I do love this colour.”

“Yes, it brings out Harry's deep meadow-green eyes very well,” Xiang complimented.

Harry chuckled nervously and leaned back out of their grip, glancing up at Remus. The man seemed to be suffering similar attention from Mei Ling, who was remaining calm and composed as her eyes bored into Remus’ lowered head, and Madam Zhang’s attendant, who was moving her shoulders quite a lot as she smiled at Remus, looking him up and down repeatedly.

“I thought we weren’t going to talk about me anymore,” Harry reminded them. “Elizabeth, your father mentioned something about us being related?”

“Only by marriage,” she assured him. “Elinor Potter and Rosemary Selwyn didn’t have any children – obviously, being both women. And they were on a different branch of the family tree than either of us. No need to worry.”

“Worry?” Xiang asked. “Why would Harry worry about being related to you, Miss Selwyn? It isn’t as though your family trees are being compared for incest during a marriage negotiation.”

Both of the girls started laughing, but Harry just noticed something rather cold about their voices when they spoke to each other as opposed to when they spoke to him. Even though their words and gestures seemed friendly, their voices and looks told a different story.

‘Girls are scary,’ he realized, taking a bite of fish and looking between the two. He saw that Remus and his own consorts were now speaking in Chinese, and he realized how Remus must have felt during the fitting with he and Draco speaking Gaelic without him understanding. Harry froze in chewing for a moment as he got an idea, though, and then continued, sitting up more. “Xiang, you shouldn’t tease Elizabeth so,” Harry chastised softly. “She’ll take it to heart!”

“I would never,” Xiang insisted quietly. “I think that her interest in your family is quite lovely.”

“As is yours,” Harry commented. “After all, you’re already calling me brother.”

“How sweet,” Elizabeth cooed, putting a hand – seemingly unnoticed – onto Harry's knee as she looked across the table at Xiang. “You’re practically siblings.”

“Oh, Harry,” Xiang giggled. “Those words aren’t taken seriously in Chinese. Lots of couples call each other brother and sister like that.”

“Ah Xiang,” Harry said, making her gasp. “You’re so well versed in Chinese culture. I wish I were as knowledgeable about it as you are. I’m hoping to learn Chinese this summer. Do you think you could help me study a bit?”

“Oh, I’d be more than happy to—”

“And I could teach you all about Scotland,” Elizabeth said, her grip on Harry's knee getting as tight as her smile toward Xiang.

“I’m Scottish, too,” Xiang pointed out, smiling warmly while her eyes were as frozen as her fan.

“And Elizabeth,” Harry said to her innocently. “You’re so familiar with this area and my family. Perhaps we could go swimming together in the lake?”

“Oh, Harry!” Elizabeth giggled loudly.

“But what would she do if you got bit by a snake?” Xiang asked, putting a concerned hand on Harry's shoulder and gently playing with his hair. “I don’t think she has the medical skills to suck the poison out.”

“Yes, I do,” Elizabeth said stiffly.

“I don’t think so,” Xiang said in a sing-song voice while Harry looked up at Remus, who was looking at the teen girls curiously while his own consorts held an electric staring contest.

“I know more about poisons than you do,” Elizabeth argued.

“My family works at Lady Shizumi’s bathhouse – I’m practically already trained in healing, just like the Potter family.”

“Wow,” Harry commented.

“Well, I’m actually familiar with the traditions and cultures of the Potter Family dating back to when they first became healers.”

“Impressive,” Harry nodded, continuing to eat his rice.

“I’m better matched to Harry's cultural needs,” Xiang hissed.

“Well, I’m better matched to Harry's physical needs!” Elizabeth growled.

“I saw him first.”

“He flirted with me first!”

“Well, I’ve seen him mostly naked.”

“YOU TART!” Elizabeth launched herself across the table at Xiang, who screamed as she fell back and started hitting Elizabeth with her fan.

Harry sighed as he grabbed a plate of chicken, patiently putting a strip in his mouth.

“Time to go,” Remus said, grabbing Harry and pulling him toward the exit. Mei Ling was having a screaming match of her own with Madam Zhang’s attendant, who was trying to hold her back from following them while Lord Selwyn tried to restrain his daughter. “You did it this time.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Harry said, still with chicken in his mouth. “They did this themselves.”

“You incited it. I saw you!”

“I would never,” Harry lied, but he couldn’t quite keep a grin off his face.  

~~~

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24 May, 2021 20:16

This might be one of the best Harry Potter FanFic I have ever read! I love how you wrote Harry.