Harry took a portal from the Ranger Citadel to the portal nearest to The Barrel in Concordia. Apparition into and within Nomad Island was not possible, so these portals were sorely needed for the wizards who were in too much of a hurry to take their brooms. An added benefit of these portals was that dwarves, goblins and elves could
also make use of them. The elves could actually still zap from place to place, though many important buildings where access was restricted had barriers in place that could repel even Elven Magic and thus could keep elves from zapping in. On those occasions, the elves used the portals. These portals were exactly like the Floo network, except for the fact that no fire and powder were required, just the destination spoken out loud.
Harry exited a portal on a large avenue that was paved with smooth stone slabs that fitted together neatly. He walked a little further along a smaller, cobbled road and entered an alley that was covered by many balconies and overpasses that connected some of the buildings with each other. The Barrel looked like a dive from the outside, though Harry knew that it was a nice place with decent patrons, like most taverns in the city. There were very few troublemakers in the Concordia, and it was usually visiting wizards and goblins that caused what little trouble there was. There was virtually no crime, and the City Watch had a relatively easy time keeping the peace.
The people of the Office of Traffic into and out of Nomad Island were very good at their jobs. Everyone, who wanted to visit N.I., have had to give notice to their Department of
International Magical Co-operation six months in advance. One year, if the being in question wished to live and work in Nomad Island for any length of time. This attitude kept many troublemakers from ever entering N.I., because people with bad records and suspected use of dark magic were turned away.
Harry pushed the wooden door open and entered the dimly lit tavern. The sound of many people chattering welcomed him, and few people took notice as he entered, for he had changed out of his uniform and was now wearing clothes in the local fashion. He
made his way to the bar to say hello to Holly. She was a House-elf, or just plain elf, as they were called in N.I. For they were all free and received payment for their services. They still loved waiting on and serving wizards, and they still had an excellent work ethic, but they also had a self-respect that few elves outside the city had.
"Hello, Mr. Harry Potter sir, or should Holly say Ranger Potter?" the elf's high-pitched voice squeaked.
"You can always call me Harry," he smiled.
"Oh no sir, Holly isn't wanting to! It would be disrespectful."
"But I call you Holly!"
"That being different. Holly is elf!"
"And what an elf!" a melodious female voice said.
"Hello, Vesta," Harry greeted the barmaid in the black low-cut blouse and the green bodice that amplified her already considerable charms. She was one-eighth Veela, and still very attractive, though she didn't have any Veela magic in her, like women with more Veela blood had. She was also the youngest daughter of the aging Lieutenant Janos Gaal, a Hungarian Ranger Third Class, who had come out of retirement to mitigate the attrition the Rangers had suffered during the war against Voldemort's supporters. "Is your old man here?"
"No!" She laughed. "Mother was mad enough as it is because he went back into service! She insists on him coming home straight after work. My mother may only be quarter Veela, but things can still get very ugly when she gets angry. Oh, and all your drinks tonight are paid for by Ranger Command!"
"Goody," Harry mumbled sarcastically. "Have one on Ranger Command, then!"
Vesta placed two small glasses on the bar and poured them full of Ogden's Best. "Hmmm, other Rangers rarely turn down free drinks."
"I'm not like other Rangers."
"I don't like the sound of that. What's on your mind, Harry?"
"I really don't want to talk about it," Harry snapped, and immediately regretted his tone of voice as he saw that her cheerful smile faltered. "Sorry. I appreciate your concern, but I really don't want to talk about it."
"Will you talk to someone about it?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "At some point."
Vesta mimicked his shrug and facial expression, and a chuckle managed to escape Harry's throat. Now he knew why many Rangers, particularly male Rangers, came to her when they were feeling down. She'd even managed to lift his spirits a notch.
Harry downed the whisky and allowed it to warm his insides. "Nice, but from now on, I'll only have non-alcoholic beverages," he said, knowing that while Vesta could out-drink any being in the city, he would be tipsy after no more than five or six glasses of mead. The whisky he'd just drunk probably counted as three glasses of mead, so he decided not to have any more.
A tall and burly man beckoned him to come over. He was sitting at a long table, with ten other Rangers, some in uniform, but most wearing the medieval clothes the city natives wore. He scooted away from the corner and more to the center to make room for Harry.
"Harry, the bloke we've been looking for!" another classmate of Harry's said. He was the brother of the one who had called Harry over. Nathaniel and Matthew Kelly, Matt and Nathan for short, were fraternal twins. They were so unlike one another that Harry found it hard to believe that they were even related. Matt was six feet and six inches tall with yellow eyes like Madam Hooch's, and blond hair tied back in a messy ponytail. He was broad-shouldered, but his build was lean, like a swimmer's. Nathan was even taller at six feet and eight inches, and huge. He had musculature that suggested that he spent more time improving it that he did sleeping, and his face looked like it had been clobbered by trolls one time too many. But the violet eyes beneath his thatch of brown hair shone with intelligence. Their personalities were also different. Matt loved swimming and surfing, while Nathan hated water. Nathan was often quiet, cautious and introspective, with the occasional emotional outburst. Matt, on the other hand, was charming, flirtatious and extroverted. But they had one thing in common …Quidditch …even though Matt was a Thunderers' fan and Nathan a Warriors' fan, and the rivalry between these tow Australian Quidditch teams was legendary.
"Harry, mate, Nathan and I are trying to recruit enough players for a team, so we can play a friendly match against some locals tomorrow, before we head out to our respective assignments!"
"Who've you got so far?"
Matt pointed at the short witch from the Philippines. "Lilia is willing, and Thubo, too."
Harry looked at Lilia Rosaria who was in deep conversation with another female classmate of his, the Brazilian Clara Da Silva. The chubby Lilia was a trained field-mediwitch with a terrible bedside manner. She had a volatile temper and would just as soon hex an uncooperative patient as soothe him. She kept her black hair as short as her temper, and her eyes could go from kindly to menacing in a blink! Harry knew she used to play Chaser on her school team in Australia, and she'd been competent enough when he saw her play a couple of months ago.
Clara was a darker-skinned version of Aunt Petunia, but her cheerful nature and sense of humour made up for it. She was an excellent strategist and tactician, and Harry didn't doubt that she would be co-ordinating many Ranger actions in the future.
Thubo Sibaya, the South African, also played Chaser. Harry had seen him in action on a well-kept Nimbus Two Thousand, and he wondered why Thubo hadn't gone pro. Thubo was skilled in dealing with many undead creatures, like zombies, vampires and mummies. He was also a tracker and had participated in a Nundu hunt twice!
Harry looked at Matt. "So that gives us two Chasers, you're the Keeper, Nathan's a Beater and I'm the Seeker…We're still two players short."
"I am well aware of that, junior. I'm working on it." Matt grinned. They called Harry junior, because all his classmates, with the exception of the Austrian woman, Heidi Gravenstein, were two to three years older than he was. Heidi was exactly one year older than he was, and they would both have their birthdays in two days.
While Matt got up to ask around if anybody else felt like playing Quidditch, Harry looked at his table and then around the room. Alain Moreau, an aristocratic Frenchman Harry remembered from the Tri-wizard Tournament, was chatting idly with Heidi Gravenstein, who caught Harry staring at them and winked.
Harry blushed. Heidi…another thing that would haunt him forever. He'd had sex with her several times a couple of months ago, but now he knew that he didn't have any feelings for her, and he felt guilty for taking advantage of her. He knew the only reason that she'd caught his eye in the first place was because she looked like Ginny. She was a bit taller, her hair was a darker shade of red, and her skin had fewer freckles, but the
resemblance was still uncanny, with the same bright brown eyes. He'd come clean and
explained everything to her…How he loved Ginny but had never had the chance to tell her, first for fear of reprisal from Voldemort, and later because the Weasleys wouldn't speak to him anymore. And Heidi, bless her heart, had forgiven him. She hadn't given up on him, and was still trying to entice Harry into seeing her from time to time, but Harry simply wasn't interested. He'd felt empty after all their intimate moments and he deep in his gut knew he would never have much of a future with anyone but Ginny.
Harry's gaze went over to Carlos Montalban, from Panama and Cirilo Roverano, the Peruvian Ranger, who was nodding at Matt. It looked like they'd found the second Beater. Then his eyes left the table he and his classmates were sitting at and went toward the booths against the wall.
Captain Faust, a round-faced German Ranger Second Class with a handlebar moustache, was talking to Caleb Mordecai, an Israeli Ranger Fourth Class magical weapons specialist. Also sharing their booth was the Jamaican Lieutenant Janice Cliff, Ranger Third Class, a witch blessed with a good inner eye. She never left the base for field operations, and as such had allowed her physique to slack. Matt and Nathan were constantly cracking jokes about her size.
In another booth, a female Ranger reached over to grab the hand of a male Ranger, who pulled his hand back as if it had been burned, a panicked look on his face. The female pulled her own hand back, looking dejected, and the male squirmed in his seat, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
Harry knew their story as well. Girl meets messed up boy and feels an urge to fix him, falling in love with him while she works on him…Only, the boy's issues run very deep and can't be easily fixed. He didn't really understand Max Wolfe's reluctance to get close, because Galatea Angelou was definitely a beauty with her waist length white hair framing delicate features and large, deer-like lapis lazuli eyes.
Matt walked over to their booth, oblivious to what had happened, and started taking to Wolfe, pointing at the booth where a Native North American wizard and a Native South American wizard were sitting. They both were animagi. Chayton Blackmoon could turn into a nineteen inch long prairie falcon, and Takupai Orzaiz transformed into a fourteen-foot anaconda.
Wolfe gave a small nod after hearing Matt's story, and the beaming Australian walked back towards their table and plopped down next to Harry. "We've got a team! I wonder if Wolfe's as good as Blackmoon says he is!"
"Wolfe will be playing with us?" Harry asked incredulously. The dour Ranger had never struck him as a team player, but then again he didn't really know him that well. Apparently, Blackmoon did. "I didn't know he played."
"According to Blackmoon, Wolfe was a very good Chaser at the Salem's Wizards Academy. He left before Wolfe attended, but apparently his youngest brother was in the same year as Wolfe and couldn't stop talking about how good a Chaser Wolfe was."
"Well, if he is even half as good at playing Quidditch as he is at his duties as a Ranger, I am looking forward to playing with him," Thubo Sibaya, turning away from his conversation with a small and deceptively sweet-looking Japanese witch, remarked.
The witch, a Ranger Sixth Class called Mayumi Sakai, gazed over at Wolfe with a lovesick look in her eyes. "Hmm, if his skills are a good as his looks…" Galatea caught her staring, and her eyes were shooting daggers at the Japanese witch.
Harry shook his head. He couldn't really understand why, but Max Wolfe seemed to be the object of many a witch's affections. Sure, the Ranger Fifth Class was handsome, with dark brown hair and eyes and a tanned complexion and straight, symmetrical features. He'd once heard Noelani Winters, a female Ranger Fourth Class from Hawaii, comment on Wolfe's physique, saying that one could probably bounce a quarter off Wolfe's behind…Whatever that meant. But by the way the witches around her had been giggling and blushing, Harry had assumed that it had been a positive remark.
"I don't get it. Okay, he's a handsome fellow, but the look in his eyes, doesn't that give you the creeps?" Harry frowned at Mayumi.
"That only makes him more attractive," Mayumi grinned.
"Oh please, I think I'm going to throw up!" Matt moaned.
"Jealous, little brother?" Nathan's ugly face split in a toothy grin.
"Shut up, at least I get more action than you," the younger brother retorted.
Nathan shrugged. "It isn't the quantity, mate!" He looked at the little Japanese witch. "I feel like having a little sparring practice. You up for it?"
"Didn't get enough last time?" she smiled sweetly, creating dimples one her cheeks that made her 'insufferably cute', according to a few jealous witches.
Harry chuckled. Mayumi was four feet and eleven and a half inches tall, and built like a gymnast, but she could throw anyone in the room, save Wolfe, around like a rag-doll. "Yeah, Nathan. Weren't you embarrassed enough last time?"
Nathan shook his head. "Why d'you think I've been training with Wolfe all week? He's been teaching me how to become faster, said my lack of speed was a huge flaw."
Lilia Rosaria jumped into the conversation. "You've been training with Wolfe? So that's why I had to patch you up last night and the three nights before that!"
"You should train with us sometime, Harry! You showed promise in basic training. You should spend more time practising hand-to-hand," Nathan said.
"No thanks," Harry laughed. "I'm having enough trouble finding dates as it is. If you and Wolfe rearrange my face it'll be even harder."
A diabolical grin appeared on Matt's face. "Why don't you try Heidi?" he teased, and Harry flushed red.
Lilia, Thubo, Mayumi and Nathan laughed.
"Matter of principle," Harry huffed, and gave them a 'I don't want to talk about it' look.
The following morning they met on one of the three Quidditch pitches in the recreation zone on the second tier of the western quadrant.
The opposition was one of the six local teams who vied for the local title every year. They were the previous season's champions, and on average their brooms were better than the Rangers' were. Their Keeper flew on a Relampago Three, which had performance comparable to a Nimbus Two Thousand and One. The Beaters flew on Cleansweep Eight's, that were about as fast and manoeuvrable as the Nimbus Two Thousand, but with better acceleration. Two of their Chasers had Nimbus Two Thousand and One's, and the third had the newest Cleansweep Nine, that was slightly faster than the Nimbus Two Thousand and One, though not as fast as the Firebolt, and well suited for executing Wronski Feints because it could pull out of dives really well. Their Seeker had a Firebolt, like Harry.
On the Ranger team, Matt and Nathan had Cleansweep Seven's, Thubo carried his clearly lovingly-maintained Nimbus Two Thousand, and Lilia had a Cleansweep Eight. Cirilo Roverano, the second Beater, rode a Murcielago Three-Fifty, which was about as good as the Nimbus Two Thousand. Harry had his Firebolt, the two teams had equal chance in that respect, and Wolfe unveiled a Nimbus Two Thousand Five Hundred, equal to the Firebolt in top speed, but more nimble and with better acceleration. Harry knew there was a better broom on the market, namely the Firebolt Mk II, but the Wolfe's broom was the best on the pitch.
They played five games, and only Harry's quick capture of the Snitch allowed them to win the first three games. The Rangers had been at a distinct disadvantage because they had never played together. The scores had been ninety to one hundred and sixty, one hundred to one hundred and eighty and one hundred to one hundred and seventy, and since the games ended relatively quickly due to Harry's clear superiority over the other Seeker, it was decided that they would continue to play for a while.
In the break between the third and fourth game, Wolfe called Thubo and Lilia to him and discussed some strategy, and in the fourth game they scored nine times, five of which were Wolfe's. He turned out to be even better than Thubo, though Harry didn't want to judge on that just yet because Wolfe had a better broom. The defence had also improved, and the opposition scored only eight times, an all-time low. The game ended eighty to two hundred and forty.
In the fifth game, when the score was thirty to seventy in the Rangers' favour, a vicious Bludger sent by Nathan, caught the opposing Seeker off guard, and injured him pretty seriously. The locals forfeited the match, because there was no way they could win without a Seeker.
Cursing violently and telling the Seeker to lie still, Lilia fixed him up a bit and told him to go to the House of Healers for a more thorough examination.
"Good game, Harry," said Heidi, who had been watching in the stands. She bounded towards him and threw her arms over his shoulders, kissing him on the lips.
"Why? I didn't catch the Snitch," he mumbled, blushing profusely as he disentangled himself from her grasp.
"I meant the four other games, silly," she giggled.
Harry felt like telling her off for her behaviour, but he decided that it might harm their friendship if he did so in front of everybody else. Instead, he looked at Wolfe, who had a half-panicky, half-bewildered look on his face as Galatea fussed over a cut on his forehead caused by a Bludger graze. He flinched every time she reached out with her gloved finger to probe the area around the wound. Even though it was a beautiful day, she was completely covered up, because she had very little pigment, and the artificial
projection of the sun burned like the real thing. When Galatea looked away to dig in her bag to find her wand, Wolfe took the chance to jump on his broom and flee the scene.
Shaking his head, Harry walked over to the opposing team to praise them for a game well played. Wolfe really was an enigma … and Harry suddenly pictured the haunted look Wolfe so often wore in his mind's eye. It was a look that Harry knew well from the mirror.
Nathan came over and clapped him on the shoulder. "Mate, if it weren't for you, we'd have lost the first three games. You were brilliant."
"It was a team effort." Harry shrugged. "Wolfe is really good!"
Cirilo, who came over to collect Nathan's Beater club, nodded. "Yes, he is a very good flyer. I didn't even notice the instability of his Nimbus Two Thousand Five Hundred."
Harry nodded. The Nimbus Two Thousand Five Hundred was a great broom, but it was a bit unstable compared other top of the line brooms. Seekers, Beaters and Keepers, who sometimes had to take both hands off their broom, therefore seldom used it. It was definitely not a broom for novice flyers or flyers with only average skill. "Yeah, he handled it well." He glanced at the sky. "I'm going to fly around a little, I'll be back in
time for the assignment of our new duties." He hopped on his Firebolt and accelerated cloud-wards with blistering speed.
He levelled out at an altitude of roughly two thousand one hundred feet, three hundred feet above the regular air traffic lanes of the city. Below him, other brooms, carpets, magical chariots drawn by winged horses and people mounted on Hippogriffs cruised around. He saw the wizards and golems from the office of Magical transportation, on four floating platforms, each in one quadrant of the city, searching the skies for reckless flyers or beings who might be experiencing trouble on with their means of flight. Below that, he saw tiny figures in colourful medieval clothes strolling along the avenues and across a broad plaza decorated by a number of giant statues. It was the Artists Square.
In front of him he saw the great lake that nearly encompassed the full western quadrant of the island, except for the space the city occupied. So its surface spanned over seventy-seven thousand acres, and its water supplied the city and the crop fields and orchards in the southern quadrant, which was to his left. The forest sector or northern quadrant, to his right, housed three family groups of centaurs, ninety-seven centaurs in total, as well as many magical and regular creatures.
Behind him, he knew, were the hills where Graphorns and Re'ems roamed, and the Ranger Citadel was located, sitting on top of a hollow hill that housed the rest of the base. The highest hill, or rather, a low mountain at one thousand six hundred feet feet, housed four Phoenixes.
Harry rose even higher and saw what he actually came to see. Resting in a nest of fluffy clouds above the lake in the western quadrant, at an altitude of roughly three thousand feet, hovered a bowl-shaped construction on top of which stood a beautiful palace surrounded by orchards and flowerbeds. It was the Palace of the Winds and was inhabited by three Veela. They were the last of a group of twenty-one Veela who had settled in the city some three hundred years ago. One by one, they'd married mortal
wizards and borne their offspring, thus losing their immortality. After that they would start ageing like humans do, yet very gracefully. They'd been the ancestors of the many wizards with Veela blood who'd inhabited Concordia, including Vesta and her mother Sophia.
Knowing that the Veela weren't fond of unexpected visitors, Harry looped around while he was still well away of the Veela sanctuary and headed back to the Citadel of Illumination, better known as the Ranger Citadel.