Joe Finnegan whistled as he hosed down the small white pony. He was at the wash rack in one of the big American barns at Starlight Farms, the livery yard where he boarded Seamus’ show horses.
Joe was beyond thrilled that Seamus still had an interest in riding. With each passing year, his son was pulled further into his mam’s magical world, where Joe couldn’t follow. Horse riding, and show jumping in particular, was the one thing this Muggle father and wizard son exclusively shared.
The pony belonged to Joe’s niece, Emma, who had finished her lesson and was now doubled up with a friend on the bare back of a beleaguered Haflinger, who was probably wondering how the hell he had ended up in that crazy place.
And the yard was crazy on a summer Saturday morning. Classes at all levels were being taught, and riders were hacking as well. Seamus had a lesson, and Dean Thomas had tagged along. From the nearest arena, Joe heard Seamus’ trainer describe the next track to her class:
“Wishing-well bending to the coop, diagonal line, in of the outside line bending to the brushbox, rolltop, Swedish rolling back to the out of the outside line.”
Joe looked at the row of ponies he’d promised to get ready for the next junior lesson. They were all either muddy or sweaty, but he didn’t want to hose them just before they went out. If only he had a way to dry them quickly! Then he caught the comical sight of long-legged Dean Thomas sitting on a small pony, his feet nearly touching the ground, and realized there was a way to avoid water entirely.
“Dean!” he called. Dean turned around and waved. “Dean, can ye help me a mo’?”
Dean tried to get his pony to turn around, but the little beast wasn’t having any of it, so Dean slid off its back (his left foot traveling mere inches to meet the ground) and led the pony back to the stable.
“Sure, Mr. Finnegan, what do you need?”
Joe looked around to make sure no one was in earshot.
“I’ll be needin’ a little magic, lad.”
Thanks to the Scourgify charm, twenty minutes later the ponies were clean and dry. One by one the young students ran in to claim their mounts, and soon the stable was quiet again.
Now it was Joe’s turn to ride. The next lesson was the one he and Seamus shared. Seamus was going to try out a new mare he was thinking of buying. But who should Joe jump today? He decided on Kazam, his oldest and dearest competition horse.
He led the dark bay Dutch Warmblood from his stall to the crossties, and had just started to brush him when Kazam flung his head and backed up as far as he could, eyes wide and nostrils flaring.
“Aw, don’t be silly,” said Joe in soothing voice, placing a firm hand on Kazam’s shoulder. “There’s a good boy.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Joe saw something red and sparkling in the aisle. He stepped out of the cross-tie niche just in time to see someone appear from a swirl of shiny red glitter. It was a young man with a coarse face and a fine suit.
The man held a wand, so Joe raised his arms protectively in the manner Eileen had taught him.
“Whoa there, lad! No need to obliviate me!”
But the stranger merely flicked his wand in the direction of the two large open stable doors, which didn’t do anything to them as far as Joe could tell. Then the stranger smiled.
“Wouldn’t dream of it. Sorry if I scared you.” For such an ugly fella, he had film-star teeth.
“You didn’t scare me,” said Joe, “but ye might be more careful where ye Apparate. It’s mostly Muggles around here. I know you’re a foreigner and all…” Joe had noticed the man’s American accent, “…but the Ministry won’t thank ye for making magic in front o’ Muggles.”
The stranger now wore a wide smile. Joe was very glad there wasn’t anyone else about, because this one looked like something you’d meet down that Knockturn Alley.
The stranger said, “Well, you’re the only one around, so as long as you don’t turn me in….”
“Well, of course I won’t turn you… hang on! How’dja know I’m a Muggle?”
For the first time, Joe was alarmed. He was accustomed to weird-looking blokes popping in and out, but they usually assumed he was a wizard. How had this fella known?
Still wearing a smile — which really was quite chilling — the young man extended his hand.
Joe felt a great wave of relief wash over him, and he realized that for the past minute, he’d been holding his breath. Joe smiled and shook the young man’s hand.
“Well, now! Ye had me goin’ there. Joe Finnegan. But ye knew that.”
“Sorry, Mr. Finnegan. Couldn’t resist.”
“Aw, call me Joe. You’re the fella took Seamus to visit Hogwarts when he got his letter, aren’t ye?”
“Yeah, that was me,” said Asmo.
“I’ve been wonderin’ when I’d finally get to meet Serena’s family.”
Joe indicated one of the tack trunks in the aisle.
“Have a seat. I know it’s dusty, but ye can use the Scourgify spell. That should work for dust.”
“It will,” replied Asmo, “but….” he looked around, then raised an eyebrow. “Muggles, you know.”
Joe could tell Asmo was pulling his leg.
“Aw, now…. I was just bein’ careful. Truth be told…”
He looked around, put his hand to the side of his mouth.
“…I used it myself not an hour ago. Had that Dean Thomas clean up the ponies for me.”
Asmo laughed and said, “I put a spell on the doors. No one can hear us.”
Joe took a carrot from his grooming box. He fed it to Kazam, who had long since lost his fear of Asmo and now appeared bored. When Joe looked back across the aisle, the trunk suddenly became spotless, and Asmo sat down. For a moment it looked to Joe as if Serena’s cousin hadn’t used a wand, but of course, that was impossible.
Joe picked up his brush and resumed grooming Kazam. Now that he wasn’t afraid of being obliviated, he was filled with curiosity.
“You the cousin with the big family?”
“No, that’s Bel. I just have a sister.”
“You all live out there in California?”
“More or less. I’m the only one who went to Hogwarts.”
“So what brings ye to Ireland? Serena’s not here, ye know. She had some business at Hogwarts.”
“I know; I saw her yesterday.”
“How’s she doing? She says she’s fine, but… well, what with all the terrible things that happened last year, I was never sure.”
Why did this young fella seem amused by his question? Maybe he didn’t realize just how bad it had been at Hogwarts, living so far away in America.
Asmo answered, “I think she’s okay, judging by the way she played Slughorn.”
“What’s slughorn? Is that a game?”
Asmo laughed aloud. “Yeah…. yeah, I guess you could call it that. It’s a game, and she won.”
Joe stopped brushing Kazam for a moment. “C’mon now. Tell me the truth.”
“That is the truth, straight up. Slughorn’s a professor, and Serena gave him a piece of her mind, and she got her way.”
Joe felt a little disturbed. It wasn’t like Serena to talk back to a teacher. He hoped she wasn’t going to get into trouble.
Warily, he asked, “Got her way about what?”
For the second time since Serena’s cousin had appeared, Joe felt a sense of relief when Asmo said, “Decor. Serena hates the Slytherin common room.”
That was all right, then. No one would be mad at her for wanting to spruce up the dormitories.
Joe asked, “Serena’s coming here, and you’re to meet her?”
“No, she’s going on to Antibes. Actually, I’m here to talk to Seamus.”
Joe set down the brush, choose a hoofpick, and bent over to pick up Kazam’s front foot. He called back to Asmo.
“And what would ye be wantin’ with Seamus?”
“I want him to come back to L.A. with me.”
“Today? Not a good day for that. He’s got a funeral to attend directly; brother of a friend from Hogwarts.”
“I didn’t mean today. In a few weeks.”
Joe straightened up. “He told me about the university there, but I think he wants to carry on at Hogwarts for an extra year. They’re expanding the Care of Magical Creatures program, you see.”
“This isn’t about school,” said Asmo. “It’s about a job.”
“A job, eh?” Joe bent over Kazam’s back hoof. “A summer job?”
“No, a permanent one. A career.”
Joe straightened again and moved to Kazam’s other back hoof.
“And what kind of job could he get, straight out of school and not yet taken his exams?”
“A very good one.”
Joe bent over again. “Define ‘good’.”
“Own-a-chain-of-restaurants good. Own this facility good. Own Olympic-caliber show jumpers good.”
Joe straightened and moved to Kazam’s final front hoof. He suspected that there was more — or less — to this job than Asmo was letting on.
“Well, don’t you know exactly what to say, “ he remarked. “But you’ll forgive me if I find this improbable.”
He bent over Kazam’s foot.
“I know a thing or two about America. I was just hearing a program on the news. The people are angry because university costs so much, and there’s practically nothing you can do without a university degree.”
Joe straightened reached into his grooming box for another carrot.
“And I heard that on the Wizard’s Wireless, so they weren’t talking about Muggles. They were talking about your University of Magic schools.”
Asmo casually leaned back against the wall. Joe wondered if he knew what he was doing to his fine dark suit. Then he wondered why he was wearing that suit anyway, on a Saturday, in the summer, in a stable.
Asmo said, “Oh, he has to go to school. He needs at least two degrees. But he’ll work at the same time. There’re some things you gotta learn on the job.”
“And what kind of job would this be?” asked Joe.
Asmo learned forward again, and with the air of someone confident that he was offering something desirable, he looked Joe straight in the eye.
Joe thought. The first thing that came to mind were the fellas who kept the crowds back when the Prime Minister came to town. But you didn’t need a degree for that. Then he thought of computer networks. But magical folk didn’t use computers, at least that’s what Eileen had told him. That left the private contractors that filled in when an army was stretched too thin….
“Jaysus, no!” exclaimed Joe. “Seamus just finished fighting in one wizarding war; are you telling me there’s to be another?”
Asmo looked confused. “What other war?”
“Why else would’ja need a security force?”
Joe found this surprising, and it must have shown on his face, because Asmo said, “What, you’ve never heard of that? It’s big business. My family’s all into it. We think Seamus would be stellar. You don’t think so?”
Joe said, “It’s not that I don’t like the idea, but, ye see, as far as I could ever tell, the wizarding world is practically medieval. No one talks about corporations and such, nor the kinds of things corporations worry about, like… industrial espionage and… computer hacking. They don’t have computers, nor video surveillance, nor any of those sorts of things ye read about in the business section. Y’know, in the Muggle papers. They don’t wear business suits and…. what’s up with that suit, anyway?”
Asmo looked at his jacket. “This suit? What about it?”
“It’s a Saturday. In June. And you’re in a stable.”
Asmo gave Joe a knowing grin. “I’m on the job.”
“And what exactly are ye doin’?”
Asmo threw his hands up in the air. “I’m trying to recruit your kid!”
That took a moment to sink in; then Joe was both embarrassed and amused. He laughed as he fetched Kazam’s saddle and bridle from the tack room.
“Janey Mac! I’m slow on the uptake today!”
He returned to his horse, hung the bridle on a nearby hook, and started to saddle up.
“So tell me more about this thing you have goin’. Areye tellin’ me that there are wizards working in the Muggle world?”
With a sly grin, Asmo said, “The magical world is bigger than the wizarding world.”
Joe wasn’t sure what that meant, but he was fascinated to learn that the Serpentia family had business concerns that sold products and services to Muggles. Imagine wizards who didn’t hide away in their own communities!
Once the saddle was on Kazam, Joe sat next to Asmo on the trunk as the young man described his family’s dealings in the Muggle world. There were many things Joe wanted to ask, but they were interrupted by Seamus, who called for his father as he led his horse into the stable.
“Hey, Dad! You’re up!”
Asmo stood as Seamus entered.
“Asmo!” called Seamus. “What are you doing here?”
“Waitin’ for you, dude. ‘Been talking to your Dad.”
The two young men clapped hands as Joe said, “And he’s been tellin’ me some very interestin’ stuff.”
“Indeed?” said Seamus.
“Didja know that there are wizards who do business with Muggles?”
“Well, this is the first I’m hearing of it. Why didn’t yer mam ever mention it?”
“I dunno, but you can ask her yourself; she came to watch my lesson. And you’re going to be late for yours.”
“Just have to bridle….”
Joe stood to cross the aisle, but stopped as Eileen appeared with a loud CRACK that caused him — and the horses — to jump.
“Sorry, dear,” said Eileen. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
Joe clutched his hand to his heart.
“Jaysus, Eileen! I think you’d be more careful! It’s bad enough Seamus’ friend here popped in, but you should know bet….”
His voice trailed off as Eileen shrieked and pointed her wand straight at Asmo. Her hand shook, but her voice was strong as she shouted.
“Step away from my family! Step away!”
“Mam! What are you doing?” cried Seamus.
Eileen ignored him and jabbed her wand in Asmo’s direction. He raised his hands and spoke calmly.
“I’m not armed.”
Joe was flabberghasted. “Eileen, love, don’t you know who this is?”
Never taking her eyes from Asmo, she snarled, “I know who, and what, he is!”
“I don’t think ye do! This is Serena’s cousin, Asmo. He’s a wizard from California.”
“That man is no wizard!”
“Of course he’s a wizard! He went to Hogwarts!”
Seamus stepped between Eileen and Asmo. He looked angry.
“Seamus! Get away!” shouted Eileen.
“I will, yeah! You’re makin’ a holy show of yourself! I’m not moving until you tell me why.”
Joe realized that Eileen looked a lot more scared than Asmo. In fact, Asmo didn’t look frightened at all. A hard and calculating look came over his face, making Joe wonder anew how someone so beastly managed to interact with Muggles.
Asmo slowly lowered his hands and crossed his arms over his chest. He sounded far colder than when he spoke.
“If I were you, Eileen, I’d consider my next move very carefully. This barn is full of beautiful horses. It’s also full of hay. I would hate for there to be any…. accidents.”
Joe was suddenly seized with fear. So many things to go wrong! He spoke quickly.
“Maybe it’s best if ye do go, lad, until we can clear this up.”
Without taking his eyes from Eileen, Asmo said, “Actually, Joe, I think it’s more dangerous for you right now. Why don’t you take Kazam and leave?”
“Now, see here….”
“Both of you go!” snapped Seamus.
He turned to Asmo. “Go with my dad, and I’ll talk to you later.”
Eileen shrieked, “Joe Finnegan, don’t you dare leave with that man!”
Joe was fed up. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Someone tell me what the bloody hell is going on!”
“Don’t swear, Uncle Joe!”
They all froze at the high, sweet voice of Joe’s niece, Emma, who had walked into the stable unnoticed. Joe’s heart sank; what if Emma had seen…. dammit! Eileen was still pointing her wand! Joe thought fast.
“I’m sorry, Emma,” he said, forcing a smile on his face and walking towards her. “That was rude of yer Uncle Joe. Why don’t we take Kazam out to the arena together, and ye can tell me all about yer lesson.”
He held out his hand to his niece, but she wasn’t distracted.
“Why is Aunt Eileen pointing that stick?”
Dammit! Eileen was still holding that thing!
“And who is that?” Emma pointed at Asmo.
Asmo unfolded his arms and bent down closer to Emma’s height.
“I’m Asmo. I’m a friend of….”
“Get away from her!”
A stream of scarlet light flashed from Eileen’s wand and hit Asmo on the shoulder. Seamus shouted as Asmo snarled and raised his right hand. Joe was horrified to see that his palm was filled with white fire.
“No! Don’t!” Joe shouted desperately.
But before Asmo could throw the fire, he was blasted straight up in the air, crashed into the ceiling, and fell back onto the cement in a broken heap.
“Eileen!” shouted Joe. “You didn’t kill him?”
“It wasn’t me!” said Eileen in a shaky voice. “It was Seamus.”
“It wasn’t me!” cried Seamus, kneeling by Asmo. “I don’t have a wand!”
They all looked around wildly before they noticed Emma, her little hands still up, fingers spread, as if she were pushing something away from her. Her eyes never left Asmo as she said in a small voice,
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted to put out the fire.”
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Joe knelt down to hug his niece.
“It’s all right, Emma,” he said, “We’ll call the doctor. He’ll be just fine.”
Joe looked up at Eileen, and realized that despite the weirdness of the day, he felt a strange sense of satisfaction.
“Well, then, Miss Witch,” he said. “Maybe Seamus didn’t get his magic from your side of the family after all.”