Authors: G. Norman Lippert
The story thus far…
Greetings again, dear reader! So we've come to the third book in the James Potter series, and things are about to change pretty dramatically. Are you prepared? I'd advise you to keep your wits and wands at the ready as we embark on this journey.
If you are a long-time reader, then you know the story thus far. You were there when the Alma Alerons first arrived at Hogwarts in their peculiar flying cars. You know how the new Hogwarts headmaster came to be, and what his story is. You know all about the Gremlins—including Ted Lupin's dark secret, and Petra Morganstern's tragic past. You witnessed the raising of the Wocket, the return of the Gatekeeper, and the Hogwarts all-school debate. In short, you are prepared (as much as you can be) for what is to come.
If you are new to the James Potter world, then welcome! I know that new readers are discovering these stories every day, and if you happen to be among them, let me extend my personal hope that you will enjoy these tales as much as I have. If you have not yet read "J.P. and the Hall of Elders' Crossing" or its sequel, then may I be so bold as to encourage you to explore them before continuing on here?
As Harry Potter fans, you can imagine how confused a reader might be if they jumped straight to "Prisoner of Azkaban". Similarly, if you plunge ahead into "Vault of Destinies" without the foundation of the first two James Potter stories, you will likely find yourself almost immediately confused.
In another vein, many of you know that between "Curse of the Gatekeeper" and this tale, I wrote a much shorter book called "The Girl on the Dock". This book, sometimes called (though not by me) "James Potter Two-and-a-half", is an entirely original side story featuring James' friend Petra Morganstern. Suffice it to say, much of what happened in that story heavily influences the plot of "Vault of Destinies", but fear not, dear reader: I have written the following story in such a way that "Girl on the Dock" is
required reading. I mention it only because if there is
chance that you'd like to read Petra's back story spoiler-free, you should probably do so fairly quickly (specifically, before reading chapter four, "the Dream Story"). For more information on "The Girl on the Dock", take a look at
As always, my great thanks to all of you, all over the world, who have enjoyed these stories and sent me your comments and encouragement. Without you, this book surely would not have happened.
And now, onward and upward! We have a long way to travel, and there are sure to be a lot of challenges along the way, but we're up for it, aren't we? At any rate, there's no turning back now. Constant vigilance, dear reader, for we're off to strange new lands. Here, there may well be monsters.
As Albus says, keep one hand on your wand and the other on your wallet.
thought Senator Charles "Chuck" Filmore. I can't believe this is what I have to stoop to.
He leaned out of the open glass doorway of the building and smiled winningly at the cameras positioned on the other side of Chambers Street. The normally crowded thoroughfare was cordoned off on either end, blocked with orange barricades and New York City police officers, all of whom looked bored and sullen in their dark caps and side arms. Behind the barricades, raucous crowds had gathered, waving and grinning at the cameras. That was one thing Filmore both loved and hated about this town: no matter what time of day it was, there was always a block party ready to erupt at the slightest provocation, complete with tee shirt vendors, sign wavers, and wide-eyed tourists, looking like aquarium goldfish who'd suddenly found themselves in the Great Barrier Reef.
Filmore waved left and right, showing all of his freshly whitened teeth in a huge practiced grin. Flashbulbs popped and flickered and the crowd cheered. They weren't really cheering for him, of course, and he knew it. They were cheering because his was the face currently up on the portable JumboTron television screen. It wouldn't have mattered if the face had belonged to a Bloomingdale's mannequin. That was another thing about New York crowds: they were fairly indiscriminate about the things they applauded, so long as there was a good chance they'd be seen on television doing it.
The face on the JumboTron changed. Now it belonged to the great smarmy magician, Michael Byrne. He was dressed in an open-throated black shirt, his glossy hair hanging lank around his face, framing his handsome smile. Byrne didn't grin, of course, as Filmore had. He looked impishly sly, his eyes flicking back and forth, as if he wasn't even aware of the camera that had to be (Filmore knew from experience) less than two feet from his face. Byrne was a born showman, and he was extremely persuasive, even when he wasn't saying a word. That was part of what had made him so successful as a stage magician. The crowd
to believe in his tricks. In fact, if it hadn't been for Byrne's infectious charms, insincere as they obviously were, Filmore might not have even agreed to be part of such a stunt.
"Let's talk brass tacks for a minute," Byrne had said on the day that they had first met in Filmore's office. "You're one of the rising stars of the political world, at least in New York. Everybody knows it, right? Not many other politicians have the kind of name recognition you do. Former Jets quarterback, career Marine, happily married to a prominent Broadway actress. You're poised to launch your way right to the top of the Washington mud wrestling match. You just need one little boost, a little rocket fuel to shoot you up into the media mainstream."
Filmore had disliked the man almost from the beginning, but at that point, Byrne had been talking a language he understood all too well even if he didn't approve of it. Filmore wished he could build a name for himself purely on his political record and his grasp of the needs of his constituency—for despite what many people thought, he was a smart man. He did well on the interview programs and Sunday morning talk shows, partly because of his own brand of squarejawed charm, but also because he, unlike many other senators that he could mention (but didn't), really did understand the issues that were being discussed. Despite this, however, Byrne was right. American voters didn't always vote for the best candidates. In fact, as Filmore well knew, most of them tended to cast their votes based on looks and one-liners as much as they did on qualifications and voting records. There was no point in complaining about it even if Filmore did find it occasionally depressing. The only practical choice was to acknowledge the reality of the current political world and use it to his advantage as best he could.
"You and the Chrysler Building," Byrne had said, smiling and spreading his hands. "Two New York City monoliths, together at the same time. If it works—and it will—people from coast to coast will know your name. Mine too, of course, but that's neither here nor there."
"You're proposing to vanish the Chrysler Building," Filmore had replied, leaning back in his chair and looking out over the cloudy city beyond his office window. "With me in it."
Byrne had shrugged. "What better way to cement both of our careers at the same time, right, Senator? We both know that these days, show business and politics are really just two sides of the same coin. Besides, it'll be fun."
Filmore tilted a sideways glance at Byrne. "How will you do it?"
Byrne sighed languidly. "It's magic," he answered. "Which means it's either surprisingly simple or mind-bogglingly complex. Neither answer is ever very satisfying to the viewer. So what do you say, Senator?"
Filmore had agreed, of course, albeit somewhat reluctantly. If it had required anything more than an evening's stopover in the lobby of the famed steel skyscraper, he probably wouldn't have. Looking around from his vantage point by the lobby doors, he began to get a sense that this trick was, in fact, going to be of the 'mind-bogglingly complex' variety. There were massive mirrors on swiveling stands, for instance, positioned just outside the view of the barricaded crowds. A monstrous scaffolding, nearly thirty stories tall, had been erected in front of the building. It was equipped with a skyscraper-sized curtain that could be lowered and raised on Byrne's command, giving his crews time to manage whatever complicated machinations were going to be required for the illusion. Looking at the official observation platform, half a block away, Filmore had some idea of how the trick was probably going to be accomplished. He didn't understand all of it, but he understood enough to know that the entire trick depended on countless tiny details, from sightlines and camera editing to crowd psychology and even the angle of the setting sun. In his own way, Byrne was very intelligent, although, as the man had suggested, seeing some of the complicated behind-the-scenes rigging of such a trick definitely tended to reduce one's appreciation for it.
Now that he was officially off-camera, Filmore turned and crossed the deserted lobby, entering a side door next to the security desk. There, he found a small room dominated by two soda machines, a long leather sofa and a plasma television. On the screen, a remote feed of the external cameras showed what the rest of the world was going to see. Filmore's bodyguard, John Deckham, a former fellow football player with a perfectly bald head, was seated on the sofa, watching the proceedings on the huge plasma screen with mild interest.
"Looked good," Deckham commented, nodding toward the television. "They did a close up on you waving. Very 'man of the people'."
Filmore sighed as he sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. "Feels like schtick. I hate schtick."
"Schtick makes the world go 'round," Deckham shrugged, lifting a bag of pistachios and pouring out a handful.
Filmore settled in to watch the event. On the screen, Michael Byrne raised his arms as the camera zoomed dramatically toward him, framing him against the sunset as it reflected from the city's mirrored windows.
"And now," Byrne announced, his voice amplified over the crowd, echoing grandly, "you've seen me escape from Alcatraz prison. You've witnessed my triumph over the Egyptian Sepulcher of Doom. You've watched as I've vanished a live elephant, and then an airliner, and finally a moving freight train. Now, for the first time ever, I will perform the greatest feat of illusion ever attempted. Not only will I vanish one of the greatest landmarks of the city of New York, the legendary Chrysler Building, from its very foundation: I will do so while it is occupied by your senator, a landmark himself, the honorable and respected Charles Hyde Filmore!"
On the screen, the crowd cheered again. Filmore could hear the echo of their cheers emanating from the lobby beyond. Byrne smiled triumphantly into the camera, extending his arms, palms up, exulting amidst the dying sunlight. As the crowd began to quiet again, banks of spotlights ratcheted into place, illuminating the front of the building like an enormous jewel. Byrne raised his arms, still palms up, and then dropped them. On cue, hundreds of yards of red fabric unfurled from the scaffolding that fronted the building. It poured down like water, shimmering grandly in the spotlights, and finally hit the street with an audible
. From the perspective of the television cameras, as well as the viewers on the observation platform, the curtain completely obscured the building. Standing silhouetted against the waving red fabric, Byrne lowered his head. He appeared to be in deep concentration. The crowd waited breathlessly.