Homecoming by Brennus



Summary: After four years working overseas for the shadowy Department M, a world-weary and dispirited Harry Potter returns to the land of his birth. He meets some old friends and makes some new ones, as he learns that much has changed since he left home. AU, a ‘Harry never went to Hogwarts’ story.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2015.02.17
Updated: 2015.04.22


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - The Interview
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Reunion
Chapter 3: Chapter 3 - Camden
Chapter 4: Chapter 4 - On The Streets
Chapter 5: Chapter 5 - Falling
Chapter 6: Chapter 6 - Deeper
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 - Red and Gold
Chapter 8: Chapter 8 - Changes
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 - Hugger-Mugger
Chapter 10: Chapter 10 - Walls
Chapter 11: Chapter 11 - Reconciliation
Chapter 12: Chapter 12 - Corrosion
Chapter 13: Chapter 13 - Insurrection
Chapter 14: Chapter 14 - Downwards
Chapter 15: Chapter 15 - Vision Thing


Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - The Interview

Author's Notes: I love music. Not in a ‘oh, isn’t so-and-so’s latest track great!’ kind of way. I mean in a total, bonkers, must listen to every day, worship at the feet of my musical gods, kind of way. Perhaps it’s not surprising, therefore, that when I write a story I can get caught up in the vibe of a certain band, and that can flavour the story accordingly. For instance, ‘The Thorny Rose’ series was undoubtedly my Led Zeppelin story, while ‘Hail Odysseus’ was accompanied by a soundtrack from some nasty extreme metal band with cookie monster vocals and songs about what a nice chap Satan really is.

This story? This one is my Sisters of Mercy tale: a sleazy, hip-swivelling, pimpmobile of a story.

I’m back on more familiar ground with this one, and it features some ideas that I was trying to express in my previous stories ‘The List’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Nameless Man’. I also reference classic British TV action show ‘The Professionals’, Ben Aaronovitch’s wondrous ‘Peter Grant’ series of books, and my own experiences of staggering around Camden and Soho smashed out of my tiny skull.

Arnel is back as my beta for this story and, as always, she has my most heartfelt thanks for weeding out my (numerous) errors.


Chapter 1 — The Interview



Harry sprawled across the king-sized bed, watching languidly as Martine did up the zip on her skirt. She’d been wearing that tight, grey business suit that he’d always liked, which accentuated her dangerous curves perfectly.

Reaching for her blouse which had been carefully draped over the back of a chair, she pulled it on and turned to face him. Idly, he pondered the fact that she’d been so careful about folding the garment when she’d been removing her clothing earlier that night. When they’d first started seeing each other, she would have virtually ripped her clothes off as soon as they were alone, but now everything had to be folded and hung up precisely before they could start on more pleasurable activities.

“Harry, we need to talk,” Martine announced in a firm voice as she did up the buttons on her blouse.

Harry just nodded. He had a feeling he knew what was coming, but was really not in the mood to deal with it.

“Matthieu is becoming suspicious. I think he suspects something,” she told him bluntly.

Great, it only took the idiot eighteen months to figure out that someone was screwing his wife, Harry thought sarcastically, but said nothing.

“While this… relationship, if you can call it that, has been fun, there is no way I’m going to risk my marriage over it. We’ve never made any promises to each other, and I’m not about to start now,” she continued brusquely, before her expression softened slightly. “Damn it, Harry, we can’t go on like this anyway! Before tonight, I hadn’t heard from you for over three months. I know your job takes you all over the world with virtually no notice, but you can’t just turn up at random and expect me to drop everything for you.”

“I never expected anything from you,” Harry said quietly.

“Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like that sometimes. I know you can’t talk about your work, but I’ve heard enough from you to know that what you do is very dangerous. If anything happened to you, would I ever know? Would anyone tell me? Would I see it mentioned in the newspapers? I don’t think so. Do you know what it’s like for me each time you walk away, knowing that that it might be the last time I ever see you? Then going months and months without hearing from you? I’m sorry, but I just can’t live like that anymore,” Martine exclaimed angrily, her cool, professional demeanour crumbling at last.

“So, this is it, is it?” Harry asked quietly. In truth, he’d been expecting this for a while. Every rendezvous he’d had with the beautiful woman had been slightly less passionate than the previous one. He wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if he’d discovered that he wasn’t the only young man who had been keeping her company while her husband was off playing politics. He just had no desire to try and find out.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Martine confirmed, removing her grey jacket from the back of the chair and slipping over her shoulders. All ready for a hasty escape, Harry noted.

“If that’s your decision,” Harry sighed. If he was honest with himself, he would have to admit he was more upset about the break-up then he his casual demeanour suggested, but he simply didn’t have the energy to start complaining. He had enough other problems to worry about.

“It is,” she said decisively, the façade of a powerful politician’s wife reappearing. “I’ll always treasure the time we had together, Harry, but it’s time for us both to move on.”

She turned and started to walk out of the bedroom, but paused just as she reached the door. “Will you be alright?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.

“I’m fine,” he assured her in a neutral voice.

With a final curt nod, she was gone. A few moments later, Harry heard the door of the hotel room opening and then being shut again. He let out a long sigh and rolled out of bed.

He walked over to the large window and looked out. Below him, the lights of Brussels twinkled in the dark. Over a million people lived down there, he mused, all of them oblivious to him staring down at them. Like that mattered. Like anything really mattered anymore.

Stepping back slightly, he caught sight of his own reflection in the glass. He looked tired, he realised. Tired and worn out. No twenty-two-year-old should look that world-weary and wrung-out. His face may have borne no expression, but any fool giving him more than a cursory glance would have instantly realised that he was not a happy or well contented man. He’d often been told by women that his eyes were his best feature, but tonight they just looked cold and dead.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and pondered how things had reached this state. For the last four years he’d been working as an operative for Department M, the intelligence and counter-espionage section of the International Confederation of Wizards. This highly secretive organisation had recruited him shortly after his final confrontation with Voldemort, impressed with his power and skills. Ever since he joined, his life had been one of constant training and practice, followed by long and arduous missions. It was a largely boring existence, punctuated with short bursts of frantic activity, normally involving extreme violence and danger. It was, however, the only life he knew.

And tomorrow, it could all be over.

Vaguely, he thought about getting dressed and heading home, but he reasoned that he’d already paid for this expensive hotel room for the night, and it was a damn sight more comfortable than his plain, rented flat in Strasbourg. It was late, he was tired, and he had a meeting at the Confederation’s headquarters early in the morning. He might as well sleep here.

Reaching over, he switched off the light and lay back down. The sheets were rumpled, and the room smelt of sex and Martine’s expensive perfume.

Despite his weariness, sleep was slow to come.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

With a feeling of apprehension building within him, Harry strode up the last few steps and entered the headquarters of the ICW. Like most major buildings created by wizards, it extended deep underground, with only a squat, ugly grey office block on the surface to mark its location.

Pulling open the glass doors, he walked briskly towards the reception desk, only to be waved straight through by the guard, a man Harry only vaguely recognised. Any ICW security guard worth his salt quickly learnt to identify Department M personal, if only to avoid having them present their identification in the normally crowded entry hall. It was sufficiently early in the day, however, that Harry didn’t have to worry about fighting through crowds.

Finding the lift vacant, he headed down to the sixth level. Ostensibly, this level was largely taken up by a small army of administration personnel, but tucked away behind a heavily-protected false wall was Department M.

Harry felt a slight tingle as he passed through the illusionary wall and through the multiple wards that protected the department’s nerve centre. Nearly a hundred highly-trained witches and wizards worked tirelessly in this dark and stuffy set of rooms, most having absolutely no idea what the others were doing. Operational security was practically a religion here.

With feet of lead, Harry made his way towards the office of his Head of Section. As he approached the desk of his boss’s assistant, he received an unpleasant surprise.

“Oh, Potter? Didn’t they tell you? You’re not seeing Philippe today. You’re to report to Maurice,” the woman informed him. Although her tone was bland, Harry could see the pity in her eyes. Nodding his head in understanding, he turned and made his way back the way he had come.

Maurice? Oh, shit.

Maurice Goossens was a legend in the intelligence community, despite the fact that hardly any hard facts were known about him. It was rumoured that he’d been a brilliant, but ruthless, field agent for many years, but his cool, calculating mind had soon marked him out for greater things. He’d assumed the position as Head of Department M eight years ago, and had led the organisation with crisp efficiency ever since. He’d never lost that ruthless streak, however, which meant that if Maurice wanted to see him personally, then Harry was in deep, deep shit.

Reluctantly, Harry walked back along the central corridor of the office before pausing in front of a plain, wooden door. Knocking once, he entered and was immediately confronted by the sight of Madam Kowalski, Maurice’s dower but ruthlessly efficient assistant.

Worryingly, Madam Kowalski waved him towards the glass door that served Maurice’s office without a word. Normally, one would expect to be waiting for some time to see the Department’s Head, but clearly today Harry was expected. He did his best to straighten his shoulders before rapping on the glass once with his knuckles and entering.

Harry had only been in this office once before, right at the start of his career with the Department. He’d been struck by the overwhelming blandness of the room, and little appeared to have changed since then. The walls were still painted an uninspiring magnolia colour, the furniture looked cheap and unattractive, and the single picture mounted on the wall was of some grey city scape.

Behind the plain, functional desk sat Maurice. He was an average looking man in every way: average height and build, thin brown hair and the slightly downtrodden posture that suggested a person who had spent their life in mediocrity. The only hint that Harry could detect that this appearance was a fabrication was the man’s eyes, which seemed to glitter with a strange intensity. He may look like a weary, middle-aged accountant, but Maurice Goossens was probably the most dangerous man you could ever meet.

“Ah, Agent Potter, do take a seat,” Maurice said, indicating a basic, low-backed chair situated in front of the desk. Harry sank into the uncomfortable piece of furniture with trepidation.

For the moment, Maurice said nothing. Instead, he picked up a buff-coloured folder, which Harry recognised to be a personal file, quite probably his own. As Maurice examined the file, seconds dragged into minutes, but Harry knew better than to try and interrupt the man in his contemplations.

Eventually, Maurice dropped the file back onto his desk and looked Harry directly in the eye.

“You know, Potter, I find myself in a usual position today,” he began, the Translation Spells all Department M staff used flattening out his thick Belgium accent. “I find myself being proved right about something, but deeply regretting it.”

Harry blinked. “I’m sorry?” he asked in confusion.

“Four years ago, I was approached by your mentor, Javier Dominguez. A fine man, in whom I placed a great deal of trust,” Maurice began.

It was all Harry could do not to jump at the mention of Javier’s name. Guiltily, he realised he’d not given his friend and mentor a single thought in the last year. Without him, Harry knew, he would never have made it through the Department’s rigorous training program alive, let alone become a field agent. Dominguez had vanished while on an operation in Africa two years previously. Like many of the Department’s field staff, no one ever found out exactly what had happened to him.

“Javier was extremely excited that day, I recall,” Maurice continued in a quiet voice. “He’d just met with a young English wizard who had succeeded in bringing down one of the most powerful Dark Lords the world had seen in years. He felt that wizard would be a superb asset for the Department, and should be recruited immediately.”

Maurice paused to take a sip from the cup of black coffee that had been sitting on his desk. Harry just stared at the man, wondering what was coming next.

“Of course, the Department never recruits personnel just on a single recommendation, even from someone as competent as Javier,” Maurice explained after putting his cup down. “So, we brought you here to Strasbourg and tested you. I have to tell you, Mr Potter, that after reading your psychological evaluation, I rejected your application to join the Department.”

“Oh, really?” Harry exclaimed in genuine surprise. It had always seemed to him that they’d fallen over themselves to ensure he joined. To now find out that there had been doubt about him was a shock.

“Indeed, you see, I felt you were completely unsuited to the type of work we do. Oh, that’s not to say that you’re not a powerful and skilful wizard, because you most certainly are. No, I’m referring more to your morality and ethics. You, Mr Potter, are a very forthright and opinionated young wizard. You have a strong sense of justice and are a champion of the down-trodden. All perfectly good qualities, but completely useless in an organisation such as ourselves,” Maurice explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

“So, basically you’re saying I don’t have the stomach to do your dirty work,” Harry said bitterly.

“Quite so, Mr Potter,” Maurice confirmed, ignoring Harry’s sudden anger. “I have often compared this Department with a surgeon’s scalpel. We are sharp and cruel, but we need to be if we are to cut out the cancerous growth of undesirables across the globe. I make no apologies for the fact that we occasionally have to take strong and decisive action, even if that action results in the death of innocents. It’s an old argument; is it justified to take the life of one innocent if it saves the lives of countless others? An old argument, but one I firmly believe I know the answer to. Yes, it’s completely justified. In my life, I’ve seen murder and genocide committed on a horrendous scale, Mr Potter, and if I have to shed the blood of a few guiltless people to prevent such horrors occurring again, I will do so without remorse.”

Harry sat in silence and pondered the man’s words. He understood what was being said to him, he really did, but he also believed that in most cases there was another way. It may not always be the safest or most expedient way, but it was always the right path, in his book. Harry looked up to see Maurice looking at him with a faint smile, like he knew exactly what Harry had been thinking.

“The moment I read your evaluation, I knew you would never truly be comfortable doing what needed to be done. Oh, I knew that you would rationalise things and always strive to try and find an acceptable compromise, but you would never react sharply and decisively. You, Agent Potter, will always be the blunt knife that leaves traces of the cancer still festering,” he said decisively.

“Then why was I recruited?” Harry demanded. In truth, he could not argue with anything that Maurice said, even if he felt angry at having his beliefs so glibly dismissed.

“Simply, because I allowed Javier to change my mind. He convinced me that you were a young wizard, and that we had gotten you early enough that we could train you effectively. Your sheer magical power and undisputed bravery were large factors, too. Sadly, I now feel that my first instincts about you were indeed correct. Tell me about Istanbul,” Maurice asked suddenly.

Harry jumped as if he’d been slapped. He’d known the question would be coming, but it was still like a knife in his heart.

“I screwed up,” he said simply. “I disobeyed direct orders and it all nearly ended in disaster.”

“You did indeed, as you so succinctly put it, screw up. What I am truly interested in, however, is why. Your orders were quite clear, to terminate this wizard, Uzay Demir, yet you failed to do so. Why is that?” Maurice asked intently.

For a second, Harry considered lying, but immediately realised it was futile. Maurice wouldn’t have asked the question unless he already knew the answer.

“I met his daughter,” Harry said, purposely avoiding his superior’s gaze.

“I see,” Maurice replied. “I surmised that you identified yourself with the young lady and, being an orphan yourself, could not bring yourself to inflict that fate on her, yes?”

“True enough, I guess,” Harry confirmed. The young girl had been truly beautiful. Although she must have only been four or five years old, her large, dark eyes had captivated him, and pulled at his heart-strings ruthlessly. He remembered her terrified look when she’d stumbled upon them. Harry, at that exact moment, had been on the verge of killing her father, not that the man didn’t deserve it. Death was almost too good for that psychopath. But to the little girl, Uzay hadn’t been a ruthless killer; he’d simply been her father. One pleading look from her had been enough to stay his hand.

“You realise, of course, the consequences your actions had?” Maurice asked bluntly. “Not only did you nearly get yourself killed, you ruined the entire operation. Six months of undercover work wasted, an angry Turkish Ministry howling in protest and, worst of all, the Muggle authorities involved. To say you screwed up, Agent Potter, would be a major understatement!”

“So, what happens now?” Harry asked reluctantly.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Maurice said blandly. “I can’t risk sending you out on further operations as you have proved yourself unreliable. Unfortunately, due to your extensive knowledge of restricted information and involvement in previous sensitive tasks, I can’t just simply sack you, either. The Salem incident alone would be enough to ensure that. You know how those Americans are about ICW staff operating on their soil. No, we’re going to have to find another option for you.”

Harry felt a cold stab of fear. He’d heard rumours of what happened to operatives who couldn’t cut it anymore. Total Obliviation was one of the nicer options available, apparently. He was damned if he was going to let that happen to him.

“Fortunately for you, Agent Potter, you still have some powerful friends,” Maurice said, causing Harry to look up at him in surprise.

“Powerful friends? I didn’t know I had any friends left, let alone powerful ones,” Harry snorted.

“Come, come, you must remember Kingsley Shacklebolt? He is, after all, the current British Minister for Magic,” Maurice prompted.

“Of course, I remember him,” Harry replied. “I’ve known him for years. In fact, along with Alastor Moody, he is one of the main people responsible for my combat training. Without him, I doubt I would have ever gotten close to Voldemort, let alone taken him down. I’m surprised he remembers me, though. I would have thought he’d have more important things to worry about.”

“Oh, he remembers you quite vividly,” Maurice confirmed. “In fact, a few days ago I took the liberty of visiting the Minister in England, purely to discuss you. He was most distressed to learn of your difficulties, and asked me to pass on his regards to you.”

“That’s… very kind of him,” Harry replied carefully, unclear where the conversation was going.

“I mentioned to him that I felt you would be unable to continue working for the Department. He understood completely, and suggested an alternative position for you within the British Ministry,” Maurice explained.

“The Ministry?” Harry exclaimed in surprise. “Doing what? Working as an Auror, perhaps?”

“Oh, dear me, no. That would be a terrible waste of your experience and training,” Maurice said dismissively. “No, Shacklebolt maintains a small, secretive unit that reports directly to his office. He formed it shortly after he took up his post as Minister, primarily to prevent the rise of any future Dark Lords. The unit’s mandate is quite sweeping, and quite challenging, I understand. With your level of training and field experience, however, I think you would fit right in.”

“Wouldn’t I have the same problems there that I have here?” Harry demanded, not quite sure what to think about the suggestion.

“I very much doubt it,” Maurice shrugged. “Although Minister Shacklebolt is a firm and decisive leader, he still has the soul of an Auror. This unit of his works very much to the letter of the law, even if they push right up against the boundaries of what is legal. I very much doubt you will suffer the same challenges to your ethics with them that you so evidently do with this Department.”

“What exactly would I be doing?” Harry asked, his interest growing.

“Essentially, the unit is an intelligence gathering and monitoring organisation. They’re constantly on the look-out for the rise of dissident groups, hostile foreign agencies and any other direct threats to the office of the Minister. They’re also directly responsible for the protection of Shacklebolt, beyond the protection afforded by the Aurors and other sections of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Maurice explained.

A thought occurred to Harry. “Why?” he asked brusquely. “Why would I be allowed to walk away from the Department like this? I’ve never heard of any other operative being allowed to leave in this manner.”

“Several reasons,” Maurice conceded. “Firstly, your name still carries some political power behind it. As much as the Department wanted that influence and power when we recruited you, we now find it’s a liability when we come to… terminate… your service. Secondly, this is a good option for us. By having you report directly to the British Minister for Magic, you are placed in a situation where operation security is paramount. This protects us as well as the British Ministry. We will, of course, require a number of Unbreakable Vows from you to ensure the Department’s secrets are protected, but nothing too onerous. Finally, I actively sought out this position for you because I felt that I owed it to you. If it wasn’t for my weakness four years ago, you would never have been put in the situation you were on that fateful night in Istanbul. I’m not a man who tolerates errors in others, so for myself to allow such a thing to occur is completely unacceptable. I was compelled, therefore, to fix my previous mistake.”

Harry stared at the man in surprise. For the legendary Maurice Goossens to admit that he’d been in error was one thing, but for him to actively intercede on behalf of one of his agents was another, entirely. Suddenly, Harry began to realise just how lucky he was.

“I don’t know what to say,” he began lamely.

“You don’t need to say anything,” Maurice interrupted, “other than to confirm that you are happy to take the position with the British Ministry.”

“Yes, I do,” Harry agreed before smiling wryly, “not that I have much choice, I suspect.”

Maurice returned his smile. “No, Mr Potter, you don’t,” he confirmed. “Nevertheless, I think this will be a good opportunity for you. I suspect that your new job will allow you to lead a much more normal life than you would have had here with us. I imagine that would be extremely attractive to you, someone who has never really had the chance to be normal.”

“No, no, I’ve not,” Harry confirmed rather sadly. “So, what happens now?”

“You are to report to the main Ministry of Magic building in London at nine a.m. on the fourteenth, that’s one week from today. That will give you a chance to get your affairs in order, hopefully. If you see Madam Kowalski next, she will begin processing the paperwork relating to your transfer.”

Taking this as his cue to leave, Harry stood. Maurice also stood and offered his hand.

“I sincerely hope that things work out better for you in England, Mr Potter,” he said as they shook.

“Me, too,” Harry agreed fervently, noting the sudden change in his title. “Thank you for all your help, sir. I really do appreciate all you’ve done for me.”

Receiving only a curt nod in reply, Harry turned and left the room. Madam Kowalski was waiting for him, and had a small stack of forms for him to complete. Two hours later, Harry walked out of the building an ex-Department M agent. He knew full well how unique a person that made him.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The next morning found Harry shifting through his meagre possessions in his flat. Initially, he’d felt that a week was an unrealistically short period of time to put his affairs here on the continent in order, but once he’d started thinking about it, he realised, if anything, it was over generous.

Although he technically had to give two months’ notice to quit on his flat, in practice Madam Babineaux had simply agreed that he could pay a full month’s rent and hand in the keys at the end of the week. As most of the furniture came with the flat, he didn’t have to worry about that, either.

He was rather distressed to find that the sum total of his possessions fitted neatly into two medium sized boxes, which could easily be shrunk down and fit into his pocket without any problems. He’d rented this flat for nearly four years, but he realised that it was never truly a home to him. He’d never got round to putting pictures on the walls, or dotted little ornaments or knick-knacks around the place. The one plant he’d ever bought in an effort to brighten up the place had died several years before, and the pot it had been planted in was still standing on the windowsill.

Two boxes. That was what his life boiled down to.

He’d briefly thought about letting Martine know he was leaving, but quickly dismissed the idea. There just didn’t seem any point. It was with a slight sense of disgust that he realised that the only other person that he really needed to say goodbye to was Bruno, the bartender at the small bar-cum-bistro that he frequented between missions. Even he would probably miss Harry’s generous tips more than anything else.

Depressed, he decided to head over to the bar to drown his sorrows. Although spring, the weather was overcast and dark, and specks of rain hit his face as he left his apartment building. It was a perfect backdrop to his sombre mood.

When he reached the bar, he found that Bruno wasn’t even working that night. Ordering himself a beer, Harry perched himself on a stool and propped himself up against the bar. It occurred to him that tonight, for once, he could drink as much as he liked without fear that he would suddenly receive a summons to report for duty. With that in mind, he took a long swig from his glass of beer, and tried to relax.

Did he really want to return to England, he wondered? At the time, the offer to join the Department four years previously had seemed a marvellous opportunity to get away from everything. Although the Ministry had done a terrific job of keeping his involvement in the defeat of Voldemort largely a secret, Harry was still cursed with the title of The Boy Who Lived. He would, no doubt, be cursed to be judged for the rest of his life on the events of that night back in 1981. Sirius had been adamant that Harry was never bothered by any attention from the press while growing up, which was one of the reasons he never went to Hogwarts, but he was still a legend in Britain, albeit a reclusive one.

But that wasn’t the main reason for his reluctance to return to the land of his birth. There were just too many bad memories associated with the place. He still had nightmares about the night the Death Eaters had managed to breech the protections around their home at Grimmauld Place. They had managed to fight them off, but not before his godfather had died trying to protect him, along with a sizable chunk of the Order of the Phoenix. It was the death blow to the organisation that had already been reeling from the death of its creator and leader, Albus Dumbledore. Harry had been left with a handful of friends, a burnt-out house, and no clear plan on how to defeat Voldemort. The fact that in the end he’d succeeded had been a near miracle.

That gave him cause for thought. Grimmauld Place would probably be totally uninhabitable. To Harry’s knowledge, no one had been in the place for years and certainly no effort had been made to repair the damage. Technically, he still owned a house in Godric’s Hollow, but that was likely to be in even worse shape. No, he’d just have to book himself into a hotel until he sorted out some accommodation.

Maurice’s words kept coming back to him as he drank. Apparently, he’d have the chance to lead a normal life, whatever that was. Harry had never been normal, and he strongly doubted that he ever would be. But still, the idea was kind of appealing. After all, the section he would be joining sounded more like a branch of the Law Enforcement Department than a special operations unit. Perhaps it would allow him to sample normality a little. He might have the opportunity to get himself a proper place to live and actually spend some time there. Perhaps, if he was really lucky, he might actually develop some kind of social life. Maybe even a regular girlfriend, and one that didn’t need to return to her suspicious husband at the end of each evening.

After downing the last of his beer and ordering another, Harry pondered that idea. Could it possibly be that simple? Just rock up to the British Ministry, start his new job and actually get a life? He severely doubted it, as things just never seemed to work out like that for him. Still, the image was attractive…

With a faint smile on his lips, Harry took a sip of his second beer. Maybe, just maybe, this new job could be considered a golden opportunity. He knew Kingsley Shacklebolt well, and, as long as the man hadn’t been corrupted by becoming a politician, he doubted that any unit he was in charge of would stoop to the kind of ruthless and unethical practices that had so upset him in his present role. For once, perhaps, he could do a job that he was actually proud to do.

Suddenly feeling more hopeful, Harry took another healthy swig of his lager. Even if the job didn’t turn out to be all that he hoped, it had to be better than the situation he had just left. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he should do his best to enjoy it, starting tonight.

Harry sat back on his stool and looked around. He almost groaned when he realised that he had subconsciously picked a seat that was protected on three sides by walls and the bar, and that also allowed him to surreptitiously monitor everyone who entered or left the bistro. Clearly, he was still thinking like an operative.

Sighing, he took another drink from his glass. He suspected that alcohol was making him a little maudlin, but he really didn’t have any better plan than to sit on his stool and get drunk. Having already packed up his meagre belongings, his flat seemed even less welcoming than normal. At least sitting here in the bistro he was among other people, even if he had no desire to interact with any of them.

Letting his gaze pass lazily across the room, his eyes fell on a young couple eating at a small table near the front window. They were probably about his age, both relatively attractive and well-dressed. They were obviously enchanted by each other, and exchanging those longing looks and gentle touches that young lovers always share. To them, the rest of the world simply didn’t exist at that moment, so caught up in each other they were.

Jealously, Harry thought of Martine and his affair with the beautiful brunette. There had never been any tender moments between them like the young couple shared. It had been a relationship based purely on physical need and expedience. A casual association that they could pick up or leave as required.

Harry turned in his seat and resolutely stared at the mirror behind the bar. He was glad that his own reflection was obscured by the assorted bottles that were placed there. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to look into his own eyes at that exact moment.

It was at that moment that he realised that returning to England was not merely desirable, it was absolutely essential. He couldn’t keep living his life this way, or he’d just end up an empty shell. A burned-out, emotionless husk that lived in the shadows. He’d lost so much already in his short life that he’d be damned if he gave up his soul, too.

Signalling the barman for another beer, Harry made a plan of action. Tonight, he would get very, very drunk. After all, there were no dangerous missions awaiting him in the morning or enemy agents lurking in the shadows. For once, he was free to do what he wanted. Tomorrow, he would probably spend most of the day in bed. He had no reason to get up and, heaven knows, he had several months’ worth of sleep to catch up on. That, he suspected, would be the pattern for the rest of the week.

By the weekend, however, he would return to the land of his birth. He had little idea what his new job would entail, or what exactly was expected of him. He’d lost track of the few people he’d known back in England and was a little dubious about how the near-mythical Boy Who Lived would be received after all this time.

But one thing was abundantly clear to him: anything was better than this shit.

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Reunion

Author's Notes: I would just like to say that you’re getting this chapter earlier than expected due to the fact that I’ve had to stay home today and wait for an engineer due to my boiler breaking down for the third time in about a month. Think of me and my frozen fingers as I hunch over the keyboard, trying to type this.

Some familiar faces crop up in this chapter, and maybe one or two of them in unusual roles, or perhaps positions is a better word. Ahem.

Huge thanks to Arnel for beta work and correcting me when I managed to get the layout of the Ministry of Magic building upside-down.


Chapter 2 — Reunion



London really hadn’t changed much. He’d arrived back the previous day and booked himself into a mid-priced hotel that was functional, if rather generic. He’d chosen the place purely because it was a ten minute walk to Whitehall and, more specifically, the Ministry of Magic’s Headquarters which was located beneath it.

He’d awoken early and taken the opportunity to have a walk beside the Thames before reporting for duty. The city was its usual bustling self with crowds of grim-faced workers, all hurrying to get to their place of employment, clogging up the paths. He bought himself a cup of tasteless coffee from a small stall and sat and watched the brown waters flow past him.

It definitely felt odd to be home, he mused. He’d lived in London for the greater part of his life, ever since his godfather had rescued him from the wreckage of his parent’s home when he was just a toddler. At first, they had lived in Sirius’s small flat in Chelsea, but when he’d inherited the title of Lord Black upon the death of his father, Sirius had unceremoniously banished his elderly mother to a small property in Wales and taken over the family’s main residence, 12 Grimmauld Place. It was in that Islington house that Harry had grown up.

Thinking about the house made him realise that he should probably visit the place sometime, but wasn’t certain that he could face seeing it in ruins. The Death Eaters had been very thorough in their destructiveness. The fire damage to the lower floors in particular were something he had no wish to see, and as for the ruined first floor landing… well, he had no desire to revisit the place Sirius had died. Better to visit him at the Black’s family plot in Highgate Cemetery, although that, Harry realised guiltily, was something he hadn’t done in a long while.

Sighing, he drank that last of his coffee and threw the paper cup into a nearby bin. Following the river north for a short while, he turned into Northumberland Avenue, before bearing left onto Whitehall Place. Skirting around the large, greyish-white blocks of Government office buildings, he headed down a little-used side-street. To his indignity, today he had to enter the Ministry by the visitor’s entrance.

After entering the Ministry via an abandoned red telephone box that someone had obviously recently taken a piss in, Harry had the further annoyance of having to report to the security guard in the Atrium. The guard weighed and noted his wand carefully, while sniggering at the badge Harry had been forced to wear that stated he was a ‘New Starter’. The man’s rather condescending attitude made Harry grind his teeth together, but he suspected that hospitalising the prat wouldn’t be an auspicious start to his first day.

Eventually, he was waved on and he gratefully made his way to the lifts. He’d been instructed to report directly to the Minister for Magic’s office, so he selected the first level and took the short ride up.

Exiting the lift, he was mildly surprised at the opulence of the place. A thick, purple carpet covered the floor and all the fittings appeared to be coated in gold-leaf. Several doors were visible, all of which were made of gleaming mahogany. The whole place was deathly quiet and smelt of furniture polish. Harry instantly felt uncomfortable here.

Squaring his shoulders, he marched forward until he came to the end of the corridor. The polished door in front of him had a plaque mounted on it that proclaimed that this was the office of the Minister for Magic. As was his habit, Harry knocked once and entered. He found himself in a small outer-office which boasted a desk behind which sat a rather attractive witch with blond hair and an ample bosom. She looked up as Harry entered.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a distant voice.

“Yes, my name is Harry Potter. I was told to report here,” Harry announced politely.

“Oh, of course! The Minister is expecting you, Mr Potter,” the witch exclaimed, suddenly much more welcoming. “If you would like to come with me, I’ll take you through.”

The witch leapt up from behind her desk and motioned for Harry to follow her. This at least gave him the opportunity to admire her shapely backside as it swayed in front of him. It must be a Ministerial privilege to get a receptionist like her, he decided.

She led him around the corner to another mahogany door. The witch knocked softly and opened the door slightly, poking her head into the room. Harry heard her announce him before she retreated to allow him access through the doorway. She smiled brightly at him as he passed, revealing a set of perfect, pearly teeth. He smiled back, but found himself rather unimpressed by the young witch. He preferred his women with a bit more character; this girl was just too perfect, like she’d just been created by some beauty-pageant obsessed Frankenstein.

No sooner had he entered the room than he heard a deep, rumbling laugh. He looked up to see the Minister himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt, rising from behind his desk with a look of merriment on his face.

“Harry Potter, my friend! It’s wonderful to see you again,” the man boomed, striding towards Harry with his hand outstretched.

“Hello, Minister, it’s good to see you, too,” Harry replied, gripping the man’s large hand firmly.

“Pah, what’s with this Minister nonsense?” he demanded. “I’ve known you since you were a little boy, Harry, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten my name.”

“Sorry, Kingsley,” Harry apologised. “I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Working at the ICW Headquarters for so long tends to make you approach everyone quite formally.”

“Well, we’ll have none of the rubbish here,” Kingsley insisted. “Come and take a seat, my friend. Would you like a drink? Tea? Coffee?”

“A coffee would be nice,” Harry admitted. “I bought a cup from a stall next to the river and really wished I hadn’t.”

Kingsley gave a deep, reverberating laugh. “You’ve been away too long if you’ve forgotten to stay away from that muck they serve up to the tourists,” he laughed. “Lavender? Could you bring in some coffee for us, please?”

“Right away, Minister,” the blond witch confirmed and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

“Lovely girl, and a surprisingly good secretary, too,” Kingsley confirmed. “Well, sit yourself down, Harry, and let’s talk. Merlin, it’s good to see you again.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, taking the chair in front of Kingsley’s large and impressive desk.

“I have to confess, when I was approached by Maurice Goossens last week, I was overjoyed to hear that you were looking to return to Britain,” Kingsley announced. “You’ve been away too long.”

“Did Maurice explain the circumstances behind my return?” Harry asked cautiously.

“He did,” Kingsley confirmed, turning serious. “I’ll be truthful: I’ve never liked some of the methods practiced by your former employers, Harry. If half of what I’ve heard is true, then they make it common practice to cross the line into illegal and unconstitutional behaviour. How can any government expect its people to obey its laws if it chooses to ignore them itself?”

“That’s a question I regularly asked myself,” Harry admitted quietly.

“Knowing you as I do, I’m not surprised,” Kingsley smiled. “When I heard you’d been recruited by them, I had serious misgivings, but I understood your desire to get away from England. I did doubt that you would be comfortable with the Department, however.”

Harry was about to reply, but was interrupted by Lavender bringing in the coffee. Harry again smiled politely as she placed a china cup of black coffee in front of him. She beamed at him, before hurriedly leaving the room. Looking up, Harry just managed to catch the glint in Kingsley’s eyes as the young woman left. He quickly took a sip of his coffee to hide the smirk on his lips. He’d clearly been right about Kingsley enjoying certain ‘Ministerial privileges’.

“Anyway, I’m delighted to have you back home,” the big man said quickly, perhaps realising that he’d been staring at his secretary’s shapely arse too long. “I’m sure you’re going to find your new job much more to your liking.”

“I was told a little about what I’d be doing, but I would like a few more details,” Harry requested.

“Of course, but, if you don’t mind, I’ll leave it to your new boss to go into detail. Briefly put, I formed the section shortly after I was voted into the position of Minister. It occurred to me that Voldemort had been able to build up a power-base far too easily, and that we needed to put in place an organisation to prevent some other maniac from doing the same thing again,” Kingsley explained.

“So, I’ll be essentially on the look-out for any new wannabe Dark Lords?” Harry asked, thinking that the whole idea was pretty sensible.

“Mostly,” Kingsley clarified with a smile. “The section’s remit does include a number of other roles; VIP protection, back-up for the Aurors in difficult cases, unusual surveillance tasking, that sort of thing. Knowing your skills, Harry, you’ll be a major asset to the section.”

“Does this section actually have a proper name?” Harry enquired, realising that he hadn’t heard it referred to in any other terms.

“No, we just call it ‘the section’. Officially, it’s not even part of the DMLE, as such, but is controlled and paid for directly from this office. As the section only has about a dozen people working for it, it doesn’t strain my budget too badly. Don’t think of asking for a pay rise any time soon, though,” the big man laughed.

Harry grinned. “So, who is my new boss?”

“Ah, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a familiar face: Dedalus Diggle,” Kingsley said.

“Dedalus? Really?” Harry said in surprise. “You put him in charge of the section?”

“Don’t underestimate him,” Kingsley admonished him lightly. “I know Minerva never thought much of him, but Dedalus is a genius at this sort of thing. He knows how to think outside the box, and is extremely efficient at organising a team such as this. I think you’ll enjoy working with him.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Harry nodded, not totally convinced but willing to suspend any misgivings for the moment. “Anyone else work for the section that I would know?”

“Oh, I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but I think there’ll be a few familiar faces about,” Kingsley grinned broadly.

Knowing he would get little further information out of the man, Harry just drank his coffee. The Ministerial budget also apparently ran to proving good quality stuff, too. Relaxing back in his chair, Harry glared at the Minister’s obvious mirth. Something was tickling Kingsley’s funny bone, and, whatever it was, it irritated Harry.

“So, your secretary, is she a good shag, then?” he asked just as Kingsley raised his cup to his lips.

The sight of the Minister for Magic spitting half of his coffee over himself brightened Harry’s day no end.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Just down this way, Mr Potter,” Lavender said, leading Harry down a long corridor. “The section is located next to the Administration Services office, and across from Misuse of Muggle Artifacts.”

Harry trailed behind the shapely blonde, trying to avoid staring at her backside too much. Kingsley had been suitable outraged at the suggestion of any improper behaviour with the young woman, but Harry had known the man far too long to be fooled. When Minister Shacklebolt asked Miss Lavender to take something down, you could bet it wasn’t a memo or letter he was referring to.

“This is it,” Lavender said brightly, and knocked once on an unmarked door before pushing it open. She then stood back so Harry could enter.

“Thanks for all your help,” Harry said with a friendly smile.

“My pleasure. If you need anything else at all, do let me know,” the attractive woman smiled, before heading back the way she came. Harry paused a moment to admire her retreating form, before stepping into the office.

The room he’d entered was a reasonably large space, but appeared smaller than it actually was due to all the clutter it contained. At least half a dozen desks were crammed into an area that probably should have held half that number, and filling cabinets and cupboards lined the walls. Notice boards and wanted posters ensured that the unattractive green colour the room had been painted in could hardly be seen. There was only one other person present at the moment, and Harry instantly recognised the small man who had leapt to his feet as soon as he had entered.

“Harry Potter!” Dedalus Diggle cried, rushing over to shake his hand. “How delightful to see you again, truly it is!”

“Good to see you, too,” Harry smiled. Dedalus didn’t seem to have changed much since Harry had last seen him, save perhaps for a few more grey hairs. He still wore clothes that any self-respecting Victorian gentleman would think were slightly out of date, and still had an excitable, breathless way about him. Despite his diminutive size, Harry remembered Dedalus as an able fighter and a good man to have at your side.

“Do come in and make yourself at home, my dear fellow,” Dedalus said, gesturing for Harry to take a seat at one of the cramped desks. “I’m afraid everyone is out and about at present, but your new partner should be here soon. You’ve rather caught us on the hop; we thought you’d be longer with Kingsley than you actually were.”

“I think he decided to get me out of his office quickly after I made a few suggestive comments about him and his secretary,” Harry chuckled. “I think he had a bit of a guilty conscience.”

“Ah, the lovely Miss Brown. A most able assistant, I’m told. Why, I understand she can type nearly three words a minute. Some of them are even spelt correctly, too!” Dedalus grinned.

Harry burst out laughing, but his attention was suddenly diverted by the door to the office being thrown open and a tall, angry woman striding in. She fixed Harry with a steely eye and scowled at him.

“Potter! You worthless piece of crap! So you’ve come crawling back to Britain, have you? The rest of Europe finally realised what an arsehole you are, have they?” she snapped.

“What the…” Harry mumbled, rather shocked by the verbal assault from a woman he would have sworn he’d never met before.

“Don’t give me that, you vile wiper of other people’s bottoms! I blow my nose at you, you so called Boy Who Lived. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” the woman spat, now strangely talking with a French accent.

Harry stared at her in amazement before a smile began to creep onto his face. As he slowly rose from his seat, the woman began to change. She shrank a good two inches, her hair turned from jet-black to a spiky blond colour, and her face morphed into an attractive heart-shape. She grinned at Harry impishly.

“So, are you going to come and give me a hug or are you just going to stand there admiring my beauty?” the woman smirked.

“Dora!” Harry cried and leapt towards her. He quickly gathered her in his arms and spun her round.

“Ooof! Put me down, you big lug,” she laughed.

“Bloody hell, it’s been years since I saw you! You’re looking great!” Harry exclaimed as he lowered her to her feet.

“Naturally, but I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Harry James Potter! Don’t you know how to write a bloody letter? I must have sent a dozen to you and never got a reply,” Dora scowled.

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” Harry replied, genuinely regretful. “I was kind of out of contact for long periods of time. I know that’s no excuse, and that I should have replied once I’d got home from field operations, but… I don’t know. I guess I was just trying to run away from everything, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Dora said sadly, reaching up to stroke his hair. “I hid myself away for a long time, too, so I guess I can’t be too angry with you. Maybe if you take me out and buy me a few expensive dinners I might forgive you.”

“Deal!” Harry laughed, pleased that she wasn’t too angry with him. “But what are you doing here? I thought you were still an Auror.”

“Miss Tonks here has been working for the section for over a year, now,” Dedalus interjected. “She’s an asset to the unit and, you’ll probably be pleased to hear, your new partner.”

“What? That’s great!” Harry said joyously.

“Just think, it will be you and me working together again, sexy,” Dora grinned. “The bad guys won’t know what’s hit them.”

“Brilliant,” Harry smiled.

He’d know the feisty Nymphadora Tonks as long as he could remember. Although nearly seven years older than him, she’d been a familiar face around Grimmauld Place as he was growing up, and had often played with him when he was small. As he grew up, she’d been his first crush and he’d lusted after her as his teenage hormones ran out of control. Sadly for Harry, Tonks, or Dora as he normally referred to her, had been more into older men than younger ones. That, sadly, had ended badly for her.

“Well, what are we standing here yakking for?” Dora grinned impishly. “Let’s hit the streets. I work mostly in the Muggle parts of London, as I seem to fit in better. You’d be surprised just how many wizards and witches went and lived with the Muggles after the last war. Harder to keep tabs on them, you see.”

“Ahem, Miss Tonks? Not so fast,” Dedalus interrupted. “I haven’t even begun Mr Potter’s induction into the section yet.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, boss,” Dora said contritely, and sat herself down in the nearest available chair.

“Right,” Dedalus said, turning to look at Harry. “Now, Mr Potter, your role here is to go out, find trouble, and then put a stop to it. There, induction over! You and Tonks can toddle off, now.”

“What, that’s it?” Harry gasped. His induction training to Department M had lasted six months, so he was rather shocked at the casual attitude he found here.

“Harry, I make it my policy to only employ people who have a nose for finding trouble. That, my young friend, describes you to a tee! I’ll let Tonks fill you in on all the little details,” Dedalus smirked.

Dora laughed and leapt up out of her seat. “Hey, that was longer than my induction took,” she laughed. “Come on, Harry; to the Tonksmobile!”

And with that, Harry found himself dragged out of the office by Dora and down the corridor. She wrapped her arm around his and pulled him close as they walked.

“Damn, it’s good to see you,” she smiled. “I’ve really missed you, you know. Mum’s going to be ecstatic when she hears you’re back.

Harry groaned. “Oh, bugger. I never wrote to your mum, either. Andy’s going to kill me, isn’t she?”

“Oh, she won’t kill you. Maim you a little bit, perhaps, but definitely not kill you,” Dora smirked.

“How’s your mum been doing?” Harry asked warily. Andromeda had always been one of his favourite visitors to Grimmauld Place, and she and Sirius were close friends as well as cousins. She’d always taken the opportunity to spoil Harry outrageously whenever she saw him, and Harry always thought of her as a favourite aunt. He’d been distressed to learn of the death of her husband, Ted, during the last war, which had devastated poor Andy. It had been especially hard on Dora, who was still reeling from the death of her fiancé during the Grimmauld Place massacre.

“Oh, she’s okay, I guess,” Dora replied, a little guardedly for Harry’s comfort. “You should go and see her soon. She’ll love to get a visit from you.”

“Is she still living over in Bedfordshire?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, she’s still in the family home at Ampthill. She just couldn’t bear to give the old place up,” she replied.

Harry looked at his friend closely and could see a slight tightening around her eyes. He suspected all was not well with her mother and it caused him a pang of guilt. Andromeda and Nymphadora were practically family, and yet he’d virtually forgotten about them in recent years. Mind you, forgetting about the past had been pretty high on his agenda ever since he’d left England, so perhaps it was to be expected. Squaring his jaw, he resolved to go and see Andy as soon as possible.

“So, where are we off to?” Harry asked, determined to shift to more comfortable subjects.

“Well, I had planned to take you around my patch and introduce you to a few of my contacts, but you’re going to have to go home and change first. Honestly, Harry, when did you start dressing like a complete stiff?” Dora tutted, eyeing his smart suit in disgust.

“Hey, I didn’t know what to expect today. I thought I’d be in meetings and interviews all the time,” he replied defensively.

“Fair enough, but I can’t take you out looking like that! You might as well write ‘Copper’ or ‘Ministry Nark’ on your forehead and have done with it. And what happened to your hair? I used to love those long messy locks of yours. I hate to say this, Harry, but you look positively boring, like you work for a bank, or something!” she gasped in mock horror. “Let’s go and get you into something a bit more stylish. Where are you staying at the moment?”

“Some nondescript hotel just the other side of Westminster Bridge,” Harry shrugged.

“What? Well, that won’t do! I’ve got a spare bedroom at my gaff, you can come and bunk with me until you sort something out,” she declared decisively, before an evil grin came onto her face. “I should warn you though; I’m a bit casual about what I wear when I’m relaxing. Or what I don’t wear, I should say.”

“Oh, I’d have to face the horror of a half-naked Nymphadora, would I? I don’t think my heart could stand it!” Harry chuckled.

“You’d love it, you filthy boy,” Dora leered.

“Okay, you’ve convinced me,” Harry grinned. “Let’s go and check me out of Chateau Cockroach. Where is your flat anyway?”

“Camden, near the lock, actually,” she smiled. “It’s a really great place; you’ll love it.”

“Blimey, a place up there must cost a few Knuts,” Harry noted.

“Sirius was very generous in his will,” Dora replied quietly.

Harry said no more for the moment. His godfather had indeed been very generous to everyone he’d been close to in his will, partly, Harry suspected, to ensure the less respectable members of the Black family ended up with nothing. Harry himself had received a sizable pile of gold, most of which still sat in his vault in Gringotts, and 12 Grimmauld Place itself. Not that he’d set foot back in the house since the funeral, though.

With both of them sharing a reflective silence, Harry let himself be led to the lift and eventually down to the Atrium. Rather than heading to one of the fireplaces that were linked to the Floo network, Dora guided him past them and towards a door, tucked away at the end of a long, black corridor. When she opened it, Harry was surprised to see it led into a large garage area.

Blinking in surprise, he looked about. Although the garage had parking for at least thirty vehicles, there were probably less than a dozen cars in the place. The vehicles themselves were of a wide variety of models and ages, some of them looking like they should have had a man holding a red flag walking in front of them while they were driven. On the other end of the spectrum, a shiny red Ferrari was parked by itself in one corner.

“That’s Kingsley’s,” Dora grinned, noting the direction Harry was looking.

“Wow, he’s really living the life, isn’t he? A plush office, hot wheels and a hot, big-titted secretary. He’s not doing badly for an ex-Auror,” Harry noted, but there was no malice in his voice.

“I guess not, but he works hard for his little luxuries,” Dora told him. “He’s the best Minister in living memory, perhaps even longer. Kingsley runs a tight ship.”

“I guess,” Harry nodded. “So, which car is yours? Wait, don’t tell me! It’s that carriage over there, isn’t it? The one that looks a bit like a hearse. You always were a Goth girl at heart, weren’t you?”

“Very funny. This is my car over here,” she said dragging him to one side. “Behold, the mighty Tonksmobile! The most awesome thing on four wheels!”

Harry looked at the silver/grey Volkswagen Golf in front of him. Frankly, the thing looked like it had seen better days. He could see several dents in the doors and around the front bumper, the paintwork was chipped in several places, and there were touches of rust around the wheel arch. There was a set of (hopefully) ironic fluffy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, and several stuffed animals, including a grinning Garfield, in the back window.

“Err…” he said, desperately trying to think of something positive to say about the heap of mechanical crap sat in front of him.

“Hey, it might not look much, but she’s got it where it counts. Hop in, Harry, and strap yourself in,” Dora announced loudly, before diving into the driver’s seat. Harry more cautiously occupied the passenger’s position, but not before moving several books, a half-full bottle of water and a large bag of Haribo Super Mix from the seat. Dora, as he remembered, was never the tidiest of people.

“All buckled in?” Dora asked as Harry did up his seatbelt.

“Yeah, but where are we… FUCK ME!” Harry suddenly yelled, as the little car leapt forward with a screech of tires, seemingly heading straight for a brick wall.

“AAAAGGHHH!” he screamed at the Golf shot through what appear to be a solid wall at what he estimated was somewhere in the region of a hundred miles an hour and emerged in a narrow alley way. Dora spun the wheel, and the car lurched onto two wheels and turned hard right. Ahead, Harry could see numerous cars passing by on what looked like a busy street. Tonks, however, didn’t slow down.

“Dora, what are you… AAAAGGHHH!” he yelled again as the car shot out of the alley and into a gap between a white van and a BMW that Harry guessed was about a yard and a half wide. It slowly began to dawn on him that Dora’s little VW was defying the laws of physics.

“You’ve modified this car, haven’t you? This thing runs on magic, doesn’t it?” Harry accused her, simultaneously gripping the arm rest as hard as he could as they swung around the white van and directly into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. In the blink of an eye, they were past the van and had cut back in to the left-hand side of the road, missing the bike by inches.

“Well, duh!” Dora grinned. “Now, this hotel is the other side of Westminster Bridge, is it? I’ll head back along Embankment, then.”

Harry briefly saw an oncoming bus as Dora threw the car round a bend onto the busy road that ran alongside the Thames. He briefly thanked the gods that he hadn’t had more than a slice of toast for breakfast as they charged into oncoming traffic, overtaking cars and lorries effortlessly. At one point, Dora even mounted the pavement briefly so she could under-take a rather slow Fiat. At that point, Harry decided the trip would be much more enjoyable if he just kept his eyes closed.

A very short while later, he felt the car screech to a halt and heard the engine being turned off. That just about gave him the courage to open his eyes and he turned and glared at an unrepentant Dora, who was smirking at him with one arm casually draped over the steering wheel.

“Something wrong, Harry, dear?” she asked in a sweet voice.

“I can arrange it that they never find your body,” Harry snarled while trying desperately to regain his shattered composure.

“Oh, how can you say a thing like that?” Dora exclaimed, clutching at her heart. “Besides, I know you’re joking. You love me too much to threaten me for real.”

“You can go off people, you know,” he replied sourly, before turning and looking out the window. He was unsurprised to see that they were parked directly outside the hotel he was staying in.

“There you go,” Dora said smugly. “Now, let’s go and collect your things and get you checked out. You can change out of those boring, old clothes while you’re at it, too.”

“You do notice that we’re parked on double yellow lines, don’t you?” Harry asked archly.

“There’s a Muggle-Repelling Charm on the car,” she shrugged casually, before a frown appeared on her face. “Mind you, becoming a Traffic Warder would be the perfect new career for any former Death Eater, now I think about it.”

“Right, so if anyone tries to give you a ticket, we’ll arrest them on suspicion of being an evil bastard,” Harry grinned.

“That’s a good plan,” Dora laughed, “Come on, handsome; let’s get you into some sexier clothes.”

They climbed out of the car and headed up the short flight of steps that led up to the hotel’s front entrance. Tonks once again took Harry’s arm as they strode into the lobby. As they entered, Harry noticed the receptionist, a fairly young, dark-skinned girl, give him the briefest of disapproving looks, before staring back at her computer screen.

“She probably thinks I’m a hooker you’re taking up to your room,” Dora whispered in his ear, having obviously seen the judgmental look that he’d received. Harry shook his head and decided to say nothing, but that simply wasn’t Tonks’s style.

“I’m going to have to charge you extra this time, Mr P,” Dora declared loudly as they walked past the reception desk, “I couldn’t sit down properly for a week after last time. I hope you’ve bought enough KY Jelly this time, and all!”

Harry managed to stifle a moan, and said nothing until they were safely in the lift.

“You think you’re funny, but you’re not,” he said to her sourly.

Dora burst out laughing. “Oh, lighten up, grumpy-pants! You know, you used to be a lot more fun.”

“Yeah, I did,” he agreed quietly. The laughter died instantly.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Dora said sincerely. “I know that Dedalus told me you’d had a rough time of it over the last few years, but I never…”

“No, you’re right,” Harry quickly cut her off. “I am being a bit of a misery. That was pretty funny and I should lighten up. It’s just taking me a bit of time to readjust, that’s all. Being back in London has brought back a lot of memories and I’m just having a bit of a hard time with it. Don’t worry, I’ll be back making suggestive comments and trying to embarrass you in public before you know it.”

“Ah, there’s the Harry I know and love,” Dora smiled and impulsively threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. Of course, the Gods chose that moment for the lift doors to open and they turned to see a middle-aged man in a business suit staring at them in surprise.

“Oh, Harry! Take me to your room and make love to me all day long! Take me, big boy, take me!” Dora cried unconvincingly, starting to rub her hands desperately over his chest.

“Sorry,” Harry said to the stunned businessman. “We’ve just been on the tube. All those vibrations through the seats make her randy, you see.”

And with that, he and Tonks pushed past the man and headed down the corridor. Only when they heard the lift door’s closing did they break out into giggles.

“Did you see the expression on his face?” Dora laughed. “I think he would have paid good money to watch us at it! Dirty old sod.”

“What have I let myself in for?” Harry groaned, as he stopped outside his room.

“Go on, you love it and you know you do,” Dora grinned, as Harry unlocked the door.

They entered the room and Dora looked around disapprovingly. “I see what you mean about this place being nondescript. How dull,” she muttered with distaste.

“It was only ever meant to be temporary,” Harry said defensively as he headed to the closet to retrieve his suitcase.

“Right, let’s see what decent duds you’ve got,” Dora said firmly. “Accio Harry’s clothing!”

A second later, all of Harry’s clothes leapt out of the closet or from the chest of draws situated under the window. Unfortunately, Dora had forgotten to exclude the clothes he was wearing when she cast her Summoning Spell. Or maybe she hadn’t forgotten. Harry suddenly found himself standing stark naked.

“DORA!” Harry yelled and dived forward to grab the duvet off the bed and wrap it around himself.

“Oh, my!” Dora exclaimed, fanning her face with her hand. “It seems that little boy I used to know isn’t so little anymore.”

“Is this what working with you is going to be like all the time?” he asked plaintively.

“Pretty much,” she grinned.

“I wonder it’s too late to go back to Strasbourg?” Harry muttered.

“Oh, don’t say that. I’m loving having you here. My day just keeps getting better and better,” she smirked evilly.

“Can I have some clothes, please?” he asked wistfully, deciding that he’d let her win this round, not that he had much choice.

“Of course, luscious, you need only ask,” she grinned, and started to rummage through the pile of clothes that were now lying on the bed. Her smile gradually faded as she casually tossed items over her shoulder, evidently rejecting them as unsuitable. Pretty soon, she’d worked her way through all of Harry’s things and found nothing to her liking.

“Are these all the clothes you own? Bloody hell, luv, you’ve really turned into a square,” she told him disapprovingly.

“Tonks,” Harry said warningly.

“Oh, here, put these on,” she said, grabbing a pair of jeans and a plain blue t-shirt. Seeing that she wasn’t going to leave the room, or even look away, Harry turned around before letting the duvet drop and hurriedly pulling on the jeans. He then slipped the t-shirt over his head and began to hunt for a pair of socks.

“Okay, change of plan,” Dora announced. “I was going to take you straight back to my flat and get you settled in, but we now have something much more important to do, first.”

“What?” Harry asked warily.

“We’re going clothes shopping!” she declared brightly.

Harry groaned. He remembered from past experience what shopping with Dora could be like.

“Don’t be like that,” she scolded him. “Now, get packed and let’s blow this Popsicle stand. Really, Harry, I thought I was messy, but just look at this place! Clothes strewn everywhere… what a pigsty.”

Biting his tongue, Harry just retrieved his wand from the pair of trousers he had been wearing and gave it a quick wave. Instantly, his belongings all leapt into the air and flew at an incredible speed into his open suitcase. If there was one thing he’d learnt over the last few years it was how to pack quickly.

“Cool, now let’s get you checked out,” Dora grinned.

The girl on the reception desk offered him a friendly smile when he told her that he was checking out. She must have realised they had been upstairs far too short a time to be up to anything untoward, and that Dora had been joking around.

“That will be £635.50, please,” the girl informed Harry.

“Ouch! How long were you staying here?” Dora gasped when she heard the total of the bill.

“Just two nights,” Harry admitted. “Hey, this is central London, you know.”

“Hmm, still seems a bit pricy to me,” she said suspiciously. She turned to the girl on the reception desk. “How much of that bill is for dirty movies he’s rented?”

“Oh, just the one,” she replied, obviously deciding to join in on the fun of embarrassing Harry.

“Don’t tell me, let me guess! Was the title of the movie ‘Thai Lady-boys in Heat’? That’s his favourite,” Dora asked eagerly.

“How did you know?” the girl giggled.

“I don’t have to take this,” Harry grumbled, thrusting his credit card at the girl. “I can go to better hotels than this to be laughed at, you know!”

“Yeah, but those places don’t have your film entertainment of choice, do they?” Dora teased.

“You’d never guess that we’re distantly related, would you?” Harry asked the receptionist in a pained voice.

“It just makes our illicit love affair all the more perverted,” Dora announced in a steamy voice.

“Here’s your receipt,” the girl laughed, handing Harry a slip of paper.

He was very proud of himself that he didn’t actually break into a run while leaving the hotel.





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Chapter 3: Chapter 3 - Camden

Author's Notes: Huzzar, I’ve already had my first ‘where’s Ginny?’ review. Only 2 chapters in, and Harry’s been back in Britain for one day, too! (Sorry, stefanvh, I just had to mention it). Actually, I should mention that Ginny comes into this story gradually, although I don’t doubt that after reading this chapter everyone will figure out how I plan to introduce her. Besides, I have to sort out Tonks’s love life first.

Huge thanks as always to Arnel, who I’m sure will now be trying to work the word ‘tat’ into one of her own stories.


Chapter 3 — Camden



Camden High Street hadn’t changed that much from what he remembered as a kid. It was still the swirling crush of bodies, cramped open-fronted shops and jumbled mass of ethnicity that he recalled from when he and Sirius used to visit the place. Admittedly, a few more of the shops seemed to sell tat these days, but maybe that was just his memory playing tricks on him.

Dora, of course, was completely at home here. She could walk down the street with her punky hair-do, Doc Martin boots and ripped t-shirt and not receive a second glance. In fact, she seemed to know quite a few of the locals and exchanged friendly greetings or a cheerful wave wherever she went. Harry found himself strangely comforted by the informality of the place, and suddenly Strasbourg and Department M seemed a very long way away.

“I hope that credit card of yours has a large limit, ’cos we’re going to put a serious dent in it!” Dora said, pulling him through the crowds.

“I just need a few items,” he protested. “It’s not like I need a completely new wardrobe.”

“Harry, darling, I’ve seen all your clothes. A completely new wardrobe is exactly what you need. Blimey, when did you become such a square? What happened to the rebellious teenager who used to hate wearing robes and played his trash metal albums at maximum volume just because he knew it would annoy his godfather?” Dora asked sadly.

“He grew up and got a proper job,” Harry retorted, nimbly avoiding a group of Chinese schoolgirls who were too busy chattering to notice where they were going.

“Rubbish. I know you too well, Harry James Potter; you hate formality and like to be a bit different. You’re just like Sirius in that respect. Can you imagine what he’d say to wearing a suit or those dull shirts that you own? Jeez, he’d have disowned you,” she declared.

“You’re probably right,” he agreed sadly. “So, where are we going?”

“I know some cool clothing shops just down the street. Now, I have to ask before we start; do you trust me, Harry?” Dora asked earnestly.

“Of course,” Harry replied, rather shocked that she would even ask.

“Then don’t question anything that I make you buy,” she said firmly. “You clearly haven’t bought anything that didn’t come from some mainstream, vanilla department store for years, and I need to radically change your image. Also, remember that you’re a bloke and therefore have absolutory no taste when it comes to picking clothes that suit you. In other words, stand quietly looking pretty, and Auntie Dora will transform you into a rock’n’roll sex-god.”

“If you say so,” Harry chuckled, and meekly gave into Dora’s demands.

Four hours later, Harry’s feet hurt and he was bitterly regretting his decision to allow Tonks a free rein. She’d dragged him from shop to shop, holding items of clothing up against him, occasionally shoving him into a (normally cramped) changing room with an arm full of garments, and generally made a huge dent in his finances. He’d given up making suggestions of his own after the second shop when the shop assistant, a young girl with purple hair who instantly bonded with Dora, had openly laughed at him when he’d voiced an opinion. Sometimes it was just better to suffer in silence.

At last they had finished, and they were currently (mercifully) sitting at a table, situated outside a pub on Camden Lock. Harry had a welcome pint of cold lager in his hand and he was surrounded by a mass of shopping bags, all crammed to the brim with his new wardrobe. Dora had a pint of cider, and an extremely satisfied expression on her face.

Harry surveyed the bags, silently lamenting that he couldn’t magically shrink them in such a public place. Dora assured him that her flat was close by, but even so, he didn’t relish carrying the mountain of new purchases around. Dora had, seemingly, forced him to buy the entire stock of most of Camden’s clothing shops. He now owned several pairs of tight, black, jeans, a pair of leather trousers, numerous t-shirts featuring bands he could hardly remember, two new pairs of trainers, a pair of army boots, a pair of zip-up leather boots, about a dozen shirts (including varieties in tie-dye, velvet and one with puffy white sleeves that he thought he probably should only wear while running around moorland yelling ‘Cathy!’), and a black leather jacket that even he had to admit was cool. Dora had also bought accessories in the form of numerous necklaces, rings, and even some earrings. When he’d questioned her about the last items, she calmly informed him that he was getting his ears pierced later.

Sipping his beer gratefully, Harry watched the narrow boats that now carried paying tourists around slide gracefully into the dock. Despite his aching feet, he had to admit he was feeling pretty good and, if he was honest, had enjoyed the attention Dora had lavished on him.

“Alright there, luv?” Dora asked, rousing from his thoughts.

“Yeah, I guess,” he smiled. “We didn’t get much work done today, did we?”

“Nah, we did, in a way. Sometimes this job can just be about being seen on the streets,” she said, before taking another gulp of cider.

“What, you mean like maintaining a visible police presence? I can’t imagine most of the people you talked to today know what you are,” Harry objected.

“Don’t be so sure,” she disagreed, before subtly casting an Anti-Eavesdropping Charm with her wand under the table. She then looked at him seriously. “As I said before, you’d be amazed how many witches and wizards now live among the Muggles. This whole area is crawling with them. In fact, you’ve spoken to a least a dozen already today, and you’ll be meeting a few more before the day’s through. Even the Muggles here know I’m something to do with law enforcement. Trust me, that sort of thing never remains secret in a place like this.”

“So, we haven’t just been shopping then?” he asked. “You’ve been keeping an eye on things, too.”

“Yeah, definitely. The thing is, most of the wizards and witches who came to live here aren’t exactly the most law abiding of folk. I don’t mean in the pure-blood, Dark wizard, ‘I’m going to take over the world’ way. They’re just generally the types who consider the law to be something that doesn’t necessarily apply to them. We could walk back down the High Street and I could probably make a dozen arrests for low-level crimes without even trying,” she shrugged.

“And presumably the reason you don’t is that we’re after bigger fish?” Harry asked.

“Exactly, although I do live here, remember. I do try and get along with my neighbours,” Dora grinned. “But you’re right. Areas like this are hot-beds of information and activity. I have friends all over London; over at Covent Garden, Soho, in the City, down in Brixton — anywhere there’s a concentration of magic users. Generally, if anyone’s planning trouble, I get to hear about it,” she said firmly.

“I’m obviously out of touch,” Harry admitted. “What about areas like Knockturn Alley? Surely they’d be the sort of places that we should be keeping our ears to the ground.”

“Times have changed,” Dora grinned. “Kingsley went through Knockturn like a dose of salts. The place is practically respectable now. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the dregs have all bomb shelled out into the Muggle community. Besides, other members of the section are covering the more traditional areas. That’s why Dedalus was so willing to agree for us to partner-up. He knows you grew up in Muggle London and can interact without any difficulties.”

Harry nodded in agreement. Grimmauld Place was situated in Islington and he’d grown up with Muggle neighbours all around. Sirius had been pretty fascinated with most things Muggle, partly, Harry suspected, because he knew how much it upset his pure-blood family. Harry had grown up surrounded by Muggle music, books and films, and could melt into their society seamlessly. He’d used those skills extensively during his time with Department M, too.

“So, what’s next on the agenda for today? I don’t suppose we can just head to your flat and relax, can we?” Harry asked.

“We’ll dump this stuff off at the flat, yes, but you still have to get your ears pierced, remember? You can get changed while we’re there though. I can’t wait to see you in some of this cool stuff!” Dora exclaimed in an excited voice.

“Why do I feel like some toy doll for you to dress up and play with?” Harry moaned.

“Oooh, do I really get to play with you later? That will be fun,” she smirked suggestively.

“Bloody hell, Dora,” Harry laughed, “why were you never this flirtatious back when I was a teenager? I would have really appreciated it back then.”

“Several reasons,” she smiled impishly, “the major one being that you were a skinny, spotty teenager with all the sex appeal of a stick of celery. Now, however, you’re tall, dark and, thanks to that little accident back at the hotel, I know you’re pretty damn well equipped, too. Once I get you into some decent clothes the babes of Camden will be falling to their knees thanking me.”

“Little accident, my arse,” Harry growled.

“Yeah, well, that makes us even now, doesn’t it?” Dora announced with a satisfied smirk.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, suddenly feeling nervous.

“You think I don’t know about a certain fourteen year-old boy peeking through the keyhole of my bedroom when I was staying at your house that time?” she asked pointedly.

Harry instantly turned red. “Ah. Actually, I didn’t think you knew anything about that,” he admitted shamefaced.

“Just a word of advice, luv; if you’re knocking one out while spying on a girl undressing, you should really be careful that your arm isn’t banging against the door while you do it,” she grinned evilly.

“Oh, Merlin! You knew I was there all the time? Oh, sweet… wait a minute! If you knew that, why did you continue undressing? You stripped right down to nothing,” Harry gasped.

“I figured you deserved a treat,” she laughed. “I felt sorry for you. You never really got the chance to interact with girls your own age, and you were so cute back in those days. Besides, it was kind of a turn on, knowing you were wanking off while watching me.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry muttered while shaking his head in disbelief. “You know, I think that night changed my life forever. You wouldn’t believe how much time I spent thinking about you starkers.”

“That’s probably why you couldn’t look at me without turning bright red for about a year afterwards,” Dora giggled. “You seemed to get over your crush on me after that, though. Oh, my poor broken heart!”

“That’s probably when I met Trisha,” Harry admitted, smiling at the memory.

“Trisha? Who’s Trisha?” Dora asked in surprise.

“Hmm? Oh, I don’t think you ever met her. She wasn’t around long, you see,” he confessed. “Remember just after the war started hotting up, and we were using Grimmauld Place as a refuge for Muggle-borns who’d been attacked before we could get them out of the country? Well, Trisha belonged to one of those families we housed for a while.”

“And? Come on, Potter, I want details; lots of dirty, sordid details,” Dora urged him.

“Pervert,” he laughed. “Anyway, Trisha was about eighteen, a few years older than me. She was really pretty with dark skin and long, dark hair. To cut a long story short, she was upset and frightened about what happened and looking for a distraction, I was young and horny as hell, and the inevitable happened.”

“Woo-hoo, Harry Potter is into older girls! There’s hope for me yet!” Dora laughed. “But this Trisha couldn’t have been at Grimmauld Place for very long. We generally got those refugees out of the country pretty fast.”

“She was there a little over two weeks,” he confirmed, “and I’m proud to say, in those two short weeks, Trisha completely corrupted me. She was quite experienced, if you know what I mean, and she kindly shared that experience with me. We found a nice little out-of-the-way spot up on the top floor and, well… I’m sure I don’t have to spell things out for you.”

“You randy little sod,” Dora said gleefully. “Ever think of trying to find her again? Do you know where she went?”

“No idea,” he admitted sadly. “I wouldn’t even know where to start looking, anyway. I don’t think I ever even knew her surname.”

“You complete tramp!” she exclaimed, shaking her head mockingly. “Here was me, feeling sorry for you because you spent all your time training how to fight the Death Eaters and never had the chance to find a girlfriend, and you were secretly banging some hot, older babe under everyone’s noses! Still, I’m glad you had the chance to enjoy yourself a bit back then. They were difficult times.”

“Yeah, they were,” he agreed darkly. Deciding that the conversation was heading towards areas he didn’t want to talk about, he decided to ask why Dora was insisting he got his ears pierced.

“Because it will look cool, that’s why,” she replied. “Plus, it’s possible to charm some earrings so they can act as communication devices. I bought a nice chunky gold earring for you that will be perfect for that, and I’ll cast the charm on it tonight. Useful, huh?”

“Yeah,” he agreed, “and here was me thinking you were just trying to dress me up like a pirate.”

“Well, there is that,” she agreed happily. “I also want you to meet Carla, who does all my piercings and tattoos. She’s also an informant for me, and a bloody useful one, at that. It’s amazing how many bad guys get a tattoo, and when they are under the needle they often get a bit loose-lipped. A tip-off from her actually prevented an assassination attempt on Gawain Robards, the current Head Auror. The brother of a bloke Gawain had put away was swearing to get revenge, and Carla overheard some of his plans. The reward allowed her to set up her own shop, too.”

“She sounds a useful person to have on the payroll,” he agreed, before looking at his new partner suspiciously. “Exactly how many tattoos do you have?”

“Quite a few and, if you’re a good boy, I might even show you some of the more interesting ones,” she teased.

“Sounds like fun,” he grinned. “It will give me a chance to see if much has changed since I was a teenager.”

“Pig,” she laughed. “Come on, chug your pint and we’ll go and see the lovely Carla.”

Their first task, however, was to dump the shopping back at Dora’s flat. Her home turned out to be in what looked like a converted warehouse not far from the lock. Harry had initially thought that a flat in that part of London would be pricey, but when he saw the place he mentally added a few zeros to the amount he thought Dora must have paid. Sirius had indeed been generous.

The flat was quite modern, with lots of exposed brickwork and arranged in a very open plan style. It was basically one, large open space, with a kitchen/dining area one side and the living area off to the other. Through a large window the bustling High Street could just be seen, and through a smaller side window there was a view of the canal. The walls of the flat were adorned with a curious mix of prints of painting in the Impressionist style, and posters featuring various rock bands. A passageway led off to two fairly small bedrooms and a bathroom. It was also surprisingly tidy, bearing in mind who the owner was.

“I knew you were coming,” Dora grinned when he voiced that opinion. “Hey, I do tidy every once and a while, you know.”

“Yeah, normally coinciding with each lunar eclipse, I believe,” he teased.

“Sounds about right,” she grinned. “Anyway, give me those shopping bags and I’ll pick out some stuff for you to wear. I can’t have my personal tattooist seeing you dressed like a dork.”

Dora snatched the bags from him and led him to what would be his bedroom while he was staying there. It was a small but comfortable room, decorated in purple and blues. She placed the bags on the bed and began hunting through them. Once she’d made her choices, she laid the clothing on the bed and left the room with a wink. Harry looked at the clothes she’d picked and sighed. It looked like he was going to end up dressing like a teenager again.

He emerged a few minutes later, garbed in black jeans, a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt, and black combat boots. He was also wearing a bead necklace and a couple of silver rings. Mentally, he convinced himself that this was all just part of some disguise that was required for a mission, even if he did used to dress in this manner when he was fourteen.

“Oh, yeah,” Dora said approvingly. “Close enough for rock’n’roll, babe! Hmm, I just need to make one more change…”

She swept past Harry into the bathroom, only to emerge seconds later clutching a jar of hair gel. She scooped out a sizable amount, which she then rubbed vigorously into his hair.

“Go on, take a look,” she urged, pointing to a mirror.

Harry walked over to the mirror, feeling a little foolish. When he caught sight of his reflection, however, he began to change his mind. When he’s seen the clothes Dora had bought, he’d immediately thought back to what he’d looked like when he was younger. What he hadn’t taken into account was the fact that he himself was a radically different person to that spotty, spectacle-wearing youth. Years of tough, physical exercise had left his body hard and lean, and this was emphasized by the tight t-shirt he was wearing. His soft, boyish features had changed into those of a striking young man, tempered by all of the taxing experiences he’d suffered in his life. In short, he looked shadowy, streetwise and a little dangerous.

Dora came up behind him and snaked her arms around his middle. “Now, that’s more like the Harry I used to know and love,” she grinned, peering at his reflection. “You do know that most movie stars would kill for cheek bones like yours, don’t you?”

“Perhaps they should make a film about me?” he joked, secretly rather pleased by her flattery.

“Nah, they’d never find an actor who could do you justice. Come on, you’re socially acceptable now, let’s go and see Carla,” Dora decided, before turning and heading towards the door. Harry turned to follow her, but stopped and took one last look at his reflection.

“Sirius would be proud,” he grinned to himself.

It was good to be home.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Carla’s tattoo and piercing studio proved to be within walking distance, meaning Harry wasn’t subjected to anymore of Dora’s driving. From the lock, they had headed north, away from the tourist-clogged streets and up towards Kentish Town. The studio itself proved to be a narrow-fronted establishment set in the middle of a rather run-down row of shops.

As they entered, Harry paused to admire the photos in the front window, all displaying Carla’s handiwork, which he had to admit looked pretty impressive. One large photograph showed a man displaying a huge leaping tiger tattoo on his back which particularly caught his eye.

A small bell signalled their entry into the rather cramped shop, and almost immediately a willowy, purple-haired woman with multiple tattoos on her arms and neck appeared from behind a curtain. She smiled when she saw Dora.

“Tonksie, babe!” the woman exclaimed. “I haven’t seen you for ages, petal.”

“Hiya, Carla,” Dora beamed. “How ya been? Sorry I haven’t been around much, but they’ve been keeping me busy.”

“They work you too bloody hard,” Carla griped. “I ain’t seen you down The Queen’s Head for ages.”

“Well, things should get a bit easier from now on, as I’ve got a partner to share the load. Carla, meet Harry,” Dora said.

“Hellooo, Harry,” the tattooed woman greeted him a low, sultry voice.

“Hi, Carla, I’ve heard a lot about you,” Harry nodded with a smile.

“Down, girl,” Dora laughed. “Aren’t you still going out with Mad Dog?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire a work of art now, does it? Boy, you got lucky this time! He’s a million times better than that last moron you were partnered with,” Carla replied. “Anyway, what can I do for you both?”

“Apart from just popping in to see you, Harry would like to get his ear pierced. Just the left one, you’ll be pleased to hear,” Dora said breezily.

“Thank god for that,” Carla laughed. “I was worried that a pretty boy like him would bat for the other side. I take it I can use my wand for this, or do you want me to use the needle?”

“Using your wand will be fine,” Harry said hurriedly. He really didn’t fancy the idea of a needle being stuck into him.

“Wand it is!” Carla grinned before crooking her finger at him. “Come into my parlour.”

Harry followed her behind the heavy curtain which led to a small back room complete with something resembling a dentist’s chair. Carla indicated that he was to position himself in the chair, which he duly did.

“So, how long have you been working with Tonks, then?” Carla asked conversationally as she started hunting through a drawer for something.

“Today’s the first day,” he admitted, “but I’ve known her for practically all my life. She was related to my godfather and often visited our house when I was growing up. She’s virtually a sister to me.”

“Interesting,” she said, retrieving a small bottle and some cotton wool from the drawer. “How come I’ve never seen you around? I’m sure I’d remember you.”

“I’ve been in Europe for the last four years,” he replied. “I’ve only just returned home in the last few days.”

“Tilt your head, petal, I just want to apply some disinfectant to your ear lobe before I pierce it,” she instructed, dabbing his ear with the cotton wool. “Were you anywhere…”

Carla’s voice trailed off. As she’d finished applying the disinfectant she’d glanced down and looked directly at his forehead. Harry sighed as he realised she’d seen the thin lightning bolt scar that was situated there. These days, you had to look hard to see it, but it was still visible under the right light.

“Bloody hell…” Carla mumbled.

“Forget you ever saw that, okay?” Harry said, slightly harsher then he’d intended.

“But you’re…” Carla started to say but stopped when she saw the expression on his face.

“I’m Dora’s new partner, Harry, okay?” he said firmly. “I’m sure who I am will become public knowledge soon enough, but I don’t want you advertising the fact. Got that?”

“Yeah, yeah, understood,” she agreed readily. “But you… they said you were dead. I remember, the papers said that the reason that you never fought against You-Know-Who was because you’d been killed as a kid. If you were alive, why didn’t you stand up to him?”

Harry glared at her.

“Hold on, if you are alive… and you’re working with Tonk’s mob now… that’s got to mean you’ve been trained by the Ministry, or something! They never did say who exactly beat that evil bastard. I bet you had something to do with it, didn’t you?” Carla said breathlessly.

It was all he could do not to grimace. Dora had implied that Carla was a smart woman, and clearly she was capable of reading between the lines. He was pondering how to reply when he heard Tonk’s voice behind them.

“Asking questions like that can get you into a lot of trouble, babe,” Dora stated coldly. “You want to keep ideas like that to yourself.”

“But…” Carla started to object.

“The Ministry went to a lot of trouble to keep Harry’s involvement in the war secret, and I’m not about to let you start blabbing about it now,” Tonks growled. “Am I going to have to Obliviate you?”

“What? No! I swear, I won’t say a word,” Carla promised. “I just don’t understand the need for it, that’s all. If Harry was the one to bring You-Know-Who down, then he’d be a national hero! People should know about this!”

“It’s because I don’t want to be a hero that it was kept quiet,” Harry snapped. “That and the fact we still had dozens of Death Eaters still on the loose. I didn’t fancy becoming the number one target for all the disaffected idiots who were lamenting the Dark Lord’s demise. I know most of them are locked up or dead now, but the fact remains I have no interest in becoming anyone’s hero. This stays a secret, got it?”

“Yeah, I… I guess so,” Carla stuttered, clearly alarmed by the whole situation.

“Good,” Dora said firmly. “Look, we’re not trying to be nasty here, but this is serious. If I find you’ve mentioned this to anyone…”

“I promise!” Carla said emphatically. “Not a word.”

“We’ll hold you to that,” Harry said. “Now, do you want to pierce my ear?”

Fifteen minutes later they left the small shop with a circular, gold earring dangling from Harry’s left ear lobe. While not initially too enthusiastic about the idea of getting it done, he had to admit it did look pretty cool.

“Do you think we should have Obliviated her?” Dora asked as they headed back towards the flat.

“No point,” Harry shrugged. “It’ll soon be common knowledge that I’m around, and when people realise who I work for I expect quite a few of them will start to make some educated guesses. There’s no point getting worked up about it.”

“I guess not. I mean, you’re pretty old news by now, aren’t you? Even the more persistent members of the press will have better things to worry about now,” Dora reasoned.

“Yeah, and if they do prove to be a pest we can always leak the story that Kingsley is shagging his secretary and that should distract them,” Harry chuckled.

“That would work!” Dora laughed. “Kingsley always did have an eye for the ladies. He was a real Romeo back in his Auror days. Some of the stories I could tell you!”

“He’d better hope there isn’t some greedy witch out there ready to sell her story to the papers,” Harry noted. “Anyway, what do we have planned for the rest of the day?”

“Well, as it’s your first day as a member of the section, I thought we’d knock off early,” she grinned mischievously. “I vote that we hit the Tesco Metro down the road and stock up on booze and snacks, then head home and call for a pizza. Then it’s an evening blobbing-out on the sofa watching videos. What do you think?”

“Sounds good,” Harry agreed. “I think I’m starting to like this new job; the hours are great.”

“Don’t get too used to it,” she warned. “We pull our share of all-nighters and week-long stake-outs, too. There’s just not much happening at the moment, that’s all.”

“Fair enough,” he nodded. “So, does this Tesco’s sell bags of Monster Munch? I haven’t had them in years.”

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry glanced at his watch and was shocked to see it was nearly midnight. He surveyed the wreckage on the coffee table in front of him and smiled. Dora was cuddled up next to him on the sofa with her head resting on his shoulder, watching the last of the movie. In honour of his return, they had indulged in a classic Star Wars fest, and the Ewoks were currently dancing around the screen in celebration as Death Star v.2 exploded in the sky above them.

With his free left hand, Harry took another slip from his can of Carlsberg Export. Four empty cans lay crushed on the coffee table in front of him, along with an empty pizza box and a crumpled bag that once contained picked onion flavoured Monster Munch snacks.

“You alright, babe?” Dora asked in a sleepy voice.

“Yeah, great,” Harry replied.

“Good,” she replied, and snuggled closer to him.

Harry looked down at her and smiled. Movie nights had been a regular thing back at Grimmauld Place when he was young, and he’d forgotten how much he used to enjoy them. Sirius had been something of a Western fanatic, and he’d always want to watch an old Clint Eastwood or Lee Marvin film, while Harry had always wanted a sci-fi movie. Remus, on the other hand, had always leaned towards historical epics and Dora had always wanted a comedy. Whatever they watched, it was always accompanied by a mountain of junk food and a great deal of heckling.

The memory of those great nights, sitting in front of the huge TV that Sirius had somehow managed to get working despite all the magic in the house, made him think. He’d spent the last four years of his life running away from his past, and he was beginning to think that may have been a huge mistake. Once he’d managed to finish Voldemort once and for all, he’d felt overwhelmed by everything, the memories of his dead godfather and friends dragging him into depression. He had believed there was nothing left for him in England, and so had accepted the offer from Department M gratefully. Now, back here with Dora, he was beginning to realise just what he’d turned his back on. Maybe it was time to learn to embrace the past, not hide from it.

“I really will have to visit your mum soon,” he said wistfully.

“She’d like that,” Dora agreed. “I’m due to visit for Sunday dinner this weekend, why don’t you come with me?”

“Yeah, that would be great,” he replied, genuinely excited about the prospect of seeing Andromeda again. Another thought occurred to him. “I want to visit Grimmauld Place again, too.”

Dora lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him in surprise.

“You do?” she asked. “I thought you never wanted to step foot in the house again?”

“I didn’t,” he confirmed, “but I can’t let the memory of the past rule my life. I’ve spent the last four years of my life running away from what happened, and I’m sick of it. I grew up in that house, Dora, and I had so many wonderful times there. I want to go back and remember those good times, not just that night the Death Eaters managed to get in.”

Dora looked at him sadly. “I know what you mean,” she agreed. “I feel like I’ve been running away from a lot of things, too. Maybe your right; maybe we both need to go back and face the past. I just never could face… I mean… that’s the place… Remus…”

Harry pulled her into a hug as the tears started to flow. He held her tight and could feel her body shaking.

“It’s alright, Dora. We’ll get through this. I’m sorry, I should never have just gone and left you and your mum on your own. I was a coward, but I promise I’ll never leave you on your own again,” he said in a determined voice.

“Promise?” she asked tearfully.

“I promise,” he agreed, tenderly stroking her cheek.

Dora said nothing, but just pulled him back into a hug. They stayed in that position for a good five minutes, before she pulled away and wiped her eyes.

“Of course, entering Grimmauld Place will be a bit risky,” she said, slowly regaining her composure. “After it was abandoned, the Death Eaters tramped all over the place. It’s awash with nasty traps and curses. Even Moody said he wouldn’t risk trying to get in.”

“Oh,” Harry said, crestfallen. After steeling himself to return to the place Sirius and Remus had been killed, the idea that he wouldn’t be able to safely enter the house was a bitter blow.

“You could always get professional help,” Dora suggested. “Gringotts have curse-breakers you could hire to get the place sorted.”

“That’s a good idea,” he agreed. Gringotts curse-breakers were renown throughout Europe for their skill and expertise. It wouldn’t be cheap to hire them, but Harry felt it would definitely be worth it.

“We can swing by Diagon Alley tomorrow if you like,” Dora offered.

“Maybe next week; there’s no hurry,” he said. “Let me get settled in to this new job before I start worrying about things like that.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “I guess we should be getting to bed. We have a lot to do tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” he said, unwrapping his arms from around her and standing up. Before he headed to the bedroom, he paused and bent down to kiss his friend on the cheek. “I’ve really enjoyed today, Dora. I’ve really missed you, you know.”

“And I’ve missed you, too,” she said, smiling brightly at him.

Harry grinned back before turning and heading for his bedroom. Before he reached the door, he heard Dora calling to him.

“And no sneaking out and peeking through the keyhole of my bedroom while I’m undressing,” she called out mischievously.

“Nah, I’ll wait until you’re in the shower to do that this time,” he replied with a wink.

He entered the bedroom and shut the door, feeling happier than he had in years.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The alarm clock went off at seven o’clock, and Harry groggily groped to turn it off. Once he’d silenced the damnable object, he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t feel too bad, he realised. He’d only drunk beer the previous evening and had plenty to eat, so he wasn’t really hung-over. He normally rose an hour earlier, so the extra sleep had helped, too.

Feeling energised, he leapt out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He pulled back the curtains and the sun streamed in through the narrow window. It looked like it would be a beautiful day. Feeling uncharacteristically cheerful, he left the room in search of breakfast.

A quick search of the kitchen area revealed Dora appeared to favour a light meal to start her day, as all he could find was some bread to make toast and a box of cereal. Harry decided on the later, mainly as he hadn’t had a bowl of Coco Pops for years. He’d just seated himself at the table and was about to tuck in when Dora appeared. As was usual for her, she only wore a vest top and a pair of knickers. Harry grinned at the memory of her mother scolding her for her state of underdress when she appeared at the breakfast table back at Grimmauld Place dressed in a similar manner.

“Morning, Harry,” she yawned. “How did you… BLOODY HELL!”

Harry’s spoon clattered against the bowl as he jumped in surprise. He glared at Dora, who was staring at him open mouthed.

“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded.

“Your hair, Harry. How the bloody hell did it grow that much in one night?” she asked.

His hand instantly went to his head, and he was surprised to feel long locks of hair hanging down. He leapt up and stood in front of a mirror that was positioned near the door, and gasped. Last night his hair had hardly been long enough for Dora to spike up with hair gel, but this morning it touched his shoulders.

“Ah, it’s done that again, has it?” he sighed.

“Done what?” Dora asked, coming to stand next to him.

“When I was younger, I found that I could vary the length of my hair, to some extent. I don’t think Sirius ever had to take me for a single haircut,” he explained.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” she gasped. “Harry, this means you’re a Latent Metamorphmagus! That’s a witch or wizard who has the ability to perform certain transformations, but not achieve a complete change in their bodily form.”

“Oh, right,” he said in surprise. “I thought it was just something I did with my magic; I didn’t know there was an actual term for what I could do.”

“Oh, yeah. In fact, with a bit of practice you could get really good at changing your hair. You might be able to change its colour as well as its length.”

“That would be pretty cool,” he agreed, before looking back at his reflection. “I must have subconsciously altered it to this length because you told me to grow it yesterday.”

“And it looks bloody wonderful,” Dora exclaimed. “Honestly, luv, you look so hot. My knickers are getting damp just looking at you.”

“Too much information, Dora,” Harry muttered, but secretly he was thrilled by her complements. No more looking like a boring square for him.

“You know, if I didn’t think of you as a little brother, I’d shag you right here on the breakfast table,” Dora giggled. “In fact, I’m up for a bit of incest. How about you?”

“Pah, you just want me for my body. You wouldn’t respect me in the morning,” he joked.

“It is the morning,” she pointed out, “but I guess ravaging you will have to wait. We had an easy day yesterday, so today we’re going to hit the streets and see what’s happening.”

“Anything specific were looking for?” he asked.

“Not really, although a couple of my contacts have been out of touch for a while and I think we should track them down,” she decided, before grinning at him like a Cheshire Cat. “London isn’t going to know what hit it when the sexiest crime-fighting duo in the world hits the streets!”

Harry matched her manic grin. This was going to be fun.




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Chapter 4: Chapter 4 - On The Streets

Author's Notes: Just a couple of things to say ahead of this chapter. Having now had the benefit of having Arnel, my wonderful American beta, look over part of this story, I’m starting to realise just how totally British this actually is. As previously noted, I based this partially on classic British 70’s cop shows, so it is full of slang and terminology that would be at home in an episode of ‘The Sweeney’, for instance. Add in all the London locations and this whole thing is as British as baked beans.

The cop show thing also explains some of Harry’s actions in this chapter. A British 70’s TV cop was more likely to give a suspect a bit of a slapping rather than indulging in any responsible community policing. Hey, at least he isn’t shoving a 44 Magnum into people’s faces and asking them if they feel lucky.

Huge thanks as always to Arnel, who I suspect is regretting asking me what Tonks meant when she referred to Harry’s wedding tackle.


Chapter 4 — On the Streets



Harry took a long pull from his bottle of Sprite before screwing the cap back on. He glanced out of the window of Dora’s VW Golf and watched a group of tourists arguing over a small map, clearly lost. He grinned smugly at their confusion.

“Bet this isn’t what you’re used to, is it?” Dora asked, before popping another cheese and onion flavoured crisp into her mouth.

“I’m certainly not use to eating so much crap while out on a job,” he admitted. “I think I’ve gained five pounds just this morning.”

“Rule number one, Harry; eat whenever you have the opportunity. You never know when you might get stuck on a surveillance task and not have the chance,” she lectured.

“It’s lucky a rank amateur like me has you to provide these little pearls of wisdom,” he grumbled.

“I’m glad you agree,” she smirked. “Seriously, though, I imagine that the stuff you got up to was very different from the kind of operations that the section are involved in.”

“You know I can’t talk about that stuff,” Harry replied dismissively. It was true; he’d give an Unbreakable Vow before leaving Department M not to reveal any of its secrets.

He had to admit that his first day in his new job was quite unlike anything he’d previously done. They’d spent the morning driving around London, going as far south as Catford and north as Muswell Hill. Rather than the hair-raising, break-neck speeds that Dora had employed yesterday, today she’d driven in a more leisurely manner, her eyes scanning the pavements for familiar faces. Twice they’d stopped and talked with some of her contacts. One had been a friendly shopkeeper with whom they’d happily chatted for a half-an-hour; the other was a Metropolitan Policeman whom Dora had spotted while out on his beat. He’d seemed embarrassed to be seen talking to them and had rather curtly stated that he had no new information for them before walking off. It was most definitely not the way Harry was used to working.

“Yeah, I know you can’t discuss specifics,” Dora agreed, “but I imagine that your work was a lot more cloak and dagger than this. Part of our role is to be an active deterrent so we need to be seen. You must have spent a long time in the shadows, conducting covert surveillance and that kind of thing.”

“It could be quite brutal at times, too,” Harry virtually whispered.

He felt Dora’s comforting hand on his arm. “Dedalus said you’d had a rough time of it,” she said sympathetically. “I know you can’t go into specifics, but if there’s anything you want to talk about, I’m here for you.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” he replied simply. “The Department’s methods were straightforward and without mercy. Most people we took down undoubtedly deserved their fate, I just didn’t like the way that due process of law seemed to be ignored. Sometimes I felt more like a paid assassin than a government agent.”

“How do you… oh, bugger. We’ll have to continue this conversation later. I’ve just seen one of my missing contacts walk by,” Dora explained, opening the driver’s door and stepping out of the car. “There he goes, just walking into the side-alley past the coffee shop. Five-nine, blonde hair, and dressed in jeans and a checked shirt. Goes by the name of Sudsy, and he runs a Laundromat that’s a front for handling stolen goods. He’d not a pleasant bloke and tends to carry a knife, so watch him.”

“I see him,” Harry confirmed, leaping out of the car. The Golf was illegally parked on a busy street in Covent Garden, but the Muggle-Repelling Charm meant that Dora was never troubled by parking tickets.

“He’s got a garage that he uses as a lock-up down that alley,” Dora advised as they ran across the busy road. “If you run up to the next street and turn right, you’ll find the access road to the alley. If you go down that, we’ll have him cornered. I’ll cast an Anti-Apparation Jinx as soon as I get close to him, and you stop him running.”

“Got it,” Harry agreed. “How do you want to play it when we catch him? Good cop/bad cop?”

“Can do,” she grinned. “You up for a display of macho masculinity?”

“Aren’t I always?” he teased and headed up the street at a leisurely jog so as not to alarm the pedestrians crowding the pavement. At the corner he turned right and carried on for about twenty yards, before he found the narrow access road into the alley. He started down it, surreptitiously drawing his wand. He hadn’t gone far when he saw Dora approaching from the opposite direction. She pointed to a small garage block that had its door open. He nodded, and flattened himself against a wall.

“Hey, Sudsy, you in there?” Dora called.

Silence greeted Tonks’s call, but Harry imagined that the man was currently cursing as he discovered that he couldn’t Disapparate. He watched the entrance to the garage like a hawk.

Suddenly, without any warning, the man sprinted out of the garage at a tremendous speed, heading in Harry’s direction. Not bothering with his wand, Harry just shoulder charged him and sent the man sprawling to the ground.

“Hiya, Sudsy,” Dora said conversationally as she walked over. “Long time no see.”

“Sod off, bitch,” the man growled as he climbed to his feet.

Harry moved like lightning. He grabbed Sudsy by the collar and threw him hard into the alley wall. As the man cried out in pain, Harry balled his fist and punched him hard in the stomach. Sudsy collapsed to the floor, clutching his midriff and moaning.

“Speak nicely to the lady,” Harry snarled at the man.

“Oh, you should meet my new partner Harry,” Dora told Sudsy as he rolled on the ground. “As you see, he does have a bit of a temper. Naughty boy, Harry! I’m sure Sudsy wasn’t really trying to run away from us.”

“He’ll be trying to run with two broken legs if he talks to you like that again,” Harry replied, looking down at the now cowering man.

“Bloody hell, take it easy, would ya,” Sudsy complained.

“You’ve been avoiding me, Sudsy,” Dora said in a disapproving voice. “Why did you try to run?”

“Cos I ain’t got nothing to tell you, and you always get on my case,” he muttered.

“Bollocks; there’s been plenty of times where you’ve not had any fresh info for me and I’ve never given you a hard time about it. You’re hiding something, aren’t you?” Dora demanded.

“No, nothing!” Sudsy insisted.

By now, Harry had grown tired of the man. Deciding to cut to the chase, he grabbed Sudsy by the shirt and hauled him to his feet. He then pushed him against the wall and looked directly into his eyes. Sudsy evidently realised that Harry must be trying to perform Legilimency on him, and quickly closed his eyes.

“Open your eyes, Sudsy, or Harry here might just decide to beat the information out of you instead,” Dora said firmly.

Reluctantly, the man opened his eyes and Harry stared at him intently. After a few moments, he let go of Sudsy’s shirt and pushed him away.

“He’s afraid,” Harry announced. “There’s a new player in town who’s been throwing their weight around, apparently. One of Sudsy’s mates got beaten within an inch of his life recently, and he’s afraid the same will happen to him if he starts taking to law enforcement.”

“These guys are bad news,” Sudsy whined. “You know Frank Harbottle, don’t you, Tonks? You know he’s a real hard bastard and not to be messed with? Well, these geezers put him in St Mungo’s without a second thought. He’s gonna be laid up for weeks!”

“Why? What did they want?” Harry demanded.

“Something stupid,” Sudsy shrugged. “The deeds to this bakery shop that Frank had just taken over. You know Frank does a bit of debt collecting and repossession work? Well, this place was one of those jobs, but these blokes seemed to want the shop really bad. It’s weird; Frank has property all over London, some nice places, too, but they were only interested in this bakery. I reckon they were just sending a message. They just wanted everyone to know that they could take whatever they want.”

“Who are they?” Dora asked.

“Dunno. Frank says that he never saw their faces and that they were wearing masks. Apparently this mob have been throwing their weight around south of the river, too,” Sudsy explained.

“Are the premises they’re hitting Muggle or wizard run?” Harry asked.

“A bit of both,” Sudsy replied. “I mean, these geezers are definitely wizards. They disarmed Frank before he could blink. They're powerful, too, far more powerful than your average crook. Frank was in a Snatcher gang during the war, and he said this lot reminded him of some of the senior Death Eaters he ran into. I mean, I don’t think this lot are ex-Death Eaters, they know too much about the Muggle world to be that, but they give off that sort of vibe.”

“Okay, Sudsy, that will do for now,” Dora decided. “You can go, but if you hear anything about this mob you come and find me immediately, got it? Harry hates people who keep secrets, and you don’t want him to come looking for you, do you?”

To emphasise the threat, Harry withdrew his wand and tapped the cringing man on the nose with it. “You hear that, Sudsy?” he warned. “You start keeping things from us and you’ll regret it.”

“Harry’s been working in Europe for the last few years, taking down wizards that would make you crap your skivvies at the mere sight of them,” Dora smirked. “Trust me; you don’t want him mad at you.”

“Yeah, alright,” Sudsy agreed sullenly.

“Good, now piss off,” Harry snapped. Sudsy quickly walked back to his garage, pulled the door closed, and hurriedly made his way back down the alley. Once he’d gone, Harry turned to his partner.

“So, what do you think?” he asked her.

“It’s probably outside of our remit,” she ventured. “Still, if this lot have taken down big Frank Harbottle so easily, they might need to be watched. I think we’d better lodge a report with the DMLE and let them investigate, but we’ll keep our ears to the ground, too.”

“Yeah, that bit about them acting like Death Eaters worried me,” Harry admitted. “I got the impression that Sudsy bloke is used to hanging around with some real nasty bastards, but this lot had him scared shitless.”

“I thought things were too quiet around here,” Dora sighed.

“Where to next, then?” Harry asked, as they started to walk back to the car.

“I think we’ll head back south, perhaps to Brixton, and see what’s happening. Suddenly, I’ve got a bad feeling,” she said.

Harry could only agree. Something bad was going to happen, he could feel it.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The rest of the day brought no new information about the mysterious gang that seemed to be trying to muscle into the magical underworld of London. After combing the streets for several more hours, they returned to the Ministry building and filed their report. Dedalus had been in the office when they arrived and had been extremely interested to hear what they had learnt. He confirmed that there had been no other reports of the gang’s activities and that the information should be passed to the main DMLE office immediately.

After compiling their report, Harry and Dora headed over to the main DMLE office. They entered and headed over to the main reception desk where a rather matronly witch with greying hair sat reading a long piece of parchment. She looked up as they approached.

“Tonks, my dear,” the woman greeted her fondly. “How are you? I haven’t seen you about for weeks.”

“Hiya, Galatea,” Tonks replied, smiling warmly at the witch. “They’re keeping me busy down the hall, so I don’t get much time to visit anymore.”

“I’ve missed having you around,” Galatea complained. “The Auror’s office is so much duller without you to brighten everyone’s day.”

“That’s me; a right little beam of sunlight,” Dora chuckled. “By the way, this is my new partner, Harry. He’s just joined the section after working for the ICW for a few years”

“Pleased to meet you, Harry,” Galatea beamed. “You’ll have your hands full coping with this bundle of mischief, I’m sure.”

“I grew up with Dora so I know exactly what she’s like,” Harry agreed favouring the witch with a smile. Galatea appeared to be one of those people you couldn’t help but take an immediate shine to.

“Oh, I’m sure you have all sorts of interesting stories to tell about her! You must come back and dish the dirt when she’s not around,” Galatea implored him.

“He’ll do no such thing!” Dora snorted. “Not unless he wants to wear his wedding tackle as a tie.”

Harry smiled as the two witches laughed. Sometimes he envied Dora’s easy way with people. He was never so comfortable around strangers, and the years with Department M had left him even more distrustful. He wondered if he would ever learn to be so carefree again.

“So, what brings you and your handsome new partner to our neck of the woods, Tonks?” Galatea asked.

“This report,” Dora said, brandishing a buff file. “We’ve had a report of a new gang apparently starting to muscle in here in London. They’ve already hospitalised one pretty hard wizard, and scared the living daylights out of another. It might be nothing, but my contact seemed to think that they were magically pretty powerful and very ruthless. He described them as having a Death Eater vibe about them.”

“Really?” Galatea said, taking the file. “Do you think this should go straight to the Aurors, then?”

“Nah, I think the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol should look into it first, but they had better have some Hit Wizards on standby if they try to make any arrests,” Dora suggested.

“I’ll pass on the file immediately,” Galatea nodded.

“Do me a favour, though,” Dora added. “If anything does come of this, can you give me the heads up? I just have a bad feeling about this mob.”

“Of course, I’ll put a notification warning on the file. That way, if anything happens you’ll be informed at once,” the plump witch agreed.

“Thanks, Galatea, you’re a star. Anyway, I’ve got things to do and people to see, so I’ll say goodbye. I’ll try and pop in next week and we’ll have a proper natter,” Dora said as she headed for the door.

“That sounds lovely,” Galatea grinned. “Bye for now, Tonks. Bye, Harry; it was nice meeting you.”

“You too,” Harry nodded and followed Tonks out.

“Well, that’s all we can do with that for the moment,” Dora sighed as they walked back down the corridor.

“So, what’s next on our to-do list?” Harry asked.

Dora glanced at her watch. “Personally, I vote for knocking off for the evening.”

“Bloody hell, it’s not even five yet,” Harry gasped. “I could definitely get used to this more relaxed atmosphere.”

“Make the most of it, it’s not always like this, you know,” she grinned. “Now, you have two choices. We could either go back to the flat and I could subject you to my cooking…”

“I remember your attempts at cooking,” Harry shuddered, “no thanks!”

“And I’ve gotten worse rather than better,” she laughed, “or, we could just find a nice pub that does food. ‘The Lord Clyde’ does a cracking steak and ale pie, for instance.”

“I’m going to become an alcoholic working with you,” he moaned, although without much conviction.

“No one is forcing you to drink,” she replied loftily. “Although they do have Aspell cider on tap and I am rather partial to the odd drop of that stuff.”

“Okay, the pub it is then. Actually, you had me at the steak and ale pie,” he smirked.

“Ah, men are such simple creatures. Offer them pie and beer and they’re happy as Larry,” she smirked.

“Just for that, you’re getting the first round,” he replied as they headed for the lift.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry looked around with interest as he walked. They had just left ‘The Lord Clyde’ after consuming what had proved to be a spectacularly good steak and ale pie, and were now heading east towards another of Dora’s favourite watering holes, ‘The Queens Head’. As they were getting close to Islington, the streets were all dimly familiar to him, and he was filled with childhood memories of the area.

“It’s just down here,” Dora announced, leading off Caledonian Road and into a small side street. “I’m looking forward to this. I haven’t had a night out in the Queens for ages.”

Harry just nodded as they approached the unimposing front of the pub. The place looked quite traditional, with Victorian era green tiles underneath the partially frosted glass window. They pushed open the door an entered the dark pub which was lit only by imitation gas lanterns that kicked out far too little light. A long, metal-topped bar was situated along one side of the room, while the other side was divided up into booths. A familiar face was sitting in the nearest booth.

“Tonksie!” Carla exclaimed in delight. “Nice to see you out and about, girl. Brought Harry out to play, too, eh?”

“Yeah, I take him to all the classiest places,” Dora grinned. “Anyway, it’s my round. Do you two want another drink?”

Harry looked over and saw a large man with a bald head and an enormous, bushy beard sitting next to Carla. His thick, meaty arms were covered in a solid block of tattoos, and his ears and nose were all pierced. His threatening appearance was complete by his wardrobe of a faded Motorhead t-shirt and a leather waistcoat covered in patches. Harry quickly started assessing the man’s capabilities; he looked large and strong, so a good punch from him would probably put Harry on the floor. On the other hand, the bloke probably wasn’t too fast on his feet, so if he could get a few quick blows in, he could…

“Alright, mate?” the man said amiably, holding out his hand. “I’m Pete, but everyone calls me Mad Dog. Carla mentioned Tonksie had a new partner. Nice to meet you.”

Harry paused for a second before shaking Mad Dog’s hand. What had he been thinking? The man was just some bloke in a pub, not an international criminal or terrorist. Why had he instantly assumed that he would be a threat? He’d defiantly been working with Department M too long, he realised.

“Hi, Mad Dog. Pleased to meet you, too. Dora mentioned you when we were a Carla’s shop yesterday,” Harry responded politely.

“Yeah, she did your ear, didn’t she? I tell you, mate, if you need anything else done; piercings, tattoos, anything, she’s your girl. She did all this work on my arm, see?” Mad Dog said enthusiastically, thrusting his arm out at Harry.

“Very nice,” Harry commented a little warily. In truth, he did think the tattoos were pretty well done; it was just that there were rather a lot of them for his taste.

“Pull up a seat and tell me all about yourself,” Mad Dog insisted, shifting over to make room for Harry.

“Err, thanks,” Harry said, glancing over to the bar where Tonks had gone. She saw him looking and just winked at him. Deciding that Mad Dog seemed pretty friendly, Harry took a seat.

“So, you into bikes, at all?” Mad Dog asked.

Harry grinned; it appeared they’d found a shared area of interest already.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

It was nearly eleven o’clock, and Harry and Dora were making their rather unsteady way back to her flat. Harry had to admit, despite his initial reservations about Carla and Mad Dog, he’d had one of the best evenings he’d had in a long time.

Mad Dog was, to Harry’s surprise, a Muggle who nevertheless knew all about the magical world and Carla’s abilities. He worked in a garage and was particularly skilled with motorbikes. This had set the two of them off on a long conversation about Sirius’s highly modified Norton bike. Harry had felt a twinge of sadness when he realised that he had no idea what had happened to the bike, but Mad Dog had insisted that if Harry managed to track it down that he had to bring it to his garage for an overhaul.

He’d also spent some time chatting to Carla, and he vaguely remembered he’d agreed to get a tattoo done sometime in the future, although the large amount of lager he consumed meant that he wasn’t exactly sure what he’d agreed to.

Dora had got pretty sloshed and seemed to have had a great time. As she staggered back to her home, she loudly treated him to renditions of various AC/DC songs, much to his amusement, if probably not to the people trying to sleep in the houses they passed.

Eventually, they made it back to the flat. After several attempts, Dora managed to get her key in the door and they managed to enter.

“I think we need a cuppa before bed,” Harry decided. “You want tea?”

“Yeah,” she grinned rather foolishly, before throwing her arms around his neck. “I had a bloody great time tonight. You should have come back sooner!”

“I’m beginning to think that, too,” he agreed, slipping his arms around her middle. “I’m just realising exactly what I’ve been missing all this time.”

“Me, too,” she agreed, and kissed him.

In Harry’s drunken state, it took him a few moments to realise what was happening. Dora frequently gave him little pecks on the cheek or the odd friendly kiss on the lips, it was just the kind of person she was, but this was different. This wasn’t the affectionate gesture between two people who were essentially family, this kiss was full of passion and desire. Slowly and reluctantly, he gently pushed her from him. Unflinchingly, she looked him in the eyes.

“Why not?” she demanded, suddenly quite sober. “I love you and you love me. We make each other happy. So why not?”

“Because you think of me as a little brother,” he gently reminded her. “Plus, you’re drunk and this really isn’t the sort of thing we should be starting when we’re not thinking straight. Also, we’re work partners and you know as well as I do that sleeping with your partner is a massively bad idea, not to mention against regulations. Besides, I’d feel like I was betraying Remus…”

“Remus!” she yelled, interrupting him. “Don’t you think I’ve thought about that? Harry, I can’t keep living my life shackled to the memory of a dead man. I loved him, but he’s gone. It’s been five years now, and do you know that I haven’t been with a bloke since him? I’m lonely, Harry; lonely and frustrated. Please, take the feeling away from me. Make love to me.”

Harry looked at her in shock, more at her admission that she’d been celibate since Remus died then at her request for him to bed her. Tonks was a vivacious and attractive woman, and he was amazed that she’d been alone all this time. Even so, he knew getting involved with her would be a huge mistake.

“Dora, luv, you’re absolutely right to want to move on. You deserve a man in your life, one who will love you and take away that pain, but that person isn’t me. I’ve loved spending time with you this last few days, and I can’t believe how great it is to be partnered with you, but I don’t want to ruin all that by starting a relationship that would be doomed from the start. I know you were my first major crush, and that I probably nearly wanked myself silly fantasising about you, but the fact remains that we’re more like family than lovers. You’re my flirtatious, beautiful, funny, sexy, deadly, big sister, and I love you to bits. I promise I’ll always be there for you in the future and that I’ll never leave again, but shagging you would be wrong, and we both know it,” he said in a quiet but earnest voice.

Dora stared at him for a moment before bursting into tears. He grabbed her and held her tightly against him.

“I’m sorry, Dora. I love you, but please don’t make me do this,” he begged.

“No, you’re right,” she sniffled. “You are like a bother to me, but you’re also the best bloke I know. It’s just that… shit, I’m so lonely, Harry.”

“I know, and I am, too,” he admitted, “but we both need different things. You need to find some handsome young stud who’ll put a smile back on your face, but I need a proper, steady relationship. I’m through with screwing married women or sluts I know I’ll never see again. I’ve been running for years, Dora, and I need to put some roots down again.”

She pulled away slightly and stroked his face. “Yeah, you are right, but wouldn’t it have all been so much easier if we could have given each other what we need?”

“Yeah, it would,” he agreed. “Tell you what, if you promise to help me find a nice, pretty normal girl to be with, I’ll promise to help find you some godly stud that’s hung like a Hippogriff. How’s that sound?”

“Okay, but he better have long hair and some tattoos, too,” she laughed through her tears.

“Deal, I don’t need to say that the girl needs to have nice set of knockers, do I?” he teased.

“You always were a boob man,” Dora giggled.

They stood holding each other for a long while as they lapsed into silence. Harry knew that they were both, in their own way, slightly broken people. He vowed at that moment to help his adopted sister in any way he could, while also trying to heal himself, too. He was only now beginning to realise the damage that he’d done to himself working for Department M, and how much he needed some normality and stability in his life.

As he stood there holding Dora in his arms, he knew that the path ahead of him wasn’t going to be easy.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“This is the place,” Dora declared as the VW pulled up in front of a long, single story shop building with a metal mesh screen over the front window. It had a depressing aura of neglect about it.

“Tell me about the bloke we’ve come to see again,” Harry said, staring intently at the building.

“His name is Andris Topa and he’s a second generation Hungarian immigrant. He’s an unscrupulous bastard who got busted for running a prostitution network years back, so was in prison during the last war. When he got out, he discovered Borgin and Burkes had been burnt to the ground and saw a gap in the market. Since then, he’s been operating this delightful place; a pawn shop fronting a fencing operation for stolen magical items. He dabbles a bit in Muggle items that wizards might want, too. If he shakes your hand, be sure to count your fingers afterwards,” Dora advised him.

They climbed out of the car and headed towards the shop. Harry glanced at Dora as they walked, but he saw no evidence of the slight uncomfortableness there had been between them at breakfast. Indeed, once they had started work she had seemed completely normal, going so far as to flirt with him lightly. He could only feel relief at her attitude, as the last thing in the world he wanted to do was hurt her.

They entered the shop and Harry glanced around. The place was poorly lit and filled with metal shelves containing all manner of Muggle objects, from ancient looking radios to a manky looking kettle. No doubt the magical items were kept well out of sight.

“Tonks, nice to see ya, girl,” a deep male voice called out.

Harry turned to see a large, extremely fat man waddling out from behind a long counter towards them. He was dressed in a grubby looking shirt and his trousers were held up with braces. He smiled revealing brownish teeth while his piggy eyes stared at them intently.

“Hiya, Topa. How you been?” she replied politely.

“Oh, not too well, I’m afraid. I’m a martyr to my bad back, you know. Is this an official visit or are you looking for something yourself?” he asked.

“An official visit,” Dora confirmed. “Do you mind if we talk out back?”

“Not at all. May I enquire who your young gentleman friend is?” Topa asked, eyeing Harry warily.

“This is my new partner, Harry Potter. Before you ask, yes, he is THAT Harry Potter. He’s also a highly trained operative who until recently was working for the ICW, so don’t try any funny stuff with him or you’ll ending up in very small pieces, okay?” Dora told him flatly.

Topa’s piggy eyes went wide for a second, before a sickly grin appeared on his face. “Well, I am honoured, Mr Potter. Please, do come through, both of you,” he said, waving a chubby hand to a doorway situated behind the counter.

Harry followed Dora through the doorway, all the while speculating why she had been so up-front in telling Andris who he was. He could only assume that the man was well connected and would have found out the information quickly anyway. Sometimes it was better to just come straight out with things like that, just so no one thought you put much importance behind it.

The room he entered proved to be a cosy little parlour area with a number of old-fashioned green chairs arranged around a Victorian-style fireplace. Due to the warm weather, the fire wasn’t lit, but Harry did notice a cup of steaming tea was perched on a small side table next to one of the chairs. Topa lumbered over and sat down heavily in the chair, indicating that they should take the remaining chairs themselves. Once they were seated, he looked at them shrewdly.

“Now, Tonks, I ain’t seen you round these parts for months, so what brings two such important people as yourselves around to my humble gaff?” he asked.

“I’m hearing rumours about some new players in town,” Dora said, not beating around the bush. “I hear they’ve muscled in on Frank Harbottle’s operations. You know I don’t like new faces throwing their weight around in my manor, Andris. What can you tell me about them?”

The fat man shrugged. “Not a lot,” he admitted. “I heard about Frank, too. Got really badly busted up, didn’t he? Not that I’ll weep any tears about that, of course. He could be a right mean bastard, could Frank. But no, I don’t know much beyond that.”

“Come on, Topa, don’t bullshit me. I know you would have started checking out any new players as soon as you got a whiff of them,” Tonks snorted. “Don’t start holding out on me.”

To emphasise the point, Harry stood and started to walk around the small room, apparently examining random objects. In truth, he was deliberately moving out of the fat man’s eye line, an act sure to make a man like Topa very nervous.

“Really, I…” Topa began, a hint of fear creeping into his voice.

“I hear you used to run a prostitution network,” Harry said coolly, coming to stand just a couple of feet behind Topa. “I was involved in smashing a network like that in Italy a couple of years ago. Half the girls were Muggles who had been Imperioused into that line of work, and were basically treated like shit. I’ve always despised pimps ever since.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t do that stuff no more,” Topa replied defensively.

“I did mention that Harry previously worked for the ICW, didn’t I?” Dora said in a pleasant voice. “Do I need to spell out what department he worked for?”

Topa hurriedly pushed himself out of his chair and retreated to a position where he could see both Harry and Dora. “Please, I don’t want no trouble…” he pleaded.

“Then tell us what you know about this new gang,” Harry insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Topa agreed reluctantly. “Look, you can’t let on that I said anything, alright? This mob have got a lot of people scared recently. I mean, real hard geezers who don’t take shit from no one.”

“Our lips are sealed,” Harry promised.

Topa nodded. “This lot seem to have sprung up from nowhere about two months ago. At first, they were just in the market for various black market goods; restricted spell components, illegal potions, unmarked wands; that sort of thing. Then, last month, they started moving in on various small-time operators. Frank was the biggest name they’ve taken down, and the weird thing is that they’re targeting Muggles and wizards alike.”

“What kind of things are they into?” Dora asked.

“A real mix, actually,” the fat man replied. “The Muggle stuff has been mostly protection rackets, but only minor stuff. The wizard stuff seems even odder. You heard about that bakery that used to be Frank’s, yeah? Well, that’s about the only thing they’ve taken. At a guess, I say they took it as a money laundering front, as they seem pretty well financed. Would have thought they would have done for something a bit more high turnover, though.”

“What about the group themselves?” Harry asked. “Do you know anything about them?”

“Nah, this lot are like ghosts. They appear out of nowhere, always wear masks, and never hang around too long, neither. I’d guess there are about half a dozen of them, but there could be a lot more or a lot less. Difficult to tell when you never see any faces, init? I’ll tell you one thing, though; this lot are bloody dangerous. Frank was a careful bloke and had a load of nasty Jinxes and Curses protecting his place, and this lot went right through them like they weren’t even there! The ones we’ve seen have been pretty handy with a wand, too. Hard bastards, the lot of them,” Topa told them.

“And you really have no idea where they’re from?” Dora asked with a frown.

“No idea at all, and I’ve tried to find out, believe me. If I was a betting man I would guess that they’re from overseas and have decided to try their luck in this country for some reason. Maybe things were too hot for them wherever they were before, I dunno,” he shrugged.

“Someone we spoke to said they acted like Death Eaters,” Harry ventured.

“Yeah, I can see that,” Topa agreed, “but all the Death Eaters have been accounted for, ain’t they? I can’t believe this mob just slipped through the net.”

“Nah, you’re probably right,” Dora agreed. “Besides, we didn’t say they were Death Eaters, just that they acted in a similar manner.”

“If you mean they’re a bunch of evil bastards who like hurting people, then I agree,” Topa agreed. “That don’t make ‘em Death Eaters though, does it?”

Harry looked at Dora and caught her eye. It looked like she was as concerned about the whole situation as he was.

Shortly afterwards, they wandered back out to the car having instructed Topa to contact them immediately if he heard anything more about the mysterious mob of magical criminals that had appeared from out of nowhere.

“What’s our next step, then?” Harry asked, deferring to Dora’s greater local knowledge.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “We may already be stepping on the toes of an official DMLE investigation, but I just have a feeling that letting this drop will be a bad idea. I think we might swing by that bakery this mob muscled in on and take a peak.”

“Sounds a good idea,” Harry agreed, before looking at her nervously. “Err, Dora, do you mind if we do that after lunch? There’s something I want to take care of first.”

“Yeah, sure,” Dora agreed readily. “What do you need to do, babe?”

“I know I said it wasn’t a priority, but I think I’d like to swing by Gringotts and enquire about hiring a curse-breaker to look at Grimmauld Place,” he confessed.

“Is this because of what happened last night?” Dora asked quietly, not looking at him.

“No, not really,” Harry replied warily. “I mean, I do think it would be a good idea if I got my own place, especially as we’ve agreed that we both need to get out there and start dating. But mostly this is because I’ve had a bit of a change of heart. Coming back to London has driven home to me what I’ve been missing these last few years. Seeing you again has just been wonderful, and it’s been great seeing Kingsley and Dedalus again, too. I never realised how much I’ve missed this place. Now I’m back, I want to put down roots again, and that means finding my own place to live. I’m not sure if I want that to be Grimmauld Place, or if that’s even an option, but I would like to find out sooner rather than later so I can make plans.”

Tonks turned to him and actually smiled. “You’re really staying this time, aren’t you?” she said happily.

“Yeah, I am. Did you think I was going to leave again?” he asked in surprise.

“I was worried you would, yeah. I thought coming back and seeing everyone again would be too much for you. I… I really wanted you to stay, Harry. It’s kind of why I threw myself at you last night,” she told him, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.

Not knowing what else to do, Harry reached over and pulled her into a fierce hug. “I’m sorry, Dora,” he said. “I’m sorry I left you and your mum on your own. I realise now that was a massive mistake and I promise that I won’t leave again.”

She pulled away from him slightly and looked him in the eyes. “I’m going to kiss you now,” she told him, “but I promise that it’s just because I love you to bits and not that I’m trying to shag you, okay.”

“Okay,” he smiled, “I guess that…mmmuph!”

He was cut off as Dora grabbed each side of his head and planted a loud, wet kiss firmly on his lips, which went on long enough to probably convince anyone passing by that he had just got lucky. As she pulled away, he couldn’t help but laugh at her exuberance.

“Come on, sexy,” Dora declared happily. “Let’s go have a bite to eat at ‘The Leaky’ and then go and see those lovely goblins about hiring a curse-breaker.”

Grinning, Harry reached over and grabbed his safety belt. He may love Dora like a big sister, but he as damned if he was going to let her drive him anywhere without being firmly strapped in first.


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Chapter 5: Chapter 5 - Falling

Author's Notes: A slightly different chapter, this one, and definitely the most downbeat since the first one. Virtually everyone featured in this story is a damaged person to a greater or lesser extent, and this chapter is where the cracks start to show. Just because a war ends, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t still being hurt.

On the plus side, we get our first Weasley sighting, and our heroes become more embroiled in their search for the mysterious gang that’s been terrorising London. Sorry about all the money laundering talk, but as I have to complete a quarterly test relating to that topic I thought I’d share a little bit of the joy.

Huge wobbly thanks to Arnel.


Chapter 5 — Falling



“We seem to be attracting a lot of attention,” Harry noted wryly as they walked down Diagon Alley, having just observed an elderly witch in antique-looking robes scowling at them. She wasn’t the only one by a long chalk.

“I’m used to it,” Dora shrugged. “Unless you’re wearing something that would have last been in fashion in the Middle Ages, this lot think you’re inappropriately dressed.”

“It’s not this bad on the continent,” Harry pointed out. “In France, for instance, they only wear robes on formal occasions.”

“Tres Chic, my dear Harry. The French always have more sense of style then us poor Brits. Shame they have crappy taste in music, though,” she sniggered.

“I just don’t like all these witches and wizards tutting and looking down their noses at us. This is how Voldemort managed to get such a following in this country; because anything modern or a bit different was frowned upon by most of the wizarding community. I had hoped that people would be a bit more tolerant these days, but it looks like I’m going to be disappointed,” he grumbled.

“You’re mostly right,” Dora acknowledged, “but I do think attitudes have changed quite a bit in recent years. Kingsley has made a real difference, Harry, and I don’t think a tosser like Voldemort would ever be able to gather much support now. We have new laws regarding equality and tolerance, and I genuinely think people are a bit more accepting these days. I mean, back in the old days it wasn’t uncommon for a stranger to walk up to me and call me a whore, just because I wore a short skirt or a low-cut t-shirt.”

“They’ll get a broken jaw if they try that while I’m around,” Harry snarled.

“Oh, my hero! But I think I’m quite capable handing out a bit of punishment myself these days, thank you very much,” she replied firmly.

“I know, but punching them would make me feel a lot better,” he pointed out. “Ah, here we are: Gringotts. I haven’t been here for years.”

“Did the goblins ever find out who broke into the Lestrange vault during the last days of the war?” Dora asked with a smirk.

“No, strange that, isn’t it?” he replied blandly.

Dora laughed. “Come on, Raffles, let’s go and have a chat with those oh-so friendly goblins.”

The banking hall wasn’t as crowded as Harry feared it would be of a lunch time, and they managed to walk up to a teller almost immediately.

“Good afternoon,” Harry said politely. “I’m interested in hiring the services of one of your curse-breakers.”

“Go through the door at the end and wait. Someone will come and speak to you,” the goblin snapped, not once looking up from the ledger he was working on.

“Thank you,” Harry said in a distinctly sarcastic tone. The goblin, however, just ignored him.

“You’ve got to love their customer service,” Dora said, shaking her head.

“They’ve got a monopoly in the banking sector, so they can afford to be rude,” he pointed out. “No one would dare trying to open a rival bank for fear of starting another war. If receiving surly service is the price we have to pay to stop the little bastards attacking us, then I, for one, am happy to put up with it.”

They walked through the door the goblin had indicated and found themselves in a large, wood-panelled room that contained a number of dark-wood tables and chairs. Other than that, the room was empty.

“Think we’ll have to wait long?” Harry asked.

“Knowing the goblins, yes; a very long time,” Dora sighed.

Dora was wrong, however, as moments later a door set in the far wall swung open and a tall, red-haired man entered. He was dressed in formal Gringotts robes and had his long hair tied back neatly into a ponytail.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” the man said, favouring them with a friendly smile.

“Bill?” Dora said as soon as she caught sight of him. “Bloody hell, it is you! I haven’t seen you in years.”

“Tonks!” the man exclaimed hurrying forward. “Wow, you’re right; it must be over four years since I last spoke with you, right after the war ended.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” she agreed before turning to Harry. “Do you remember Bill Weasley, Harry? He was a member of The Order, if you recall.”

Harry looked hard at the man. He certainly seemed familiar, but he couldn’t recall anything about him.

“Sorry, I…” Harry began to say.

“Harry Potter! The Knut’s just dropped; you’re Harry Potter,” Bill suddenly exclaimed. “I heard that you were living overseas.”

“I was, since the end of the war, anyway,” Harry admitted. “Now I’m back and I’ve been made Dora’s partner in the Ministry.”

“Great, well, welcome back,” Bill said warmly, offering his hand.

Harry shook it, still trying to remember where he’d seen Bill before. “I’m really struggling to place you, I’m afraid,” he admitted.

“I’m not really surprised, I did become a member quite late in the war,” Bill explained. “I remember seeing you at one Order meeting that was staged in Mad-Eye Moody’s place, actually, but shortly after that you disappeared off on that quest of yours. All they told us was that you were doing something to help take down Voldemort.”

“That would explain it,” Harry nodded. It wasn’t long after the massacre at Grimmauld Place that he had taken off in an effort to find Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes. It had been a dark and dangerous time for him, not to mention extremely lonely. He’d always wished he’d had someone to share the hardships with, but Dumbledore, before he died, had been quite explicit in his wish that Harry tell no one else about Voldemort’s darkest secret.

“You must remember Bill’s parents, Arthur and Molly,” Dora prompted him.

“Oh, yeah, I remember them,” Harry agreed readily, suddenly seeing the family resemblance. “As I recall, you mum was a fantastic cook, wasn’t she?”

“That’s the one thing everyone remembers about her; what a great cook she is,” Bill laughed.

“How are your mum and dad?” Dora asked. “I feel terrible that I haven’t spoken to them in so long. I used to be really friendly with Molly.”

“They’re both good,” Bill confirmed. “Mum’s bit greyer and Dad’s a bit balder, but otherwise they’re healthy and happy.”

“Great, pass on my best to them,” Dora smiled.

“Will do,” Bill agreed. “So, what can I do for the pair of you? Is this an official visit or do you need something personal?”

“Personal,” Harry confirmed. “Now I’m back in the UK for good, I was thinking of making Grimmauld Place habitable again. The trouble is, the Death Eaters left all sorts of nasty curses and traps all through the place. I wanted to hire a curse-breaker to remove them all.”

“That’s going to be a big job,” Bill said doubtfully. “I remember what a mess they made of the place. I’m afraid that sorting it out won’t come cheap.”

“That’s okay, I can cover it,” Harry said flatly.

“Bill, Harry is one of the richest wizards in the country,” Dora grinned. “I know he might dress like a street punk, but that’s entirely because he looks so hot like that.”

“Sorry, I should have realised,” Bill said apologetically. “You’re head of both the Potter and Black families, aren’t you?”

“What’s left of them,” Harry replied shortly.

“Err, right. Look, why don’t you come through to my personal office and we’ll discuss your requirements. It’s a bit more private back there,” he suggested.

“Thanks,” Harry replied gratefully.

They followed the tall, young man as he headed back through the door he had entered from, with Dora walking beside him and Harry hanging back just a little. They walked down a long corridor with numerous doors along each side.

“So, are you still with that smoking-hot French witch, then?” Dora asked lightly.

Bill scowled. “No, we split up,” he growled.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, a little shamefaced.

“No, I’m sorry for snapping at you, but it’s still a bit of a sore point,” Bill said apologetically. “It’s stupid, really; we split up nearly two years ago but it’s still a bit of a thorny subject.”

“No, I understand entirely,” Dora replied sympathetically. “I know how difficult these things can be. Would I be rude if I asked what happened? When I last saw you, you were talking about marriage.”

“Yeah, we were,” he confirmed. “The thing is, Fleur never really warmed to living in England, and with my career here at Gringotts really taking off, I didn’t want to move to France. Plus, most of my family never really liked her. Mum and Ginny both hated the sight of her, and the feeling was mutual. One day there was a massive argument and Fleur said some very hurtful things about my family, and then got angry at me when I asked her to apologise. Things just got steadily worse between us, and in the end she broke it off and moved back home.”

“I’m sorry, you two made a lovely couple,” Dora said.

“Maybe, but I wonder sometimes if we truly had that much in common. She didn’t really know me if she thought I would just turn my back on my family, for instance. Ah, this is my office; do both make yourselves comfortable,” Bill said, gesturing for them to enter.

Harry and Dora sat themselves down on a pair of wooden chairs situated in front of a parchment covered desk. Bill took a seat on the far side of the desk, and retrieved a notepad from a drawer.

It only took around ten minutes for Harry and Bill to come to an agreement on how to proceed. Although the curse-breaking department was extremely busy, Bill announced that he was prepared to pass on a job to a lower ranking employee so he could give Harry priority. It was then agreed that Bill would meet him at 12 Grimmauld Place on Friday evening so they could do an initial survey of the house. After the survey was completed, Bill would have a clearer idea of what would be required to make the place safe and how much it would cost. With a plan agreed, Bill shook both their hands and guided them back to the banking hall.

“I’ll see you on Friday, Harry,” Bill said cheerily. “Tonks, it was great to see you again. We should really catch up some time.”

“Yeah that would be good. See ya around, Bill,” Tonks responded.

As they turned to leave, Harry noticed Bill giving Dora a rather speculative look.

“Well, that was easier than I feared,” Harry said as they left Gringotts. “That Bill bloke was really helpful.”

“Yeah, Bill’s great. I’ve always liked him,” Dora confirmed. “Actually, I think it was a good thing he broke up with that French witch. She was absolutely stunning looking, but a bit of a princess, if you know what I mean. Bill needs someone a bit more down to earth.”

Harry just nodded, pleased that they had someone reliable on board.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

A bell jingled as Harry pushed open the door to the shop and walked in with Dora close on his heels. He looked around him in surprise. Perhaps the sign above the entrance which had read ‘Creative Creations’ should have clued him in, he realised.

“Wow, this place is fancy,” Dora noted appreciatively.

Harry could only agree. When they had decided to check out the bakery at the heart of the dispute between the hardened criminal Frank Harbottle and the mysterious new gang they had been hearing about, he’d expected the place to be a simple affair producing fresh bread, simple cakes and the odd sausage roll, but apparently he’d been mistaken.

Everywhere he looked there were large, extravagantly decorated cakes. The centre piece of the display was a huge, seven-tier wedding cake that looked like it would take a hundred guests a week to eat, assuming anyone could bring themselves to actually take a knife to the fantastic creation, that is. There were also numerous other, less ostentatious wedding cakes, plus a wealth of other creations ranging from a mass of birthday cakes, to those made to celebrate an anniversary, to one made for a retirement celebration. Harry had to admit he was slightly awed by the variety and splendour of the display.

“Can I help you?” a female voice asked.

Harry turned to see a well-dressed, middle-aged woman staring at him in disapproval. He had to admit he probably looked slightly out of place in such an establishment, and couldn’t blame her for regarding at him in that manner. He was about to speak when Dora cut him off.

“Hiya! Yeah, you can,” she squeaked in a very un-Tonks like manner. Harry also noticed that she’d morphed her face to look rather younger than she actually was.

“What can I do to help today?” the woman asked in a slightly strained manner as she turned her attention towards Dora.

“Me and my honey-pie here are getting married, and I’ll looking for a cake for the occasion,” Dora wittered like she didn’t have a brain in her head. “I want something totally spectacular! I want something that says my wedding is the most important event of the year! Money’s no object, but I want something fabulous!”

The woman looked a little taken back. “Creative Creations does make the most remarkable wedding cakes in all of London, possibly the whole of Europe, but I must warn you that our prices do reflect the quality of our products,” she said hesitantly.

“No worries,” Dora announced casually, coming over and wrapping her arm around Harry’s. “Daddy’s paying for everything and he said that I’m only to have the very best at my wedding.”

“Oh, and who is your father, may I enquire?” the woman asked with a forced smile.

“Trevor Saunders,” Dora replied with a smile. “You might know him as Shotgun Saunders. Daft nickname, if you ask me. He hasn’t carried a shotgun for years!”

The woman paled noticeably, and Harry had to stifle a laugh. ‘Shotgun’ Saunders was a well-known Muggle crime lord who controlled large swathes of the capital. It was unlikely that many shopkeepers in West London wouldn’t have known his name, even if they had never laid eyes on the man. Trevor Saunders had enough lackeys to do his bidding these days and, as far as Harry knew, spent most of his time in Spain.

“Oh, yes, of course I’ve heard of Mr Saunders! Naturally, he’d want the very best for his daughter’s wedding. What sort of thing did you have in mind?” the woman asked, her tone noticeably friendlier.

“Something bigger than that,” Dora announced, pointing at the seven-tier cake, “but with pink icing. That’s right, init, babe?”

“Whatever you want, luv,” Harry assured her, roughing up his accent like a true Essex boy. “I just want your big day to be perfect, sugar.”

“It bloody better be, or someone’s going get their legs broken,” Dora snapped like a proper spoilt princess. Well, a princess that came from the East End of London, anyway.

“Perhaps you’d like to look at our catalogue?” the woman suggested a little desperately.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s see what you got,” Dora agreed.

The woman hurried into a backroom, presumably to fetch the catalogue while Harry looked at Dora disapprovingly. She merely winked and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. A second later, the woman returned clutching an extremely thick ring-binder, which proved to contain lavish pictures of what must have been every cake they had ever produced. Harry and Dora pretended to look through the book for a while, with Dora making evermore ridiculous suggestion for the imaginary wedding cake, and Harry just nodding and muttering variations on the ‘anything you want, babe’ theme. After what he judged to be a convincing time looking through the catalogue, he looked up and addressed the saleswoman.

“All this lot looks alright, I suppose, but does it taste any good? And what about your hygiene standards? I’ve heard all sorts of dodgy stories about caterers, I have. Why, my Uncle George had to break the fingers of the caterer who did my Nan’s 40th birthday party. Half the food was rank, it was!” he exclaimed in mock outrage.

“I assure you, our standards are impeccable,” the woman replied in an offended voice.

“I’ve heard that before,” Dora snorted. “Go on, prove it! You show us round your kitchens, then.”

“Of course, we have absolutely nothing to hide and we often let our customers watch the making of their orders. Please, come with me,” the woman replied and beckoned them to follow her.

Harry and Dora exchanged a quick look. If this place really was a front for some illegal activity, it was odd that they should be so willing to let them behind closed doors. Increasingly, Harry was beginning to think this might be some elaborate money laundering operation, and their high-end cakes and confectionaries might be a front for laundering stolen cash into the banking system.

They were led into a large, impeccably clean kitchen where various white smocked cooks were working on their latest creations. The saleswoman led them towards a young man with spiky blond hair who was currently wrapping marzipan round the wire frame of an impressive model horse. He had about half the frame covered and Harry had to admit it looked pretty amazing.

“This is Stephan who is one of our chefs here,” the woman introduced him. “As you see, he’s currently making a pony-themed cake for a young lady’s fifteenth birthday.”

“It doesn’t look much at the moment,” Stephan said apologetically, “but you just wait until it’s finished.”

“It looks good now,” Harry stated, looking intently at the cake.

“Come and see this other one I’m working on. It will give you a much better impression of what our products look like when they’re finished,” the young chef said enthusiastically, beckoning them over to the far said of the work area. Harry gasped when he saw what was there.

Sitting on the worktop was a magnificent unicorn that was nearly a yard long. Strangely, the beast had wings like a Pegasus, although they, like the animal’s mane, were all colours of the rainbow. The cake really was a work of art.

“Wow, that’s incredible!” Dora exclaimed.

“Thanks, it certainly took enough work,” Stephan said proudly.

“Mate, you are a true artist,” Harry told him.

The man shrugged. “I just love doing this stuff,” he admitted. “I think I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Harry turned to the saleswoman. “Aren’t you worried about some other business poaching this bloke? He’s a genius!”

“He is,” she agreed. “Fortunately for us, we were taken over recently by a wealthy investor who really believes in what we’re doing. He’s put a lot of money into the business to enable us to purchase new equipment and also made clear he’ll do anything required to keep Stephan here. The man knows talent when he sees it.”

Harry had to stop himself from frowning. What sort of crime lord muscles in on another crook’s business only to apparently nurture and invest in it heavily? That simply didn’t make sense.

“Oh, who is you new owner? Daddy might know him,” Dora asked innocently.

“Err, possibly,” the woman said hesitantly. “His name is Mr Winter and he’s a successful Yorkshire based businessman.”

“Can’t say I’ve heard of him,” Dora admitted, and Harry suspected she was speaking the truth.

“Oh, yes. Mr Winter is a very successful hotelier and also owns several catering firms. He wanted to branch out into something more up-market, hence why he bought this place. Rest assured, if you place an order for your wedding cake with us, you’ll be 100% sure of delivery, believe me,” the woman said, obviously misinterpreting their line of questioning.

The woman continued their guided tour, and Harry was becoming more and more confused. As the woman had said, a lot of the equipment was brand new, and the kitchen seemed to operate to the highest of standards. By the time they had finished, Harry was in no doubt that this was a genuine, high-class business that had recently received a very large cash injection. Even if it was a money laundering operation, converting your ill-gotten gains into catering equipment in what looked like a long-term investment situation seemed an odd idea to him.

“So, are you interested in placing an order with us?” the woman asked hopefully as they re-entered the front showroom.

“Err…” Dora said, looking a bit worried.

“You just can’t decide, can you, babe?” Harry said smoothly. “Can we leave a deposit now and come back to you a bit later when we’ve decided exactly what we want?”

“Oh, that would be fine,” the woman assured them, obviously used to indecisive young brides.

“Great, would £100 be enough?” he asked, pulling out his wallet. Having been to Gringotts that morning he’d taken the opportunity to convert quite a few Galleons to Muggle currency, and his wallet bulged with £50 and £20 notes. He tilted it so the saleswoman could clearly see how much he was carrying.

“That would be most expectable, Mr… oh, I never asked your name!” the woman exclaimed apologetically.

“That’s alright; put it in my better half’s name: Miss Saunders,” Harry smiled, handing over two £50 notes.

“Certainly, I’ll just get you a receipt,” the woman said, accepting the money graciously.

Five minutes later, they left the shop with a hand-written receipt and not much else.

“Harry, luv, why did you just hand over a Ton? Unless of course you really are planning to marry me and actually do want a cake from them,” Dora grinned.

“As lucky as I would be to have you, this gives us an excuse to go back and visit the shop if we need to,” he explained. “Did that place seem completely legit to you?”

“Yeah, there was no way they were faking that,” she admitted. “If Frank Harbottle got his hands on that place, it must have been in financial trouble; he’s known for taking on repossession jobs and asset stripping them. ‘Creative Creations’ has clearly just had a load of cash thrown at it, and they are very happy about it.”

“Notice how pleased that saleswoman was to take my money?” Harry prompted. “They might talk about how flash they are, but that woman was ecstatic to get her hands on some cold, hard cash. Kind of makes me think she wasn’t used to that happening much recently.”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Dora said shaking her head. “I know we said we’d leave this job to the DMLE, but something here stinks, and I want to know what.”

“I agree. So, we keep working this?” Harry asked.

“See, this is why I like working with you, Harry; you always know what I want,” she grinned.

“That’s me; put on this earth to answer every one of Nymphadora Tonks’s wishes,” he said tragically.

Dora was in a sufficiently good mood that she didn’t even hex him for using her full name.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPP

“Oh, bloody hell. I didn’t realise the fire damage was so bad,” Dora moaned quietly as she walked through the front door of 12 Grimmauld Place.

“Yeah, pretty much all the ground level was gutted,” Harry confirmed sadly.

“Okay, I’ve cleared this corridor up to the stairs, but please don’t venture any further than that,” Bill Weasley said in a business-like tone. “There wasn’t much in the way of curses or jinxes this far, but I’m seeing evidence of a lot of magical activity beyond this part.”

“I don’t think the Death Eaters bothered much with the fire damaged parts of the house,” Harry informed him. “No reason to, I guess.”

“No, I suspect you’re right,” Bill nodded. “I’ve taken the liberty of casting a few spells to check the structural safety of the house. More curse-breakers are killed by crumbling buildings than anything else, you know. The house seems pretty safe, although I’ll need to check the floors upstairs once I get that far.

Harry just nodded and looked around the ruined house. He’d lived here for years and the place was full of memories. Christmases, birthdays, Halloween celebrations, arguments and laughter, tears and joy; it all came flooding back to him.

“This was the place, wasn’t it?” Dora said in an unemotional tone. Harry looked up to see her standing a few feet in front of him, staring intently up at the stairs at the first floor landing. He instantly knew what she was refereeing to.

“Yes, it is,” he confirmed in a soft voice.

She stood unmoving for a few moments, before crisply turning and heading towards the door. “This was a mistake,” she announced as she walked past. “I’ll wait for you outside.”

Harry sighed as she closed the front door behind her. Dora was clearly a lot more emotionally fragile then her cocky and flirty attitude led him to believe. Coming back to the very spot Remus had died had definitely been a bad idea.

“Is she alright?” Bill asked in a concerned voice.

“Yeah, she… she probably just needs a bit of space,” he replied.

“Shouldn’t you go and comfort her?” Bill pressed.

“No, I think she’ll want to be on her own for the moment,” Harry said.

“Okay, if you say so,” Bill agreed, although he sounded far from convinced.

“You see the landing up there?” Harry said pointing up the stairs. “That’s the exact spot that Remus Lupin died. Do you know who he was?”

“Yeah, I met him several times. He was engaged to Tonks, wasn’t he?” Bill confirmed, looking solemnly at the spot Harry had indicated.

“That’s right. Dora loved the bloke completely, and she was devastated when he died. I know it’s been five years, but I still don’t think she’s really over it,” Harry mused.

“Oh, right,” Bill frowned. “Err, aren’t you two together, then?”

Harry looked up in confusion and slight anger. Bill instantly caught his expression.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. That was totally unprofessional of me,” he quickly apologised.

“Nah, it’s alright,” Harry waved away the apology, his anger gone as fast as it had come. “You’re Dora’s friend, too, so you have every right to ask. For your information, no, Dora and I aren’t together. In fact, I think of her more like a big sister. They say that you should try everything in life once with two exceptions: incest and Morris Dancing. That’s a rule I want to live by.”

Bill laughed. “I think I agree, which will be a major relief to my sister, anyway. But really, I’m sorry for prying. I admit that when Tonks walked into Gringotts the other day I was really pleased to see her again and thought she looked great. I was thinking of asking her out, actually, but I kind of got the impression you two were an item. I guess I’d better forget about the whole idea.”

“No, don’t,” Harry insisted. “I mean, give her a bit of time to get over the shock of today, but I think that asking her out would be a good idea. She’s been pretty lonely and she did speak pretty highly of you the other day. Just if you do, go easy on her, okay? She’s been through a pretty rough time.”

“Yeah, of course,” Bill agreed hurriedly. “The truth be told, it’s only recently that I’ve even thought about dating again. Fleur leaving me hit me pretty hard, and I can’t say I was particularly happy even before that. It got so bad that my little sister insisted on moving into my flat with me after Fleur left. She said it was to get out from Mum’s thumb, but I really think it was just so she could keep an eye on me.”

“Well, if Dora does say yes, then please just take it slowly, yeah?” Harry said.

“If she even says yes,” Bill muttered under his breath. “Right, well, I’d better get on with this survey or we’ll be here all night.”

“Mind if I watch? I’ve always had an interest in this sort of stuff,” Harry admitted.

“Not at all,” Bill smiled. “In fact, if you’re interested I’ll explain what I’m doing as I go. Right, as I enter each new room, the first thing I’ll be looking for is curses with an area-wide effect. The doorframes are the obvious place to…”

Bill continued to explain what he was doing, and Harry listened attentively. Together, the two young men did what all true Englishmen do when faced with a difficult emotional situation.

They ignored it.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Ampthill hadn’t changed much, Harry was pleased to see. Nor had the neat little house situated on the outskirts of the small Bedfordshire town. He genuinely felt a lump in his throat as he walked up to the front door, Dora by his side.

As they reached the door, Dora started fumbling in her trouser pockets, presumably for her key, but she never had the chance to retrieve it. Instead, the door flew open and a radiant-looking Andromeda Tonks appeared.

“Harry!” she cried, gathering him in his arms. Harry immediately wrapped his arms around her, and held the woman like his life depended on it.

“See, I told you she’d be pleased to see you,” Dora smirked over his shoulder.

“Oh, hush, Nymphadora,” Andy admonished her daughter before pulling away and looking Harry up and down. “Oh, you’re looking wonderful, Harry. You look so handsome with your hair like that. Come in, come in!”

Andy ushered them into the living room which, despite it being a bright summer afternoon, was lit by candles. Harry remembered his adopted aunt had predilection for candlelight. She looked older to his eyes; older and more care-worn. Bearing in mind everything she’d been through in her life that was probably understandable. Andy sat down in a comfy-looking chair, and her dark eyes regarded him intently. For us a second, Harry was reminded of Andromeda’s evil sister, Bellatrix Lestrange, and he could barely resist a shudder.

“Dora has informed me that she’s already taken you to task for not writing, so I suppose I’ll have to forego scolding you too much. Sweet Merlin, though, Harry! Four years and not a word from you?” Andy said in exasperation.

“I’m sorry, Andromeda,” he apologised. “At first, I was just so lost that I wouldn’t have known what to even say in a letter and then… I guess I just got so wrapped up in the job that I lost sight of everything.”

“Well, I suppose we were all like that, a bit,” Andy sighed. “That damnable war cost us so much. I sometimes feel like we’re all still fighting, that it’s not truly all over yet.”

“You’re right, Mum,” Dora agreed from her position on the sofa next to Harry. “I thought once Harry polished off that snake-faced bastard that the war would be over and we’d be able to get on with our lives. It doesn’t feel that way, does it?”

Harry noticed Andy looking at her daughter with concern written on her face, before she quickly looked away. He’d seen that expression before. As cruel and self-centred as her sisters had been, Andy had always been more worried about other people’s feelings than her own. Clearly, she was worried about Dora for some reason.

“Well, this conversation has turned gloomy entirely too quickly,” Andy announced in a rather forced tone Harry thought. “We’re supposed to be celebrating Harry’s return and catching up, not making ourselves depressed. Dinner will be ready soon and I’ve prepared a proper Sunday roast for us with all the trimmings.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Harry admitted, perking up. Andy had always been an exceptional cook, which was strange bearing in mind her upbringing.

“Oh, I quite forgot! I meant to nip to the shops and get some wine to go with dinner. Dora, would you mind just popping out and getting us a nice bottle of red?” Andy asked.

“Okay,” Dora agreed, her voice sounding a little suspicious.

“Thank you, dear. Do you need any Muggle money?” Andy asked gratefully.

“Nah, I’ve got plenty. I’ll only be ten minutes or so,” she replied as she stood and walked out the door.

Harry waited until he heard the front door close before he looked up at Andy. “So, what did you want to ask me?” he demanded in a no-nonsense tone.

Andy smiled. “You’ve become very perceptive, Harry, although I’m sure Dora saw right through me, too. The truth is that I wanted to have a brief chat with you while she wasn’t around. I understand you’re staying at her flat while you arrange a place to live?”

“That’s right,” he confirmed, a little puzzled by Andy’s serious attitude.

“Are you sleeping with her?” Andy asked bluntly.

“No!” Harry gasped, shocked that the woman he considered a kind of mother-figure would even ask him such a thing.

“Strange as it may seem, I’m almost disappointed to hear that,” she sighed.

“Andy, what’s wrong?” he asked in concern.

“Dora’s not been in a good place since you left. I admit, I’ve been worried about her,” Andy explained, her hands clamped tightly together. “How has she seemed to you these last few days?”

“Alright, I guess,” he replied warily, remembering Dora’s drunken pass at him. “I mean, I know she’s lonely and hasn’t been in a relationship since Remus died, but she seems pretty together apart from that. In fact, being with her has been great fun; I’ve loved every minute of it.”

“I’m glad to hear that and I think you returning has livened her up quite a bit,” Andy smiled. “But things haven’t been good for a while. After the war ended, Dora became extremely depressed. She was signed off work for months and she just couldn’t seem to pull herself out of the deep, dark hole she was in. It didn’t help that I was still grieving for Ted at the time, so I wasn’t as much help as I should have been.”

“I’m sorry, I should have been here,” Harry said, guilt welling up inside him.

“You had your own problems, dear, and you needed to work through them before you would have been any use to anyone. Don’t you dare start blaming yourself,” Andy told him firmly.

Harry could only reluctantly nod. He never could argue with Andy.

“Of course, things did get a bit better,” she continued. “Dora managed to pull herself together enough to return to work with the Aurors, but I don’t think it was ever the same for her. They tend to be a rambunctious group and I think she just felt out of place, especially with most of her friends and previous colleagues dead. It was a godsend when the Minister offered her that new position, it really was.”

“So, she’s been better lately?” Harry pressed.

“Yes and no,” Andy said sadly. “She really threw herself into the new role, and I think she genuinely loves the work, but her private life is another matter. Since Dora was fourteen, I’ve never known a time when she didn’t have a boyfriend. She’s just one of those outward-going type of girls that always have boys flocking over them and, although I might be bias, I do think she’s a very lovely young woman.”

“She’s beautiful, just like her mother,” Harry said automatically.

Andy actually giggled. “Oh, Harry, my sweet; you have grown up! But my point is that it’s usual for Dora to be on her own. I thought… hoped… that after a while she’d pick up the pieces and move on, but she hasn’t. It’s like she’s still mourning Remus to this day and she can’t let go. I’m worried about her drinking, too.”

“She certainly likes a drink these days,” He admitted reluctantly.

“Been dragging you out to the pub every night, has she?” Andy asked knowingly. “Actually, I’m more worried about her when she stays in. The last time I visited her flat I found four empty vodka bottles in her rubbish bin. Hestia’s been worried about her, too. Has she said anything to you yet?”

Harry shook his head. Hestia Jones was another witch who had been a member of the Order of the Phoenix that Dedalus had recruited to the section. Harry had only been able to have the briefest of chats with her so far, mainly as she worked around the Hogsmeade area mostly.

“Dora’s gone through three different partners at work, and she used to be willing to work with anyone. Why, she physically assaulted the last wizard who was partnered with her,” Andy lamented.

“Well, I did hear that the bloke was a bit of a prick,” Harry pointed out, but in truth Andy’s words greatly troubled him, not to mention landing a bit too close to home for comfort.

“I just hope… I hope that your presence will help,” Andy told him intently. “Promise me that you’ll look after my little girl, Harry, please.”

“Of course I will. I love her like a sister,” he replied fervently, “and, despite what you said, I am partly to blame for this. I should never have left in the first place. All I did was make myself miserable and hurt everyone I love.”

“Was working for the ICW that bad? Dora mentioned that you’d had a pretty rough time,” she asked sympathetically.

“Yeah, I ended up being pretty much a state-sponsored assassin,” he replied glumly. “I understood the necessity of the things that I did, but… it was hard, you know.”

Andy moved over to the sofa and placed a comforting arm around his shoulders. “I was right, you know,” she said sadly. “We all are still fighting that bloody war.”

They stayed there sitting quietly until Dora returned with the wine.




Back to index


Chapter 6: Chapter 6 - Deeper

Author's Notes: Wow, six chapters and the first fatality is finally here. That must be a record for me. Oh, another familiar face pops up here, too, although not the one most people were hoping for, I suspect.

Super-wonderful beta work by Arnel, as usual.


Chapter 6 — Deeper



“So, as you see, very little about this situation makes any sense,” Dora explained.

“Indeed, young Miss Tonks, I share your confusion,” Dedalus agreed. “You believe the matter worth investigating, however, do you?”

“I do, Dedalus,” she confirmed. “I know Harry agrees with me.”

“Yeah, we’ve both got a funny feeling about what’s been happening. I mean, we could be completely wrong and this is nothing serious, but I just have a hunch that something bad is going on.”

“That’s what you’re paid for; to find things that others have missed. You’ll be interested to know, by the way, that the DMLE have chosen not to investigate your report further. A few of their Magical Patrols had a sniff around and found nothing that concerned them. I’m sure I don’t need to say how thorough their investigation was,” Dedalus sniffed in distaste.

“They found nothing?” Harry asked in surprise. “Did they interview Frank Harbottle?”

“No, he was still too badly injured at the time of their initial investigation, and as he had already intimated that he didn’t want to press charges against anyone in connection with his assault, they decided not to conduct a follow-up interview,” their diminutive boss explained.

“That’s our next task then,” Harry said decisively. “Is Harbottle till at St Mungo’s?”

“I believe so, although I gather he is due for release soon. It may be prudent to try and catch him now before he disappears back into the seedy underbelly of this proud capital city,” Dedalus said with a smirk.

“Really? I’d never have thought of that, Boss,” Dora replied, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Harry, to the Tonksmobile!”

“You know, it’s a nice day. We could walk,” Harry suggested hopefully.

“Come on, you coward,” Dora said firmly, slapping him on the arm.

“Good luck, Harry. I trust your will and last testament are in order?” Dedalus chuckled, obviously familiar with Tonks’s driving.

“Just remember me fondly,” Harry announced tragically, before following Dora out of the office. He really needed to get a car of his own, he decided.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The trip from the Ministry of Magic building to Holborn where St Mungo’s was located was only a mile or so, but Tonks still took it as a personal challenge to get there as fast as possible. A normal ten minute journey was compressed into a hair-raising two minutes and left Harry feeling grateful that he’d only had a light breakfast.

After they entered through the fake Muggle department store window, they bypassed the reception desk and headed straight for the fourth floor and the Spell Damage ward. They then collared a nurse who, after presentation of their identification, directed them to Frank Harbottle’s bed.

Harbottle proved to be the very image of a hardened career criminal. His nose had been broken at some point and not set right, and he also had cauliflower ears and a prominent scar on his right cheek. He watched them approach with the hostile eyes of a man who knew policemen when he saw them, despite their unconventional appearance.

“I ain’t got ‘nuffin to ta say ta yeah,” he growled at them as they approached the bed.

“Oh, isn’t that a shame? And after we came all this way, too,” Dora said with a pouting lip.

“Yeah, we only came to visit and see how you are,” Harry agreed, dropping into the chair positioned by the bed. “No wonder you haven’t got any other visitors with that rude attitude.”

“Who are you, anyways?” the man scowled. “You lot from the DMLE?”

“Nah, let’s just say we’re part of the Ministry and leave it at that, shall we?” Dora said sweetly.

“Oh, sorry we haven’t brought you anything. We were going to bring you a bunch of grapes, but then we had a better idea. We decided a nice cake would be a much better gift,” Harry smiled pleasantly.

“Yes, so we went over to this lovely bakery over Mayfair way; beautiful little place, it was. This will be the perfect place to get a nice cake to cheer up an injured man, we thought,” Dora continued.

“Imagine our surprise, when we got there and found that the place had just changed owners,” Harry said, watching Harbottle intently.

Harbottle wasn’t stupid, and knew enough not to make eye contact with either of them, but clearly the mention of the bakery rattled him, and for a split second he looked up at Harry in surprise. It was all Harry needed.

“Shit! Get outta my head, you bastard,” Harbottle bellowed, quickly breaking eye contact.

“Language, Frank! Really, there are sick people here, you know,” Dora tutted.

“If you help us we can protect you,” Harry told him quietly, having seen the images in the man’s head. Frank Harbottle, career criminal and all-round hard man, was scared stupid.

“Nah, you bloody can’t,” Harbottle spat. “You don’t know what you’re up against. This lot are bloody ruthless and powerful, too! They threatened my wife and son and… and… no, I’m not risking it! You two can piss off back to wherever you came from. You’re getting no help from me.”

“Come on, let’s go,” Harry told Dora. With a surprised glance, Dora stood and walked away from Harbottle’s bed without a backward glance. Only when they were leaving the hospital did she speak.

“What did you get then?” Dora asked expectantly.

“The mention of the bakery brought the attack on him to the forefront of his mind,” Harry explained. “He was ambushed by three masked attackers. They had Charms to disguise their voices and their robes were completely nondescript. Even the masks were plain silver affairs. Basically, they proceeded to break nearly every bone in his body and then, as he said, threaten to kill his wife and son. They seemed to know exactly where to find them, too.”

“Interesting,” Dora pondered. “What else did they say?”

“It was just like your contact Sudsy said. They wanted the title deeds to the bakery. They had all the legal documentation already completed, and thoughtfully healed Harbottle’s right hand to enable him to sign the paperwork. After that, they just warned him to keep his mouth shut and vanished. Frank was as mystified about it as we are,” Harry said.

“So it’s all about the bakery,” Dora pondered. “This lot clearly have a lot of money, judging by the amount they put into the business. I wonder why they didn’t just offer to buy the place? If it was a repossession job, surely it wouldn’t have cost that much?”

“I’ve no idea and neither did Harbottle. I got the impression that he didn’t think it was worth much, anyway. The place was pretty run down and the business was failing, and apparently planning permission had already been turned down to convert the shop into residential housing. The place is a listed building, you see. So he was stuck with a failed business in a crummy shop that he was suddenly liable for the upkeep. He would have taken any offer,” Harry confirmed.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Dora moaned.

“Tell me about it,” Harry agreed. “So, what’s our next step?”

“I think we might need to follow up on this ‘Mr Winter’ character and see what we can find about him. I think we’ll make an appointment to see someone in the Legal Section of the DMLE and see what they can find out about this bloke,” Dora decided.

“We have to make an appointment?” Harry asked in surprise.

“They’re lawyers, Harry, of course you have to make an appointment,” she sighed.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“I’m bored. Wanna go out for a pint?” Dora asked hopefully.

Harry looked up from the book he was reading. He’d only just sat himself down five minutes before with a steaming mug of tea, and had been looking forward to a relaxing night just lazing around the flat.

“Actually, I’m feeling a bit tired,” he said. “All I really want is a quiet night in.”

“Oh, come on, Harry. Don’t be such a stick in the mud. A young, handsome stud like you should be out every night partying and picking up hot babes, not hanging around here. Come on, just a few drinks, please,” she begged.

Looking at her pleading face, Harry started to feel uneasy. Andromeda’s words about her daughter’s drinking habits came back to him, and he started to fear she was right. He was just about to agree to come with Dora, if only to keep an eye on her, when an idea struck him.

“Why don’t you see if Bill Weasley fancies a drink?” he suggested.

“Bill?” Dora said in puzzlement.

“Yeah, don’t you remember? He suggested the two of you should go out for a few drinks and catch up. Why don’t you take him up on his offer?” Harry prompted her.

Dora looked hesitant for a moment. “It’s a bit short notice, I’m sure he’ll have better things to do tonight,” she pointed out.

“You won’t know unless you ask. Tell you what, why don’t you contact him via the Floo, and if he is unavailable I promise to come out with you for a couple of jars. Fair enough?” he offered.

“Yeah, why not?” she smiled, and leapt to her feet. Dora quickly headed over to the fireplace, a horrid, modern, silvery-metal affair, and grabbed some Flow powder.

“William Weasley’s,” she called out as she threw the powder into the fire. Kneeling down, she called out into the flames. “Hello, Bill? Are you there?”

“Hello?” a female voice replied. Instantly, Harry, who had been listening in, stiffened. Who was this woman in Bill Weasley’s flat?

“Oh, err, I was just wondering if Bill was about,” Dora said sounding a bit taken-aback.

“Tonks? Is that you?” Harry heard the voice ask.

“Yeah, yeah it is… who’s that?” Dora asked.

“It’s me, Ginny. Ginny Weasley. Do you remember me?”

“Oh, Merlin, of course I do! Hi, Ginny, how are you? Bloody hell, it’s been years since I spoke to you. How are you doing, girl?” Dora said, sounding genuinely excited.

“Okay, I guess. Things could be a lot worse, I suppose. Bill mentioned he’d run into you the other day. Are you calling about that curse-breaking job in Islington?” the voice belonging to this Ginny person asked.

“Well, actually, Bill suggested we catch up a bit and I was just calling to see if he fancied going out for a few drinks and a natter,” Dora admitted nervously.

“Great! I’ll just go and get him. He spends far too much time lounging around here, anyway. A night out will do him the power of good. Hold on,” the voice said.

It was quiet for a moment or two before Bill’s voice rang out.

“Tonks? Hi, it’s me. Sorry I wasn’t about, but I was just taking a shower. Ginny said something about going out for a drink?”

“Yeah, I was at a loose end tonight and thought I’d see if you were about. If you have plans though…”

“No! No, I don’t,” Bill said hastily. “I’d love to catch up with you.”

“That’s great. Where shall we meet?” Dora asked.

“How about ‘The Leaky Cauldron’? I know it’s not the most exciting place in the world, but we both know where it is. We can go somewhere different from there,” Bill suggested.

“Sounds like a plan,” she agreed. “See you in, say, an hour?”

“Definitely, I’ll see you then,” Bill confirmed happily.

“Great, bye,” Dora called before ending the Floo connection. She then scrambled to her feet and headed for the bathroom.

“Are you sure an hour is long enough to get ready? I mean, making yourself look presentable is a pretty big job,” Harry teased as she rushed past. All he got was a two-fingered salute in return.

He settled down into his chair, feeling rather pleased with himself.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Two hours later, and Harry was bored. Despite not wanting to go out earlier, he now found that he wanted to hang around Dora’s flat by himself even less. As nice as the place was, he still was a guest here and he felt awkward being here alone.

Eventually, he gave into the inevitable. He pulled on a pair of trainers, slipped his leather jacket over his shoulders and grabbed his set of keys. He then headed out into the night to see what adventures he could find.

He had to admit he wasn’t nearly as familiar with Camden as some other parts of London, and didn’t really know where the best pubs were. Feeling like he wanted to try somewhere he’d never been before, he wandered the street for a while before he came across a classic, Victorian-style corner pub titled, unoriginally, the Rose and Crown. He decided to see what the place was like.

As soon as he entered he knew he’d come into the wrong place. A large, wall-mounted TV was showing a Muggle football match and groups of townies were crowded around yelling obscenities at the screen. Deciding he might as well have a quick one here, Harry headed over to the bar. The middle-aged barmaid served him with barely a second glance and he was left propping up the bar feeling rather out of place. Still, at least the beer was cold and crisp.

“Wot chew you doin’ in ear, eh, ya puff?” a voice snarled in his ear.

Harry turned to see a young man scowling at him with barely supressed anger. He was dressed like a near-typical chav: grey hooddie with a Burberry baseball cap, tracksuit bottoms and expensive trainers. A thick gold chain hung around the man’s neck.

“I’m having a drink, what do you think I’m doing?” Harry asked calmly, making it quite clear to the man that he didn’t find him intimidating in the slightest.

“Ear that, boys?” the chav yelled to his two, similarly dressed mates who were lurked at the end of the bar grinning. “The puff wants to get cheeky with me. He better watch his mouth, ain’t he?”

“I’m not looking for any trouble, so why don’t you just back off,” Harry suggested, letting a little of his magic loose. That was normally enough to give most Muggles cause for thought. Sadly, Chav boy was either too stupid or too drunk to notice.

“This is our boozer, this is, and we don’t like long-hair, nancy boys like you in ear. I’m gunna have to teach you a lesson, I am!” he snarled, before lunging at Harry.

Normally, Harry would have brushed aside the young man without a second thought, but this gobby moron had managed to get his back up. Harry side-stepped slightly, whilst using his shoulder to push the chav hard against the bar. He then used his left foot to stamp down on the man’s right, and dug his fingers into his aggressor’s neck, crushing the nerve that induces convulsions. Chav boy screamed and fell to his knees, shaking like a leaf.

“Ear, leave it out or I’ll call the police!” the barmaid yelled.

“I am the police, you stupid cow,” Harry snarled back.

Harry reached down and grabbed chav boy’s left arm and yanked it behind his back. Then, with his free hand he grabbed his wallet with his free hand and pulled it open, displaying it to the irate barmaid. In the window pocket was his Ministry ID card, which was Charmed to appear as a Metropolitan Police warrant card to any Muggle. The woman stared at it resentfully.

“You two, stay right where you are, unless you want a night in the cells,” Harry yelled at Chav boy’s two mates, who were looking like they were about to intervene. He let even more of his magic loose, and this time they got the message. Grabbing the moaning young man by the collar, he dragged him out of the pub and into the street.

Looking around, Harry noted to his disappointment that there were no convenient shady alleyways nearby, so he pushed Chav boy into the doorway of a closed shop, which at least meant that they weren’t too visible from the street. None too carefully, he rammed the young man face-first against the glass door and made him spread his arms and legs so he could pat him down. Wizard or not, Harry didn’t want to find that Chav boy had a hidden knife somewhere.

After a brief patting down, Harry found nothing more offensive than a set of keys and the man’s wallet. He opened up the later and found a driving licence which identified Chav boy as being one Glen Stevens of Ranelagh Road, Leyton.

“Leyton?” Harry snarled. “What was all that crap about this being your local pub?”

“Never said it was my local, did I?” Stevens grunted. “I just said it weren’t for your type.”

“My type? What, coppers?” Harry snapped back. He then pondered what to do with the idiot. Although he had certain legal powers of arrest within the Muggle world, they didn’t extend to dealing with drunken yobs. Unfortunately, he had no choice other than to let Stevens go, but not before giving him a good warning, he decided.

“Right, listen to me, sunshine,” Harry snarled, channelling every British TV cop show he’d ever seen. “Normally, I’d throw your worthless hide in a cell to rot, but luckily for you, all I want to do tonight is have a few jars and relax, and you’re not worth the paperwork. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to go back into that pub, grab your idiot mates, and then bugger off back to Leyton as fast as you can. Moreover, if I see your ugly face back here in Camden you’ll be nicked faster than you can say Jack Robinson. Got it?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Stevens growled back.

Grabbing the back of the man’s hooddie, Harry pushed him back into the street. With one surly glance in his direction, the chav stomped back into the pub. Not feeling like any further confrontation, Harry turned and started walking back down the street.

The evening certainly hadn’t gone like he planned and he realised that he had lost any desire to go anywhere further. Instead, he nipped into a nearby corner shop and purchased six bottles of Becks lager and a bag of Doritos. That, he thought grumpily, would have to constitute his entertainment for the rest of the evening.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry opened his eyes, uncertain for the moment what had awoken him. He’d returned to the flat, drunk his beer, and then decided to have an early night. Now, something had disturbed his sleep.

Listening carefully, he soon realised that the noise that he was hearing was the rhythmic squeaking of a set of bedsprings coming from Dora’s bedroom next door.

“YES! YES! OH, SWEET MERLIN, YES!” Dora’s voice suddenly yelled out.

Grumbling to himself, Harry reached over to the bedside table and grabbed his wand. He cast a quick Silencing Charm, before dropping his wand back onto the table. He closed his eyes and was asleep again in seconds.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry sat in the kitchen area of the flat slipping his tea and letting his eyes drift over the headlines in the Daily Prophet. The newspaper hadn’t improved much since he left England, he noted, and the still printed the same sensationalised rubbish as they always did.

A shuffling sound made him look up and he saw Bill Weasley standing there, unshaven and bleary-eyed. His hair was loose around his shoulders and in desperate need of a comb. He stared back at Harry in surprise.

“Oh, I, err, forgot you were staying here,” he mumbled in embarrassment.

“The kettle’s just boiled if you want a brew,” Harry said in a cool voice.

Bill stumbled over to the kettle and, after locating a mug and the teabags, poured himself a cup. Harry pointedly offered the man no help in finding anything. Eventually, Bill managed to fix his drink and he stood there, mug in hand, looking awkward and uncomfortable.

“Take a seat,” Harry instructed him, not caring that it sounded more like an order than an invitation.

Bill meekly sat in the chair indicated.

“You know, I seem to remember that during a conversation the two of us had, not so very long ago, I asked, and you agreed, to take things slowly with Dora,” Harry said in a deceptively calm voice.

“I know, I know! I really didn’t mean for things to happen this quickly, it’s just…” Bill began lamely.

“It’s just what?” Harry demanded.

“Look, we had a really great time last night. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much. We went out, had a few drinks, watched this band playing in a pub somewhere, and we had a right laugh, we really did. I mean, I hadn’t seen her for three or four years, and we just clicked instantly. When she asked me to come back here for a nightcap, it really wasn’t my plan to get in her knickers, I swear!” Bill said earnestly.

“Really? It might not have been your plan, but that’s what happened, didn’t it? Oh, by the way, you really need to learn to cast the odd Silencing Charm, mate,” Harry snarled.

“It… it wasn’t meant to happen,” Bill said miserably. “We were just sitting on the couch having a drink… I can’t even remember who kissed who first. I bet she’ll hate me now, won’t she?”

“Did she say anything when you got up?” Harry asked him.

“Nah, she was still out to the world. I didn’t want to wake her. I was going to leave a note, or something,” Bill explained.

“That’s probably best,” Harry agreed. “She’s like a bear with a sore head if you wake her too early. So, what are you going to do now? Are you going to see her again?”

“Yes! I mean, if she wants to see me again, that is,” Bill replied. “I just hope she doesn’t think I’ve taken advantage of her. Merlin, I’ve probably blown it, haven’t I?

Harry sighed. As angry as he was with Bill for leaping into bed with Dora, he did genuinely like the bloke, and thought he’d be good for his almost-sister.

“I’ll talk to her,” he offered. “Why don’t you write that note? There’s some paper and a pen over on the sideboard there.”

“Thanks, Harry. I would stay and talk to her when she wakes up, but I’m going to be late for work at this rate, anyway. Please tell her that I really like her and that I want to see her again,” Bill nearly begged.

“Say that in your note,” Harry instructed him, and watched as the older man grabbed the writing tools and scribble a note furiously. He then handed it to Harry, who held up his hand.

“No, just fold it and leave it on the table. I don’t want to know what it says,” he said firmly.

“Okay, look, I feel terrible about just running off, but I really need to get going. If there’s one thing the goblins insist on its punctuality,” Bill apologised.

“Yeah, no worries. When am I going to hear about Grimmauld Place?” he asked as Bill took one quick swig of his tea and stood to leave.

“I should have the initial assessment report to you by the end of the week,” Bill confirmed.

“Good, I’ll look forward to receiving it,” Harry nodded. “Look, don’t worry too much. I’ll explain to Dora that you had to go, and I’m sure she won’t be mad at you.”

“Thanks, I hope not, anyway. I’ll speak to you soon, Harry,” Bill said, and with a quick wave of his hand, headed out the door.

Harry waited a good ten minutes before he got up, made another cup of tea, and then carried it to Dora’s bedroom. He knocked lightly once before entering without waiting for a response.

The room was dark as the curtains were still closed. He put the tea down on the bedside cabinet before flinging open the curtains. The sun streamed in, revealing the room to be in its usual Tonks-like mess. He could just see a dull brown head of hair peeking out from under the duvet. He watched her breathing for a few seconds before marching over and plonking himself down on the bed forcefully. There was no sound from the apparently sleeping occupant.

“I know you’re awake, Dora,” Harry said softly. “You’re going to have to speak to me sooner or later.”

There was absolute silence for a few seconds, before Harry heard a muffled sobbing.

“Dora?” he said in concern.

The duvet was pulled back, revealing Dora’s tear-stained face. “I’m a whore,” she wept.

“No, you’re not,” Harry said forcefully.

“I bloody am!” she sobbed. “First, I throw myself at you and then I practically drag Bill into bed. I’ve become a right bloody slapper. Remus would be ashamed of me.”

“Dora,” Harry began softly. “You said yourself that you hadn’t been with anyone for five years. That’s just about the opposite of being a slapper in my book. Remus most definitely wouldn’t have wanted you to be on your own, and you know it. You’ve mourned long enough, luv; it’s time to get on with your life.”

“I bet Bill thinks I’m a nymphomaniac or something. Merlin, I bet I’ve really screwed it up with him, haven’t I?” she moaned.

“Ah, so that’s why Andy and Ted named you that. I always wondered,” Harry joked.

“Pig,” Dora said, although without any venom.

“Actually, I think Bill was more worried about what you’d think of him,” Harry revealed. “He was concerned that you’d think he’d taken advantage of you.”

“Huh, like I’d let anyone do that,” she scoffed. “Where is he, anyway?”

“He had to get to work. I don’t think the goblins are too tolerant of tardiness. He left you a note on the kitchen table. I gather he really wants to see you again,” he told her with a smile.

“Is that what he said?” Dora asked hesitantly. “I mean, I do like him… a lot, but I’m not sure I’m ready to…”

“Bollocks,” Harry interrupted. “If you’re about to say you’re not ready for a new relationship, then you’re talking total bollocks. You admitted to me just a while ago that you were lonely and wanted someone in your life, so stop making excuses. Bill seems to be a really nice bloke, so why don’t you give him a chance? If it doesn’t work out, then fair enough, but you have to give these things a fair go.”

“You like him?” Dora asked, sounding pleased.

“Yeah, he’s a decent bloke, and just the sort you go for. Besides, he said he had a younger sister so maybe he can set me up,” Harry grinned.

“Ha, Ginny would make mincemeat out of you,” Dora laughed. “Although Bill did say she was single at the moment.”

“There you go. That’s reason enough for me to give you and Bill my blessing; he’s got an eligible sister. As long as she’s not a moose, though,” he said, smiling back.

“Seriously, you think I should give it a try with Bill?” she asked.

Harry leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Yeah, I do. I mean, it sounds like you two had a lot of fun last night… and that was even before you got to the bedroom.”

“Get out!” Dora yelled, throwing a pillow at him. She was smirking as she did so, however.

“Yeah, yeah,” Harry smirked as he got up to leave. “Just get washed and then get your knickers on. We’ve an appointment at the DMLE, remember?”

“Give me a moment to drink my tea,” she replied before looking at him shyly for a second. “Harry, could you do me a favour?”

“Probably,” he replied.

“Could you fetch me Bill’s note? I’d really like to read it now.”

With a satisfied smile on his face, Harry went to fetch the note.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Galatea smiled as they approached the reception desk.

“Back to see me so soon?” she smiled.

“Sorry, as much as I would love to stop and have a good gossip, we’ve actually got an appointment with one of your staff,” Dora apologised.

The matronly woman frowned and ran her finger down a long sheet of parchment that was sitting on her desk. She paused when she found what she was looking for.

“Ah, yes, you’re going to see Miss Granger, I see. No wonder I didn’t know about it,” Galatea announced.

“What? You not know about something going on around here? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” Dora smirked.

“Yes, well, I make a habit of not getting involved in Miss Granger’s activities,” Galatea sniffed.

“Don’t blame you,” Harry nodded. “These Legal Witches can be a funny lot.”

“That’s the truth,” Galatea agreed, “but this one is worse than most. She only joined the DMLE because she caused such a stink over at Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures they were desperate to get rid of her.”

“Then how on earth did she get a job here?” Dora demanded.

“Oh, the girl’s absolutely brilliant,” Galatea explained. “The trouble is, she knows she’s brilliant and she’s a bit too eager to share her opinions with everyone, if you get my meaning. She’s only been here a few months and already she’s submitted a dozen requests for existing legislation to be amended. I thought poor Gawain was going to hex her the other day when she announced in a loud voice that his Aurors were badly trained! A right opinionated little so-and-so, she is.”

“Great, and we need her help with this case,” Dora sighed.

“Good luck with that, dear,” Galatea said sympathetically.

Feeling rather worried, the two of them followed Galatea’s directions to the Legal Section of the DMLE. From there they were directed to the desk of a young woman who’s head could barely be seen over the piles of books and files stacked on it.

“Miss Granger?” Harry said to get her attention.

The woman looked up. She had a mass of bushy brown hair, currently tied back with a plain black band and wore a little make-up, but not so much as to be really noticeable. She was dressed in the formal grey robes that most of the DMLE back office staff wore.

“Yes?” she said with a quizzical expression.

“Our names are Potter and Tonks. We have an appointment with you, I believe,” Harry prompted.

“Oh, Merlin, is that really the time?” Granger gasped looking at her watch. “I got completely tied up in what I was doing. I’m trying to get some of the statutes relating to law enforcement updated, you know. Really, some of these laws date from the Middle Ages and have no place…”

“Miss Granger? We are rather busy, so if we could just explain what we need,” Harry prompted.

“Oh, yes, sorry. I do get rather wrapped up in things. Please do take a seat,” Granger offered, indicating the two plain chairs positioned in front of the desk. They both sat as instructed.

“Well, I must say that I’m intrigued to meet the famous Harry Potter,” Granger began, after moving some of the books to one side. “I’m particularly interested that you’ve popped up now as a member of the Minister’s personal investigative team. Can I assume from this that you did take an active part in the last war against You-Know-Who, after all?”

Harry gave Dora a pained look. “See, I told you other people would jump to the same conclusion,” he muttered.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” Granger said quickly. “I was already aware of several rumours about you. You see, back at Hogwarts I used to date a young man whose family were heavily involved in the Order of the Phoenix. From him, I heard things about you from time to time.”

“Who did you used to date?” Dora asked curiously.

“Oh, a boy named Ron Weasley. All we ever seemed to do was argue though, unfortunately. I believe Ron’s parents and older brothers were all involved in the Order,” she replied.

“Well, bugger me! It’s a small world, isn’t it? I’ve just recently started seeing Ron’s oldest brother, Bill,” Dora explained.

“Really? I only met Bill a couple of times, but as I recall he was a very handsome chap. A curse-breaker, isn’t he?” Granger asked.

“That’s right,” Dora nodded.

“You must pass on my regards to him,” Granger smiled.

“Do you want me to pass on your regards to Ron if I see him?” Dora asked.

“Don’t bother,” Granger grumbled. “Sadly, somehow Ron qualified to be an Auror and I’m stuck working in the same department as him now. He’s still a total git, too.”

“Umm, ladies? As interesting as it is listening to details of your love lives, we did come here for a reason,” Harry prompted.

“Oh, of course,” Granger blushed. “What is it that I can do for the pair of you?”

“We need you to do a complete background check on a Muggle businessman. The only details we have are that he’s called Mr Winter and he is a successful hotelier who also owns several catering firms in Yorkshire,” Harry explained.

Granger immediately grabbed a quill and started making some notes. “Why are you so interested in a Muggle businessman?” she asked.

“Because this bloke seems to have suddenly acquired a group of sinister magical thugs who muscled in on a business here in London that was previously in the possession of a notorious criminal,” Dora explained.

“Really? You’re quite sure this Mr Winter is actually a Muggle, are you?” Granger enquired.

“Not really; we know very little about him. If he is magical, however, he’s kept himself pretty well hidden. We couldn’t find anything about him in Ministry records. That’s why we need your help, Miss Granger, to track him through his Muggle businesses,” Harry said.

“Okay, I should be able to do that,” Granger nodded. “Oh, and please do call me Hermione.”

“Alright, Hermione,” Harry smiled. “You don’t think you’ll have a problem doing this?”

“Oh, no. If these are legitimate businesses there will be records of them kept at Companies House. Probably recent sets of published accounts, too. I can probably track Mr Winter via an internet search, actually. That should give me a link to the businesses he runs. What was the name of the business he took over here in London? It might help if I know that,” Hermione asked.

“It’s called ‘Creative Creations’ and it’s a posh cake making place. I think they do come catering for exclusive events, too. The stuff they make is really impressive,” Dora said.

“Cake making?” Hermione noted quizzically.

“Yeah, we know what you’re thinking: why would a group of dangerous thugs muscle in on a notorious wizard’s patch and take over a glorified bakery? We’re currently working on the assumption that the place will be used in some sort of money laundering scheme,” Harry told her.

“It’s possible, although they would have to sell a lot of cake to disguise any sort of serious amount of cash being put through the business. How strange. You know, Mr Potter, you’ve managed to intrigue me. Leave this in my hands and I’ll see what I can come up with,” she smiled.

“Thanks, oh, and call me Harry,” he replied, offering his hand to shake.

“I’ll be in touch,” Hermione promised.

“Well, she certainly didn’t seem to be the nightmare that your friend Galatea implied,” Harry said to Dora as they left the office.

“Nah, she seemed alright, didn’t she? Perhaps she fancied you and was being on her best behaviour,” Dora smirked.

“That wasn’t the vibe I got from her,” Harry replied. “Anyway, I wouldn’t have been interested. I mean, she looked nice enough, but she really wasn’t my type.”

“What, you mean she wasn’t married?” she teased.

“Dora,” Harry growled warningly.

“Oh, lighten up, I’m only joking,” she giggled. “So, what do you want to do now?”

“I’m not sure,” he pondered. “I think we can leave the investigation of Mr Winter to our new friend Miss Granger. I get the feeling that when she gets interested in something she digs her teeth into it until she’s pulled it completely apart.”

“I agree. You know, I get the feeling Topa was holding out on us a bit when we spoke to him. He didn’t mention this Mr Winter fella at all, and that’s just the sort of thing he’d know about,” Dora pondered.

“Follow up visit?” Harry suggested.

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,” she agreed.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Topa, are you in?” Dora called out.

Harry looked about. Andris Topa’s shop was strangely quiet, and he was starting to get an uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong. Dora had called out three times now, without any response at all. Harry could almost smell trouble.

“I’m going to check the back,” Dora announced, darting behind the counter.

Harry just nodded and continued to look around. He was just considering having a look behind the counter when an urgent cry caught his attention.

“Harry, get back here; now!” Dora called.

Pulling his wand out from his leather jacket, Harry sprinted through the door that led to the back room. He found Dora standing over the inert form of Andris Topa.

“Is he dead?” Harry asked.

“Yeah, and by the look of it he was tortured before he was killed. I’d know the signs of the Cruciatus Curse anywhere,” she said gravely.

“Knowing what trade he was in, I assume the bloke had a lot of enemies, right?” he speculated.

“Yeah, but generally he was a very careful man,” Dora replied. “Seems a bit of a coincidence that he gets rubbed out so soon after he talked to us, doesn’t it?”

Harry nodded. Something very bad was happening, he could feel it.





Back to index


Chapter 7: Chapter 7 - Red and Gold

Author's Notes: Right, for those of you that have been demanding to know when Ginny would be making an appearance in this story (you know who you are), you’ll be pleased to know she makes her entrance in this chapter. Whether you’ll be so pleased about what happens when she does is another matter. *evil snigger*. A few more (semi-)familiar characters also enter the story and we get some more background on Harry and Dora’s mysterious case.

Super-huge thanks to Arnel the wonder-beta.


Chapter 7 — Red and Gold



“Oh, bugger; here comes trouble,” Dora mutter ominously.

Harry turned to see a tall man with a long, droopy moustache walk into the room. He stopped and surveyed the Aurors who were all busily collecting evidence from Andris Topa’s living room when his eyes suddenly fell on them.

“What are you two still doing here?” the man demanded. “You should be back at the Ministry completing your reports into this matter.”

“We’re still investigating the crime scene,” Dora replied stiffly.

“That’s not your concern anymore. We have a victim who has been killed by Dark magic. That makes this a case for the Auror Department,” he snapped back.

“With the greatest respect, Gawain, you have no say over what the section does or doesn’t investigate. Besides, we initially passed this case onto the DMLE and they weren’t interested,” Dora said calmly.

“That’s assuming there is a link between this man’s murder and this supposed new crime lord you’ve been banging on about. This Topa fellow was a highly dubious character and there might be many reasons for someone wanting to kill him. I suggest you continue looking for this new villainous mastermind of yours, and leave us to investigate this murder in peace,” the man spat.

“At the present time we consider the two lines of investigation to be linked,” Harry interrupted, intent on backing up his partner.

The man stared at him in an unfriendly manner. “Oh, yes: Harry Potter. I heard you’d returned to this country. Well, let me tell you something, Potter. I’ve heard about the sort of methods and practices that your former employers use and I’ll tell you now that I won’t tolerate that sort of behaviour here! If I get a whiff of you operating in anything less than a professional and upright manner, you’ll be locked up in Azkaban before you can whistle! Got that?”

Harry took a step towards the man. “I don’t answer to you, whoever the hell you are,” he growled, “and for your information, it was because I didn’t approve of the tactics that Department M employed that I came back here. I don’t need you lecturing me on them.”

“And for your information, you’re addressing Gawain Robards, Head Auror, and I don’t appreciate some dirty street punk like you talking to me in that way! You’d better watch your step, Potter!” the man snarled back.

“I report directly to Kingsley Shacklebolt, not to you, and if you don’t want me talking to you that way then I suggest you don’t start threatening me. Got that, Robards?” Harry barked, his temper barely under control.

“Robards, why don’t you just do your job and we’ll do ours,” Dora said, placing a calming hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Just don’t get in our bloody way, Tonks,” Robards informed her stiffly, before stalking off.

“What a prick,” Harry muttered as soon as the man was out of earshot.

“Robards was one of the reasons I was so happy to leave the Aurors,” Dora confided. “He’s competent at his job, but the man is a prize arsehole. Honestly, he could start a fight in an empty room. He only got the Head Auror job because Kingsley had so few other choices after the war.”

“He’ll get my wand stuck up his backside if he talks to me like that again,” Harry said darkly. “So, I guess we can’t expect too much cooperation from the Aurors on this case, eh?”

“We’ll be okay; I’m friendly with loads of people in the department. We just need to bypass Robards, that’s all,” she assured him.

“Fine. Let’s carry on looking round. Maybe we can spot something the Aurors missed,” he suggested.

They were just about to continue their search, when suddenly a shout from one of the Aurors distracted them.

“Over here, sir!” the Auror called to his boss. “We’ve got an illegal potion.”

“What is it?” Robards demanded, striding over to the man.

“It looks like a bottle of Intense Ecstasy Potion, sir,” the man said, thrusting the small bottle of pink liquid towards Robards. The man took it and gingerly pulled out the stopper. He then sniffed the contents warily before ramming the stopper back in.

“Yes, that’s definitely Intense Ecstasy, alright,” he agreed, before turning to the assembled Aurors. “Okay, we can start working on the premise that this Topa fellow was a potions dealer and he was probably killed after a deal went wrong. Start searching for any evidence that will lead to who his customers were.”

“What a load of bollocks,” Dora scoffed. “One bottle doesn’t make you a dealer. Knowing Topa, that was probably for private consumption.”

“I agree, although that Ecstasy Potion is nasty stuff. I met a young woman in Berlin who was hooked on it. She was a right mess in the end. Still, I wouldn’t put it past Topa to be into that sort of shit,” Harry muttered. “Anyway, this lot don’t seem too interested in looking at the Muggle stuff our deceased friend had, so I’m going to have a poke about over there.”

“Good idea. I just want to have a nose through that bookcase, and then I’ll join you,” Dora said.

Harry wandered out to the front of the shop and began to rummage through the metal racks containing all manner of objects. Most of the stuff appeared to be absolute junk, so he went behind the counter to see if there was anything of interest there. He spent a few minutes sifting through the clutter under the counter, when something caught his eye.

It was a plain brown box, shoved under the counter roughly by someone’s foot, he imagined. He knelt down and pulled the box out and was disappointed to see it just contained bits of brown greaseproof paper. Out of curiosity, he picked up one of the pieces of paper and turned it over in his hands. Printed on the paper in neat black text was a long serial number and the warning phrase ‘handle with extreme care!’ With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he held the paper to his nose and took a long sniff.

“What ya got there, Harry?” Dora asked as she emerged through the door.

“This packaging; I’ve seen it before,” Harry explained. “When I worked at Department M, it was sometimes necessary to destroy certain buildings or objects without reverting to magic, just to maintain plausible denial, you understand. The stuff we used came in wrappers just like this.”

“What exactly was in that packaging?” she demanded.

“Plastic explosive,” he replied grimly.

“Oh, shit!” Dora cursed. “Topa, you dirty old bastard, just what had you gotten yourself into?”

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

A few days later, Harry and Dora were sitting in the section’s office working through some paperwork, when there was a timid knock on the door. Standing, Harry walked open and opened the door to see Hermione Granger standing there clutching several thick files.

“Hermione, nice to see you,” he greeted her. “Do you have something for us?”

“Oh, do I ever,” she said enthusiastically.

“You’d better come in and tell us all about it, then,” he smiled, standing aside and gesturing for her to enter.

When they were all seated and Hermione had been supplied with an obligatory cup of section approved coffee (extra strong, black, and, remember, sugar is for wimps) the Legal Witch began to explain what she had found.

“As I mentioned previously, the first thing I did was visit Companies House in Cardiff. ‘Creative Creations’ has indeed been registered as a trading company with them, just in the last few weeks in fact. The file appeared to be in order apart from one thing,” she told them.

“What was that?” Dora asked.

“It had a mild Muggle Repelling Charm cast on it,” Hermione said triumphantly. “Nothing too powerful, but just enough to make sure no Muggle would willingly pick up the file.”

“Well, isn’t that interesting,” Dora said with an arched eyebrow. “I assume you were able to read the file without any problems?”

“Of course,” Hermione replied, sounding slightly offended. “The company’s director was listed as Mr A Winter of Harrogate, Yorkshire. I have the exact address if you want it, but it will be no use to you. I already checked and it doesn’t actually exist. There was a set of audited accounts for the business from the time it traded under its previous owner, and they were dreadful. The business was in serious trouble and was on the verge of going under.”

“Okay, that fits in with what we were told previously,” Harry agreed. “What I don’t understand is why anyone would be interested in the business as anything other than a tax write-off. This ‘Mr Winter’ appears to have invested heavily in this crappy business, buying loads of new equipment and attracting talented new staff, which seems a risky investment to me. A glorified bakery is never going to have that big of a turnover. More to the point, why then go to lengths to ensure that no Muggle starts poking around in the business’s affairs?”

“I might have some clues to that,” Hermione continued in a rather excited voice. “Once I’d found this Mr Winter in the company file I was able to cross-reference him. He’s listed as the principle owner of no less than eleven businesses scattered around Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham. That includes one Public Limited Company, Other Side Plc, who own over a dozen hotels in the area. It’s a very successful company, too; almost too successful, I would say. It has a multi-million pound turnover, which is a little strange as most of the hotels are quite small and not in what I would call particularly affluent areas.”

“You don’t say,” Harry grinned.

“Your assessment that this is an elaborate money laundering scheme appears spot on,” Hermione nodded. “The trouble was that the trail went cold at that point. I couldn’t find anything further on Mr Winter or any clues about where the money came from. I started trying to discover where the initial funding to purchase these companies came from, but ran up against a brick wall. There were numerous dummy businesses, most of them now ceased trading, that were used to route money through. The paper trail appears to have been made deliberately confusing and, frankly, the whole thing stinks.”

“Were any of these companies overseas?” Harry asked.

“No, oddly enough. I know what you’re thinking; that large money laundering operations like this usually have an overseas outlet where funds can be transferred out of the country, but there was nothing like that. This is a purely domestic operation,” she confirmed.

“Okay, this really isn’t my area of expertise, but isn’t this whole thing a bit odd?” Dora asked.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever encountered,” Harry confirmed.

“I have some other ideas I want to follow up. I want to check if there were any requests to local councils for changes to planning permissions on any of the properties plus, if I can arrange it, I’ll see if there are any tax records. I’m sure there are clues there if I dig deep enough,” Hermione said decisively.

“That would be great,” Harry smiled.

“I’ll get back to it, then,” the young woman smiled back. “Thanks for getting me involved in this; it’s absolutely fascinating! I’ll be in touch.”

And with that, Hermione hurried out of the office, her coffee untouched.

“Wow, she’s pretty impressive, isn’t she?” Harry noted while he leafed through the copy of the report Hermione had left.

“What are you talking about? Her work ethic or her bust?” Dora asked innocently.

“I was talking about her work ethic, although her knockers aren’t bad either,” he grinned.

“Just as well you think like that. I suspect the only reason Miss Granger is so keen to help us is that she fancies you,” she teased.

“Nah, you’re kidding, aren’t you? I’m definitely not her type and she’s not mine,” Harry insisted. “Not every woman I meet has to be viewed as a potential sexual partner for me, you know.”

“I know; it’s just that I’ve been so happy since I got together with Bill, I just want you to find the same thing,” she told him earnestly.

“That’s very sweet of you, Dora, but it will happen when it happens. I mean, I’ve only been back in the country a few weeks. I can’t expect to meet my perfect partner straight away, can I?” Harry pointed out.

“I suppose not,” Dora conceded. “On the other hand, she might be just around the corner and you don’t know it.”

Harry just nodded. He doubted he was that lucky.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The next couple of weeks flew by for Harry and Tonks. They both felt their frustration build as their investigation hit a brick wall. Hermione Granger had been prevented from spending much time investigating ‘Mr Winter’ due to other, apparently more pressing, work. Deprived of that useful source of information, they had hit the streets in an effort to find more about the mysterious gang that had appeared out of nowhere. Unfortunately, the gang were laying low and no one else was talking.

They had spent the morning following up a lead from another case and had at least made some progress with that. It was rapidly approaching midday and Harry was just thinking about lunch.

“Fancy having a bite at that place over by the Natural History Museum?” Harry asked Dora as they headed back to her VW.

“Nah, you and me have plans for lunch,” she replied smugly.

“We do?” he asked in confusion.

“Yeah, we’re heading to the ‘The Lord Clyde’ actually, where my ruggedly handsome boyfriend will be meeting us,” Dora explained.

“Okay, but wouldn’t you rather meet up with him without me tagging along?” Harry asked. Bill and Dora’s relationship seemed to be blossoming and they met after work most days. It left Harry by himself a lot, but he didn’t really mind that much and had even taken the opportunity of having dinner with Andromeda a few times, which he’d enjoyed.

“Oh, don’t you want to join us?” Dora said in surprise. “That’s a shame, especially as Bill is bringing his hot sister along with him. She was so looking forward to meeting you, too.”

“Why didn’t you say? Honestly, Dora! I’m hardly smartly dressed, am I? Do we have time to go back to the flat first?” Harry exclaimed. He was dress in his now usual black jeans and ripped t-shirt, this one featuring the band Paradise Lost. It was definitely not what he would have chosen to wear if he knew he was meeting a girl for the first time.

“Nah, you’ll be fine. Ginny’s a down to earth sort,” Dora said dismissively.

They headed over to the pub and found they were first to arrive. Not wanting to order food before the Weasleys turned up, they both got themselves a pint of cider and found a table from which they could keep an eye on the front door. Harry had to admit he was strangely excited, as he’d been hearing bits and pieces about Bill’s mysterious sister for weeks now. He had to admit he was greatly looking forward to meeting her.

They had barely managed a few slips of their pints when the door opened and Bill walked in. He spotted Dora and broke into a wide grin. A young woman followed him into the pub, and Harry had his first look at Ginny Weasley. He was impressed.

She was short, only coming up to Bill’s shoulders, and had bright red hair currently tied back in a neat ponytail. Harry noted her pale, creamy skin was dusted with freckles which had to admit were bloody sexy. Add to that, her smart skirt-suit did little to hide her curvy figure. She was, Harry was pleased to say, a bit of a bombshell.

The young woman approached the table and offered Dora a cheerful smile, before her eyes turned to Harry. She looked at him once… and her face fell.

Harry sighed. He knew meeting the young woman for the first time dressed as he was would be a mistake, and her reaction appeared to have proved him right. Ginny Weasley was dressed immaculately and didn’t have a hair out of place. He, on the other hand, was dressed like a yob and looked like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards.

“Hiya, Dora,” Bill said warmly, giving his girlfriend a quick kiss. “You’ve got a drink I see. Have you ordered anything to eat yet?”

“Nah, we were waiting for you,” she replied.

“Oh, I’d better make some introductions. Ginny, this is Tonks’s partner, Harry Potter. Harry, this is my little sister, Ginny,” Bill said.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Ginny,” Harry said, standing and offering his hand.

Ginny regarded Harry’s outstretched hand with something approaching panic, before grabbing it and shaking it once. Her eyes remained fixed to the table as she did so. For a brief second, Harry wondered if she would pull out a hanky and start to wipe her fingers where she’d touched him.

“Sit yourself down, Ginny, and I’ll get us some drinks. What would you like,” Bill asked his sister.

“Just lemonade for me,” she replied quietly “I have a tricky job this afternoon”. Bill nodded and headed towards the bar.

Ginny rather reluctantly sat herself in the seat next to Harry, resolutely not looking at him.

“It’s good to see you again, Ginny,” Dora said with a smile. “It will be nice to have a chat. You always seem to be coming as I’m going, and we haven’t really had the chance for a natter.”

“Yes, it will,” Ginny replied, brightening up considerably. “I was thrilled when Bill told me he was going out with you. I think the pair of you are a really good match.”

“I agree,” Dora grinned. “So, Bill’s told me a bit about what you’ve been up to, but not much in the way of details. When I last saw you, you were about to join the Holyhead Harpies. Why did you give it up?”

“Injury,” the small redhead said sourly. “If you remember, I joined the Harpies back in ’99 as a trainee and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I loved playing Quidditch all day and my fellow apprentices were a great bunch. I had a really good season, too, and was pretty certain that they were going to sign me professionally. Then, during one of the last training games of the season, I got hit by a Bludger. It was my own stupid fault; I was concentrating on intercepting a Quaffle that I didn’t see it coming. It hit me smack on the spine and sent me tumbling off my broom. Fortunately, I wasn’t too high at the time.”

“Oh, no!” Dora exclaimed. “Are you alright now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Ginny said dismissively. “The only trouble was that the Healers were of the opinion that my spine had been weakened by the impact and that if I got hit by another Bludger in the same place I could be paralysed. The spine is one of the things that Skele-Gro can’t fix, of course. I insisted that I was fine, but with that diagnosis on my medical file, my insurance premium went through the roof. The Harpies weren’t going to pay a sum fortune to insure an untried rookie, and neither would any other profession team. In short, my Quidditch career was over.”

“Oh, babe, I’m so sorry,” Dora said, reaching over and squeezing the younger girl’s hand.

“Thanks, Tonks. I was really upset at the time, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I had no choice other than to look at getting a different job,” she explained. “One good thing that came of the whole experience was that I learnt just how wonderful my family is. My dad and all my brothers all fell over themselves trying to find a new line of work for me. In fact, I think it became a bit of a competition to see who could convince me to take up their profession. Dad and Percy all found openings at the Ministry that I could apply for, Ron looked into getting me into the Aurors, Charlie tried to convince me to become a dragon handler and even George offered me a job in his shop. Actually, I did work in his shop for a few months while I tried to decide what to do.”

“But you decided to follow Bill into curse-breaking,” Dora said.

“Yeah, it just seemed the most interesting job, really. No offense, but I’ve never seen myself as an Auror, or even working for the Ministry. I quite like dragons, but not enough to convince me to move to Romania. As I had all the right NEWT qualifications to become a curse-breaker, and Bill put in a good word for me, I managed to get an apprenticeship with Gringotts. I qualified last year and have been really enjoying it. The money is pretty good, too.”

“Will you be helping Bill in clearing out my old house?” Harry asked.

Ginny flushed and immediately drew in on herself. “Yeah,” she admitted quietly. “I visited the house last week with Bill. I was shocked to see it in that state, actually.”

“You’ve visited Grimmauld Place before?” Harry asked in surprise.

“Yeah, my parents were members of the Order of the Phoenix, did you know that?”

Harry nodded.

“Well, a couple of times they attended meetings there they took me with them as they didn’t want to leave me at home by myself. I even saw you there once,” she said before quickly glancing at him. “You’ve changed a lot.”

Harry was about to explain that he normally dressed a bit neater, even if that wasn’t really true anymore, when Bill arrived back with the drinks. He, too, was drinking a pint, leaving Ginny the only one with a soft drink.

The four of them then started to peruse the menus and chose what food they wanted. As he hadn’t had more than a piece of toast all morning, Harry picked the rib eye steak, as did Dora. Bill ordered sausage and mash, while Ginny just had a pasta salad. Harry was rapidly coming to the conclusion that she had very different tastes from him.

They all chattered until the food arrived, with Ginny mostly talking to Dora. They ate mostly in silence, although Bill and Dora did appear to be playing footsie under the table the whole time. Once they finished, Dora and Bill began a quiet conversation between themselves, while Harry went and got a second pint. He sat down again, eyeing his partner sourly as she practically draped herself over Bill.

“I hope you didn’t think I was trying to insult you when I said you’d changed a lot,” a small voice said.

Harry turned to look at Ginny, who had turned to face him with a rosy blush in her cheeks.

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied dismissively. The last thing he needed was her making up excuses.

“No, really, all I meant was that when I saw you back at Grimmauld Place, you looked so different. Didn’t you use to wear glasses?” she asked.

“Yeah, I did,” he admitted in surprise. “I decided it was worth the Galleons to get my eyes fixed, in the end. My glasses had a habit of falling off at the most awkward moments.”

“You look much better without them,” Ginny said quietly

“Thank you,” Harry said, rather taken aback by her apparent change in attitude. Had he misread the girl?

“I’m sorry I haven’t really spoken much to you during lunch,” she continued. “When I was a little girl, sometimes I could be painfully shy when meeting new people. I really thought I’d kicked that habit about ten years ago, but apparently not.”

“Oh, well, at least you’re talking to me now,” he smiled encouragingly.

“Yeah, just when me and Bill will have to head back to work,” Ginny said sombrely. “The goblins are very strict about timekeeping, you know.”

“Yeah, I heard that,” Harry agreed. Then, encouraged by Ginny’s apparent change of heart about him, he added, “well, if you do feel like chatting some more then give me a Floo call and we’ll go out for a drink, or something.”

Ginny instantly flushed bright red. “Okay, I might do that.”

“I’m afraid it’s time to head back to work,” Bill announced. “Some of us have strict hours to keep.”

“More fool you,” Dora smirked. “I’ll see you tonight, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Bill agreed, and gave her a quick kiss.

“Bye, Harry, it was nice meeting you,” Ginny said, before leaping out of her seat and practically running out of the pub.

“So, how did it go?” Dora asked after Bill had followed his sister out of the door.

“Badly,” Harry admitted. “I think Ginny took one look at me and nearly turned and ran back out the door. It took her most of the lunch hour to actually talk to me. I told you I should have gone and changed beforehand.”

“That’s strange. Ginny isn’t the sort to get all snobbish about the way people are dressed. She’s normally a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl,” Dora said in puzzlement.

“Maybe she was, but not anymore. Didn’t you see that smart business suit she was wearing? I looked like a complete tramp next to her,” he moaned.

“I’ll have to ask her about that next time I see her,” Dora said. “Oh, never mind, Harry. Even if she wasn’t interested, there are plenty more fish in the sea.”

“Probably, but it looks like I’ll have to use different bait next time,” he muttered.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Okay, is everyone here? Good. Minister, they’re all yours,” the wizard in immaculate robes said as he moved off the small stage to be replaced by Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“Thank you for coming everyone,” Kinsley rumbled. “As you are all aware, the Ministry will be hosting a garden party on the 23rd of this month in Leeds. This will be the first of a series of such events, all designed to allow Ministry officials to meet and interact with their counterparts in the Muggle world. Naturally, the Statute of Secrecy is still in force, so everyone will need to be able to pass themselves off as Muggles. Hopefully, you will all have attended one of the workshops that have been running on the subject.”

Harry looked around the assembled group of wizards and witches and saw a few rueful looks. Obviously, not everyone had bothered.

“I must stress the importance of these events in moving our society forward. While the Wizarding world holds itself apart from the mundane one, we continue to run the risk of coming to view the Muggles as inferior or something to be despised. We must take the time to understand our non-magical neighbours and, hopefully, forge working relationships with them. I realise that a lot of you are not used to interacting with Muggles and fear that you’ll give yourselves away, but trained Obliviators will be on hand if anything goes wrong,” the big man assured them. “Right, I will now hand you over to the event organiser, Miss Daphne Greengrass, who will give you more details. Miss Greengrass, if you will.”

Kingsley stepped off the stage and was replaced by a young woman with golden hair. Harry looked at her closely, admiring her shapely legs and attractive features. Miss Greengrass was a radiantly beautiful witch. As she stood to address the group, suddenly her eyes locked with Harry’s and she gave him a small smile.

“Thank you, Minister,” Greengrass began, turning back to the assembled audience. “As stated, this will be the first of eight such events all across the nation, designed to help build an understanding of the Muggle world. Ministry staff will be given the opportunity to mingle with Muggle political figures, Civil Servants, businessmen and all manner of important and influential people. I must express my personal excitement at this wonderful prospect, and my gratitude at being allowed to help organise it.”

“I wonder who she shagged to be given the job,” Dora whispered in his ear.

“Dunno, but he was a lucky bastard whoever he was,” he smirked back.

“The eight events will be held over the course of the next three months and will each take the form of an informal party. Various locations have been secured, with the final party being held here in London in a private garden in Knightsbridge. Catering of a high standard will be laid on, and I can guarantee everyone will be well provided for. Just please remember that you’re supposed to be interacting with the Muggles when the buffet is laid out.”

A small titter met Greengrass’s joke. Harry had to admit he was impressed with the young woman, who seemed as intelligent as she was beautiful. Her voice was like pure honey, and he found himself starting to enjoy the briefing very much.

“Obviously, security is a major issue at these events and, as the Minister stated, teams of trained Obliviators will be on hand should things go badly wrong. They will be aided by a protection team from the Aurors and from the Minister’s personal staff.”

“That’s us,” Dora whispered mischievously.

Harry just rolled his eyes at her.

“It will be vital for all staff to dress convincingly as Muggles and before each event begins there will be inspection of all attendees. We will expect smart, formal attire and anyone failing to meet the required standard will not be allowed to attend. Such an occurrence will be noted in your permanent files,” Greengrass warned them menacingly. “Males, especially, remember to wear trousers. If any man turns up in a dress because he thinks it feels like he’s wearing robes, he will be in a world of trouble!”

“Oh, Harry, you won’t be able to wear that fetching knee-length little number you bought,” Dora said sympathetically.

Harry ignored her and concentrated on the briefing. In truth, when it was being delivered by such a beautiful witch as Daphne Greengrass it was not a difficult job. Greengrass was extremely thorough, though. She provided comprehensive information on what was required from everyone, gave out timings and destinations, and even provided everyone with a list of do’s and don’ts for when conversing with a Muggle. Harry was impressed; Ministry staff weren’t normally this competent.

Eventually, the briefing broke up and Harry and Dora stood to leave. As they had been seated on the far side of the auditorium they had to wait while the other witches and wizards shuffled out of the room. As they were nearly to the door, a voice called out.

“Mr Potter? I wonder if I could have a quick word.”

Harry turned to see Daphne Greengrass standing there, a serene smile on her lips. He heard Dora snigger beside him.

“I’ll meet you back at the office,” Dora said, amusement clear in her voice.

“What can I do for you, Miss Greengrass?” Harry asked after his partner had made her exit.

“Oh, nothing work related, I assure you,” she replied, her bright blue eyes shining. “I must confess that I just wanted to take the opportunity to meet you. I’ve heard so much about your exploits over the years I couldn’t resist coming and introducing myself.”

“Oh?” Harry said cautiously. People who claimed to know about his supposed ‘exploits’ always made him nervous.

“Indeed,” she continued before glancing round to ensure no one was nearby. “You see, I’m fully aware of you role in the last war, and that we’re all indebted to you for finally ridding us of the curse of the Dark Lord. I wanted to express my admiration and gratitude.”

Harry resisted sighing out loud. It seemed more and more people knew that he’d been the one to defeat Voldemort. Clearly, the Ministry hadn’t suppressed that information as thoroughly as he’d hoped.

“I do hope I haven’t given you cause for concern,” Greengrass added rapidly. “I come from a very old and well established family, and we do tend to keep our ears to the ground. I swear that I would never reveal your secret to anyone.”

“Sadly, as much as I would wish otherwise, the days of that information being secret are numbered, I fear,” he told her. “I think my return to this country and the job I’m now doing has got quite a few people speculating.”

“Quite so, and I must say I’m impressed with your modesty. Most men would be bragging to all and sundry if they managed to beat the most powerful Dark wizard in recent history. You seem intent on trying to keep it quiet, however. I gather you don’t like to draw attention to yourself, then?” she asked.

“Fame has never been a goal of mine,” he confirmed.

“How intriguing,” she smiled. “Good looks, profound magical skill, and a sense of humility, too. You’re quite the package, aren’t you, Mr Potter?”

“I try,” he replied. In truth, the beautiful blonde’s delicate perfume and ravishing good looks were proving quite distracting.

“Well, I’m sure you’re very busy, so I won’t keep you further. I have enjoyed our brief chat immensely, however, and would relish the opportunity to talk some more. If you find you have some spare time on your hands, please do give me a call.”

With a graceful flourish, she produced a business card with her Floo address printed on it which she handed to him.

“Thank you, I’ll definitely try to find some time to accommodate you, Miss Greengrass,” he promised.

She moved a little closer to him. “Please, do call me Daphne. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.”

And with that, she turned and walked out of the room. Harry desperately tried not to leer at the sight of her shapely bottom wiggling as she walked. The girl was definitely sex on a stick.

Slowly, Harry made his way back to the section’s office, deep in thought. The room was empty when he arrived, apart from Dora. She wiggled her eyebrows at him as he entered.

“So, what did the blonde hottie want then?” she asked.

“To express her utmost admiration of me, apparently,” he noted dryly. “Somehow, she knew about me and Voldemort.”

“Really? Hmm, that’s a surprise,” Dora said.

“Yeah, what do you know about the Greengrass family?” he asked her.

“Not a great deal,” Dora admitted. “They’re your usual bunch of inbred pure-bloods, although they traditionally tend to shy away from direct commendation of Muggles and generally operate more in the background. They remained neutral during the last war.”

“Interesting,” he pondered. “Do you know anything specific about this Daphne Greengrass?”

“Nah, I’d never even heard of her before today. Why, are you interested in her? Did blondie make a move on you?” Dora asked with obvious interest.

Harry pulled out the business card he’d been given and showed it to his friend. “She suggested we get together some time and have a chat,” he explained.

“Really, have a chat, eh?” Dora drawled in amusement, but then noted Harry’s expression. “You don’t seem too thrilled by that prospect.”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “There just seemed something a bit off about her.”

“In what way?” Dora demanded.

“Back when I was working for Department M, I was assigned an undercover mission,” he began. “Now, I can’t give you any details of what I was doing, but I can tell you that I was paired up with a gorgeous young Russian agent and we were to pose as newlyweds. Suffice to say, we took our cover very seriously and performed every activity that a newlywed couple would do, if you get my meaning. The mission lasted about a month and then, at the end of it, we parted company. That Russian agent just shook my hand and walked away without a backwards glance. It was only afterwards when I looked back over the time we spent together did I realise that she’d always been holding a bit of herself back. Even when we were in bed doing what all just married couples do, there was always this feeling that she wasn’t completely there if you get my meaning.”

“That she was just acting out a role, you mean?” Dora queried

“Exactly,” Harry agreed. “I just got the same sort of vibe off this Daphne Greengrass character.”

“Hmm, perhaps she’s just on the lookout for a wealthy, influential husband,” Dora suggested. “If she knew about your take-down of Voldemort, she probably knows that you’re loaded. She wouldn’t be the first gold digger who’s had her eye on you.”

“True, but didn’t you say the Greengrasses were an old, established pure-blood family? I can’t imagine they’d want a dirty half-blood like me befouling their esteemed family tree,” Harry pointed out.

“Times change,” she shrugged. “So, does this mean you won’t be taking her up on her offer of a little get-together?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I’m almost inclined to meet with her just to find out what she’s up to.”

“Of course, and I’m sure the fact that she’s so hot she could give a ninety-year-old bloke a stiffy doesn’t come in to it,” Dora grinned.

Harry shrugged. “I can look in the shop window without making a purchase, can’t I?” he pointed out. “So, what’s on the agenda for this afternoon?”

“Well, as we seem to be making so little progress on tracking down this mysterious new gang, I thought we’d pay another visit to the person who first mentioned them to us,” she said.

“Oh, your little friend Sudsy? Maybe that’s not a bad idea,” he agreed.

“Glad you agree,” she smiled. “To the Tonksmobile!”

Harry groaned.











Back to index


Chapter 8: Chapter 8 - Changes

Author's Notes: For everyone who was a bit mystified by Ginny’s behaviour in the last chapter, all is explained here. As my regular readers will know, I really don’t like portraying her as a weak or timid character… so I haven’t. Oh, and I’ve thrown in a bit of action in earlier part of the chapter to balance out all the romantic stuff. You didn’t think I was going soft in my old age, did you?

Super, wondrous and extremely fast beta work by Arnel.


Chapter 8 — Changes



“This is it,” Dora announced as they approached a rather grim and run-down looking laundromat, situated just off Lambeth Road. Peering in through the glass window, it looked like the place was deserted.

They pushed open the door and entered. From the state of the place, Harry couldn’t imagine anyone would actually want to bring their clothes here to be cleaned. Indeed, half the washing machines had makeshift signs on them declaring that they were out of order. It was an unsavoury kind of place.

“Sudsy normally hangs out round back,” Dora informed him. Leading him towards a battered wooden door at the back marked ‘private’, she opened it without so much as a knock and walked in.

“Aw, bloody hell! What do you pair want now?” Harry heard Sudsy’s whining voice complain.

“Is that anyway to greet an old friend?” Dora asked in mock surprise before her voice turned hard. “Remember, the only reason you’re not languishing in prison at the moment is because you’re useful to us. Time to start earning your keep.”

Sudsy rose from behind a small desk that he’d been sitting at and looked them in distress. “Look, I ain’t got nuffin’ useful for you, okay? I promise when I do I’ll come and find you. Fair do’s?”

“No, it isn’t,” Dora retorted. “You’ve normally got your grubby little ear to the ground. Why is it that an apparently powerful gang backed by some mysterious Muggle benefactor has moved into town and you know nothing about it? I think you’re holding out on me, Sudsy.”

“No, I ain’t! I swear it,” the man cried in alarm.

“Perhaps I should just take what information I need?” Harry said casually. “After all, Sudsy here doesn’t appear to have anything by the way of Occlumency shields.”

“You bloody stay away from me, copper!” Sudsy snarled, his hand moving towards his back pocket. He instantly froze as he found two wands pointing directly at him.

“Going for your wand? My, you are getting brave in your old age, aren’t you? Do you know what the penalty for attacking a Ministry official is, Sudsy? Are you actually looking for a stay in Azkaban?” Dora demanded.

“Just piss off, both of you!” Sudsy yelled defiantly. “I ain’t got nuffin to say to you and I ain’t gunna be a snitch for you no more. You wanna arrest me? Go ahead, pig! I ain’t got nuffin here that’ll get me more than a small fine. Do your bloody worst!”

Harry began to walk towards the man, but Dora placed a restraining hand on his arm.

“Is this the way you want it to be?” she asked Sudsy.

“Yeah, I don’t do nuffin for you anymore, got it? I don’t wanna even see your faces around this place no more,” Sudsy said firmly.

“If that’s the way you want it,” Dora said, putting her wand away. “Just remember, you’ve now forfeited our protection. If we catch you doing anything even slightly illegal, you’ll be in the slammer before you can blink. Likewise, if you get into any bother with your neighbours, don’t come running to us to help you out.”

“I won’t. Now bugger off,” Sudsy spat.

Turning, Dora left the room without a word. Harry glared at the man, but trusted his partner enough to follow her lead. Only when they were outside did he enquire what her plan was.

“Sudsy is usually a cringing little rat,” she explained. “There’s no way he would normally stand up to us like that, especially after you slapped him around last time. That means there’s someone leaning on him that he fears more than he fears us.”

“Ah, that bloody gang have got to him, haven’t they?” Harry acknowledged. “You know, we must really come up with a name for this lot. We can’t just keep calling them ‘the gang’.”

“Perhaps after we’ve actually seen one of the bastards with our own eyes we’ll be able to come up with some snappy title,” Dora smiled, “and on that note, I think we should stake out Sudsy’s place. This gang seem pretty well informed, and the chances are they’ll come knocking on his door to find out what we wanted pretty soon.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Harry agreed. “How do you want to do this? I still have my Invisibility Cloak and you can just pick a new face, of course.”

“Nah, I have a better idea than that,” she grinned. “First, we grab the Tonksmobile, and then we head to the nearest convenience store. We might be here a while.”

“Why is it always to the Tonksmobile?” Harry muttered in disgust.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

It was past eleven at night as Harry stretched his still back as best he could in the passenger seat of Dora’s VW. The little car was currently parked just across the road from Sudsy’s laundromat and they had a perfect view of the shop front from this location.

He’d only been slightly surprised that in addition to all the other modifications the car possessed, it also had an Invisibility Charm built in. Once activated, the pair of them could sit and watch the laundromat in comparative comfort. Harry just hoped the Muggle Repelling and Avoidance Charms would prevent some lorry from ploughing into the back of them.

Dora was currently sleeping, her head lolling against the glass of the side window, while Harry maintained watch. Absently, he popped another wine gum into his mouth from the large bag on the dashboard, hoping the sugar would keep him alert. He had just winced when he realised he’d selected a green one, his least favourite flavour, when movement down the street caught his eye.

Working as a spy for the last few years had taught Harry how to observe what was around him. He was constantly amazed at just what the average person missed as they shuffled about, distracted by their hum-drum lives. It was no wonder that the magical world had remained hidden for so long, really. You could probably parade a pack of Graphorn’s down Kensington High Street and half the Muggles (and even a few witches and wizards) wouldn’t notice. Harry, however, had been trained differently. He knew when something stood out from its surroundings, much like the two men who were walking down the street towards them stood out.

Most people live in their own little bubble, and only pay minimal attention to the world around them. These two men, however, were doing anything but that. Although they were being careful not to show it, their posture was one of total alertness, like they were expecting to be attacked at any moment. Subtly, they were also keeping a keen watch on everything and everyone around them. Harry knew a fellow professional when he saw one, and these two fitted that category perfectly. He reached over and nudged Dora.

“Wa…what…” she mumbled.

“I think our expected visitors might be here,” he told her quickly.

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked around.

“Ah, I’ve got them. Two blokes, both mid-thirties I would guess, dressed in jeans and plain jackets? Hmm, they look like they know how to handle themselves,” she noted.

“Just what I thought,” he confirmed. “Look, they’ve stopped at the laundry.”

“Oh, and the door has just magically sprung open. I wonder how that happened?” she noted smugly.

“We’ll give them a minute or two then follow, okay?” Harry said.

“Yes, Master!” Dora grinned.

When a suitable period of time elapsed, the two of them leapt from the VW Golf, much to the surprise a passing drunk to whom they appeared to have stepped out of thin air. Not wasting time on the startled man, they ran across the road and paused outside the door to the laundrette. Harry tried the door and found it was still unlocked. He pushed it open and cautiously entered. Seeing nothing, he motioned for Dora to follow him.

Moving as quietly as he could, Harry made his way to the door at the back. It was closed, but he thought he could faintly hear voices coming from the other side.

“Disillusion Charm, okay?” he whispered to Dora who nodded and cast it on herself, instantly vanishing from sight. Harry followed her example, and then gently reached for the door handle. He’d just managed to open the door a crack when a terrible screeching sound rent the air.

“Shit! An Alarm Charm,” he heard Dora curse.

Seeing nothing for it, Harry flung the door open and threw himself inside. It was just as well he hand chosen to fling himself to the floor, as a pair of Severing Charms passed inches over his head a second later.

Quickly, he took in the scene before him. The two men he had seen outside were at the back of the room with their wands pointed in his direction. Sudsy was between them, gagged and apparently tied to a chair. He already had several cuts on his face.

Harry silently cast a Stunning Spell at the left hand man, but was mortified to see him get a Shield Charm in place just in time. A red bolt of light flew over his shoulder aimed at the second man, presumably cast by Dora, but this too was deflected.

As soon as he had cast his spell, Harry’s Disillusion Charm had failed. Realising he was a sitting target, he rolled to his left and managed to take cover behind a filing cabinet. Dora stayed in the doorway began firing spells at the men from there.

The men didn’t stay in one place, either. One overturned a table and took cover behind it while the other chose Sudsy’s desk to hide behind. They then began to throw a steady barrage of offensive spells at Harry and Dora.

“Shit, these two are good!” Harry heard Dora curse.

Harry could see Sudsy desperately trying to get free as spells shot past only inches away from him. He was just about to trying Summoning Sudsy out of the way, when the left hand man suddenly turned his wand on him.

“You were warned, you worthless scum!” he bellowed. “Avada Kedavra!”

The green light only took a millisecond to travel from the tip of man’s wand to Sudsy’s chest. He contorted in his seat and was then still.

“Fuck!” he heard Dora curse.

With trying to protect Sudsy no longer an issue, and their attackers clearly not afraid of using an Unforgivable in front of them, Harry decided now the gloves were off. He sprang from behind his cover and sent a powerful Blasting Curse at the desk Sudsy’s murderer was hiding behind. It exploded with a thunderous detonation.

“Oh, shit!” he heard the second man curse, and then he too let loose a Blasting Charm. Harry cast his strongest Shield Charm, but soon saw that the spell had not been directed in his direction. Instead, the man had cast the spell at the back wall of the room, which blew out sending dust and fragments into the air.

“This isn’t over!” the man yelled and threw something in their direction. Instantly, everything went black.

Harry knew exactly what had happened; the man had thrown a jar of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder at them. Fortunately, he knew a counter to this. Twirling his wand in a circular motion, he created a mini whirlwind in the middle of the room. Within seconds, every grain of power was sucked up into the swirling air, returning the room to normal.

“They’re getting away!” Dora called and Harry looked over to see the man helping his injured colleague through the hole he’d blasted in the wall. Leaping up, he ran over to the hole, but had to duck as a bright blue spell came whizzing through the gap. He cautiously peered round the shattered brickwork just in time to see the pair vanish round the corner of the alley that the hole opened out into.

“Come on,” he yelled to Dora and leapt out.

The sprinted to the corner and again cautiously looked round. The alley opened out into a comparatively busy Muggle street meaning they couldn’t just start throwing spells about.

“There! They’re heading into the passageway across the street,” Dora called, pointing across the still busy road.

As quickly as they could, Harry and Dora hurried across the street and towards the passageway. Not wanting to let them get away, Harry trusted to speed and ran straight in… only to find the passageway was in fact a small service entrance serving a large shop and it was completely empty.

“Bollocks, they must have Disapparated,” Dora cursed.

“I didn’t hear any noise,” Harry protested.

“Maybe they were really quiet,” she pointed out.

“We were right on their heels. No one is that quite. Hell, not even Dumbledore could make that little noise when he Apparated,” Harry grumbled.

“Well, perhaps they had a Portkey? Anyway, no matter how they did it, they’re gone,” Dora moaned.

Harry nodded grimly. At least now they had had their first actual sighting of these mysterious criminals and now no one could claim they didn’t exist.

The next question was how the hell do they catch the buggers?

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry lounged restlessly on the sofa. Dora was out with Bill (again) and he had the flat all to himself. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite know what to do with himself that evening.

The last few days had been hectic. The fact that there had been a murder using an Unforgivable had sent shockwaves throughout the DMLE and Gawain Robards had again insisted that the investigation be turned over to his Aurors. Dedalus had refused, and had later been backed up by Kingsley himself who stated that due to the seriousness of the crime both departments could run separate investigations, particularly as they seemed to be approached the problem from different angles. Dora had been particularly smug at the Minister’s ruling.

Both he and Dora had submitted Pensieve memories of the incident as evidence, and the DMLE were desperately trying to identify the two men, although there was some speculation that they were both wearing Glamours to disguise themselves. Everyone agreed that the men appeared to be extremely skilled, being able to cast powerful, soundlessly spells with great accuracy. Harry remembered Sudsy’s comment about the gang being ‘like Death Eaters’ and he found himself in agreement with the dead man.

He sprawled on the couch, unable to get the events of the last few weeks out of his head. He knew he should be trying to relax and unwind, but he felt twitchy and out of sorts. Briefly, he considered going out to the pub, but he really didn’t fancy drinking alone.

A chirping sound coming from the fireplace alerted him to the fact someone was calling via the Floo. Wearily, he forced himself up and walked over to the rather ugly, modern-style fireplace that served the flat. Harry knelt down and waived his wand, indicating he accepted the call. He was surprised to see the face of a pretty young woman appear.

“Harry, is that you?” the woman called.

“Yeah. Hello, Ginny,” he replied, trying to hide his surprise.

“Yes, hello. I hope I wasn’t disturbing you or anything,” she said nervously.

“No, not at all. I was just sitting around doing nothing. What can I do for you? Is this about the job at Grimmauld Place?” he asked.

“Oh, no, nothing to do with that,” she confirmed. “Actually, I was wondering if I could take you up on that offer of a drink, if you’re not doing anything, that is.”

Harry blinked. When he’d made the offer he hadn’t expected in a million years for the pretty redhead to actually take him up on it.

“Umm, no; I’ve got nothing on. Yeah, I’d love to go out for a drink with you,” he replied.

“Great!” Ginny exclaimed, actually sounding rather relieved.

“Do you want to come through?” Harry asked.

“No, I need to get ready first. You know us girls; we need to throw a bit of slap on our faces before we can be seen in public. Can I meet you somewhere?” she asked.

“How about that pub we had lunch at last week?” he suggested.

“That sounds great,” she smiled. “Shall we say about an hour, then?”

“I’ll see you there,” Harry confirmed.

“I’m looking forward to it. Bye for now.”

The Floo went dead, but Harry continued to kneel in front of it, somewhat bewildered. He’d honestly never thought in his wildest dreams that Bill’s sister would have the slightest interest in meeting him again. Still, it just showed what he knew, he supposed.

Eventually, he stood and decided a quick shower was in order before he met up with Ginny. It had been a long day and the last thing he wanted to do was turn up stinking. He stripped off his clothes and headed to the bathroom.

After a quick, but refreshing shower, he dabbed a bit of after shave on his cheeks (but only a dab) and went into his room to find something suitable to wear. His fingers were just reaching for a smart shirt when he paused. Ginny had seen him at his scuzzy worst at lunch the other day, and that seemingly hadn’t put her off. What would it look like if he suddenly turned up looking completely different? He grown accustomed to his new look and, frankly, he’d always been a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy. Besides, hadn’t Dora said something about Ginny normally dressing like that?

Deciding that if the redhead didn’t like it, it was tough, Harry grabbed a clean pair of black jeans and a Sisters of Mercy t-shirt. Seeing he had a few minutes before he had to go out, he went back into the living room and switched on Dora’s CD player. He found a copy of ‘Floodland’ and a few moments later the chiming opening cords of ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’ started blaring out.

He’d spent the last four years of his life being something he wasn’t, he decided, it was time to just be himself.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry sat at a small table from where he could keep a watch on the front entrance of the ‘The Lord Clyde’. It was a beautiful summer evening and the landlord had decided to wedge open the double doors which allowed in a gentle breeze to blissfully cool the air in the otherwise stifling pub. The sun was setting outside and it sent rays of golden light in through the windows, bathing the whole place in an ethereal glow.

Sipping his ice-cold pint of Carlsberg Export, Harry felt glad that he’d made the effort to go out. It was far too nice an evening to be stuck in Dora’s flat. With Bill a frequent visitor, he was beginning to feel less and less comfortable living there. The sooner 12 Grimmauld Place was made safe, the better.

Through the open doors, Harry could see into the square that the pub was situated in. In the centre of the square was an area of grass on which several Chestnut trees grew, their leaves hypnotically shimmering in the breeze. As was common for any green area in London in nice weather, numerous people were stretched out on the grass enjoying the last rays of the sun.

He was about to take another sip of his lager when suddenly an angel walked in through the door. At least, he assumed it must be an angel due to the fiery halo that surrounded her head, but when she took a few steps forward Harry saw that it was in fact Ginny Weasley, her hair loose around her shoulders and the sunset framing her in the doorway perfectly. She caught sight of him and began to walk in his direction.

For a moment, Harry couldn’t believe it was the same girl he had met the previous week. Gone was the plain, grey business suit and in its place she was wearing a pair of faded, skin-tight jeans and a black crop top. She accessorised the outfit with a silver necklace and a number of bangles that hung loosely around her wrists. She’d also applied some tasteful makeup (or ‘slap’ as she’d referred to it earlier) and her lips shone a shade of dark pink while her large eyes were further emphasised by dark eyeliner. But it was her hair that made the most difference, he felt. Seeing it hanging loose around her shoulders made her look almost a different person.

“Hi, Harry,” she smiled as she approached the table. “I’m glad you could make it at such short notice.”

“Not at all,” he replied, hurriedly standing up to greet her and nearly knocking his pint over in the process. “You look great! Can I get you a drink?”

For a second, she eyed his frosty pint longingly. “Oh, something cold, please. A nice cider would be great if they do it here.”

“One ice-cold cider coming right up,” he promised and hurried over to the bar. Fortunately, the pub was still not too busy yet and he was able to get served immediately. He returned to his seat a few minutes later clutching a pint glass half-full of ice and an open bottle of Bulmers cider.

“Thanks,” Ginny said gratefully as he put the glass and bottle on the table in front of her. “It’s still very warm out there. I’m really thirsty.”

Harry watched as she poured the golden liquid over the ice, tilting the glass to prevent it foaming up. He noted her nails had been painted a bright shade of red and he could faintly smell her perfume. Her scent was light and flowery, and made his head swim.

“You look sensational,” he complimented her after she’d taken her first drink. He watched as she licked her lips, noting how moist and inviting they were.

“Thank you,” Ginny replied with a faint blush. “At least I’m not dressed like a complete stiff this time.”

“Oh, I thought you looked very smart in that business suit. It looked good on you,” Harry told her.

“I hate wearing it,” she frowned. “The only reason I had it on that day was I’d just finished a job in a Muggle area. When we do those sorts of jobs we try and dress like Muggle estate agents, then no one thinks twice when they see us wandering around examining properties and making notes. Of course, my darling brother only told me we were meeting you and Tonks for lunch minutes before we had to leave, otherwise I would have nipped home and changed.”

“Funny, I thought the same thing. I really didn’t think I was dressed appropriately,” he grinned ruefully.

“Merlin, no!” Ginny exclaimed. “You looked… fantastic. I was mortified; there I was, dressed in some stuffy suit and you were sitting there just looking so cool. I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.”

Suddenly, Ginny’s behaviour at lunch that day became understandable. Bill and Dora had been dressed in a similar manner to him, and poor Ginny must have felt completely out of place.

“Look, I’m really sorry about how I behaved last time,” she continued. “I’m not normally so shy meeting new people, but I… well, you’ve always been a bit of a hero to me. I used to love hearing the story of the Boy Who Lived when I was a little girl and, what with my parents both being in the Order, I used to hear a lot of stories about you. I was a bit star struck for a moment.”

“Look, Ginny…” Harry started, hoping to cut the girl off from whatever fawning speech she was going to make.

“I know that it was you who defeated the Dark Lord, too,” she blurted.

Harry looked at her in surprise. Of course, Order of the Phoenix members would have known exactly what happened that day, but they were supposed to keep quiet about it. Then again, it seemed like everyone seemed to know about it these days.

“Please don’t be angry,” Ginny begged. “My parents didn’t tell me, it’s just my brother George invented these things called Extendable Ears, he runs a joke shop you see, and we were listening in to a meeting of the Order shortly after You Know Who died and, well, I heard everything. I promise that I’ve not told another living soul!”

“It’s alright, Ginny,” Harry sighed. “It seems lately that more and more people are discovering the truth. I just ask that you don’t spread the information around or treat me any differently because of it.”

“Yeah, Tonks said you hate anyone fawning over you,” she smiled. “Actually, you surprised me at lunch the other day. You were just so nice and down to earth. Tonks told me you were like that, but I’m not sure I quite believed her. It was really good to find out she was telling the truth.”

“I just hate people sucking up to me. I’m really not anything special; I just did what needed to be done. Most people would have done the same thing in my situation,” Harry said adamantly.

“Actually, I don’t think they would,” Ginny replied, equally firmly. “Maybe you were a bit cut off from the general population, but I can tell you a lot of people were very scared back then. I heard about loads of families that simply fled to the continent rather than risk facing the Death Eaters. I heard my dad say loads of times that if everyone had just stood up to You Know Who and his lackeys, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. But they didn’t. Most of them ran and hid. You were the one who stood and fought, and you should be proud of that fact, not just dismiss it!”

Harry looked at the girl in surprise. She had a fire in her eyes and her voice had taken on a steely edge. Ginny Weasley was apparently a lot different than his first impressions of her suggested.

“I’d just like to put it all behind me,” he said cautiously. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Oh, of course. Sorry,” she apologised quickly.

“No, really, it’s okay,” he assured her. “So, please don’t think I’m being cheesy here, but how come a beautiful girl like you is single?”

Ginny pulled a face.

“Hmm, I am getting a faint whiff of gorgonzola here,” she chuckled.

“Okay, that was a corny line, but I am interest to know. You’re obviously smart, attractive, successful… why are you single at the moment?” Harry asked.

“I could ask you the same thing,” she retorted before a resigned expression came onto her face. “I guess if I don’t tell you, Tonks will. She’s very protective of you, you know.”

“She’s like a big sister to me,” Harry smiled.

“Yeah, I got that,” Ginny smirked before turning serious. “The truth is, I had a pretty bad breakup a few years ago and it kind of coloured my perceptions a bit. You know how you think you know someone, and then it turns out you were completely wrong? Have you ever had that happen to you?”

“A few times,” he admitted. “A few times I’ve thought I knew myself but I was proved wrong.”

She looked at him sadly. “That can happen, too,” she sympathised. “Well, let me explain. When I went to Hogwarts, I had the normal number of boyfriends, I guess, but no one I was ever really serious about. Then, just after I joined the Harpies, I ran into an old boyfriend called Michael. I’d gone out with him in my fourth year but dumped him because I thought he was too immature and sulky. When I met him again, it really seemed like he’d grown up. He was handsome, charming and considerate. Long story short, we hooked up again and for a while I was blissfully happy. I was doing my dream job, I had a great boyfriend, and all was right with the world, basically.”

“Why do I sense something bad is about to happen in this story?” Harry said seriously.

“You’re way ahead of me,” she smiled ruefully. “Anyway, things were getting serious with Michael and he started dropping hints about getting engaged. Personally, I thought we were a bit young, but I was head over heels for him and my parents thought the world of him, too. Only my brothers were a bit unsure about him, which proves I should listen to them more than I do. Anyway, things were going great until I received that injury I told you and Tonks about and suddenly my Quidditch career was over, just like that.”

“That must have been a terrible blow,” Harry said sympathetically.

“Oh, was it ever, but then things got worse. Completely out of the blue, I get a letter from Michael saying he’s been thinking about our relationship and decided we should breakup. I mean, one second he’s taking marriage and the next second he’s just dumped me,” Ginny said irritably.

“His timing could have been better,” Harry winced.

“As it turns out, his timing was spot on,” she told him in a hard voice. “Anyway, not happy with being dumped via owl post, I go over to his house and he’s really cold and dismissive, claiming things were never that serious between us and he only mentioned getting engaged because he thought it was what I wanted to hear. Needless to say, I hexed his arse good! The bastard reported me to the Ministry, too!”

“You’re right; he was a bastard,” Harry agreed.

“Oh, I haven’t gotten to the good bit yet!” she said bitterly. “In a way, it was good that I was so angry at him, so at least I didn’t just spend my time moping round. I got my arse in gear, took an apprenticeship at Gringotts and got on with my life. It was during my second year with the bank that I did something a bit naughty. Michael had always bragged about how wealthy his family were and how if I became a big Quidditch star our incomes wouldn’t be mismatched. I’d just heard that he’d gotten engaged to some wealthy German heiress and I kind of wondered just how wealthy Michael’s family were, so I snuck a look at his financial records. Guess what I found?”

“Oh, don’t tell me; he was piss poor?” Harry suggested.

“Damn right! His family barely had a Knut to their name. More to the point, they’d been like that for a while, certainly when I was seeing him. They had debts up to their ears and had their creditors circling like vultures. Of course, it all made sense to me then. Michael had realised I stood a chance of becoming a well-paid, professional Quidditch player and latched onto me early. When that fell through, he dropped me like a stone so he could get his claws into some other girl who might have some cash to bail out him and his family. Basically, he’d used me and I was too stupid to see it at the time.”

“I’m really sorry for you, but I wouldn’t blame yourself too much. You get people like him everywhere and sometimes they’re hard to spot,” Harry told her kindly.

“Yeah, I don’t doubt you, but you never think that kind of thing will happen to you, do you? I was convinced Michael genuinely cared for me, but all I was to him was a potential goldmine. Bastard,” she spat and took a long pull on her cider. “You can understand that having something like that happen can knock a girl’s confidence a bit. Basically, since then I’ve only ever gone out with a couple of blokes and never more than once. I just keep thinking; what are they after, you know?”

“I can imagine. Actually, I’m quite flattered that you chose to take me up on my offer of a drink in the circumstances,” he smiled.

“Well, that was a combination of things, really,” she admitted. “Mostly, it was due to Tonks. I knew her from when I was little and she’s always been great to me. She told me that if there was one bloke in the world I could trust, it was you. That and the fact that I harboured a crush on you ever since I saw you that time back at Grimmauld Place.”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” he laughed. “I was a spotty, skinny kid with glasses. How on earth could any girl find that attractive?”

“You weren’t that spotty or skinny, as I recall,” she smirked. “In fact, I seem to remember you as being really cute. You had that sticky-up hair and such a serious expression on your face. I was only eleven years old and I was smitten. Shame you never once looked in my direction.”

“Sorry, Grimmauld Place was pretty busy back in those days. People were forever coming in and out and my godfather always told me to keep myself out of the way. I’m sure if I had noticed you I would have come over to talk. I didn’t have too much interaction with kids my own age back then,” he lamented.

“Yeah, Tonks told me about that,” Ginny nodded.

“What else has Tonks been telling you about me?” Harry challenged in mild exasperation. “You seem remarkably well informed about me.”

“We have chatted quite a lot, I must admit,” she explained. “With me sharing a flat with Bill, I have been seeing a lot of her lately. For some reason, she seemed quiet keen on trying to hook us up.”

“I guess I did have a bit of a hand in getting her and your bother together. I suppose she’s trying to repay the favour,” Harry mused.

“I’m not complaining,” Ginny grinned. “So, what about you? Why hasn’t a handsome hunk of man-flesh like you got a girlfriend?”

“Man-flesh?” Harry protested.

“Answer the question,” Ginny laughed.

“Well, what has my darling almost-sister told you about what I’ve been doing these last few years?” he asked.

“Umm, well, nothing too specific,” she replied. “I gather you’ve been doing some sort of secret job that’s been pretty dangerous at times. Tonks said that it meant you were very rarely in one place for any length of time and you had a hard time forming steady relationships.”

“That’s an understatement.” He winced. “Look, you’ve been up-front with me, so I’ll do the same for you. This last four years have been pretty bad ones for me. I was doing a job that required me to do some pretty unpleasant things and there are times where I’ve felt like I’ve been losing myself. It all came to a head a few months ago when I disobeyed a direct order and nearly got myself and a few other people killed. Looking back, I see now that I made some very bad choices in my life, and that also extends to my personal relationships. After the war, I had lost so much that I just felt the need to run away, and in hindsight, that was the very worst thing I could have done. I should have stayed and looked after what little family I had left.”

“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty,” Ginny said supportively.

“Isn’t that the truth? Anyway, I can’t say that I’ve had much time for any kind of relationship in recent years, and the major one I did have was probably a bad mistake. She was married, you see,” he explained sadly.

“Ah,” Ginny said shortly.

“Yeah, I know. You don’t need to tell me how stupid that was. Her husband was a wealthy and powerful politician who was rarely home. She was lonely, I was lonely; you can see how these things happen?”

“Did you love her?” Ginny asked in a quiet voice.

Harry thought for a second. “No, I didn’t, but I think I needed her, if you get my drift.”

“I think so,” Ginny nodded. “Sometimes you just need to be with someone, don’t you?”

“Exactly. The trouble was that relationship was like a placebo. I could kid myself that everything was alright, that I had someone who cared about me, but it was a lie. The people who really cared about me were back here in Britain and I’d run away from them. I see that now, and I’m trying to make it up to them,” he explained. Truthfully, he hadn’t thought about it in those exact terms until he’d started talking about it with Ginny.

“I’m certainly not going to criticise you. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life to do that,” she snorted “I’m glad things are getting better for you, though.”

“Thanks. Do you know, you’re a really easy person to talk to? I’d never normally have shared half this stuff with anyone,” he said smiling at her.

“Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you,” she grinned back. For a second, their eyes locked and Harry felt a deep stirring within him, something he’d not felt for years.

“Enough serious stuff,” Ginny decided suddenly. “So, what’s your favourite Quidditch team?”

Harry smile widened. Coming out tonight was looking like being a very good move indeed.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Chapter 9 - Hugger-Mugger

Author's Notes: No, I’m not sure why I called this chapter by that title. Hell, I wasn’t even sure exactly what it meant until Arnel looked it up for me. Obviously my brain is going a bit soft in the spring sunshine.

Anyway, another familiar face enters the story at this point (I’m slowly working them in) and we get to see some more of the recently introduced ones. I even manage to go the whole chapter without killing anyone. It mustn’t just be my brain that’s going soft…

Huge thanks to Arnel, who’s brain is just fine, thank you.


Chapter 9 — Hugger-Mugger



“So, how did it go with Ginny last night?” Dora asked as she joined Harry at the breakfast table.

“Good, actually,” Harry smiled. “In fact, I’d have to say really great.”

“Brilliant! You know, I thought you two would click. Ginny’s a really good match for you. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t manage to lure her back here last night,” Dora said suggestively.

“Not all of us shag our dates on the first night,” Harry said archly, which immediately shut Dora up. Seeing her embarrassed look, he took pity on her and decided to give her a few more details about his date to distract her.

“Nah, we had a lot of fun, but I think I want to take it nice and slow with Ginny. Her previous boyfriend was a massive prick and I think she’ll appreciate us getting to know one another better before we get into anything serious. Come to think of it, that’ll be a good approach for me, too,” he reasoned.

“Oh, yeah. She told me about that bloke who dumped her. What a total wanker,” Dora snorted. “At least Ginny knows you’re not after her money.”

“And I know she’s not married,” Harry smiled.

“There you go; a match made in heaven,” Dora laughed. “So, when are you seeing her again?”

“Tomorrow night. We agreed to go out for a bite to eat after work. We would have done it today, but I gather she has some family get-together she’s obliged to attend. I assume that Bill’s going to be attending, too,” he said.

“Yes, the traditional Weasley family start-of-month Sunday dinner. Only death will excuse you, and even then Molly Weasley will want a second opinion from the Healers,” Dora smirked. “As it looks like we’re both deprived of the Weasley of our choice, do you want to do something together?”

“Should we go and see your mum?” Harry suggested.

Dora shook her head. “Nah, she’s having lunch with an old friend. Sadly, an old female friend. I really wish mum would consider getting herself back on the market.”

“Hey, it took you long enough,” Harry pointed out.

“I guess. You know, talking about Sunday dinners has put me in the mood for a nice roast with all the trimmings. How about we go to that place down by St Pauls that does a cracking Sunday roast?”

“Okay, you’ve convinced me,” Harry grinned. “We’ll slob about here for an hour or two and then head out. Blimey, I can’t remember when I last had a decent roast. What an excellent idea!”

“Naturally, I’m…” Dora started to say, but was interrupted by the Floo chiming for attention. With a sour look on her face she got up to answer it.

“Hello? Miss Tonks, is that you?” Harry heard a female voice he couldn’t immediately place.

“Miss Granger?” Dora said in surprise. “Yes, it’s me. How on earth did you get my Floo address?”

“Oh, it’s listed on your emergency contact details,” Granger explained in an excited voice. “Miss Tonks, I think I’ve made a real breakthrough on your case. Can you come into the Ministry so I can show you?”

“It’s Sunday,” Dora said flatly.

“I know, but I think what I’ve discovered could be really important,” the Legal Witch insisted.

“Oh, okay. You’re in the DMLE Legal Section right now, are you?” Dora asked wearily.

“Yes, I’m at my usual desk,” Granger blurted. “Will you get hold of Harry? He doesn’t seem to have a contact address listed.”

“He’s right here with me,” Dora smirked. “We’re flat sharing at the moment, so he overhead everything.

“Oh, excellent. So I’ll see you in, what, half an hour?” Granger asked.

“Yeah, something like that,” Dora agreed.

“Super, see you both then.”

The Floo went dark and Dora turned to Harry with a grin on her face. “Will you get hold of Harry?” she mimicked. “My word, how many witches have you got chasing you at the moment?”

“I’m sure Hermione just wanted us both to be there when she told us her news,” he said flatly. “Now, Miss Tonks, if we’re going to be there in half an hour you’d better get your knickers on. A clean pair this time, too.”

Dora pulled a face of mock outrage. “There was a time when you’d be happy with the idea of me not wearing knickers,” she pouted.

“Yeah, but we’ve both snagged us a Weasley since then. Come on, let’s get ready and see what Miss Granger has for us,” he grinned.

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They managed to get to the DMLE office in around forty-five minutes, which wasn’t bad, all things considered. Unsurprisingly, the front desk was unmanned so they just headed directly to the Legal Section and found Hermione Granger at her desk, poring over some documents piled in front of her.

“Hermione?” Harry said gently to get her attention.

“What? Oh, you’re here! Super! Please, take seat,” she greeted them enthusiastically.

“Are you the only one here?” Dora asked, looking around the empty office.

“Err, yes, actually,” Hermione replied a little shamefaced.

“Hey, as long as they’re paying you overtime it’s all good,” Dora smiled.

“Umm, yes,” the girl replied distantly. “Anyway, to the matter in hand. As I said over the Floo, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough. I mentioned that I was going to look through some local council records and I got lucky. Our mysterious Mr Winter purchased a small industrial unit in the Durham area two years ago, but wanted to change its use to allow him to convert it to a distribution centre to service his various hotels in the area. This meant a last minute application to the local planning authority and required some fees to be paid up-front urgently. Now, most of the other financial transactions I’ve seen recorded have been routed through a Barclays Bank account set up to service his main trading company called Other Side Holdings Plc. The planning fees, however, were paid from a different bank: sorting code 10-13-25, to be exact.”

“Is that meant to mean anything to us?” Harry asked quizzically.

“It’s a sorting code used by the Bank of England. More specifically, it’s the sorting code reserved for use by the bank when they are handling transactions originating from Gringotts intended to transfer funds into the Muggle banking system,” Hermione said triumphantly.

“So, you’re saying…” Dora began.

“That whoever paid Mr Winter’s planning fees was either a witch or wizard,” Hermione interrupted. “I’m also willing to bet that a lot of the funding that’s normally routed through the Barclays account originated from that source, too.”

“That’s brilliant, Hermione!” Harry cried. “If only we could find out who originated the payments, but I don’t suppose the goblins would ever tell us. Actually, now I think about it, we do have some human contacts at Gringotts. Maybe they could find out for us?”

“No need,” Hermione smiled. “You’re right; normally the goblins would never release any information on their customers, but this situation is a bit different. Due to the need to comply with Muggle banking regulations and to prevent the system being abused, any large payments made to or from Gringotts via the Bank of England are a matter of public record. For a fee of five Galleons the goblins will release the exact details we require. Once we have the name of the person who paid the planning fees, we can request a full list of all the other payments this person made into the Muggle banking system.”

“Hermione Granger, you are a bloody genius,” Dora exclaimed.

“It was nothing really,” Hermione said blushing.

“No, it wasn’t,” Harry disagreed. “It was bloody fantastic. I agree with Dora: you’re a genius.

“Well, let’s see what we get back from the goblins before we get too excited,” Hermione suggested.

“How long will it take to hear back from them?” Harry enquired.

“Oh, no more than a week, I should think,” she replied. “If you pay them, the goblins are extremely efficient.”

“Fantastic. Oh, just out of interest, will you be sharing this information with Gawain Robards?” Dora asked slyly.

Hermione shrugged. “Robards hasn’t requested my help, so I can only assume he’s not interested in anything I have to say. He never normally is.”

“We’ll just keep this to ourselves, then, eh?” Dora winked.

“Absolutely,” Hermione smiled. “I’ll request the information from Gringotts first thing on Monday and I’ll let you know as soon as I get it.”

“Brilliant. Thanks, Hermione, you’re a star. Now, if you’ll excuse us, Harry and I have a date with a massive Sunday roast.”

“Sounds nice. Well, I’ll speak to you both next week some time,” she smiled and returned her attention to the document she had been looking at when they first entered.

Harry and Dora were half way towards the exit when he happened to look back. Granger was sat at her desk with a rather mournful expression on her face, her head propped up on her arm, staring blankly at the piece of paper in front of her. He couldn’t help but think she looked rather sad and lonely.

“Hey, Hermione,” he called. “Why don’t you join us for lunch? My treat, just as a small token of thanks for your help.”

Hermione looked up in surprise. “Oh, I’m not sure. I have a lot to do and I’m not really dressed for it.”

“You’re dressed fine,” Harry insisted. Hermione was dressed in jeans and a simply short-sleeved blouse; he couldn’t see why she would think that wasn’t suitable.

“We’re going to a rather nice Muggle pub over near St Pauls,” Dora explained, perhaps understanding why Hermione was reluctant.

“Oh! Well, in that case… are you sure I won’t be an imposition?” she asked nervously.

“Of course not,” Dora smiled warmly. “The more the merrier! Come on, I’m starving.”

Hermione smiled and grabbed her handbag. A few moments later the three of them were heading out of the Ministry in search of lunch.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

They reached ‘The Old Red Cow’ early enough to beat the tourists, and managed to secure a good table near a window.

Interestingly, all three of them order different meals. Harry had a yearning for the roast pork which he hadn’t had in years. It came with a generous blob of apple sauce on the side, so he felt it only right that he had a pint of cider with it. Dora went for the beef which absolutely had to be accompanied by a pint of real ale, apparently. Hermione ordered the roast chicken, washed down with a glass of surprisingly drinkable white wine. They clinked glasses and tucked in.

Once they’d satisfied their hunger enough to actually consider having a conversation, Harry decided to find out a little more about their new friend.

“So, Hermione, I couldn’t help but notice you seemed a bit reluctant to join us until you realised we were coming to a Muggle pub. Is there any specific reason for that?” he asked casually.

Hermione glanced around with a worried look on her face.

“Relax; we cast a Privacy Charm after the food arrived. We always do when we’re in a Muggle place,” Dora told her breezily.

“Oh, that’s alright, then. This didn’t strike me as the sort of place we should be talking about this sort of thing,” Hermione replied sheepishly.

“Nah, we’re good. So, let me guess; you like half-decent wines and can’t stand that murky eleven-made stuff much,” Dora grinned.

“No, it’s not that,” Hermione said looking decidedly uncomfortable.

Harry looked at her intently and suddenly realised what was bothering her. “You know, Hermione, you can be totally upfront with us,” he said. “Dora and I are both half-bloods, and we’re totally comfortable in the Muggle world.”

“Yes, I can see that,” the Legal Witch smiled softly. “I guess these days I’m just a bit reluctant to speak my mind. Every time I’ve done so in the past it’s been thrown back in my face. To tell you the truth, the magical world has proved to be a massive disappointment to me.”

“Oh? In what way?” Dora asked.

“I guess my expectations were too high, really,” she began. “I remember when I got my Hogwarts letter I was so excited I couldn’t wait to go. All my life I’d felt like I didn’t belong, that I was the odd one out, you know? I thought that by going to a school that was filled with other children like me, who could all do magic, that I’d finally find a place where I fitted in. Boy, did I get that wrong!”

“Ah, I bet you got all the whole ‘Muggleborns are inferior’ treatment from all the stuck up pure-bloods, didn’t you?” Dora said sympathetically.

“Did I ever. Of course, I made the cardinal sin of actually doing better than them in class. All those pompous, pure-blood idiots couldn’t stand the idea that someone could just turn up and be better at magic then them. I’m not just talking about the fanatics in Slytherin, either, although they were the most vicious. I got abuse from all the other three Houses, too,” Hermione said bitterly. “Apparently, Muggleborns are not supposed to excel.”

“They were just kids, Hermione,” Dora pointed out gently. “Most of them probably didn’t know any better.”

“Oh, it’s got worst since I left school, if anything,” Hermione scowled. “Despite having the highest exam results Hogwarts had seen in over forty years, I could only initially get a low-grade internship at the Ministry. People who had far inferior qualifications to me just waltzed into good jobs purely because their families had connections. I’ve had to sweat blood to get anywhere.”

“To be fair, the same thing happens in the Muggle world,” Harry pointed out. “Going to the right school or having a privileged family name carries just as much weight there.”

“At least in the Muggle world there are more avenues to explore. It seems in the Wizarding world there’s no middle ground; you either work for a handful of significant establishments, like the Ministry or Gringotts, or you work in a shop. Society is so regulated and controlled, private entrepreneurs barely stand a chance these days. I ask you, when was the last time you saw a new clothing shop in Diagon Alley? Or a new broom manufacturer? Or you heard about someone making a radical breakthrough with some wonderful new spell? It sometimes feels like the Wizarding world was frozen in time somewhere around the eighteen hundreds,” she complained.

“I can’t disagree with you there,” Dora nodded. “I’m regularly treated as a freak just because I dress differently.”

“Exactly, and there’s still a massive vein of racism running through our society, too. Oh, I applaud Minister Shacklebolt who’s doing everything he can to try and drag witches and wizards into the twenty-first century, but I can’t help feeling that he’s swimming against the tide,” Hermione explained. “Even those families who claim to be pro-Muggle have an in-built superiority complex, even if they don’t always realise it. While I was at Hogwarts, I went out with a pure-blood for a while…”

“Ron Weasley: Bill’s brother? Yeah, you mentioned,” Dora interrupted.

“Oh, yes, I did, didn’t I? Anyway, Ron was quite a nice boy, if a bit rough and ready. He was handsome, sporty, and had a wonderful sense of humour. I was really surprised when he asked me out as previously we’d spent most of our time arguing. For a while it was great, but then the cracks started to show. I could tell he always resented the fact that I did better than him in classes and was basically more powerful than him. He always denied it, but I could see him go red in the face whenever I managed to cast a new spell before him. And he was always taking the mickey out of anything Muggle. I remember him falling about laughing because I used a ballpoint pen once.”

“I hate quills,” Harry muttered in agreement.

“Exactly, they’re antiquated, messy and slow, but heaven forbid that you should suggest a witch or wizard use anything else to write with! Any suggestion that the Muggles have actually invented something better than the magical community has will be met with ridicule and scorn. That’s not even the worst thing about the Wizarding world, though. Think about the plight of the house-elves. They’re treated like virtual slaves and conditioned to be actually happy about it! The Muggles abolished slavery hundreds of years ago, but the Wizarding world thinks it’s acceptable to shackle elves because ‘they’re not human’! They’re sensitive, sentient beings who are entitled to a decent standard of living. Likewise the centaurs, the merpeople, and dozens of other intelligent, magical races. It makes me sick,” Hermione raged.

“Is this why you had problems at the Department for the Regulation of Magical Creatures?” Harry asked.

“Yes, I joined the department in the hope I could do something to gain those oppressed races extra rights and entitlements, but I quickly found out that wasn’t what the department was all about. They were more interested in the control and subjugation of magical creatures. I tried to fight the system, but I felt like one lone voice crying in the wilderness,” she lamented. “Eventually, they got sick of me and offered me a promotion to the DMLE just to get rid of me. Stupidly, I thought the job might give me a chance to challenge some of the more archaic and prejudicial laws still in force, but who wants to listen to a bossy, know-it-all Muggleborn with pretentions of adequacy?” she asked bitterly.

“Not everyone is like that,” Dora protested. “I don’t know Ron that well, but his brother Bill is actually rather interested in all things Muggle. We went to the cinema the other day and he absolutely loved it. He kept saying how he wished the Wizarding community had something similar. Harry has just started going out with his sister, Ginny Weasley, and I know she’s just the same. As you say, Kingsley is doing a great job at changing people’s attitudes; it’s just a slow process. But despite all that, I do think your ideas are spot-on. Please don’t give up just because a few old-fashioned, moronic pure-bloods still think we’re living in medieval times.”

Hermione suddenly looked at Harry. “You’re going out with Ginny Weasley?” she asked in surprise.

“Err, yeah, we’ve just started dating,” Harry admitted.

“Oh, I haven’t seen Ginny in years!” Hermione exclaimed. “How is she? I heard she had to give up her Quidditch career. Did she manage to find a good job to replace that? I remember all she ever wanted to be was a Quidditch player, the poor thing.”

“She’s working at Gringotts as a curse-breaker with Bill,” Harry smiled, pleased that Hermione seemed to have a high opinion of Ginny.

“Oh, how wonderful,” Hermione smiled. “Please, do pass on my regards to her. I’d love to catch up with her if she ever feels like it.”

“I’ll pass on your greetings,” Harry promised.

“Super,” Hermione smiled. “Well, I must say I have enjoyed this lunch. It does make such a pleasant change to talk to people who will actually listen to what I have to say and not just dismiss me out-of-hand. I’m sorry if I’ve ranted a bit.”

“It’s okay, babe, it sounds like you have every reason to want to let off a bit of steam. I’m totally in sympathy with you,” Dora smiled. “My mother came from a Dark aligned, ancient, pureblood family and I’ve seen first-hand the abuse she’s had to put up with just because she fell in love with a Muggleborn. You’re right; there are far too many racist idiots around.”

“That’s what we fought the last war about,” Harry noted quietly. “I had hoped that getting rid of Voldemort and his cronies might have made things a bit better, but it doesn’t sound like.”

“As I said, Minister Shacklebolt is doing a really good job, and things are getting slowly better, I think,” Hermione acknowledged, “but there are still days when I want to pack in my job and go back to the Muggle world, never to return.”

Harry nodded and took a long pull on his pint. The knowledge that so many people died to defeat the Dark Lord and yet so little appeared to have changed was a bitter pill to swallow. Perhaps if he’d staying in Britain and helped Kingsley fight to change old perceptions maybe things would have been different?

Not for the first time, Harry reflected that the last four years of his life had been a major mistake.

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“…and she turned to him and said ‘if you expect me to put that in my mouth you’d better wash it first’!”

Harry cracked up laughing. Ginny had been regaling him with tales of her time with the Harpies. He was quickly learning that the young woman had a deliciously evil sense of humour. It was just as well he’d already cast a Privacy Charm, or the other customers in this small pizza restaurant would have probably been staring at him.

“Ah, dear old Melisa; I do miss her,” Ginny smiled forlornly. “Actually, I miss all the other trainees. They were a great bunch and we had a real sense of comradeship. I think I miss them more than the actual playing.”

“Have you never contacted any of them again?” Harry asked.

“Nah, it just wouldn’t be the same. They’d start talking about Quidditch and I’d get all misty eyed… sometimes you just have to put the past behind you and move on,” she said firmly.

“That’s good advice,” he nodded in agreement.

“Exactly, I’m full of good advice,” she grinned cheekily.

Harry shook his head. He could hardly believe this was the same girl who just over a week ago could barely say a word to him. He was just glad Ginny had managed to get over her initial embarrassment as he was starting to really like her.

“Oh, that reminds me,” he said suddenly. “Dora and I had lunch with an old friend of yours yesterday: Hermione Granger. She asked me to pass on her best wishes and suggested you get in contact with her if you fancy catching up.

“Hermione? Of course, she works at the DMLE now, doesn’t she? Ron mentioned that he’d run into her again,” Ginny exclaimed. “Merlin, it’s been years since I spoke to her. Yeah, I’ll definitely get in touch with her. Tell her to expect my owl if you see her again. Why did you have lunch with Hermione, though? Was it something to do with work?”

“Sort of. Actually, she’d been immensely helpful with a case we’re working on so Dora and I took her out for Sunday lunch as a small thank you,” he explained. “Nice girl, I thought, if a bit overwhelming at times. She means well, though.”

“That definitely describes Hermione. She has a heart of gold, but she doesn’t half go on a bit. Back at school, she started this club to protest at the treatment of house-elves. While that in itself isn’t a bad cause, the way she dragooned people into joining was just totally over-the-top. Hopefully, she’s calmed down a bit since then.”

“Not noticeably, although I get the impression she’s a bit disenchanted with Wizarding society these days, not that I exactly blame her,” he admitted. “I’m afraid she wasn’t terribly complimentary about your brother, Ron.”

“I hate to admit it, but Ron deserves it when it comes to Hermione,” Ginny smiled wistfully. “Initially, he did that weird thing that teenage boys do when they’re too embarrassed to admit that they like a girl: he was really mean to her. I never understood why you boys do that.”

“Can’t say I ever did it, but I guess it’s just a desperate way to get some attention from the object of their desire. I’m afraid I was more in the ‘stares at the floor too embarrassed to speak’ category,” Harry admitted.

“What, like I was last week?” Ginny said ruefully.

“Yes, just like that,” Harry smirked.

“Yeah, well, you can thank Tonks for knocking some sense into me,” Ginny smiled. “Anyway, back to my story. Although Ron can be incredibly dense and undeniably stupid, eventually even he worked out that approach wasn’t getting him anywhere with Hermione. So, he stopped picking fights and actually tried being nice to her.”

“What a shocking idea,” Harry laughed.

“Yeah, I know. Even more amazingly, this new approach actually worked, and after a concerted bit of sucking-up on my brother’s part, Hermione actually agreed to go out with him. Unfortunately, Ron was too much of a prat for it to last. Pretty soon, they were rowing about stupid, unimportant things and he started getting all defensive. He ended up saying some pretty mean things to her. Still, it broke his heart when she finished with him,” Ginny sighed.

“Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be,” Harry suggested.

“Possibly, but the real shame of it was that I think dating Hermione really changed Ron’s life for the better. Beforehand, he’d largely cruised through school not putting in much effort, but after he got dumped he really started knuckling down. I don’t know if it was an effort to impress her or not, but it did mean he left Hogwarts with a very respectable set of NEWT results. That’s how he managed to get a job in the Auror Office. He certainly wasn’t on course to do that before Hermione Granger came into his life.”

“Hermione mentioned she’d seen him round the DMLE occasionally. Perhaps they might be able to patch things up?” Harry suggested.

“I’m not sure. I mean, Ron’s a pretty big hit with the witches these days, and he seems fairly happy. After all, he’s got the job of his dreams, with his Weasley good looks and charm he has witches lining up to date him, and generally his life is going really well. As much as he regrets what happened between him and Hermione, I think he realises that they’re always going to be chalk and cheese,” she explained.

“That’s a shame. Hermione seemed pretty lonely when I talked with her. All she ever does is work, work, work,” Harry told her.

“I’ll definitely get in contact,” Ginny promised. “It will be nice to see her again, and maybe a good girls’ night out will do her good.”

“Yeah, you could probably persuade Dora to join you without too much trouble. I think she was starting to see a bit of a kindred spirit in Hermione; another witch who hates the establishment and tries to fight it. The only difference is that Dora is a rebel and Hermione tries to fight the system from within,” Harry suggested.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Ginny nodded. “Oh, before I forget to say, we’ll be starting work on your house at Grimmauld Place on Thursday. Because you’re such a special client, you’ll be lucky enough to get the services of not one, but two Weasleys in clearing the place out. Bill said I could come with him on this job.”

“That’s great. By the way, if you happen to come across any old sets of pyjamas with Snitches on them, they’re definitely not mine,” he deadpanned.

“Oh, I bet you looked so cute in your jim-jams,” she giggled.

“Yeah, but I’m even cuter out of them,” he replied, wigging his eyebrows.

“Are you flirting with me, Mr Potter?” she smiled, “and here was me thinking that we were going to take things slow.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in a harmless bit of flirtation, does it?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I haven’t had many handsome men paying attention to me in the last few years, so bring it on,” Ginny replied with a gleam in her eye.

“Was curse-breaking training really so hard that you didn’t have any time to date?” Harry asked.

“It was pretty busy, but after that bastard Corner mucked me around I just wasn’t that keen to start seeing anyone new. I did have a couple of offers, but not from anyone I was particularly interested in. Merlin, I even had an old school friend ask me out. He’s a sweet lad, but as timid as a mouse and a bit chubby. I wouldn’t have minded so much other than I knew he was already seeing someone else. You can imagine how I felt about that happening so soon after Michael dumped me. It’s fair to say I had some trust issues for a while,” she said glumly.

Harry looked at her sadly. Ginny was a beautiful young woman who was both intelligent and funny. It seemed so unfair that she’d been treated the way she had.

“I promise you, Ginny, I won’t mess you around like that,” he told her earnestly. “I know we’ve only been going out for a week or so, and I have no way of knowing what will happen between us, but I promise to always be upfront and honest with you.”

She looked him straight in the eye. “Thank you, Harry, and I promise to do the same for you. For some reason, I really do believe you when you say that to me.”

“We’ve both had a pretty rough time of it in recent years. I really wouldn’t want to make things any worse for you. I know how it feels to be lonely,” he told her sadly.

He felt her small hand clasp his over the table. “Maybe neither of us needs to be lonely again,” she said quietly.

“I hope so, Ginny, I really hope so,” he replied.

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Harry awkwardly pulled at the collar of his shirt. It was amazing how quickly you could become unaccustomed to wearing a suit and tie. Having worn t-shirts almost exclusively for the last two months, he felt like he couldn’t breathe properly in a smart shirt such as the one he was now wearing. He’d even managed to change his hair to a respectable length, after a few attempts, anyway.

The only consolation he could take was that if he was suffering, Dora was having an even worse time of it. She was currently dressed in a respectable skirt suit and her hair was a sensible light brown colour. Despite her neutral expression, Harry could tell how much she hated being dressed in this manner.

Still, Kinglsey’s first joint Wizard/Muggle get-together seemed to be going without a hitch. The vast majority of Ministry staff had arrived in what could pass for respectable Muggle clothing and they’d been able to make the journey to the location of the first garden party via Portkey without any major dramas. Their arrival had been timed so that they were there long before the Muggle guests, which at least mean that no one had to come up with a plausible excuse as to how over a hundred people suddenly appeared in the grounds of a large country house, seemingly out of thin air. As previously arranged, most of the pure-bloods had been paired up with Muggleborn or half-bloods, and this seemed to be preventing any major incidents.

Currently, Harry and Dora were performing perimeter security, and had positioned themselves on a raised terrace from where they could not only keep an eye on the guests, but also monitor the large open green spaces surrounding the country house. Dressed in their sombre suits, most of the Muggles had already assumed they were security staff and largely left them alone.

“Mr Potter?” a voice called out, snapping Harry’s attention away from the assembled crowd. He looked round to see Daphne Greengrass climbing up the short set of steps towards him.

“Miss Greengrass,” he greeted her. “It looks like everything’s going without a hitch. Your organisation of this event really has to be commended.”

“Why, thank you,” she smiled as she came and stood next to him. “I do have to say, however, that I’m most disappointed not to have heard from you. I thought you were going to call me so we could get to know one another?”

“Ah, apologises about that,” Harry said. In truth, he’d completely forgotten that the stunning blonde had even made such an offer. “Things have been a bit hectic of late.”

“Yes, I can imagine. I heard about those unfortunate incidents a while back. Are you any closer to catching the killer, or is it two separate murderers that you’re seeking?” she asked.

“Enquiries are still ongoing,” he replied, wondering how the hell Greengrass seemed to be so well informed about everything.

“Of course. Well, I do hope you can spare me a little of your time in the near future. I’m sure you have so many fascinating tales to tell. Perhaps we could arrange to have lunch sometime next week?” she persisted.

“Oh, I’m not sure I could commit to anything definite at the moment,” Harry said, wondering why he was feeling so uncomfortable. Perhaps it would be best if he just put all his cards on the table. “I don’t tend to work by established hours, you see. Plus, I’ve recently started seeing someone and as you can imagine I’m quite keen to spend as much of my free time with her as possible.”

It was barely noticeable, but Harry saw the briefest hint of irritation on Greengrass’s face when he mentioned that he was in a relationship. The young woman was very skilled at hiding her reactions, however, and the expression was gone before he was sure he’d seen it.

“Please forgive me if I’ve given you the wrong impression. I was merely extending the hand of friendship,” Greengrass said smoothly. “I must say, this young lady is very lucky, however. Would it be anyone I know?”

“I doubt it,” Harry replied, suddenly feeling irritated by the intrusive questions.

“Ah, you’d be surprised. I do know an awful lot of people. I was just wondering if it was someone that I had previous worked with, or maybe attended Hogwarts at the same time as,” she persisted.

“Harry, I think I saw someone over by the hedge line on the left. I think we’d better take a look,” Dora said suddenly.

“Oh, please excuse me, Miss Greengrass, work calls,” Harry said apologetically before turning and following Dora down the far set of steps. Only when they were safely intermingled with the crowd did he speak.

“Did you really see anyone, or was this a cleverly conceived plan to save me from the clutches of Miss Greengrass there?” he asked.

“You looked like you needed saving,” she confirmed. “Pushy cow, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah, she might be stunning looking, but that woman is beginning to make me distinctly uncomfortable. Did you notice how she seemed to know all about the murders of Topa and Sudsy? How would an Event Coordinator learn of such things?” Harry asked.

“Dunno, but she shouldn’t know about it,” Dora grumbled. “She was pretty bloody keen to know who you’re dating, wasn’t she?”

“She was, and I was damned if I was going to mention Ginny,” Harry agreed. “I wonder what Greengrass’s game is?”

Dora was about to reply when a tall, red-haired young man in a badly fitting suit approached. He smiled at Dora in a friendly manner.

“Hey, Tonks. How’s it going?” he asked.

“Oh, hi, Ron. I didn’t realise you were working today,” Dora smiled at the young man before turning to Harry. “Harry, this is Ron Weasley, brother to Bill and Ginny.”

“Oh, yes, Ginny mentioned you a few times,” Harry said, offering his hand to shake.

“Nice to meet you, Harry,” Ron said, taking the offered hand. “Ginny’s been saying a lot of good things about you.”

“Here to give me the protective big brother speech?” Harry asked with faint amusement.

“Nah, I stopped doing that after Ginny hexed me back in my sixth year at Hogwarts. She’s a big girl now, and would probably hurt you worse than ever I could if you did anything stupid,” Ron smiled.

“She probably could,” Harry agreed, “not that I intend to do anything worthy of a hexing.”

“Good plan,” Ron agreed. “So, what did Daphne Greengrass want with you?”

“Eh? How did you know she was talking with me?” Harry asked in surprise.

“You were standing on the raised patio area talking to her in plain sight,” Ron pointed out flatly.

“You’ll have to forgive him, Ron, he’s received a lot of sharp blows to his head in recent years,” Dora giggled.

“Actually,” Harry said, ignoring Dora for the moment, “what Miss Greengrass wants was just the topic of our conversation. Do you know her, at all?”

“She was in the same year as me at school,” Ron shrugged. “I can’t say I spoke two words to here all the time I was there. She was one of a group of Slytherin girls who all used to hang around together. They were led by an ugly cow named Pansy Parkinson who was killed during the war, fighting for the other side, I should mention. Daphne’s younger sister was betrothed to Draco Malfoy, if you know who he was.”

“Oh, I remember the Malfoys. Lucius Malfoy attacked me during the last battle at Little Hangleton, the bastard. Draco was his son, wasn’t he?” Harry queried.

“Yeah, he was killed there, too; cursed in the back. I heard that he tried to run away and one of his fellow Death Eaters killed him for his cowardliness. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least,” Ron said.

“So, Miss Flirty-tits Greengrass was thick as thieves with supporters of the Dark Lord, was she?” Dora frowned. “How the hell did she get a job arranging this little bash?”

“I assume she passed the Ministry screening process,” Ron replied. “I mean, to the best of my knowledge the Greengrasses were never actual supporters of You-Know-Who, even if it’s pretty clear where their sympathies lay. I just know her as a stuck-up, bitchy, little cow who used to give all the girls at Hogwarts a hard time.”

“Do you think Hermione might know a bit more about her?” Harry asked.

“Hermione?” Ron blinked. “How do you know Hermione?”

“We’re working with her on a current case,” Dora supplied swiftly. “She’s been a great help to us.”

“Oh, of course. I guess you guys would need to liaise with the Legal Section occasionally, wouldn’t you? I kinda forgot she was working there for a moment. Umm, yeah, she might be able to tell you a bit more about Greengrass. Hermione is a Muggleborn, so she was one of the prime targets for those bunch of Slytherin bitches to have a go at,” Ron said glumly.

“It must be a bit awkward working with her now,” Harry ventured sympathetically.

“Yeah, it is a bit,” Ron confirmed sadly. “Mind you, I don’t have a lot of luck with my ex’s. Not only do I have to work with Hermione now, but another ex-girlfriend of mine is bloody shagging the Minister! Imagine how I feel about that?”

“Oh, what was her name? Lavender?” Harry asked in surprise.

“That’s her. You’ve met Lavender, too, have you?” Ron asked sourly.

“Very briefly, when I had a meeting with Kingsley,” Harry confirmed. “She used to be your girlfriend? Blimey, she’s a bit different from Hermione. You don’t go for one specific type do you?”

“Yeah, I do,” Ron disagreed sorrowfully. “I go for the type that likes to ram a spear through my heart.”

“Mate, you’ve just described the entire female race,” Harry said sagely.

At least the two boys had a good laugh at Dora’s indignant expression.









Back to index


Chapter 10: Chapter 10 - Walls

Author's Notes: I’d add a longer AN here, but I’m in the middle of trying to install my new desktop and its proving a nightmare. I’ll just pause to thank Arnel for her help before I go back to swearing at my computer screen…


Chapter 10 — Walls




“They were posted everywhere,” Hestia explained. “I confiscated around three hundred of the leaflets, but I have no idea how many might still be in circulation.”

Harry stared at the brown leaflet in his hand. It was certainly inflammatory, if rather flowery in its use of language.

“And you have absolutely no idea who distributed them?” Dedalus asked.

“No, I woke up this morning and found them spread all over Hogsmeade. No one I asked had a clue who put them there,” Hestia said apologetically.

Harry glanced around the section’s office. He’d never seen all the members gathered together before. In fact, there were several faces that he didn’t even recognise. Counting Dedalus, the section totalled thirteen witches and wizards. He hoped that number wasn’t a bad omen.

They’d been called in due to the unexpected leaflet campaign that had just been launched against the Ministry and, specifically, against Kingsley himself. Hestia Jones, whose normal area of operations included Hogsmeade and who owned a house there, had discovered the flyers that morning and felt they were sufficiently serious to bring to Delalus’s attention. He’d been in agreement and pulled everyone in.

“Hmm, I’m most concerned at this turn of events,” Dedalus announced. “Wizarding society has been ticking along quite happily since Harry here dispatched the Dark Lord, and we really don’t need this kind of dissent being spread.”

“I know these things aren’t very complimentary to the Minister, but they’re probably just the work of some crank, aren’t they?” a wizard Harry didn’t recognise asked.

“I’m not so sure,” Dedalus disagreed. “This unfortunate document is positively dripping with old-fashioned pure-blood bile. Virtually all the old blood supremacists are either dead or gracing Azkaban with their presence. I don’t like the idea that we could have a fresh wave of racist provocateurs ready to start whipping up trouble.”

“This thing does sound like an actual threat to Kingsley,” Dora pointed out. “Look at the bit - ‘the foul contamination of our society by the usurping idiot Shacklebolt must be stopped as soon as possible, and by any means’. That definitely sounds like a threat to me.”

“That’s exactly what I thought,” Hestia agreed. “I suspect whoever did this has some magical talent, too. You don’t manage to pin hundreds of leaflets to every available space in Hogsmeade without somebody noticing unless you have some ability.”

“Very true, my dear Hestia,” Dedalus nodded. “In any event, the section’s primary mission is to seek out subversive elements and deal with them before they become a problem. If this turns out to be the work of a few disgruntled individuals who have a beef with the Minister because he raised the taxes on Firewhiskey, then fair enough. If, however, this is the first act of some new band of militant extremists, then I want them found as soon as possible. I want you all to keep your ears to the ground and try and found out who did this. Right, off you all toddle.”

“Great, one more thing to worry about,” Dora muttered as they stood to leave.

“You did say things had been too quiet around here. See, whenever I turn up, trouble occurs,” Harry said wryly.

“Oh, you said it, babe, you said it,” she grimaced in reply.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“I’ve had the information back from the goblins!” Hermione declared enthusiastically.

Harry smiled at the young witch’s obvious excitement. It was becoming clear his new friend liked nothing more than finding solutions to problems, which suited him down to the ground. The potential new threat to the Minister had been taking up a lot of their time and they hadn’t had the chance to do much more investigation into ‘Mr Winter’ and his murderous gang.

“Do we have a name?” Dora asked expectantly as she cleared a pile of files off a chair so Hermione could actually sit down.

“Edgar Stephens,” she replied triumphantly. “I took the liberty of looking him up in the Ministry’s records before I came here. He’s a forty-six-year-old widower who runs a small firm that imports potion ingredients. According to his tax returns, the company had a gross turnover of just over 8,000 Galleons last year.”

“Hmm, he’s hardly a big player, then,” Harry noted.

“Indeed, which is what makes the rest of my information so interesting. I took the liberty of requesting that the goblins send details of any other transactions this person made that were direct transfers into the Muggle banking system. They were extremely efficient, and provided me details of numerous transfers made over the last fifteen years,” Hermione said.

“Fifteen years? This bloke has been making payments for that long?” Harry asked in surprise.

“Oh yes, but the really interesting thing was the amount of these transactions. Over that period, more than 914,000 Galleons were converted and paid to various Muggle accounts,” Hermione noted.

“914,000 Galleons? But that’s over…” Dora began.

“Approximately 4.57 million Pounds,” Hermione interrupted. “Quite a lot for a business that has only made a small profit in the last five years.”

“He’s being used a front, he has to be!” Dora exclaimed.

“Did you find anything else out about this Edgar Stephens?” Harry asked.

“Not a great deal; he lives in a small house in Hogsmeade from which he also operates his business. He has no criminal record that I could find and he’s generally pretty unremarkable.”

“Sounds like the perfect person to recruit for this kind of stunt,” Harry noted. “I think we’ll need to pull this guy in for questioning as soon as possible.”

“Can I attend the interview?” Hermione asked hopefully. “I promise I won’t get in the way.”

“Hey, of course you can, babe,” Dora smiled. “Not only are you an official of the DMLE, you handed this git to us on a plate. Besides, I think we might need your legal expertise.”

“I’m happy to help in any way I can,” Hermione beamed.

“Great, you’re a star, Hermione,” Harry smiled. “Oh, by the way, this is a completely off-topic question, but do you know a witch called Daphne Greengrass?”

“Daphne Greengrass?” Hermione repeated, the smile vanishing from her face instantly. “Yes, I do. What do you want to know about her for?”

“Let’s just say her actions have started to arouse our suspicion,” Dora explained.

“I’m not surprised, she’s an evil bitch,” Hermione spat. “She was part of a group of Slytherin girls that always hung-out together back at Hogwarts. While groups of teenage witches can traditionally be a bit cruel and snobbish, this bunch really took it to the extreme. They terrorised any witch who wasn’t a pure-blood to the point that several girls stopped attending the school. Daphne Greengrass was always the most aloof of the group. She was one of the prettiest girls in the whole of Hogwarts, and she certainly knew it! I was a buck-toothed, frizzy-haired Muggleborn without many friends, so you can imagine what they thought of me.”

“So, this bunch were pure-blood supremacist, were they?” Harry asked.

“Oh, definitely! Most of their families were either supporters of the Dark Lord or even actual Death Eaters. I know Ginny had some problems with the group’s leader, Pansy Parkinson, so you might want to ask her, too,” Hermione suggested.

“I will,” Harry agreed. “Strange that a girl like that would be able to get a job as the Minister’s Event Coordinator, though.”

“What did I tell you about the Ministry’s recruitment policy?” Hermione said bitterly. “The Greengrass’s are an old, rich family of good standing. Daphne could probably waltz into any job she fancied.”

“Interesting,” Harry pondered.

“Yeah, it is, but forget about it for the moment,” Dora advised. “We have a suspect we have to pick up.”

“Damn right,” Harry agreed.

Maybe now they would get some answers.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Edgar Stephens proved to be a thin, unremarkable looking man with straggly hair and a long, aquiline nose. His extreme nervousness was betrayed by the way his eyes kept glancing from Harry to Dora rapidly, with the occasional appealing look in the direction of Hermione, who sat at the end of the table quipped with a legal pad and quill.

“Do you have any idea why you’re here, Mr Stephens?” Harry asked with exaggerated politeness. It was always best to give a suspect the chance to incriminate himself first.

“Umm, no, no, I can’t think,” the man replied, desperately trying to appear collected. “Has there been a complaint about my goods? I assure you, I only source my ingredients from the most reputable of…”

“What if I said the word ‘Gringotts’ to you, Mr Stephens?” Dora interrupted.

“Gringotts? Why, yes I have a vault there. I don’t understand what you’re asking me,” Stephens said nervously.

“Okay, let me clarify something for you. Were you aware that any payment made by Gringotts directly into the Muggle banking system is a matter of public record, and the information regarding those transfers is freely available?” Harry asked. Hermione chose this moment to slide the sheet of parchment detailing all the transfers made from Stephens vault in front of him.

“Oh,” the man said quietly.

“Oh, indeed,” Dora smirked. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Stephens.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he protested.

“You are on the verge of being arrested for handling stolen money, illegally passing funds into the Muggle economy, possible tax avoidance and several other unpleasant things,” Harry snarled. “So tell me, Mr Stephens, how does a middle-aged, moderately successful potion ingredient supplier manage to make transfers in excess of 914,000 Galleons?”

“The money wasn’t mine. I was just doing someone a favour,” he mumbled.

“Who?” Harry demanded.

“I… I don’t know,” Stephens said lamely.

“You don’t know? You just decided to let some random stranger traffic a shit-load of gold through your account out of the good of your heart, did you?” Dora sneered. “Pull the other one, matey, it’s got bells on it!”

“No, I was paid for doing it,” Stephens admitted miserably. “I never met the person who did it, though. I was originally contacted back in 1985, via an anonymous note delivered by owl. The note promised me a cut of two percent of any funds that were passed through my vault. Back then I was desperate for money, which is probably why this person chose me. It was common knowledge that I was on the verge of bankruptcy, my wife was threatening to leave me because we couldn’t make ends meet, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I was to show my agreement by placing a candle in my front window, and the next day I received another letter giving the details of a Muggle bank to transfer the money to. When I got to Gringotts, I found that 20,000 Galleons had been deposited into my vault, so I earned 400 Galleons for doing virtually nothing! I was able to pay a couple of pressing creditors and put food on my table for the first time in a week.”

“And these transfers were always arranged the same way?” Harry enquired.

“Yes, I’d always just receive my instructions by regular owl post. They were quite random, though. I could go months and months without receiving one, and then sometimes I’d have three in a month. They were all very, very welcome, I have to say,” he sighed.

“Weren’t you ever tempted to just keep the money?” Dora asked.

“Oh, no! That first note made it very clear what would happen to me if I tried anything like that. Once I was a day late getting to the bank as I was ill, and the next morning I found a note pinned to my door warning me that both me and my wife would be losing body parts unless I completed the transfer immediately. I didn’t hang around, I can tell you!”

“You do understand what you did was illegal, don’t you?” Harry told him firmly. “At least part of these funds have been used to finance criminal activity, and you’ve made yourself party to those crimes by your actions.”

Stephens shrugged. “Whatever was going on, I knew that it wasn’t going to be legal. I’d be a fool not to, wouldn’t I? I hold my hands up and confess that I’m guilty. I’m not sorry, though. If I hadn’t taken that money then I would have bankrupt, homeless and single. My wife stayed with me until she died, and I was able to keep her in reasonable comfort thanks to those transfers. I was able to save my business and keep a roof over my head. I might be going to prison now, but I still think that on the whole it was worth it.”

“Okay, Mr Stephens, you’re under arrest,” Harry sighed. “If you can think of anything that will identify who was behind all this, it would go a long way to reducing your sentence.”

“And probably get me killed,” Stephens snorted. “Sorry, I don’t know anything, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did.”

Harry glared at the man in frustration. The investigation had just hit a brick wall.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Sombrely, Harry regarded the dismal condition of the room. The wallpaper had long since peeled off the walls and there was a distinctly unpleasant smell to the place. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“Yeah, pongs a bit, doesn’t it? The Death Eaters pissed and crapped all over the place, the pigs,” Ginny said in disgust.

“Sounds like the kind of thing they would do. I hope you didn’t have to clear it up,” he replied, still casting his eyes around the ruined reception room. While they’d never used this room much, it still shocked him to see it in such bad condition.

“A few Vanishing and Cleaning Spells, that’s all,” she shrugged. “It was better than having to work in that stench. Trust me, this place smelt a lot worse before.”

Harry turned and looked at her sadly. “So, how are you and Bill getting on clearing the traps and curses?” he asked.

“Pretty well,” she confirmed, “but it’s a huge job. Bill said he’s never seen a single building laced with so many traps. They must have really hated you guys.”

“Grimmauld Place was seen as a nest of traitors to the cause,” Harry explained. “The Black family had always been staunchly pure-blood and extremely Dark. For Sirius to take it over and effectively turn it into a base for the Light side was an abomination to them. They probably wanted to befoul the place as they felt we had done. Bastards.”

“Unfortunately, it will be a few weeks at least before we’re finished here. The upstairs areas are even worse than down here. One of the main bedrooms on the second floor even has several Level Two curses placed in it. We have to go careful with them or we’ll risk blowing up the whole street,” Ginny apologised.

“I understand. I expect that was Sirius’s bedroom. They would have taken special care trapping that one,” he said angrily. “It wasn’t enough that they killed him. They had to despoil his memory, too.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny said simply and reached over to take his hand.

Harry ran his thumb over her knuckles, marvelling at how small her hands were. They weren’t soft or girlish hands, however. Ginny was clearly a girl unafraid of a bit of hard work. He thought of his former lover Martine’s hands in comparison: soft, manicured and delicate. Somehow he felt they represent the woman, herself: on the surface immensely appealing, but lacking any real substance or depth. Ginny’s hands had been put to more practical use, and seemed all the more real for it.

“Come on, we’ve cleared out several rooms upstairs. Let me show you,” she said gently.

He allowed himself to be led to the door and he gratefully left the room. Seeing it in that condition had a much greater effect on him than he’d expected. He’d thought he was prepared to see the worst, but clearly he’d been fooling himself.

“I can see this place is going to need a lot more work than I first thought,” he said as they started up the stairs.

“There are people you can hire to do that sort of thing, you know,” Ginny explained. “I can recommend a few firms that can come in and clean and redecorate that place. Obviously, Gringotts deals with a lot of wealthy families and they generally pay to have work of that sort done for them. If you explain to these firms what you want, they should be able to get this place sorted out, no trouble.”

“Actually, I think that’s a good idea. For some reason, I thought once the traps were gone I could just come in and slap a bit of paint about and everything would be fine. That’s simply not going to cut it now. I can’t stand seeing the house like this. It’s like every childhood memory I have of being here has been tarnished, somehow. No, I’m going to need to completely change everything.”

“Hopefully, you can create some happy new memories here,” Ginny smiled, confirming to Harry that she understood exactly what he was thinking. She was good at that.

“Yeah, any ideas on how the place should be remodelled?” he asked.

“Let the professionals come up with the ideas,” she shrugged. “I know this one firm which is run by a girl who was in the year above me at Hogwarts. Parvati’s incredibly creative and can come up with the most wonderful ideas. Let her have a look round the place and she what she thinks,” Ginny suggested. “Ah, this is the room I wanted to show you. We’ve cleared this one out completely, and it’s not in such a bad state as some of the others.”

Harry stopped dead on the landing and stared at the door in trepidation. “This was my bedroom,” he announced quietly.

“I suspected it might be,” Ginny admitted, giving his hand a squeeze. “Do you want to see it, or do you want to give it a miss?”

“No, let’s go in,” he said, steeling himself for the worst.

Ginny pushed the door open and they went in. Harry glanced about his old bedroom. It was largely as he remembered it: the same red walls, the same large comfy bed that Sirius had such a hard time getting him out of most mornings, the same Quidditch posters randomly stuck on the walls. His bookcase that was previously positioned against the far wall had been overturned and smashed, but someone had taken the trouble to neatly stack the books in several piles. He walked over and picked one off the nearest pile.

“The Adventures of Captain Hawksmoor: The Wizard Pirate!” Harry read out loud, a grin creeping onto his face. “I used to love this book.”

“I think one of my brothers had that,” Ginny smiled as came over to join him. “Charlie, I think, or maybe Fred. I can’t remember now.”

“Fred? He was the one who was…” Harry began, before trailing off. He realised suddenly that he was being insensitive.

“That died in the war, yes,” Ginny finished the sentence. “It’s alright, Harry. It’s been a few years now. We all miss him terribly, but we know that Fred would never have just stood around while others fought the Dark Lord. He hated everything the Death Eaters stood for and would probably have been happy to know he died fighting them. I’m proud of what he did and the memory of him brings a smile to my lips, so don’t be scared to mention him.”

Harry put the book down and drew Ginny into his arms. “Bloody Voldemort,” he cursed. “How many families have been ripped apart because of his megalomania? It’s weird, you know. I think he was just a cowardly, frightened child lashing out because he was hurt, really. So much pain, so many dead, just because he hated what he was.”

“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, her head resting on his shoulder.

“Did you know that Voldemort was a half-blood? His father was a Muggle who abandoned him and his mother before he was born. While I would normally think that was reprehensible behaviour, his mother had used a Love Potion to trap the man. Imagine what a Muggle would feel once he realised he’d been completely controlled by a little bottle of blue liquid? In those circumstances, I can almost understand him deserting them. Almost,” Harry explained. “Voldemort’s mother died shortly after he was born and he had a rough upbringing in a Muggle orphanage which, I think, left him incapable of loving, or even fully trusting, anyone. He was ruled by negative emotions: fear, hate, anger, loathing. No wonder he turned out so badly.”

“You sound almost sorry for him,” Ginny said in puzzlement.

“Sorry for him? No, not really. He had a choice in everything he did. In a strange way, because he never truly had a proper relationship with another human being, be it his parents, relatives, friends or even a lover, I don’t think he ever really grew up. He was always this immensely powerful child who lashed out at everyone around him just because he’d been hurt,” he continued, voicing an idea he’d never really spoken out loud before. “It’s the same with this obsession he had with immortality. Most normal people wouldn’t actually want to be immortal, I suspect. Oh, they might flirt with the idea, but would you really want to see all your friends and loved ones wither and die before your eyes? I think not. Voldemort, of course, didn’t care about anyone. But his real motivation was fear: he was terrified of death. He was so scared of being weak or not in control, and death is the one thing that none of us can avoid. I often wonder if he was afraid he’d be judged after his death. After all the things he’d done, that would be something to be afraid of.”

“Personally, I hope he gets exactly what he deserves on the other side,” Ginny said fiercely.

“He will,” Harry assured her. Although he didn’t mention it, he knew the Dark Lord’s sundered soul would never find peace again.

“There’s all sorts of things in the closet,” Ginny told him in an effort to cheer him up, he presumed. “Most of the stuff is undamaged, too.”

Harry released her from his embrace and smiled down at her. “Let’s go and see, then,” he said with a warm smile.

They walked over to a pair of double doors set in the wall. Taking a doorknob in each hand, Harry pulled the doors open and surveyed the contents of the closet.

“Bloody hell,” he gasped. “Why did the Death Eaters leave all this stuff?”

“I have no idea,” Ginny replied warmly. “Maybe they thought there was no point trashing the possessions of some teenage kid. I guess they never dreamed that teenager would go on to kill their glorious leader.”

Harry snorted and bent down to examine the various objects piled on the floor. There were more books, magazines, his precious record collection propped up in one corner, and various pairs of trainers neatly lined up. His eyes then came to rest on something at the back.

“My broom!” he gasped and eagerly grabbed the beloved object. He stood and turned so he could examine it in the light.

“Blimey, Harry,” Ginny gasped. “That’s a Firebolt!”

“I do love a girl who knows her brooms,” Harry smirked. “Sirius bought it for my fourteenth birthday. I’d wanted one for ages, but he kept telling me my Nimbus was good enough, the big git. I remember I nearly went through the roof when he handed it to me. It was the best present I ever received in my life.”

“Wish I’d had someone give me a Firebolt,” Ginny complained. “I never got to ride a decent broom until I joined the Harpies.”

“Decent? This broom goes a bit beyond ‘decent’, my girl. This is undoubtedly the greatest broom ever made in history!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, like there aren’t a dozen better brooms on the market now,” she sniggered.

“I wonder if it still flies alright,” he muttered.

“Um, Harry, I hate to be an old stick-in-the-mud, but I think I’d better give that a once-over before you try and ride it. I’ve only done a surface scan for curses, and who knows what the Death Eaters might have done to it.”

“You’re right, I guess,” Harry nodded, disappointed.

“Leave it with me and I’ll check it out. If you want, I’ll do it now. It shouldn’t take more than a few hours…”

“Oh, no, I have plans for you tonight, Miss Weasley,” Harry smirked.

“Oh, really?” she asked with exaggerated casualness.

“Yeah, I do,” he grinned.

Propping up his beloved broom against the wall, he turned and suddenly swept the red-haired witch off her feet and into his arms.

“Harry, put me down, you prat!” she laughed.

“Nope, you see, over there is my bed. I slept there for years as a teenager and I was never lucky enough to convince any beautiful young witches to join me. I think it’s time that changed,” he said huskily.

“What happened to taking things slowly?” she asked, her voice wavering a little.

“I just want you to join me. We can go as far, or not, as you like,” he told her.

She looked up at him with her large, brown eyes. Harry could feel her body trembling slightly in his arms.

“Well, why don’t you take me over there and we’ll see where this takes us,” she replied in a quiet, husky voice.

Harry needed no further encouragement.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Okay, we’re nearly done,” Carla said. “Just a bit more colouring around the tail and we’ll be there.”

“Great! It’s looking really good, actually,” Harry noted while peering down at his upper arm.

“Yeah, it’s come out alright, ain’t it?” she grinned. “I get a lot of requests for dragon tattoos, even from the Muggles, but I’ve got to say this design it my favourite. I always thought that the Horntail was the coolest looking dragon going.”

“I agree, I’m glad you talked me into having this one done,” Harry nodded.

“It looks a lot cooler than that thing you wanted me to do. What was it? A big, black dog? A family pet was it, or something?” Carla asked absently while concentrating on her work.

“Something like that,” he smiled faintly. “I probably will get that done some other time, but you’re right. This tattoo does look a lot better. I might get the dog done on my chest, sometime.”

“Yeah, that would be a better place for it,” she agreed, before grunting slightly and sitting up. “We’re done! Congratulations on getting your first tat. As you were such a good boy and didn’t flinch once, you get a lollypop.”

Harry laughed as Carla handed him a wrapped lolly. He removed the paper and popped it into his mouth. He was delighted to find it was cherry flavoured.

Carla waved her wand over his arm. “Okay, that will have stopped any bleeding and sealed it against infection. You just need to rub some cream into it every night before bed for about a week. Looks good.”

“Yeah, it does,” he agreed, standing so he could look at himself in the mirror. Both Carla and Dora had been nagging at him to get it done, and Ginny had admitted she quite liked the idea of him getting a tattoo, as well. If he was honest with himself, he’d had to admit it was his girlfriend’s opinion that had motivated him the most. “Can I put my t-shirt back on now?”

“If you must. I was rather enjoying the view, actually,” Carla sulked.

“Don’t let Mad Dog hear you saying that,” Harry smirked, before attempting to pull his t-shirt over his head with knocking the lollypop out of his mouth.

“Nah, he knows I see all sorts of things in this line of work. I did a Prince Albert for some bloke last month. It’s all part of the job,” she shrugged.

Harry shuddered.

“So, you lot have any luck finding out who put up all those posters in Hogsmeade?” Carla asked.

“No, we’ve found nothing,” he admitted. “I just hope whoever did it doesn’t try the same stunt in Diagon Alley. One good gust of wind there and we could have those blasted posters spread over half of central London.”

“Whoever it was is certainly stirring up a lot of trouble,” Carla said glumly.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“Nothing serious, like, it’s just that these bloody things seem to have reignited a lot of bad feeling,” she explained. “There’s one bloke who comes in here occasionally that hangs out with a bunch of former Snatchers. They used to drink in that shithole at the end of Knockturn Alley before Shacklebolt cleaned the place out. Now they hang around some Muggle boozer in Finsbury Park. Anyway, it appears these posters touched a nerve with this lot. They’ve been spouting off about how inferior Muggles are and all that crap. Started a few fights, too. The Magical Patrols got involved and there was a bit of agro with them, and all.”

“You’re always going to get a few idiots who like causing trouble,” Harry pointed out.

“Yeah, but there hasn’t been anything like that happen for a while. There’s a lot of muttering going on out there and some of the old prejudices are coming to the surface again. These posters have stirred up a lot of resentment and bad feeling,” she told him worriedly.

Harry looked at her. It appeared that getting to the bottom of this mess was more important than he’d imagined.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Ginny’s lips were soft and intoxicating. Harry groaned in pleasure as her tongue gently began to caress his in a slow, erotic dance. He let his hands slip under her t-shirt and his fingers encountered her warm, inviting flesh.

They were currently reclining on Dora’s sofa and they had the flat to themselves. Dora was over at Bill’s, so Ginny had come over here. Harry had cooked them a simple Spaghetti Bolognese dish, they’d cracked open a bottle of rather pleasant red wine, and then retired to the living area to relax. It hadn’t taken long for them to start getting frisky.

Dimly, Harry was aware that this kind of activity wasn’t something he was used to. He was holding his girlfriend in his arms and kissing her. How many times in his life had he actually done that with a girl? Practically all his relationships in the past had been about sex, pure and simple. A fulfilment of basic desires. He was beginning to realise what he’d been missing out on all this time. Oh, he was sure that he and Ginny would probably end up in bed shortly, but this intimacy, this gentle display of love and affection, felt wonderful to him. Naturally, it was too good to last.

The Floo flared green and a dishevelled Dora staggered out. For a moment, Harry was irritated that she had returned early, but then he caught sight of her face.

“Dora, what’s the matter?” he asked in concerned.

The witch just shook her head as tears began to fall down her cheeks.

“Tonks, what happened? Where’s Bill?” Ginny asked, scrabbling to her feet.

“Your brother…” Dora spat angrily. “Your bother… he’s a bastard!”

“What did he do?” Ginny asked in alarm.

“He…he…” Dora began but then suddenly flung herself down on the nearest chair and began to cry. Harry watched her with mounting alarm. He hurried over to her and took her in his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder and continued to sob.

“Umm, should I go?” Ginny asked awkwardly.

“Perhaps it would be for the best,” Harry said reluctantly. “Maybe you should have a chat with Bill.”

“Good idea,” Ginny replied. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Harry, okay?”

Harry nodded and watched her vanish through the Floo. As sorry as he was to see her leave, perhaps he could now convince Dora to tell him what was wrong. Gently, he rubbed her back and let her cry herself out.

It was a good half an hour before Dora lifted her tear-stained face up to look at him. She looked thoroughly miserable.

“Want to tell me what happened?” Harry asked softly.

“I’m a bloody fool,” she muttered angrily. “I thought Bill was different… I thought he really cared about me.”

“What did he do?” Harry asked, his own temper beginning to rise. If Bill had cheated on Dora he would make sure there wasn’t enough of the curse-breaker left to fit into a matchbox.

“He… he… well, we were in bed, you know, doing what we normally do in bed, and he…”

“Yes?” Harry encouraged her.

“He asked me to change,” she said miserably.

“What?” Harry asked in confusion.

“He asked me to change. He wanted me to use my Metamorphic abilities to alter my appearance,” she clarified, her voice as cold as ice.

“Ah,” Harry said simply.

“Do you know, you and Remus are about the only two blokes who have never asked me to alter my appearance? Back at Hogwarts, most boys only wanted to date me because I could look like someone else. Oh, Tonks, can you look like so-and-so? Can you make your boobs bigger? Can you make your arse smaller? Do these bastards not realise just how insulting that is to me? It’s like I’m not good enough for them as just me.”

“What did Bill ask you to do?” Harry asked warily.

“Oh, the old classic: can I make my tits bigger. That’s always the first one they ask for,” she growled.

Harry looked at her shock. He’d never really thought about her abilities in that way before. Dora as she was naturally had always seemed incredibly sexy to him. He recalled peeking through the keyhole of her bedroom door when he was younger and having his teenage mind blown into a million pieces. If a bloke couldn’t be satisfied with what he’d seen back then, there had to be something wrong with them, he decided.

“Maybe Bill just said it without thinking,” Harry suggested.

“And maybe he thinks I’m not good enough for him as I am,” she replied bitterly.

“What did he say to you afterwards?”

“Oh, he was all apologetic and begged me not to go. Like I’d stay after he said that to me! Bastard!” she yelled and leapt to her feet.

“Dora, I’m not trying to justify what he did in any way, but maybe you should talk to him again before you make any decisions,” he suggested gently.

“Talk to him? I never want to see the bastard again in my life!” she raged.

“Just… don’t do anything rash, okay?” he said. She was so angry that it was unlikely that she’d listen to anything he had to say at the moment.

Dora just snorted. “I’m going to bed,” she announced and stormed off to her room.

Harry watched her go with a sinking heart.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

It was around midnight and Harry couldn’t sleep. He was worried about Dora and so decided to check in on her. Stealthily, he padded across the floor to her room and paused to listen. Although he couldn’t hear anything, a faint light could be seen coming from under the door. Gently, he knocked twice but received no reply. After dithering for a moment, he came to a decision and slowly opened the door.

The room looked like a hurricane had hit it, with clothes and possessions scattered everywhere. A couple of candles provided the illumination, although it looked like they were nearly spent.

Dora herself was sprawled on her bed, apparently deep in sleep. She’d managed to remove her jeans and t-shirt, so was clad only in her bra and knickers. Harry again wondered how any man could not be satisfied with such a gorgeous young woman such as her.

He was about to turn and leave when something caught his eye. Venturing further into the room, he saw an empty bottle lying on the bed next to Dora. Picking it up, he saw that it was a vodka bottle and it had been drained thoroughly.

Sighing to himself, Harry turned and left the room, closing the door behind him quietly. He’d make sure that a Hangover Potion was waiting for his friend in the morning, but there was little else he could do for the moment. All he could do was be there for her.

He might have known things were going too well.












Back to index


Chapter 11: Chapter 11 - Reconciliation

Author's Notes: Another rapid update, courtesy of my brand, spanking new computer. Now, if I can only get my head around Word 2013, I’ll be okay. Why does the saved folders section look so weird?

Huge thanks as always to Arnel for beta reading. Apparently having a monitor twice the size of my old one didn’t help me to spot all my errors…


Chapter 11 — Reconciliation




“I’m an idiot,” Bill moaned.

“Yes, you are,” Harry said, rather more harshly then he intended.

“How was Tonks today?” Ginny asked her boyfriend.

“Angry, and she took it out on me a lot, too. Thanks a bunch for that, Bill,” he growled.

The three of them were sitting at a small table in the Leaky Caldron, having agreed to meet there after work. Bill was staring mournfully into his tankard of ale, a picture of misery.

“Did Tonks tell you exactly what my idiot brother did to upset her?” Ginny asked. “This big git won’t tell.”

“Oh, let me explain, then,” Harry said forcefully. “It appears that in the middle of sex Bill decided to ask Dora to use her metamorphic abilities to alter herself.”

Ginny turned to her brother in horror. “Please tell me that you didn’t ask her to look like Fleur!” she practically begged.

“No! Of course not. I wouldn’t do anything that stupid,” Bill snapped. “It was only meant to be a bit of fun.”

“He asked her to enhance her chest area,” Harry clarified.

“You bloody tosser!” Ginny raged.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Bill said meekly. “I just thought it might be fun, you know. Remember when she used to pull those weird faces for you and Ron when you were younger? I just thought it would be like that.”

“Yeah, ‘cos that’s exactly what any girl wants to hear in the middle of sex, isn’t it? Why didn’t you ask her to put on a clown nose and have done with it,” she hissed at him.

“Bill, I don’t think you understand how much this has hurt Dora,” Harry said. “All her life, she’s had blokes coming up to her and asking her to become someone else. How do you think that feels to just be some toy that men can use to pretend they’re with their favourite celebrity, or something? They were effectively saying to her ‘you’re not good enough for me, but if you pretend to look like someone else, I’ll sleep with you’. Imagine how that feels!”

“This isn’t like that,” Bill protested.

“Yes, it bloody is!” Harry yelled, banging his fist on the table. “It’s exactly like that! You told Dora that just being herself isn’t good enough for you.”

“Okay, let’s cool things down and try to decide what to do now,” Ginny said calmly.

“There’s not much that can be done at the moment,” Harry said, trying to get his temper under control. “Dora won’t discuss you at all, Bill. I think your best bet is to let her calm down a bit before you try talking to her. Let me tell you now, when that happens you’d better have a bloody good apology worked out, mate!”

“How long do you think I should give her?” Bill asked with a frown.

“A couple of years ought to do it,” Harry replied. “Bill, you have to understand that Dora’s not been in a good place recently. I don’t think she ever really got over Remus dying and she’s been running on autopilot ever since. She works too hard and drinks too much. Things were starting to improve since she started dating you, but now I’m afraid we’ll be back to square one. I know she comes over as strong and sassy, but she’s pretty vulnerable at the moment and your actions have just made that a lot worse.”

“Shit,” Bill mumbled and put his head in his hands.

“Do you think it would help if I tried to talk to her?” Ginny asked.

“Only if you came bearing Bill’s head on a spike,” Harry replied. “Seriously, give it a few days. I’ll try and smooth things over with her, and we’ll see how things go from there.”

“I can’t believe this,” Bill moaned. “I never meant to hurt her in a million years. If I had any idea other blokes had asked her to do those things I would never have suggested it. I just thought it was a bit of fun, a bit of sexual experimentation, if you like.”

“Bill, if you’re going to try experimenting in bed, it really pays to discuss it with your partner first,” Ginny noted irritably.

“Is that what you and Harry do?” Bill asked angrily. “I warn you now, Potter, if you…”

“BILL!” Ginny yelled. “You’ve already upset Tonks, are you trying to piss me off, too? What Harry and I get up to is none of your damned business. I’m a grown woman and I can do what I like to who I like, and if you try pulling any of this protective big brother crap on me, you’ll be spending a week at St Mungo’s. Got it?”

“Yeah, alright,” Bill said, backing down. “I just don’t like discussing this kind of stuff with my own sister, okay? I know you’re a grown woman, but sometimes I still see that little girl you used to be.”

“Bill, if you ever try and treat me like a little girl again, I swear I will bloody hex your bits off,” she growled. “I’m a curse-breaker just like you, remember. If you start getting all protective at work, you could end up getting us both killed.”

“I know, I just… bugger. I should just keep my mouth shut at the moment, shouldn’t I?” he said plaintively.

“It would save a lot of aggro,” Harry agreed.

Bill pushed his untouched tankard away from him and stood up. “I’m going to head home. I’m obviously not fit company at the moment. Harry, please tell Tonks I’m desperately sorry. Please tell her I need to talk with her, okay?”

“I’ll try, Bill,” Harry promised.

After dropping a small kiss on the top of his sister’s head, Bill headed out the door, looking like a man walking to his own execution.

“Bollock,” Harry muttered.

“I think that about sums it up,” Ginny agreed. “Have you eaten yet?”

“Nah, want to go and get a bite to eat somewhere?” he asked.

“Sounds good, unless you need to go back and be with Tonks?”

“Actually, she made it pretty clear she wanted some time on her own. I suspect there’s a large bottle of vodka keeping her company at the moment,” Harry noted sadly.

“Do you think you can get them back together? Bill’s just been so happy since he hooked up with Tonks, I would hate for that all to fall apart just because of one brainless moment,” Ginny asked with a frown.

“I really don’t know. A few years ago I would have been hopeful as Dora’s one of the most forgiving people I know, but now… I’m really not sure,” he admitted.

“Well, like you said, there’s nothing we can do about it right now. Let’s go and get something to eat. What do you fancy?”

“I could really go for a pizza accompanied by an ice, cold beer,” Harry told her.

“Sounds good to me. Dinner’s on me this time, okay?” she smiled.

“I suppose if I get all belligerent and insist that the man should pay, I’ll get a good hexing, won’t I?” he grinned.

“Damn right, buster!” she warned.

“I guess I’ll have to think of some other way to pay you back for dinner, then,” he said suggestively.

“What did you have in mind?” she smirked.

“Well, if you’re a good girl, I might let you see my new tattoo,” he said.

“Oh, you got it done! What is it?” she asked excitedly.

“I got the words ‘Ginny forever’ tattooed inside a big heart on my chest,” he told her.

“What? You didn’t, did you?” she exclaimed, looking rather horrified. She then hit him when he burst out laughing.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” he apologised, “but as for what I did get, well, you’ll have to wait and see.”

“Can’t wait,” she smiled seductively.

“Just be glad that I didn’t let Carla give me a Prince Albert,” he smiled as he helped her up.

“A what?” she asked in confusion.

Harry decided that that was one conversation he was going to avoid.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The night was warm as the two bodies moved together in perfect unison. The only noise that could be heard in the darkened room was the occasional moan of pleasure or a shuddering breath.

“Oh, Harry,” Ginny gasped, her hands caressing his back, urging him to move faster.

Harry didn’t reply. Instead, he began to leave a trail of hot, steamy kisses down his lover’s neck and he continued to gently push himself into her. The feel of her firm breast pressed against his chest was driving him wild, and it was only with supreme willpower that he managed to stop himself thrusting wildly like an animal. The sensations he was experiencing were just too delicious to rush…

Suddenly, the door to Harry’s bedroom slammed open and the room was filled with light.

Before he was fully aware of what was happening, Harry had flung himself to one side and grabbed his wand which was resting on a bedside cabinet. He swivelled, bringing it up ready to cast a spell… before he froze in horror.

Standing in the doorway was Dora. She was dressed in a torn t-shirt and her knickers. In her hand was a quarter-full bottle of vodka and she looked barely able to stand.

“Dora?” he said warily.

“Waa… you two… hick… doin, eh?” Dora mumbled. “You… you…fu…kin, eh?”

“Merlin, she’s smashed out of her skull!” Ginny gasped.

“Wanna… wanna…” Dora slurred and started to lurch forward.

Harry was instantly on his feet and grabbed hold of her, uncaring that he was currently stark naked. Dora, for her part, seemed too drunk to even notice.

“You… err… wanna…” Dora mumbled, swinging her bottle about in an apparent attempt to offer Harry a swing. He looked at her with an appalled expression on his face.

“Grab her, Harry,” Ginny called out, and a second later Dora slumped in his arms, her bottle falling to the floor where it spilled on the carpet. Harry looked up to see Ginny standing there brandishing her wand.

“Sleeping Charm,” she explained. “That should put her out until morning.”

“Good idea,” Harry said approvingly, before sliding his arm under Dora’s knees and lifting her up. “I’ll put sleeping beauty to bed.”

He carried his friend to her bedroom and placed her gently on the bed. Pulling a sheet over her, he took the liberty of casting a charm on her so that an alarm would go off if her vital signs started to fluctuate. He’d heard of too many drunks choking to death on their own vomit. He then quietly closed the door and returned to his own bedroom.

Ginny had returned to bed and was sitting up with her arms crossed.

“Well, that was a mood killer,” she complained. “Does she often get like that?”

“That’s the first time she’s staggered into my bedroom like that, although she has been drinking herself into oblivion on a regular basis,” he admitted.

“What was she trying to do? Join in or break us up?” Ginny asked in exasperation.

“I doubt she knew herself,” he sighed. “This can’t go on. Her mum warned me that she was worried about the amount she was drinking, and since this ruckus with Bill she’s gone off the deep end. I did think she was getting better. Damn.”

“What can we do to help?” Ginny asked.

“I think the best thing we can do is eliminate the reason for this latest binge. We need to get Dora and your brother back together. The happier Dora is, generally the less she drinks. She’s definitely one of those people who uses alcohol to mask their pain. The question is, how are we going to get them back together again?” he pondered.

“Well, when Ron and Hermione were dancing around each other back at Hogwarts, I did lock them in a broom cupboard together once,” Ginny smirked, before her smile faded. “Not sure that would work here, though.”

“Why not?” Harry asked. “They’re never going to get back together unless Dora actually talks to Bill. I think we just need to push them together somehow.”

“I think you’re right,” she agreed, before looking at him apologetically. “Harry, after seeing Tonks like that, I don’t really feel like carrying on what we were doing. Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. I can’t say I’m exactly in the mood anymore,” he admitted. “Let’s just cuddle up and go to sleep.”

Ginny crawled into his arms and with a wave of his wand, Harry extinguished the lights. Both of them were asleep in minutes.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Do you think I’m overreacting?” Dora asked quietly.

It was the first words she’d spoken in the last ten minutes. Harry looked over at her from his position in the driver’s seat of the VW. After the state she’d been in the previous night, he’d flatly refused to allow her to drive.

“I think you have a certain amount of justification for the way you acted,” he said carefully. “Although I think you should hear what Bill has to say before you do anything too radical.”

Dora remained silent and stared out of the window.

Harry sighed. This wasn’t going to be easy. “Look, I know what he asked you to do was insulting and stupid, but when I saw him yesterday he looked genuinely devastated at what he’d done. I think it was just a stupid idea he had when in the throes of passion. I’m sure he’ll never ask you to do anything like that again.”

Dora just shrugged.

“Look, I can’t tell you what you should do, but do you truthfully want to break up with him? You seemed so happy recently, and this might all just be some stupid misunderstanding. Do you not think the relationship is worth giving him a second chance?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know,” she replied in a tight voice.

“Dora, I know you. This thing with Bill has got you questioning the whole idea of being in a relationship again, hasn’t it? You can’t think like that, luv. Remus wouldn’t have wanted you to be alone and deep down I don’t think you want to be, either. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I do think that if you stop seeing Bill because of this you might come to regret it later. Do you honestly not want to see him anymore?” he persisted.

Dora sighed. “You do think I’m overreacting, don’t you?” she asked, but her voice sounded weary rather than angry.

“Hey, I’m on your side and I’ll support you in whatever you want to do,” he told her truthfully, “but if it’s advice you’re after, I think you should at least talk to him.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said quietly.

“That’s all I can ask,” he smiled as he hit the accelerator and launched the small car across a roundabout. He might not have been the manic driver Dora was, but he knew that you didn’t hang about in London traffic.

“So, you want to swing by ‘Creative Creations’ and see if anything happening over there?” Dora asked, sounding a little bit more cheerful.

“Not a bad idea,” he agreed. “Heaven knows we’ve got few other leads at the moment, keeping an eye on that place might be our best option.”

“You know, I’ve had this strange feeling something’s going to happen soon,” she confessed. “You can almost feel it in the air; a kind of nervous anticipation.”

“Yeah, those leaflets about Kingsley seem to have kicked over a hornets nest. Shame he’s still insisting all these bloody garden parties have to go ahead. They’re a huge sodding security risk,” he muttered indignantly, while easing the car into lane to head west.

“Have you been allocated a day to attend as a guest yet?” she smirked.

“Yeah, the Cardiff event,” he grumbled. “The only good thing about it is that I’m allowed to take a guest and Ginny’s free that day. I can’t say I’d been very keen, otherwise.”

“Ah, is Ginny going to protect you from Miss Flirty-tits Greengrass, then?” she giggled.

“Actually, Greengrass seems to have forgotten about me for the moment, I’m pleased to say. The fact that everyone I’ve talked to about her can’t stand the sight of her is warning enough for me,” he grimaced.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. She gives me the creeps, actually. She always looks at you like she knows something you don’t. Stick with your little redhead, Harry. Ginny’s a million times better than Greengrass,” Dora said passionately.

“I intend to,” Harry nodded. “I turn down here to get to ‘Creative Creations’, don’t I?”

“Yeah, take this left turn and then go straight over at the traffic lights and we’ll be right there,” Dora nodded. “Probably best if you drive straight past initially and then we’ll ditch the car in the next street. Do you want to put in that order for our wedding cake?”

Harry laughed. “Why not? When it’s finished I thought we could take it into work with us and treat everyone. You know what a sweet tooth Dedalus has.

“Ha! You’d instantly become his new favourite,” she laughed.

Grinning, Harry slowed the car as they pulled up to the traffic lights which were currently red. From here, he could see the shop front of ‘Creative Creations’ although there didn’t seem to be much going on. As he tapped the steering wheel impatiently, he caught sight of a man emerging from a passageway between two shops to his left. With a start, Harry suddenly realised he recognised the man. He was about to say something to Dora, when the man reached into his jacket and pulled out a wand which he immediately pointed straight at the car.

“DOWN!” Harry just had time to yell before a terrific blast smashed into the front of the little VW. For a second, a blinding flash obscured his vision before the car’s airbags (which miraculously still worked after all of Dora’s alterations) inflated and knocked the air out of his lungs.

It took a few seconds for Harry to get his bearings again. When he did, the first thing that went through his head was that there was a hostile wizard outside with a wand pointed at them. Groping blindly, he managed to unbuckle his safety belt. The airbag was already beginning to deflate and he was relieved to see Dora was also fighting to get free. He grabbed the door handle but found that the impact had crumpled the car so badly that the door was wedged shut. Grabbing his wand from his jacket, he simply Vanished the whole door before grabbing the frame and hauling himself out.

Quickly, he looked around for their attacker, but couldn’t see him. Instead, a number of bystanders were hurrying over to help. The first to reach the car was a middle aged man who looked at the crumpled chassis in horror.

“You alright, mate?” he asked Harry.

“Yeah… yeah, I think I am,” he replied. By now Dora had managed to free herself and was steadying herself against the passenger door. “You okay, Dora?”

“I think so,” she replied, looking rather stunned. “What happened?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” the man said. “I was walking down the street and you were just waiting at the traffic lights and then suddenly… boom! The front of the car just exploded! What would cause it to do that?”

“I have no idea,” Harry lied.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Sometime later, Harry and Dora were sitting in the section’s office, having just debriefed Dedalus about the incident. The small man had just finished reviewing Harry’s memory of the attack in the Pensieve they kept for such eventualities.

“Hmm, interesting,” Dedalus noted thoughtfully as he withdrew his head from the bowl. “Having viewed your memory, Harry, I have to say that I don’t think this was an attempt to kill either of you.”

“You could have fooled me,” Dora snorted.

“No, it could well have been an attempt to scare you off, but not kill you. You will note that the attacker made direct eye contact with Harry moments before he cast his rather destructive spell. For only a brief second is the man’s wand actually pointed at Harry. The man then deliberately shifts his aim slightly downwards, meaning he meant to hit the car, not its occupants,” Dedalus reasoned.

“Actually, now you mention it, I think you could be right,” Harry agreed reluctantly. “If he’d wanted to kill me he had a clear shot.”

“So why did he attack us? What the hell does this bastard want?” Dora asked angrily. Earlier, she’d been quite tearful at the loss of her beloved car, but that sorrow had now turned to anger.

“Perhaps Dedalus is right and they’re trying to scare us off. Let me ask you something else. When we burst in on this man and his mate torturing Sudsy, how come they didn’t use any really nasty spells against us? Sudsy got a Killing Curse for his troubles, but we got nothing more dangerous than a Severing Charm thrown at us,” Harry pointed out.

“That could kill you easily enough,” Dora objected.

“True, but did you get the feeling that they were trying to do that? Now I think back, I don’t believe they were trying to cause us any serious harm. Why just save the Unforgivables for Sudsy?”

Dora frowned. “I don’t know. Actually, that really doesn’t make sense, does it?”

“I’m coming to the conclusion that very little about this case makes sense,” Dedalus sighed. “We could really have done without all this at the moment. The whole Ministry is jumpy enough already what with those anti-Kingsley leaflets the other day. An attack on members of his personal staff will just make things worse.”

“Has Hestia had any more luck tracking down our mysterious bill-border?” Dora asked.

“I’m afraid not, my dear,” Dedalus said. “We’re hearing whispers of insurrection and discontent from numerous sources, but nothing concrete has emerged. Oh, we investigated that mob of ex-snatchers your contact mentioned and one of them was foolish enough to attack Gregory. The misguided youth is currently in St Mungo’s and his companions are cooling their heels in the Ministry’s detention block.”

Harry grinned. Gregory was a large, powerful wizard who had been part of the section for a number of years. Personally, he felt that only an idiot would attack him and anyone who did probably got what they deserved.

“Right, as you two seem none the worst for your adventure, I suggest you get back out there. The fact that you were attacked so close to this intriguing cake shop of yours seems quite telling to me. I suggest you cautiously investigate the establishment again,” Dedalus suggested.

Harry looked over at Dora who nodded in agreement. They both rose from their seats and headed out of the office. They had only gone a few steps when a voice called out to them.

“Dora! You’re alright!”

They turned and saw Bill Weasley running towards them, with Ginny just a few feet behind her brother. Once Bill was a yard from Dora, he pulled up and stood awkwardly looking at her. Ginny, on the other hand, ran straight past him and flung her arms around Harry.

“Thank Merlin you’re okay!” she exclaimed. “When we heard you’d been attacked we feared the worst!”

“We’re fine, although Dora’s car’s a write-off,” Harry said, slipping his arms around her middle. “How did you know we’d been attacked, though?”

“Ron contacted us,” Ginny explained. “He just said that he’d heard there had been an incident and that you two were involved. We came as soon as we could.”

“Sorry for worrying you,” Harry said, looking into her large, brown eyes. “Honestly, we’re fine. In fact, we think that the attack might have been a warning of some sort rather than a deliberate attempt to harm us.”

“But why?” she asked.

“That is a very good question,” he replied. He then tore his gaze away from his beautiful girlfriend and saw that Dora and Bill were still standing there staring at each other awkwardly.

“I’m sorry, Tonks!” Bill suddenly blurted. “I never meant to hurt you. I was stupid, I know, and didn’t think how asking you to do that would affect you. I’m a complete moron.”

Dora remained still, looking at him with a conflicted expression on her face. Harry suddenly realised he needed to do something.

“Bill, would you give Dora an Unbreakable Vow that you’d never ask her to change for you again,” he called out.

“Absolutely!” Bill said instantly. “In a heartbeat.”

“Dora, you said you were afraid that Bill might only like you for your abilities and what you could turn into. I think he’s just proved that he’s more interested in you,” Harry pointed out gently.

Dora looked at Harry with a blank expression for a moment, before she turned back to Bill. She signed loudly. “You don’t need to give me a Vow, Bill. You know how dangerous those things can be.”

“I don’t care. If that’s what I need to do to prove to you that it’s you, and not whoever you can change into, that I want, then I’ll do it,” Bill said adamantly.

“No, just promise me that you won’t be such a massive dickhead again, and I’ll forgive you,” Dora told him quietly.

“Oh, he can’t do that, Tonks,” Ginny called over. “He’s a bloke, after all. He’s genetically incapable of not being a massive tool occasionally.”

“Thanks, sis,” Bill said sourly.

Dora giggled. “You’re right, Ginny. I guess I’ll just have to settle for hexing him the next time he does something stupid.”

“I think I prefer that idea,” Bill smiled shyly.

With a smile on her lips, Dora stomped forward and pulled Bill into a hug. Bill broke into a huge grin and fiercely wrapped his arms around her.

“Well, it seems that someone throwing a Blasting Curse at us was a good thing, after all,” Harry smirked.

“Apparently so,” Ginny said before kissing him soundly.

Harry smiled, glad that everything was back to normal. He was with Ginny, Dora was with Bill, and someone may or may not be trying to kill them.

Situation completely normal.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“You know, I think Robards was actually a bit disappointed that you and Tonks weren’t injured in that attack,” Ron said, before taking a healthy swig from his tankard.

“The more you tell me about your boss, Ron, the more I think he’s a total wanker,” Ginny snorted.

Harry grinned at his girlfriend. The three of them were currently propping up the bar at the Leaky Cauldron having all finished work for the day. He was finding that he enjoyed Ron’s company, and they seemed to have hit it off. Shame the bloke was a Chudley Cannons fan, but no one was perfect.

“He’s not the most inspiring of leaders,” Ron admitted. “He’s a safe pair of hands, though. Everything by the book, that’s his motto. You can imagine then how much he hates your mob, Harry.”

“Yeah, Dora told me as much. She never got on with the bloke. He’s far too much of a belts and braces type of character for her,” Harry told them.

“I can imagine,” Ron grinned. “Not that us Weasleys have ever been known for doing things according to regulations. Hell, some of my best arrests have been a result of some creative thinking on my part.”

“Wow, I’m amazed that you admit to doing any thinking, at all. You normally avoid that,” Ginny grinned.

“Are you sure you want to be involved with this one, Harry?” Ron asked, tilting his head towards his sister. “She can be a right mouthy little cow, you know.”

“Quite sure,” Harry laughed, as Ginny kicked her brother in the shin, just as he was about to take another swig of ale, too.

“Ow! Take it easy, sis,” Ron complained, wiping the front of his robes. “You’re wasting good beer, here!”

“That is a sin, you know,” Harry nodded.

“My apologies… to the beer,” Ginny said loftily.

Both men laughed. Harry was again impressed and slightly envious of the easy banter shared by the Weasley family, or at least the three he’d met. They seemed a pretty close-knit bunch.

“So, you have any luck tracking down the bastard who threw that curse at you?” Ron asked.

“Nah, the area was thoroughly searched, but the bloke was long gone. A couple of other section members posing as Muggle Police even went into the cake shop and asked if anyone had seen a man answering that description, but the staff there claimed they didn’t know anyone like that. Hestia was pretty certain they were telling the truth, too,” Harry grumbled.

“Of course, the attacker may have been wearing a Glamour and the shop staff know him as someone completely different,” Ron suggested.

“That’s entirely possible, but I just don’t get the feeling that anyone in ‘Creative Creations’ is involved in anything illegal. They genuinely seem to just be a bunch of talented bakers. I get the feeling that our attacker was watching the place, too, for some reason,” Harry said thoughtfully.

“But it was definitely the same bloke who killed Tonks’s informant, was it,” Ron asked with a frown.

“Yes, I’m certain,” he nodded.

“I just don’t see the connection,” Ron sighed. “Of course, it doesn’t help that Robards is still insisting that the murders of Andris Topa and this Sudsy character are completely unrelated to the attack on you.”

“You lot still working on the assumption that Topa’s killing was something to do with illegal potions?” Harry asked

“Yeah, even though we haven’t a scrap of evidence that the bloke was involved in anything like that. We have widened our inquires to include all ‘illegal items’ but we’re still not having a lot of luck. You still convinced that Topa had Muggle explosives on the premises?” Ron asked.

“Pretty sure, although for what purpose is unclear. Back in my old mob, we used plastic explosive when we wanted to hide all evidence of Magical involvement, so I assume someone wants to do the same. What the target is, however, is anyone’s guess,” he sighed.

“There’s a lot of negative feeling being directed at the Minister lately,” Ron pointed out in a concerned voice.

“I know. Believe me, I know,” Harry said darkly.

A worried silence descended for a moment, before Ginny decided things had gotten too gloomy.

“Right, enough shop-talk,” she decided. “Where are my handsome boyfriend and my not-so attractive brother taking me for dinner?”

Ron laughed. “Sorry, sis, you’ll have to con your dinner out of Harry here alone. I’ve got a hot date with a witch from the Improper Use of Magic office.”

“Not another one! How many witches have you dated in the last two years, Ronald?” Ginny demanded.

“Why deny myself to the witches of the world?” he asked smugly. “Seriously, I need to head home to get washed and changed. I’ll catch you guys later.”

Ron drained the last few drops of ale from his tankard before vanishing out the door. Ginny watched him go sadly. “I wish he’d find someone,” she noted.

“It sounds like he’s finding a lot of someones,” Harry pointed out. “Maybe he’s just not ready to settle down yet.”

“Or maybe he found the true love of his life and then broke up with her because he was too young to handle the relationship,” Ginny replied.

“Are you talking about Hermione Granger?” Harry asked curiously.

“Yeah, I am. I don’t think he ever really got over losing her, you know. He was just too immature at the time to make it work. I wish she’d give him another chance. Ron has really changed since he left school,” she said despondently.

“Perhaps I should drop a few hints. I did get Bill and Dora back together, after all,” he pointed out.

“You did,” Ginny smiled brightly. “Well, aren’t you just the perfect little cupid? Seriously, I think if Hermione did give Ron a chance she’d been pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, every time she looks at him she still sees that lazy, undisciplined, uncouth schoolboy she dated once.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Harry promised. “So, what do you fancy to eat?”

Ginny grinned before kissing him firmly on the lips. “A nice juicy steak would hit the spot around now,” she admitted.

Harry grinned back. Ginny was most definitely a girl after his own heart.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“This seems to be going well,” Ginny noted before taking a sip from her glass of white wine.

“This is the third of these events, so everything is running pretty slickly by now,” Harry noted, smiling at her. She was wearing a light blue summer dress with a wide-brimmed black hat. He was used to seeing her in jeans and a t-shirt, so was impressed she could pull-off a look of casual elegance, too.

“I haven’t seen Tonks about, though,” Ginny said, looking around.

“Oh, I think she’s disguised as someone else, today,” he replied. “She said she was getting out of practice doing that sort of thing.”

“So any of the security staff around here could be her?” Ginny grinned. “We’ll have to behave ourselves, then. Was she annoyed that she had to work today while you stand around sipping champagne and stuffing yourself from the buffet?”

“Nah, besides, he gets to be a guest at the next one in Bristol. I gather your brother isn’t looking forward to wearing a suit,” he chuckled.

“No, not at all! Still, I have to say you scrub up nicely, Mr Potter, even if you did nearly give me a heart attack turning up with your hair like that,” she smirked.

Harry had once again shortened his hair to appear more respectable. Unfortunately, he’d neglected to tell Ginny about his ability to change the length of his hair at will, and she’d been very upset at him. Apparently, men with long hair did it for her.

“Ah, Harry, you made it,” a silky voice said from behind him. He turned and barely managed to suppress a groan. Daphne Greengrass was rapidly approaching with an alluring smile on her lips.

“Hello, Daphne,” Harry said politely. “We were just commenting on how well everything seemed to be going.”

“Yes, so far everything has been going like clockwork, I’m pleased to say,” Greengrass nodded, before turning and looking at Ginny. “And you must be the lucky young witch that Harry mentioned he had started dating recently. Ginevra Weasley, isn’t it? I seem to remember you from school.”

“Ginny Weasley,” she corrected pointedly. “I remember you, too.”

“Of course, you were in Gryffindor, weren’t you? You’ll have to forgive me for my behaviour back then. The crowd I ran with back in those days were definitely a bigoted bunch, and I did rather fall into line with them just to fit in with them. Peer pressure, I suppose. Anyway, I’m not proud of the way I acted back in those days and I’m sorry if I ever did anything to offend you,” Daphne said.

“Well, thank you,” Ginny replied, sounding extremely surprised.

“Times have changed and we have a new, progressive Minister,” Daphne continued. “I like to think that my work in helping arrange events like today go some way to proving that that I’ve embraced Minister Shacklebolt’s message. We need people like him in charge, you know. The likes of You-Know-Who would have just led us to ruin. It’s time for some positive changes in our world.”

“That’s a very commendable attitude,” Harry agreed.

“Thank you,” Daphne said, smiling. “I just wish some of my former friends thought the same way.”

Ginny was about to say something, but was interrupted by the arrival of a tall, distinguished-looking man with iron-grey hair and a short, tidy beard. He wore an expensive suit and carried himself with dignity.

“Daphne, my dear, are these the people you were telling me about?” he asked.

“Indeed,” Daphne replied before turning back to Harry and Ginny. “May I introduce my father, Ophion Greengrass. Father, this is Harry Potter and his girlfriend, Ginny Weasley.”

“Delighted to meet you both,” Ophion said, offering his hand. “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time, Mr Potter. We all owe you an enormous vote of gratitude.”

Harry sighed. Mr Greengrass was clearly another person whole knew all about his activities in the war. He was beginning to wonder if there was anyone in Britain who didn’t know.

“Really, it was nothing, sir,” Harry said formally. “I had an awful lot of help.”

“You’re being far too modest,” Ophion insisted. “I don’t think that the few of us who do know what you did give you enough credit. I dread to think what would have happened to us all if You-Know-Who had gained complete control.”

“This probably isn’t the best place to discuss such matters,” Harry pointed out, feeling a little embarrassed.

“You are quite right,” Ophion nodded. “Therefore, I would like to invite you and your charming companion to dinner at my home. I would relish the chance to talk with you and hear your opinions of our society today.”

“We’d love to,” Ginny said before Harry had a chance to open his mouth.

“Splendid! Would the twentieth work for you both?”

“Works for me,” Ginny confirmed. “Harry?”

“Umm, yes, that should be alright,” Harry mumbled in confusion.

“Well, that’s settled then. I’ll send you both formal invitations as soon as possible. Shall we say about eight o’clock that evening? Wonderful,” Ophion smiled. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, my beautiful daughter and I have some matters to discuss.”

“I’ll look forward to seeing you both for dinner,” Daphne said by way of farewell, before taking her father’s arm and disappearing into the crowds. Harry turned to his girlfriend.

“Why did you accept their invitation?” he demanded.

“Because you’ve been trying to figure out what Greengrass is up to, and this is the perfect opportunity to do so,” Ginny replied with a shrug.

“Okay, I admit that makes sense, I suppose,” he frowned, trying to think of something wrong with her idea.

“Really, Harry, I thought you were supposed to be the spy. You’ll never find out why Daphne has been so interested in you unless you actually talk with her,” Ginny grinned.

“And if she’s actually interested in me romantically?” he asked teasingly.

“Then I’ll hex her from here to kingdom come,” she replied with an evil grin.

“Just as well I’ve got you to protect me,” Harry noted, before they headed back to the buffet table for something to eat.







Back to index


Chapter 12: Chapter 12 - Corrosion

Author's Notes: Please find attached the next chapter, for your reading pleasure. I must confess, I’m rather fond of this one, as it has a lot of different elements to it. Oh, and Jill? I know you hated the Tonksmobile but I just couldn’t bring myself to let the poor thing die.

My huge thanks and apologies to Arnel. Quite how I managed to make so many mistakes with this one is a mystery…


Chapter 12 — Corrosion



“Honestly, Harry, why are you dragging me down here?” Dora asked plaintively.

“Just come on. I’ve got something to show you,” Harry said, pulling his reluctant friend along.

“Can’t you just tell me what’s going on?” she griped.

Harry just grinned as he led her down the steps that led from their block of flats and down into the designated car park attached to the building. Once they reached the small parking area, he turned to Dora with an evil grin on his face.

“Ta-da!” he yelled, spreading his arms wide.

“What?” she snapped a little irritably.

“This,” Harry replied, pointing at a small black car parked in the spot Dora normally used.

“So, some cheeky sod has nicked my parking space. There’s no need to be so bloody cheerful about it,” Dora complained.

Shaking his head, Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys which he then tossed in Dora’s direction. She caught them instinctively and stared at them in wonder.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Your new car, dum-dum,” Harry laughed. “A 1998, 1.6 litre, VW Golf with full service history and only 15,000 miles on the clock, and it’s all yours.”

“Eh? Where did this come from?” she gasped.

“Well, I admit I paid for it, but as I’ve been living here rent free for a couple of months now I thought I ought to show my appreciation somehow. Besides, we really need a car for work and I don’t want to buy one until I get settled into my own gaff,” he smiled.

“Harry, I can’t…” she began.

“Actually, you don’t really have a choice as it’s completely unsellable now, as it’s been extensively modified.” He grinned. “We weren’t sure exactly what charms you had cast on the old Tonksmobile, but Bill reckons this one has pretty much everything you had in the old one in terms of abilities. In fact, he and his dad went a bit mad on fixing it up, so Merlin knows what it will do now.”

“Bill and Arthur charmed the car?” she gasped. “But that’s… I really don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘thank you, Harry, you’re wonderful’?” he suggested.

“You bloody are,” she laughed and pulled him into a hug, before planting a very loud, wet kiss smack on his lips.

“Don’t let Bill see you doing that,” Harry smirked.

“Oh, that’s nothing compared to what I’m going to do to Bill,” she said fiercely. “Come on; let’s take it for a test drive!”

Dora practically sprinted round to the driver’s side of the car and leapt in. Harry climbed into the passenger’s side rather more sedately and grinned at Dora as she pushed buttons and flipped switches with a manic gleam in her eyes.

“Come on, then,” Harry urged. “Let’s hit the road.”

“You’ve changed your tune,” she smirked. “It wasn’t so long ago that you were terrified of my driving.”

“Yeah, but at least now I know what spells and charms have been cast on the vehicle I’m in. Bill assures me that there are a lot of extra Safety Spells on this baby,” he said, patting the dashboard reassuringly.

“Ha! Then I’ll have to try even harder to scare you,” she laughed. “Did you get to meet Arthur Weasley while he was working on this beauty, by the way?”

“Nah, Bill brought it over after they had finished so, no, I’ve yet to meet either of Ginny’s parents if that’s what you’re getting at,” he replied.

“See, I knew Ginny was ashamed of you,” Dora teased.

“Actually, I do get the impression she’s a bit worried about what her mum will make of me,” he admitted. “I’m told Mrs Weasley gives Bill a hard time about his long hair and earring, so God knows what she’ll make of me.”

“I have to admit, Molly can be a bit old fashioned, but she does have a good heart,” Dora said. “Besides, you’re the Boy Who Lived and the vanquisher of You-Know-Who! You’re a bloody hero, Mr Potter; she can’t very well object to her daughter dating the saviour of the Wizarding world, can she?”

“Dunno, Ginny says that her mum adored that prat she used to see, and is still convinced that them breaking up was all some sort of misunderstanding. He was a bit of a charmer, this Michael bloke, and he had Molly Weasley wrapped around his little finger,” he explained. “Of course, Ginny couldn’t tell her about the bloke being skint because she was never supposed to have looked at the man’s bank account. Apparently, Ginny has little faith that her mother can keep that a secret.”

“I can just see Molly going round and hexing that twat if she found out,” Dora agreed, “but, even so, she should trust Ginny more. Mind you, Bill says much the same about her, and she’s always seemed a bit controlling of her kids when I’ve met her.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait to be introduced,” Harry said sarcastically.

“Arthur’s a really nice bloke,” Dora assured him, “really easy going. I think you’ll like him. You might want to wear that shiny Order of Merlin medal of yours when you meet Molly, though. That’s bound to impress her.”

“I’ll bear that in mind. Now, are we going to go for a drive, or sit here yakking?” he moaned.

“You asked for it, Harry! Off we go!” Dora yelled, sticking the key in the ignition, slamming the car into gear, and hitting the accelerator nearly all in one movement.

“Oh, FUCK ME!” Harry yelled as the car shot forward like a bullet from a gun.

Things were indeed back to normal.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

A couple of days later, Harry and Dora were entertaining their preferred Weasleys in Dora’s flat. In deference to her cooking skills, Dora had insisted they get dinner from the local take-away.

“So, what’s all this I hear about you and Ginny having dinner with some stuck-up pureblood family?” Bill asked, before he reached over and stole a chip from Tonk’s plate.

“Hey!” Dora squealed and slapped his hand.

“It was Ginny’s idea, actually,” Harry said, a little defensively. “The Greengrasses have been acting a bit strangely lately, and she thought that we might get a few clues as to what they are up to by accepting their dinner invitation.”

“Besides, it will be a chance to wear my nice, new robes,” Ginny smirked.

Harry grinned at his girlfriend. He managed to convince her to let him buy her a new set of formal robes for the occasion, mainly by claiming that he could claim the cost back as expenses. In truth, Kingsley would have laughed in his face had he attempted such a thing, not that he had the slightest intention of doing so, of course.

“Hmm, as long as they don’t try anything funny,” Bill frowned. “I don’t like the sound of this lot.”

“I hardly think they’re going to try and poison us, or kidnap Harry, or anything,” Ginny snorted. “Ophion Greengrass invited us in front of dozens of people, so he’d be pretty stupid to try anything nasty, wouldn’t he? Besides, do you really think he’d want to take on the man who took the Dark Wart down?”

“I don’t think Voldemort had any warts. Not that I could see, anyway,” Harry pointed out mildly.

“They might have been genital warts,” Dora suggested helpfully.

Harry, Ginny and Bill all mimicked being sick.

“Thanks for putting me off my dinner,” Ginny complained. “Ick!”

Dora just took a bite out of her burger and smiled at the younger woman sweetly.

“Is the new car still running alright?” Bill asked his girlfriend, presumably in a desperate attempt to change the subject.

“Oh, hell yes!” Dora exclaimed around a mouthful of food. “The Tonksmobile Mk 2 is even faster than the old one.”

“I can confirm that,” Harry agreed mournfully.

“Really, sweetie, I can’t thank you and Harry enough. Oh, and your dad, too. I’ll have to send him a nice thank-you gift,” Dora continued.

“That’s not necessary,” Bill said shaking his head. “He absolutely adores you, you know. Mum, too. Oh, speaking of Mum, I know she’s very keen to meet your new boyfriend, Ginny. She’s told me that, what, seventy-six times this week.”

“That will be fun,” Ginny grumbled. “She’ll probably spend the first hour making snotty remarks about Harry’s hair and earing, before starting to drop hints I should find out what Michael’s up to these days. Never mind about Harry being a hero, or anything.”

“I’m not a hero,” Harry said instantly.

“When you’re meeting my mother you bloody are,” Ginny told him flatly. “You’re a kind, dashing, wealthy hero with a heart of gold, and a halo round your head, who would never touch me inappropriately unless you had put a wedding ring on my finger first. That’s the image you’re going to present, got it?”

“Got it,” Harry sighed as Bill and Dora both sniggered at him.

“Seriously, though, are you two any closer to catching the bugger who totalled the Tonksmobile Mk 1?” Bill asked.

“Nah, we’re not,” Harry admitted. “We’re pretty sure they’re staking out that cake shop, but we have no idea why. We can’t ever seem to catch them, though. Anytime we get close to them they just vanish into thin air. We can never get an Anti-Apparation or Anti-Portkey Jinx in place in time.”

“If you know approximately where they’ll be, use pre-Hexed Wardstones,” Ginny suggested, before sucking a blob of tomato ketchup off her finger.

“Pre-Hexed Wardstones?” Harry frowned. “What are those?”

“Oh, they’re not very common as they’re devilishly tricky to create, but more advances curse-breakers use them in dangerous situations,” Bill explained. “Basically, you take a normal stone, apply the hex or charm of your choice to it, and then use a series of runes to lock the spell in place. You can then leave the stone in the location you will need to use it, and the encased charm can be activated either on a timed release or with a simple wave of your wand. You could apply Anti-Apparation and Anti-Portkey Jinxes to one of these stones and it would be ten times faster than trying to cast the Jinx yourself.”

“Wow, that would be really useful,” Dora exclaimed. “I can think of dozens of uses for something like that.”

“Me, too,” Harry agreed. “So, what would it take for us to convince a pair of highly-skilled, utterly wonderful curse-breakers such as yourselves to create a few of these Wardstones for us?”

Bill and Ginny shared a quick look and both broke into wicked grins.

“We’ll think of something,” they said simultaneously.

Harry shook his head and laughed.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Harry stood and looked around Diagon Alley in dismay.

“How many of these bloody things are there?” he demanded.

“I have no idea, my dear boy,” Dedalus said sadly.

“There must be thousands of them,” Dora muttered.

“At least. We’ve already cleared up several hundred of them, but it’s not easy. The damnable things appear to be charmed to resist simple Summoning Spells,” their small boss sighed.

Diagon Alley was virtually covered in A4 sized posters which all displayed a similar hatred of the Ministry, and Kingsley in particular, as the ones in Hogsmeade had. What Harry couldn’t understand was how someone had managed to paste so many of them in such a busy place without anyone noticing.

“These ones seem even more venomous then the last batch,” Dora noted as she examined the poster in her hand.

“Indeed, these also appear to include a direct threat to Kingsley. The language is rather flowery, but the intent is obvious,” Dedalus confirmed. “Clearly, whoever did this is very angry and has great magical potential.”

“Did any of these blow out of the Alley and into the Muggle streets?” Harry asked.

“No, there is a weak Containment Spell covering the whole area, although not many people are aware of it. We’ve had problems before with newspapers and such like catching in the wind and ending up who knows where,” Dedalus assured him.

“How are they doing this though?” Dora demanded. “How can someone just turn up in Diagon Alley, paste-up thousands of bloody posters, and then vanish without a single person seeing them? You’d have to be Merlin himself to pull-off a trick like that!”

“I really have no idea,” her boss replied. “You don’t think this is related to your current investigation, do you?”

“I can’t see how,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I’ll tell you what, though, this is going to rake up a lot of pureblood bullshit.”

“Quite. Security around the Minister is being tightened up and the entire DMLE is being put on high alert. The section is going to be put on a protection rota from now on, too. We can’t afford to take any chances.”

Harry ripped a poster off a nearby wall and screwed it into a tight ball. “Yeah, better safe than sorry,” he agreed.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

The twentieth came around entirely too quickly for Harry’s taste and, before he knew it, he and Ginny were arriving at the Greengrass residence in South Yorkshire to have dinner with them. He had to admit a certain sense of excitement at the prospect; the thrill he used to get when being tasked with missions back during his early days with Department M returning in force.

They had been ushered into the large, but not grandiose, manor house by a neatly presented house-elf and led to a reception room where the Greengrasses were awaiting them. Ophion Greengrass was dignified and impressive in his immaculate formal robes, while his daughter, Daphne, was positively radiant in her tasteful cream-colored dress, perfectly accompanied by a beautiful emerald neckless. They greeted Harry and Ginny warmly and glasses of sherry were taken in the main reception room.

“I’m most honoured to have you both visit us here,” Ophion smiled. “I’ve been looking forward to this evening greatly.

“As have I,” Daphne added. “Ginny, you look enchanting in those robes. They suit you perfectly.

“Thank you,” Ginny smiled politely, “but I’m sure I look positively plain next to you.”

Daphne smiled blandly back and it was all Harry could do not to smirk at the silent battle for dominance that had already begun between the two witches. Ophion, too, must have noticed judging by his faintly amused expression.

“Will it be just the four of us, then?” Ginny asked.

“Yes, sadly my darling wife passed away a few years ago,” Ophion explained. “It’s just me and my dear Daphne here nowadays.”

“But what about your other daughter, Astoria? Will she not be joining us?” Ginny pressed.

Harry managed to catch the tiny twitch of Ophion’s cheek.

“No, Astoria is out of the country at the moment. In fact, she’s been living in Italy for the last year and a half. She loves it over there,” Ophion explained.

“How nice,” Harry commented. “I heard that Astoria was betrothed to Lucius Malfoy’s son before he died. Knowing my history with the Malfoy family, I hope this doesn’t cause any ill-will between us.”

“Of course not, my dear fellow,” the older man assured him. “Astoria’s betrothal to Draco Malfoy was a long standing obligation between our two families, and one that I think Astoria was delighted to have been excused. For my part, I would never have agreed to such an arrangement if I’d known at the time that the Malfoys had thrown their lot in with Lord Voldemort. The agreement was made when Lucius and I were barely into our twenties, you see, and was a political expediency. It was sometime later that he began to show his more… extreme tendencies, shall we say.”

“I see. It must have been pretty worrying to see the Malfoys turn into Death Eaters knowing your daughter might one day been married into the family,” Harry noted.

Ophion sighed dramatically. “I can see you don’t approve of such practices, Harry, and I admit as I’ve grown older I find the idea of raffling off my flesh and blood for financial or political gain increasingly abhorrent, too. Things were different back then, however. Indeed, it’s amazing to think how much our society has changed in such a short space of time. All for the better, though, I can assure you.”

“You’re absolutely correct, Father,” Daphne agreed. “Why, Ginny here will attest to how much prejudice and snobbery there was at Hogwarts in our time there. Now, just a few years later, I gather such class and race distinctions are a rare thing. Most of the credit for this, of course, can be put down to you, Harry. If you have not defeated the Dark Lord we would all have been dragged back to the Dark Ages, I have no doubt.”

“I had a lot of help. Kingsley Shacklebolt deserves most of the credit for the changes we’ve seen,” Harry insisted.

“Of course,” Daphne smiled radiantly. “That’s why it’s such an honour for me to work for him. I get to see the difference he’s made on a daily basis.”

Ophion just smiled benignly at his daughter. Harry was about to ask the man his opinion of the Minister when he was interrupted by a loud ringing sound.

“Ah, that’s the bell to call us to dinner,” Ophion explained. He offered his arm to Ginny. “Please, if you would accompany me, the dining room is just this way.

Harry offered his arm to Daphne, and the four of them headed out the reception room and across the tasteful entrance lobby. The dining room proved to be a sumptuous room lavishly decorated in reds and greens, with a large chandelier suspended above a large mahogany dining table. Harry was pleased to see that four places were all set out at one end of the table, negating the need for a lot of shouting.

Ophion took his rightful position at the head of the table with Daphne to his immediate right and Ginny to his left. Harry was seated next to Daphne. The dinner proved an extravagant seven course affair that was far too fiddly for Harry’s taste. By the time he’d finished the veal course, he found himself wishing for a nice, juicy steak followed by some ice cream. He was, he realised, a simple man with simple tastes.

Conversation was muted during the meal itself, and most of the talk revolved around the food and their mutual dining experiences. At least Harry was able to regale them with some interesting tales of exotic food he’d sampled during his travels around the world, although Ginny looked far less comfortable.

After the final course, coffee and brandy was served and the conversation began to branch out somewhat. A comment from Daphne about her work allowed Harry to steer the discussion in the direction he wanted it to go: politics.

“So, Ophion, I have to say I’m surprised that the Dark Lord didn’t attempt to press you into his service during the last war,” Harry commented lightly. “Clearly, you are a man of wealth and influence; did Voldemort not try and coerce you into his service?”

“He did, but without much conviction,” Ophion confirmed, before taking a sip of brandy. “You see, the Greengrass family has traditionally been disinterested in politics and power. Trade and commerce are our forte, and the Dark Lord, or Tom Riddle as I suppose we should now refer to him, seemed very respectful of pureblood traditions.”

“Did he not demand some sort of tribute or financial support?” Ginny asked. “I know the Ministry investigated a lot of families to see if they’d given him money.”

“I confess we did provide some financial support, but only in a very limited way. In fact, we donated far more to the Ministry, and in particular the administration of Rufus Scrimgeour, than we ever gave to Riddle and his horde. The money we did give bought us some freedom, but I confess it left a bad taste in my mouth. You must understand that I had two daughters and a wife to worry about, and the last thing I wanted was for something to happen to them in retribution had I refused to support Riddle. That damnable betrothal agreement with the Malfoys virtually tied my hands, you understand,” Ophion explained grimly.

Harry nodded. His initial reaction was that Ophion was a coward who bought his family’s safety, but in truth he doubted the man would have had many other options.

“Tell me, Harry, what was your opinion of Tom Riddle?” Ophion asked suddenly. “As his greatest foe, you must have had some observations about his character.”

“He was mad,” Harry said simply. “Stark raving insane. He was interested in only one thing: power. He wanted to be immortal and to rule the world. All this crap about us being superior to the Muggles was just a ruse to allow him to gain support. Wizards, witches, Muggles, goblins; you name it, Riddle thought he was superior to all of us. It wasn’t just the Muggles he was trying to subjugate, it was everyone.”

Ophion nodded. “An observation that I must agree with. I’ve also heard said that his experiments to achieve immortality warped him, and not only in appearance. Some have said that he was less than human in the end.”

Harry looked at Ophion carefully. He had the uneasy feeling that the man knew exactly what Riddle had done to try and achieve that dreamed-of immortality.

“I’ve heard similar things,” Harry agreed carefully. “As I said, Riddle was mad and would stop at no lengths to get what he wanted.”

“Quite so, irrespective of the ultimate price he might have to pay, I suspect,” Ophion smiled. “I’ve never trusted men who have no respect for the long game. Short-term triumphs are all too frequently just that.”

“Exactly,” Harry nodded, now convinced Ophion knew of Riddle’s Horcruxes.

“Still, he makes an interesting comparison to, say, Grindelwald, don’t you think? Grindelwald always seemed to actually believe in his agenda of leading the wizarding population to become masters of the world. He obviously employed an awful lot of Muggles in his service, for instance,” Ophion noted.

“And got millions of them killed,” Harry said sharply. “There’s nothing to be admired in his actions.”

“Not at all! Please don’t think for a moment that I admired the man or his ideas. I was simply comparing the differing ideologies of the two Dark Lords that have blighted the twentieth century. Do you not find it remarkable that two men, with such similar superficial beliefs should have such divergent philosophies in the attainment of their goals? Moreover, isn’t it strange how they both managed to sway such a large number followers to their sides? I think it says much about the nature of the average human being that they achieved such levels of support.”

“In what way?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“I confess I find it somewhat disappointing that most people are content to be mere followers,” Ophion explained. “The average person in the street always seems to be receptive to the ideals and goal of a handful of more forcefully natured individuals. These ‘natural leaders’, as I suppose you might call them, radiate such charisma and personality that the population will willingly throw themselves behind them, no matter how twisted and harmful their ideas might be. The populous, I believe, wishes to be led.”

“Do you believe yourself to be such a person as to lead them?” Harry asked, his anger mounting.

“Oh, heavens, no! I was rather thinking you would be more suited to such a role,” Ophion grinned.

“Me?” Harry gasped.

“Why not? You, although I suspect that you would deny it, seem to inspire loyalty in those around you. You are one of those strange individuals that seem to have a light surrounding them, a light that attracts people and makes them trust you. After the defeat of Voldemort, if you had so chosen, you could have easily have become a great leader in our world, I believe. Shacklebolt, I have no doubt, would have willingly have stood aside for you, and from that position I have no doubt that you could have spread your wings globally. By sheer force of personality you could have achieved without bloodshed what Grindelwald and Voldemort laboured so long and hard for.”

“Mr Greengrass, sir, I really think you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Harry laughed.

“I think not,” Daphne disagreed. “Although it does raise a number of questions about your actions after the Dark Lord fell. You, who could have had the world at your feet, conspired with the Ministry to hide your role in the victory. Indeed, you almost seemed to run away from the people you saved. Why did you choose to take that role with the ICW, Harry?”

For a second, Harry was inclined to tell the girl to mind her own business, but he bit his tongue. Instead, he said, “In truth, I was running away. I may have been victorious, but it was a bitter and hollow victory. So many people I loved died in the war, and the bad memories here in Britain were too painful for me at the time. I needed to get away for a while, and the ICW job seemed a good opportunity to do that. I’ve since realised that was a mistake and I would have been better served staying here with what little remained of my family, but I wasn’t really thinking straight at the time.”

“Ah, understandable,” Daphne nodded.

“Ophion,” Harry said, turning to address the man. “Please do not compare me with Grindelwald or Voldemort. I am nothing like either of those men, and I would never want to be. I have no lofty ambitions and I don’t want to lead anyone. I may have become a leader at the end of the war, but that was only because the role was thrust upon me and, believe me, I was happy to shed that responsibility as soon as I could. I’m a simple bloke, with simple desires and goals. If I have one ambition in life it’s to be happy, and I’m not going to achieve that by turning myself into some puffed-up, egocentric leader. I’m just Harry, and that’s all I want to be.”

There was a long silence before a smile came into Ophion’s face.

“That’s good to know, my young friend,” he said.

Harry looked over at Ginny, who was staring at him with wide eyes. He had the distinct feeling that something significant had just occurred, but he had absolutely no idea what.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

They arrived back at Tonk’s flat a little after eleven o’clock and found the place quite. Apparently, Dora had decided to spend the night at Bill’s place. Harry could sense his girlfriend’s unease.

“Want anything to drink?” he asked her as they entered and hung up their cloaks.

“Nah, I’m good,” she replied quietly, sitting herself down on the sofa.

Harry sighed. “What’s the matter, Ginny?” he asked.

“I… I guess it’s just hit me exactly who I’m dating,” she said in a soft voice.

“Oh? Did you think I was someone else, then?” he asked, trying to sound light hearted.

“Those things that Greengrass said,” she began, “it just finally hit me that you’re Harry Potter. You’re the man who defeated Voldemort and brought the Death Eaters to their knees. You’re the only person to have been hit by the Killing Curse and lived. You’re… a legend! Greengrass was right; you could have become Minister or anything you wanted!”

Harry sat down beside her.

“I didn’t want any of that,” he replied firmly. “What I wanted I couldn’t have: my family back. I wanted my mum and dad, Sirius and Remus, Dumbledore and Moody, and all those other people who were my friends, but I couldn’t. I’ve never wanted to be special or for anyone to treat me differently. I don’t suppose a man like Ophion Greengrass would understand, but not everyone craves power and control, you know. I certainly don’t.”

Ginny smiled weakly. “You know, when I first met you in that pub, I was so embarrassed because I thought you were this really hot guy who looked so cool, and I looked so boring and drab. I knew all the stories about what you’d done, but I never really matched them up with you. I was so busy thinking about how sexy you were, I never stopped and thought about who exactly you were.”

“I hope you still think I’m that sexy guy,” he grinned, before his smile faltered. “Ginny, like I said to Greengrass, I’m a simply bloke. I like to have my friends and family around me, to eat nice food and have a few pints now and then, and generally be a normal bloke. Hell, my time at Department M taught me how much I missed being a regular guy. Please, what you see is what you get with me. I beg you, don’t treat me any differently than you have been doing.”

“Doesn’t it ever bother you that no one knows exactly what you did?” she asked.

“Actually, it seems like a lot of people seem to know what I did,” he countered, “but generally? No, not in the slightest. I’m glad about it.”

Ginny smiled. “You know, Potter, you’re one weird bloke.”

“Well, I’m going out with you so I must be,” he said in a deadpan voice.

“Pig!” she laughed and hit him with a cushion.

“Gah! I’ll get you for that, woman!” he yelled and leapt at her.

After a bit of good-natured grappling, Harry managed to pin her down on the sofa. He looked into her eyes with a wicked grin on his lips.

“Now I’ve got you where I want you,” he smirked.

“Harry, promise me you won’t change,” she said, suddenly serious.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve thought about it and I realise I like you just as you are; my long-haired, scruffy, ultra-cool boyfriend who I can go out and have a few drinks with and have a laugh. I don’t want some noble hero who’s too perfect to be real. Promise me you’ll always just be the Harry I know and love,” Ginny begged.

“Love?” he repeated. He tried to sound jokey but he failed miserably. Instead, he just sounded needy.

“Love,” she confirmed, and reached up to kiss him.

Harry returned her kiss, and felt his desire for her bloom instantly. Before he knew what he was doing, he had slipped her dress robes of her shoulders and was covering her exposed breasts with kisses. She, in turn, began to pull at his clothing desperately and, in mere moments, they were both naked.

The night was warm and humid, and the pair of them made love all through it.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

“Anything yet?” Harry heard Dora’s voice whisper quietly in his ear. The magically enhanced earrings they were both wearing were working perfectly.

“No, nothing down here,” Harry muttered under his breath. The back alley that he was walking down was indeed completely deserted.

“Still nothing out front,” Dora admitted. “I’m going to head down the side street where we last saw that bastard.”

Picking up his pace, Harry walked rapidly to the end of the alley. From there he would be able to turn left and head down a road that ran parallel to the one Dora was walking down at that moment. In the past few weeks they’d come to know the area around ‘Creative Creations’ pretty well, and had most of the local geography memorised. He knew that if he carried on much further up this road he would be out of Shoreditch and heading towards the more residential areas of Hackney.

“Harry, I think I’ve spotted something,” Dora said into his ear.

“What is it?” he asked instantly.

“It might be unconnected, but there’s a bloke ahead that just seems a bit off, to me. I’d lay odds that he’s a wizard. I’ve never seen him before, but I get the vibe that he’s keeping an eye on the bakery,” Dora informed him.

“There’s no reason there should just be two members of this gang,” Harry agreed. “Where are you, exactly?”

“I’ve just gone past the school and I’m heading back towards the main road,” she explained. “I think that if… oh, wait! He’s seen me. He’s definitely made me! Bugger, he’s heading north up Provost Street.”

“I can cut him off,” Harry told her, turning around and starting to run. “Stay with him.”

“Okay, hurry, though,” he heard her gasping. “This bloke moves like greasy lightning.”

“Try and force him to turn east at the end of the road,” Harry urged as he picked up his pace. “We’ve got Wardstones covering that area and we can stop him Apparating!”

“I’ll try,” she puffed.

As he ran, Harry looked around. Fortunately, the street was pretty quiet. The nearest Wardstone was two streets over, so should be close enough that the Anti-Apparation and Portkey Jinxes cast on it would cover this area. Taking a risk, Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it roughly in the direction he thought the Wardstone would be. He no sooner had cast the Activation Charm then he felt the distinctive feeling of the Jinxes coming into force.

“Did you just activate one of the Wardstones?” Dora’s voice demanded.

“Yeah, are you still with him?” Harry asked as he sprinted down along the pavement, leaping out into the road at one point to avoid a woman with a pram.

“Bloody good job,” she panted. “The suspect just stopped and tried to Apparate, right in the middle of the sodding road! He should be heading straight towards you.”

By now, Harry had reached the end of the road he’d been running down and could see the junction ahead. Suddenly, a man in a denim jacket bombed past him, missing him by a few feet. Harry cursed.

“Bollocks!” he heard Dora yell. She was on the man’s heels. Harry dropped his shoulder and made a sharp turn right, determined to catch the fleeing man.

The man clearly knew the area well, and he vaulted over a set of railings without hesitation and ducked down a small pedestrian passageway between two rows of houses. Harry had always prided himself on his fitness, however, and was slowly gaining ground on the man. He could hear Dora just behind him, too, and was hopeful that they could catch the suspect before he reached the hustle and bustle of the East Road.

At the end of the passageway, the man turned sharply and ran straight over a road, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car. With only slightly more caution, Harry darted over the road and was now only a few yards behind the man, who was clearly starting to slow down. The man turned his head, and looked at Harry with a panic-filled expression on his face.

Abruptly, the man turned into a small alleyway and Harry felt a surge of elation. This alley was just a service entrance for number of shops and was a dead-end. They had him! The man, however, did not slow his pace and continued to run as fast as he could. When he was about half way down the small alley, however, he suddenly vanished.

“What the fuck?” Harry gasped as he slowed to a trot.

“Bollocks! How did he do that?” Dora cursed as she pulled up beside him. “The Jinxes are still in place: I can feel them!”

“I don’t think he Apparated, anyway,” Harry said, gasping for air. “No noise.”

“I didn’t see him activate anything that could be a Portkey, either,” Dora panted, her hands on her hips as she struggled to get her breath back.

Warily, Harry walked forward to the spot where the man vanished, but he couldn’t see anything that would explain the sudden disappearance. He continued walking to the end of the alley and back again, his wand extended before him, but could find no clues.

“Aw, this is shit!” Dora moaned. “We bloody had the bloke! How did he do that?”

“I have no idea,” Harry admitted looking around him. “No idea, at all.”















Back to index


Chapter 13: Chapter 13 - Insurrection

Author's Notes: I must say, I’m having fun reading all of the suggestions people have had as to how the gang members are vanishing so mysteriously. Some of them are extremely creative - wrong, but creative, nevertheless.

Although I’m always grateful, I have to especially give thanks to Arnel on this chapter, as she pointed out several (blindingly obvious) points that I’d completely overlooked, like the fact that the Ministry building is underground, and George has a shop in Diagon Alley. How did I forget that? Fortunately, Mr Weasley was unavailable for comment at this time, as he is sunning himself in glorious Skegness. No, I’ve no idea why he chose that as a holiday destination, either.


Chapter 13 — Insurrection



“I’m missing something and it’s frustrating the living daylights out of me!” Hermione moaned.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll figure it out, babe,” Dora smiled encouragingly, before taking a swig from her glass of goblin rum.

Harry, Dora, Bill, Ginny and Hermione were all currently sitting in a secluded alcove in The Leaky Cauldron, discussing their progress, or lack of it, regarding the case. Although not officially part of the investigation, both Harry and Dora had told their other halves so much about the case that there was simply no point excluding them.

They’d chosen to meet with Hermione away from the Ministry building mainly as Gawain Robards had noticed that they’d been meeting with the Legal Witch on a regular basis and had begun to ask questions. In the spirit of inter-departmental co-operation, they’d all decided to cut the Head Auror out completely and meet in secret.

“I’m sure there’s a clue somewhere that I could use to find out who is funding this ‘Mr Winter’s’ operations,” Hermione continued, “but I just can’t find it. I don’t suppose you two Gringotts employees have any inside knowledge of how to find out who deposited that money into Edgar Stephens’s vault?”

Bill looked apologetic. “Sorry, Hermione,” he said, “but the goblins keep that sort of information strictly confidential. Besides, if whoever it was is smart, they’ll have simply paid the money in over the till. There would be no paper-trail to follow that way, you see. Nobody asks too many questions about people paying in money, do they?”

“You’re probably right. I mean, this person has been meticulous in covering their tracks up to this point, so there’s no reason to assume they’d do anything silly now,” Hermione agreed glumly.

“You still haven’t figured out how that bloke you were chasing just vanished in front of your eyes?” Ginny asked her boyfriend. He’d mentioned his frustrations in not being able to capture the man a few days previously.

“Nope, it’s like he just vanished off the face of the earth. We even had a couple of Unspeakables come out and survey the area, but they came up blank,” Harry lamented.

“Not that they put much effort into looking,” Dora snorted. “I think they resented us dragging them away from their ‘important work’, the stuck-up prats!”

“Do you want me and Ginny to have a look at the place, sometime?” Bill offered. “We are paid to discover hidden magical emissions and secret objects, after all.”

“I’m not sure I can afford your help anymore,” Harry grinned. “You wouldn’t believe what you sister is making me do in payment for you guys creating those Wardstones for us.”

Ginny just winked saucily at him.

“Trust me, Harry, I doubt I’ll be asking you to do anything like that for me,” Bill laughed, “but seriously, we’d be happy to take a look.”

“Yeah, it couldn’t hurt,” Ginny agreed.

“We’ll take any help we can get at the moment,” Dora admitted. “We’ve hit a brick wall as far as this investigation goes.”

“Yeah, do you think…” Harry began but was interrupted by a shout.

“Hey, I thought it was you guys,” a voice called out.

Harry turned to see Ginny’s brother, Ron, approaching them with a grin.

“Hiya, Ron,” Bill greeted his brother. “You just finished work, too?”

“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting to see you all… oh! Err, hello, Hermione. I didn’t see you tucked away in the corner, there,” Ron said, suddenly looking embarrassed.

“Hello, Ron,” Hermione replied in a polite, if distant, voice. “How are you?”

“I’m good. I haven’t seen you about the office much, lately,” he commented. “I didn’t know you were friendly with these guys.”

Hermione frowned. “I’ve known Ginny for years,” she said pointedly, “and you know I’ve been working with Harry and Dora recently. I wasn’t aware I had to inform you of everyone I was friends with.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Ron protested mildly. “I was just a bit surprised to see you with my brother and sister, that was all. I wasn’t having a go, or anything.”

“Yes, well, you can be a bit judgemental at times, Ronald. I seem to recall times when we were going out that you didn’t seem to think that I shouldn’t have friends of my own. Remember when you started raging at me just because Ginny and I went off to Dogweed and Deathcap’s and left you in the Three Broomsticks? Just because you wanted to sit around swigging butterbeer all day didn’t mean the rest of us did!”

“Blimey, Hermione, we were sixteen years old at the time! Give me a break, will ya? We were on a date at the time and I just thought we should be spending a romantic day together, not shopping for school supplies. Anyway, we were just kids back then. You can’t still be holding things that happened back then against me, can you?” Ron asked plaintively.

“I know I’d hate it if people still brought up stuff I did when I was sixteen,” Harry chuckled.

“Ooh, tell me about it!” Dora laughed.

“Alright, point taken,” Hermione conceded, “and I apologise, but please don’t act so surprised by the fact that I might actually have some friends.”

“I’m not!” Ron replied earnestly. “I was surprised enough to see Ginny and Bill here, wasn’t I? I just didn’t know that you knew them that well. It wasn’t a criticism, honest.”

“Okay, well, like I said, I’m sorry for snapping at you,” Hermione said, her tone a little less unfriendly.

“We would invite you to join us, but we’re actually discussing some things you shouldn’t be hearing, bearing in mind who you work for,” Harry told the tall young man. “It’s best if you maintain plausible denial.”

“Say again?” Ron asked blankly.

“Ron, how friendly is your boss, Robards, to us at the moment?” Dora asked pointedly. “What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Get my drift?”

“Ah, I follow you! You’re discussing that case, aren’t you? Well, say no more! I know nothing. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more!” Ron grinned.

“Blimey, he’s a python fan!” Dora exclaimed in delight.

Ron laughed. “Anyway, I’d better get back to my… err,” he trailed off and looked at Hermione with a worried expression. “That is, my… err…”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, just admit you’re here with that blonde witch sitting over there watching us,” Hermione snapped.

They all looked over and saw a pretty, young witch looking back at them. She smiled uncertainly at them.

“Oh, is that the girl from Misuse of Muggle Artefacts that you mentioned?” Ginny asked.

“Umm, yeah,” Ron admitted weakly. “I should probably join her. It would be rude to leave her on her own, you know?”

“See you later, Ron,” Bill smirked.

“Yeah, see you guys,” Ron said in a rather dejected voice, before turning and heading back to his companion for the evening.

“You know, Hermione, you shouldn’t be so hard on Ron,” Ginny said as soon as he’d gone. “He’s changed a lot since you knew him.”

Hermione sniffed. “Why should I care?” she demanded.

“I dunno, you seem a bit upset,” Harry chipped in. “If you really don’t care about Ron anymore, why are you getting so worked-up about him?”

“I’m not!” Hermione snapped.

The other four all chuckled at the girl’s sharp response.

“Yeah, it really sounds like it,” Bill grinned.

“Okay, I’ll admit he still gets under my skin,” Hermione conceded, “but has he really changed? Ginny, he really hurt me when we were younger. I know he never said anything directly, but he always had this thing where he thought purebloods were instantly better at everything then Muggleborns. He was always trying to belittle me. From the little I’ve seen of him at the DMLE, he’s still an arrogant prat.”

“Nah, he has changed a lot,” Bill interceded. “When he was younger, he had chronic self-worth issues and compensated for it by being rather arrogant. But he buckled down, managed to become an Auror, and actually made something of himself. What you see now isn’t arrogance; it’s self-confidence. Big difference.”

“Yeah, and as for the pureblood thing, I think that’s more to do with our upbringing,” Ginny suggested. “Our parents were really friendly towards Muggles, but I’ve lost count of the number of times when I was growing up that I heard something like ‘oh, isn’t it marvellous what Muggles can do without magic’ or ‘they’re very clever really!’. Something condescending like that. My parents weren’t racist, but they did have an in-built assumption that all magic users are instantly superior to Muggles. That kind of attitude filtered through to us kids, and it took ages for us to realise that isn’t true. You can’t blame Ron for believing what his parents ingrained into him from childhood, can you? Trust me, he doesn’t think like that now, believe me.”

“He even goes and watches Muggle football games regularly,” Bill added. “His mate, Dean, from back in his Hogwarts days got him hooked. He’s a Fulham supporter, I believe.”

“Oh, the poor sod,” Harry said sympathetically.

“Yeah, well, he supports Chudley Canons, too, so he must have a thing for teams who stand no chance of winning anything,” Ginny laughed.

“Alright, I’m pleased to hear he has a more enlightened attitude,” Hermione agreed, “but he’s still a prat. I’ve heard him bosting in the office about all the witches he’s dated. He seems to go through them like a dose of salts.”

Ginny shrugged. “He gets bored of them very quickly, that’s true. They agree to date him because he’s tall, handsome and an Auror, but he quickly finds that most of these girls just aren’t that interesting. Perhaps he needs someone who will challenge him a bit more?”

Hermione gave Ginny a hard stare

“I’m just saying”, Ginny smiled un-repetitively.

“Can we talk about something else?” Hermione begged.

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask the two of you how your dinner with the Greengrasses went,” Bill said.

“Ah, well, it was a bit confusing, really,” Harry admitted and began to sketch out the evening’s conversation points to his friends with a little help from Ginny. The idea that Daphne had turned over a new leaf seemed to elicit disbelief from Hermione.

“I’d be amazed if Daphne has changed that much,” she snorted. “Her and her friend Pansy Parkinson were the most unpleasant, bigoted, cruel, disgusting bitches in the whole school. I can’t tell you the number of times those Slytherin girls made my life hell. If you were a Muggleborn, those cows would be out to get you. I was insulted, pushed, pinched, had my hair pulled, my books stolen and even cursed a few times. I hate Greengrass.”

“Was she just following Parkinson’s lead, though?” Harry asked, recalling Daphne’s assertion that she was just trying to fit in.

“Not really. In fact, Daphne was normally one of the first to instigate trouble. She was just cruel. Of course, because she comes from a good family all is forgiven and even after the Greengrasses supported Voldemort financially during the war she can walk into a decent job,” Hermione spat. “You can see why I get so frustrated with the Wizarding world, can’t you?”

“Yes, I can,” Harry admitted, sharing an uneasy look with Ginny.

“Right, I want another drink,” Dora declared, rising to her feet. “Anyone want anything while I’m at the bar?”

Four empty glasses were immediately deposited in front of the witch.

“Oh, well, that will teach me to keep my mouth shut. My round, I guess,” she lamented.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

For once, the section’s small office was relatively full. For some reason, Wednesdays had become designated ‘catch up with paperwork’ day and no less than six section members were currently present, all busily scribbling on parchment. Hestia Jones was one of those there, and she’d joined Harry and Dora at the desk which they were working at, mainly so they could chat while they waded through the inevitable paperwork.

Dedalus was also one of those present and was currently working out their duty rosters for the coming weeks. With the increased security threat to the Minister, the section were ensuring that they could provide additional protection whenever Kingsley made a public appearance. This meant that Dedalus was having to alter many people’s shifts, much to their general displeasure.

Harry had just completed his weekly threat assessment report when he noticed a small paper plane sail in through a small window above the door and land on Dedalus’s desk. The short man scowled at the object, before irritably picking it up and unfolding it. His expression of resentment instantly turned to one of surprise as he read it.

“My word! There’s a riot in progress in Diagon Alley! We’ve been ordered to get there as soon as possible and assist the Magical Law Enforcement Patrols in restoring order,” he shouted.

“They need us? Bloody hell, things must be bad. They normally call out the Aurors long before they ask for us,” Dora gasped.

“The Aurors are already deployed,” Dedalus explained sharply. “Now, quickly, I want everyone to the Atrium as fast as possible. Make sure you take your Ministry robes with you.”

Harry leapt to his feet and hurried over to a coat stand located in the corner of the office. Hanging from the stand was numerous grey robes with the Ministry’s emblem displayed on the chest. He threw a set of robes to each of the section members and grabbed one for himself. The section rarely wore the robes, only normally requiring them when they were performing close protection duties for the Minister at official events.

They all hurried out the office door and made their way to the service lift. A short ride brought them to a bustling Atrium where a harassed wizard Harry recognised from the Administrative Registrations Department halted them.

“You can’t use the Floo,” he told them briskly. “The Leaky Caldron has been overrun. It’s bloody anarchy out there!”

“What’s going on, exactly?” Dedalus demanded.

“I don’t know! All I know is that the Enforcement Patrols reported trouble about two hours ago. They were immediately reinforced, but they then sent a further message saying they needed more help. The Aurors were sent in about half an hour ago, but then Gawain Robarts sent a request back that all available Ministry officials were to be sent to provide back up. I hear we’ve got serious casualties and that the Alley is in a right mess!”

“And they’re only sending for us now?” Dedalus snorted in disgust before turning to the rest of them. “Right, we’ll head to ground level and Apparate from there. We’ll aim for the far end of the Alley, down by Gringotts.”

“I hope Ginny is alright,” Harry muttered to Dora as they hurried towards the main exit.

“I expect that at the first sign of trouble the goblins locked-down the bank,” Dora assured him. “Besides, she and Bill can look after themselves.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right,” Harry he said quietly, fervently hoping Dora was indeed correct.

Once the six of them had assembled outside, Dedalus gave the signal and the group Disapparated as one. As soon as Harry arrived, he looked around him and gasped. The man from the Registrations Department had been right: it was anarchy.

Great billowing clouds of smoke obscured his view up the Alley, spewing from the fires that engulfed several of the shops. Through the haze, however, he could make out numerous people running around and the occasional flash of spellfire. Shouts and screams echoed through the air.

“Alright, Harry, Tonks and Hestia: you carry on up the alley while the other three of us will head towards the entrance to Knockturn Alley. Incarcerate any wrong-doers and snap their wands while you’re at it for good measure. Come on, you two, let’s go,” Dedalus ordered, heading off to the right with the other two section members close behind. As instructed, the remaining three members began to head up the Alley. Harry noticed with relief that the doors of Gringotts were firmly closed.

“Harry, look, over there!” Dora called out, directing his attention to a small group of young men, all dressed in Muggle clothing, apparently kicking someone on the ground. Through their flailing legs Harry caught sight of a set of grey Ministry robes.

“Get them!” Harry ordered and sent a Stunning Spell into the back of the nearest man who instantly crumpled to the ground. A second man fell to Dora’s Stunner a moment later.

“More Ministry pigs!” a large, shaven-headed wizard yelled and cast a Severing Charm at Harry, which he easily deflected. Not feeling terribly forgiving, he retaliated with a Bludgeoning Charm which blew the man off his feet and into a nearby wall. He didn’t get up.

Hestia and Dora succeeding in taking the remaining two men down and they sprinted over to the fallen figure laying on the ground. It proved to be a wizard from the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, who looked to be in a bad way. The man’s face was covered in blood and his breathing was shallow and laboured. While Dora incarcerated the fallen rioters, Harry and Hestia attended to the injured wizard.

“We’ve got to get him to St Mungo’s,” Hestia declared urgently as she knelt beside the man.

“Is he well enough to be Apparated?” Harry asked dubiously.

“He’ll have to be,” Hestia insisted. “I’ll cast some Healing Charms on him first, so hopefully the move won’t do too much more damage.”

“Okay, you look after this one and we’ll press on,” Dora decided.

“Yeah, go. I’ll be okay,” Hestia said absently, her attention already on the wounded man.

With a quick nod, Harry turned and began to jog up the alley with Dora right on his heels. He hadn’t gone very far when he heard a scream coming from inside a nearby shop. He ran over to the ruined shop front and peered in through the broken glass. The main window display was wrecked and there looked to be considerable damage inside, but he couldn’t see anyone. Without hesitation, he headed in through the smashed door and looked around. As he stood there, he heard a muffled screech come from behind the counter.

Harry leapt over the counter and saw a young woman being pinned to the floor by a rough-looking man. The woman’s robes had been ripped open exposing her breasts, while the man’s trousers were around his ankles. He was apparently too engrossed in raping the woman to even notice Harry.

“Get off her, you bastard!” Harry snarled.

The man’s head snapped round and he looked at Harry in horror. He then twisted, trying to aim his wand, which had been hidden from Harry’s sight in the man’s right hand. He never made it, as Harry’s Blasting Curse smashed into his shoulder sending him reeling. The man rolled on the ground moaning, his trousers still below his knees.

“You bloody shit!” Dora raged, striding forward and giving the prostrate man a kick in the groin, before turning her attention to the young woman, who had by now scrabbled back against the wall and was hugging her knees, sobbing. Dora knelt in front of the terrified girl. “It’s okay now,” she assured her.

Harry had by now cast an Incarcerous Spell on the moaning man and had neatly snapped his wand in two. A quick examination showed the rapist was hurt, but not too badly. He could wait for medical attention, Harry decided, possible for several days if he had his way.

“We’ve got to get this girl to St Mungo’s, too,” Dora said decisively as she conjured a blanket to wrap around her.

“I’ll see if Hestia’s gone yet,” Harry announced. He hurried to the front of the shop and looked out the window, and was relieved to see the dark-haired witch was still working on the injured man. He ran out of the shop and called to her.

“What?” she yelled back, irritated to have been disturbed in her work.

“We need you,” he yelled. “We have an injured witch we need you to get to the Healers.”

Hestia waved her wand over the injured wizard once more before hurrying over to Harry. Once he’d explained what had happened, she was appalled.

“What the hell is happening here?” she demanded. “It’s like the war has started all over again.”

“Not if I have any bloody say in it,” Harry growled, angrier than he could ever remember being.

Dora helped the still sobbing young witch out of the shop. Harry saw that the shop robes the girl had been wearing were now little more than rags and her face was badly marked. He felt a cold hatred building inside him.

“Hestia, get this girl to St Mungo’s,” he ordered grimly. “Dora, we’ve got work to do!”

Without waiting for a reply, he turned and began to stalk you the alley once more. The smoke was still billowing around the street, making it difficult to see more than a few yards ahead of him. Every once in a while, though, a body would emerge from the smoke. Harry instantly Stunned anyone not wearing Ministry robes and then tied them up. About halfway up the alley, he caught a pair of wizards emerging from an apothecary shop clutching a bulging sack each. They both fell to his wand before they even noticed he was there.

“Bloody looters,” Dora spat as she came up beside him. “Where are the Aurors? They should have been able to handle this rabble.”

“God knows, but I’m going to give Robards a right earful when I catch up with him,” Harry said angrily.

Robards wasn’t the first Auror they encountered, however. Through the curling smoke they caught sight of a set of familiar red robes. When they approached, they found they belonging to the grim face of Ron Weasley.

“Ron, it’s us,” Harry called to get the young man’s attention. He looked round and smiled when he saw them jogging towards him.

“Bloody hell, you’re a sight for sore eyes,” he said, relief evident in his voice.

“Don’t get too excited. There are only six of us and Hestia’s already had to leave to take a couple of wounded to St Mungo’s,” Dora explained irritably. “What the bloody hell is happening here?”

“I’m not totally sure,” Ron explained quickly. “As far as I know, the Enforcement Patrols got notice of an illegal rally being held here. Once they turned up, things started turning nasty, really quickly. We then got called in, and were just starting to get things under control when a whole new bunch of the bastards started pouring into the alley through the Leaky Cauldron. We found ourselves outnumbered and surrounded.”

“Why the hell didn’t Robards summon more help immediately?” Harry demanded. “Disturbances like this need to be stamped on quickly before they get out of control, just like they have done here!”

“I don’t think you can blame Robards too much,” Ron disagreed. “He got hit in the head by a brick shortly after he arrived here. He had to be taken to St Mungo’s. I don’t think anyone is in charge of this mess at the moment.”

“Shit! What happened to the proper chain of command?” Dora snarled.

“Well, you know how much Gawain likes to take charge of everything,” Ron shrugged. “His deputy is Persimmons, who’s little more than a toadying moron. All he’s done is run around shouting contradictory orders at people. He can kiss his career goodbye after this.”

“Well, this ends now,” Harry decided. “The rest of the alley is pretty clear, so we need to form a skirmish line and work our way back up towards The Leaky. You two get either side of me, and we’ll grab more Ministry personal as we come across them.”

Without hesitation, Dora moved to Harry’s left and Ron to his right. They methodically began to walk up the alley, Stunning any rioters they came across and adding Enforcement Patrol staff and Aurors to their line as they came across them. Dedalus and his two fellow section members joined them as they passed the upper entrance to Knockturn, and by the time they reached Madam Malkin’s Robes they formed a line right across the alley, two deep. As soon as the rioters caught sight of them advancing forward, they turned and fled.

“It’s just as well my brother George is on holiday at the moment,” Ron muttered to Harry when they were about half-way up the alley. “He’d have a fit if he saw the state his shop is in!”

Harry glanced over at a hideously-painted shop which appeared to have been thoroughly looted. Only then did he remember Ginny mentioning that one of her brothers ran a shop in the Alley. It didn’t seem to have fared too well in the disturbances, he noted.

Soon, they reached The Leaky Cauldron, which proved to be in a terrible condition. Part of the upper floor of the pub had been blown out, causing a sizable chunk of the roof to collapse. All the windows were smashed and the bar area looked to have been thoroughly looted.

“Look at this place!” Ron gasped. “It’s completely trashed. I was here just the other night, too.”

“We all were,” Harry reminded him, his anger barely under control. The riot appeared to have been contained for the moment, but the damage that had been done was extensive.

“You don’t think they’re causing trouble on the Muggle side, do you?” Dora asked worriedly.

“We’d better see,” Harry snarled, almost hoping that he would find some of the rioters out in Charring Cross Road.

Because right at that moment, he was in the mood to hurt someone.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

In the end, the trouble had not spilled out into the Muggle world, save for a few hastily cast spells thrown by some of the panicking rioters as they fled. Ministry officials soon dealt with those incidents, and peace descended once again.

Harry and Dora spent most of the afternoon in the alley, rounding up the captured rioters and checking the damaged buildings for wounded. Harry happened to be at the bottom end of the alley, near Gambol and Japes, when Gringotts finally reopened their doors. The first figures to emerge were a group of security goblins, who took up position just outside the main doors, but several humans emerged shortly after. Harry was relieved to see a familiar redhead come running out, apparently unharmed.

“Ginny!” he called as soon as he caught sight of her. Her head whipped round as soon as she heard him, and she came sprinting over to where he was standing.

“Harry, you’re alright!” she cried, throwing herself into his arms.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he assured her, hugging her small frame tightly.

“I saw you and Dora fighting,” Ginny explained breathlessly. “At the first sign of trouble, the goblins locked the doors and wouldn’t let anyone out, but Bill and I could watch what was going on from the upper floors. I saw you arrive and take out that bunch of thugs who were attacking that poor bloke.”

“You soon sorted them out,” agreed Bill, who had joined them without Harry noticing. The tall redhead looked at Harry with concern on his face. “Is Dora..?” he began.

“Up the top end of the alley, helping take statements from the shopkeepers,” Harry told him. Bill smiled and began to run up the alley without a backwards glance.

“How did this happen?” Ginny demanded. “The first we knew about it was when the goblins closed the bank saying that trouble was brewing outside. When I looked out the window, it looked like a war was going on!”

“I have no idea,” Harry told her wearily. “Ron, who’s also here and unhurt, said that some sort of unauthorised rally was the start of it. Normally, we’ll get wind of something like that happening, but this occurred without any warning, at all.”

“Was anyone seriously hurt?” Ginny asked warily.

“We’ve got at least two dead,” he said angrily, “not to mention dozens wounded. I caught one of the bastards raping a shop girl.”

“What? The low-life shit! I hope they throw him in Azkaban and throw away the key,” she growled.

“They will if I have any say in it,” he muttered darkly. “In fact, when I find out who’s behind all of this, I’m going to make them wish they’d never been born!”

Ginny said nothing but just hugged him tighter. Looking over her shoulder, Harry grimly surveyed the damage. He really was going to find whoever started this trouble and make them pay. Or his name wasn’t Harry Potter.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Two days later, every member of the section was crammed into their small office to listen to Dedalus’s debriefing on the riot. It didn’t make for easy listening.

“This is how they were able to communicate and gather so quickly,” the little man said in disgust, throwing a small, rectangular object onto a desk in front of him.

“A mobile phone?” Dora gasped.

“Every single rioter we captured had one on his or her person,” Diggle confirmed. “There were text messages on them all, firstly notifying them of the anti-Ministry rally taking place in Diagon Alley, and then requesting help as they had been ‘attacked’ by the Aurors. This was a very well-orchestrated event.”

“But… Muggle phones?” one of the section members said incredulously. “How would they even work?”

“Oh, it’s fairly easy to get Muggle stuff to work around magic if you know how,” Dora interrupted. “My place is full of Muggle gizmos.”

“My godfather came up with a way of shielding the sensitive elements of electrical items so the magic wouldn’t affect them,” Harry added.

“Indeed, Sirius was a genius when he put his mind to it,” Dedalus agreed with a smile. “Unfortunately, it appears that other elements of our society have also figured out how to do it, and put it to more insidious uses.”

“Have we found out who organised this rally in the first place?” Harry asked. “I presume this is the same person who stood up and started preaching all this anti-Ministry crap?”

“Very likely, but I’m afraid we have no idea who this person is, at all. Not one person who was in the alley that day can give us a detailed description of the man, not even the shopkeepers. We strongly suspect that the person was using some sort of Glamour or Obscurance Charm. We can’t even trace the phone number the calls came from, as it appears the texts originated from a disposable phone which is completely untraceable,” Dedalus explained.

“What kind of things was this mystery man saying during this rally?” Hestia asked.

“Ah, it appears that whoever this person is they have a very strong dislike of Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Dedalus said grimly. “Much of this man’s speech revolved around how the Minister is leading us down a path to ruin, and that we’ll all be enslaved by the Muggles if it’s allowed to continue. Sadly, it appears there are still all too many fools still willing to believe this rubbish.”

“Could this person be behind the poster campaign, too?” Hestia pondered.

“I suspect it’s very likely, my dear lady,” Dedalus smiled sadly.

“What state is Diagon Alley in, and how many people were hurt?” a voice asked.

“We have two confirmed deaths,” Dedalus said sternly, “both of them members of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. There were several other stabbings, beatings and curse wounds, but nothing else fatal, I’m pleased to say. We also had two reports of rape and virtually every shop in the alley was looted to some degree. Six shops were completely destroyed by fire and several more very badly damaged. We’re still working out the exact cost of all this, but it’s likely to run into hundreds of thousands of Galleons.”

All the section members stirred uneasily at the news.

“As you can imagine, the press are having a field day with this,” he continued. “The Daily Prophet has never been exactly fond of Shacklebolt, especially after he put in place those guidelines regarding fair and honest reporting. They’re criticising him heavily, both for his failure to prevent this and for causing the unrest in the first place. Indeed, some columnists have even gone so far as to suggest that the rioters have a point and that they were acting in the best interests of the Magical community.”

“What, by stealing from shops and raping young women?” Harry spat angrily.

“As always, I feel that the writers are more worried about political expediency than actual hard facts,” Dedalus noted in a cold voice.

“It’s just stupid,” Dora raged. “Even if these idiots had a point to make, which they don’t, what do they possibly achieve by smashing up the shops and services that they use every day? It’s moronic!”

“I don’t think intelligence was high on the list of attributes of those thugs,” Hestia huffed.

“I appreciate that we’re all appalled by what’s happened, but can we please keep this meeting to the point,” Dedalus said loudly. “Now, obviously this event has heightened the threat to the Minister even further. We’ll be maintaining our close protection detail on him, and the Aurors are also putting a team together. Miles and Richard, I’ll be using you two as our primary escorts for Minister Shacklebolt due to your previous experience. Sorry that the burden has to fall on your shoulders.”

“No worries, Boss. It’s what we’re best at, after all,” the blond wizard named Miles replied with a shrug.

“Harry and Dora; you two are our experts in Muggle technology. If the troublemakers behind this are using Muggle phones and such like, I need you to get to the bottom of it. Squeeze your contacts, ruffle a few feathers, do whatever you have to do!” Dedalus told them firmly.

“Yes, Boss,” Dora replied assertively.

“We’ll take care of it,” Harry agreed.

“Right, the rest of you have your work schedules posted, so get to it. Your absolute priority though is the apprehension of whoever was behind this hate campaign against the Minister. Get out there and make things happen!”

There was a mumble of agreement and everyone stood to go to their assigned jobs. Harry and Dora were one of the last ones out the door.

“I can’t believe this shit,” Harry growled as they headed down the corridor.

“I know. It sucks, doesn’t it?” Dora agreed.

“Oh, that doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Harry snapped. “I just don’t believe this is happening again!”

“What do you mean; happening again?” Dora asked in puzzlement.

“All this pureblood, ‘let’s hate the Muggles’ bullshit,” he complained bitterly. “Kingsley is the best Minister we’ve had for years and all these idiots can do is moan that he’s selling us out to the Muggles. I can’t believe they’re such idiots! Have they really forgotten what it was like with Voldemort about?”

“I don’t think you can compare this mob to the Death Eaters, luv,” Dora said hesitantly. “I mean, yeah, they are idiots and nasty idiots at that, but I don’t see any signs that they want to kill anyone who isn’t magical. Let’s face it, most of that lot who went on the rampage in Diagon Alley just wanted an excuse to start a load of aggro and nick stuff.”

“They’re still pushing the same agenda, even if they don’t quite realise what they’re doing. It’s all just racism against the Muggles, even if they’re not following some mad Dark Lord this time,” he retorted. “I just can’t believe this is happening. I… we… lost so much in the last war, and now it’s starting to feel like that was all for nothing.”

“You can’t think like that,” Dora said sharply. “You’ll see; once we take down whatever arsehole is stirring up all this trouble, things will soon die down. Most of these idiots are just a bunch sheep, blindly following whoever panders to their insecurities and fears.”

“Well said, Miss Tonks,” a voice called. They turned to see a smiling Daphne Greengrass.

“Hello, Daphne, I didn’t see you coming,” Harry admitted.

“Ah, well, I can be a sneaky little thing when I put my mind to it,” she grinned mischievously.

“Of course, you were a Slytherin, weren’t you?” Dora said pointedly.

“Quite right, being sneaky was second nature to all of us in the House of Snakes,” she replied, obviously not taking offense. “From what I hear, I gather you’re not having much luck betting to the bottom of these disturbances, then?”

“No, we’re not,” Harry admitted sourly. “How’s the Minister taking all this? I haven’t seen Kingsley around for a few days.”

“I’m not surprised, he’s up to his eyeballs at the moment,” Daphne admitted. “The press are causing almost as many problems as those blasted rioters. The Minister has had to cancel all but the most important meetings and functions. I’ve had to shelve at least a dozen publicity events because of all these problems. Months of work up in smoke!”

“I’m sorry, but you must admit Kingsley probably has bigger priorities at the moment than a few ‘publicity events,” Dora pointed out, the sarcasm in her voice clearly evident.

“I disagree,” Daphne replied calmly. “At times like this, it’s vital for the public to believe that everything is under control. If the masses start to believe that things are getting out of hand, they’ll start to panic. A few well-chosen photos of the Minister attending summer fates and kissing babies would go a long way to convince them that things are fine.”

“Actually, when you put it like that, you do have a point,” Harry admitted.

“Naturally, I’m not just a pretty face, you know,” she smiled impishly. “Anyway, I must be off. Do give my best wishes to that beautiful girlfriend of yours, Harry. I did so enjoy Ginny’s company at dinner that time. We really must do something like that again.”

“Yes, we must,” Harry agreed with as much conviction as he could muster.

“Good luck on tracking down our antagonist,” Daphne said by way of farewell, and headed back down the corridor until she was out of sight.

“Stuck-up bitch,” Dora muttered as soon as she was gone.

“What was she doing down here, anyway?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“Dunno, and unfortunately we don’t have time to sit and figure it out,” Dora replied. “Come on, Harry, let’s start applying a bit of pressure on some of my contacts.”

“Yeah,” he agreed shortly as they headed towards the lifts.

After all, they needed answers, and they needed them fast.

Back to index


Chapter 14: Chapter 14 - Downwards

Author's Notes: Welcome to the penultimate chapter. I know I said there would be sixteen chapters in total, but I’ve decided to incorporate the epilogue into the finally chapter as it makes a lot more sense that way.

As might be expected, I’m providing some explanation as to what’s been going on here, specifically how the gang are vanishing so easily. The rest will be revealed shortly! Remember to bring your wellies for the final chapter (you’ll see what I mean when you get to the end).

Huge bundles of brightly painted gratitude to Arnel.


Chapter 14 — Downwards



“Hmm, this doesn’t look like the fancy restaurant that you promised me, Potter. Why are we here?” Ginny asked archly.

“This will just be a quick visit, I promise,” Harry assured her. “I just wanted to have a quick look round this place. Now we know that our mysterious troublemaker is using Muggle technology to communicate with his fellow dissidents, I thought that it would be a good idea to check out exactly what all these clever little tools can do. I’m fairly familiar with electrical goods, but the Muggles seem to be inventing something new every five minutes.”

“Okay, I think that’s a good idea, and I admit I’m quite interested to see what they have, too,” she admitted. “So, what is this place?”

“This, my ravishing red-haired angel, is a mysterious emporium known as ‘Currys’. Seriously, this is a major electrical chain where you can find all sorts of things. I mainly want to check out the computers, though,” he explained.

“Alright, I know I’ll probably regret asking this, but what’s a computer?” she asked warily.

“Come on, I’ll show you,” he grinned and held open the door of the shop for her.

The inside of the shop resembled a warehouse, it was so large. Harry could see all manner of electric goods, from fridge-freezers and washing machines, to vacuum cleaners and televisions. The computer section appeared to be at the far end of the shop and he guided Ginny in that direction.

“So, what do these things do?” Ginny asked as they reached a selection of laptops.

“All sorts of things,” he explained, “from playing games to storing music. What I’m mainly interested in is their ability to communicate with other computers. They can send written messages to each other in seconds, and even send pictures and videos. I think…”

“Anything I can help with?” a voice asked.

Harry turned to see a young salesman standing behind him with a smile on his face. The fact that the youth was smiling enthusiastically at Ginny instantly rubbed Harry up the wrong way.

“Yeah, actually I’m interested in getting a laptop,” Harry said, taking a step to one side so he blocked Ginny from the salesman’s sight.

“Ah, good,” the young man gulped, obviously having not taken a good look at Harry previously. Inwardly, he grinned at the man’s discomfort. Looking like a dangerous mix of a Hells Angel and a pirate did have its advantages.

“I’m not on the internet at the moment,” Harry continued, ignoring salesman’s worried expression. “In fact, the place I’m moving into soon doesn’t even have a phone line at present.”

“That could be a problem with this model,” the man explained, gesturing at the laptop Harry had been looking at, “but we do have other solutions to that problem. Come over here.”

He led them over to another display showing a rather more expensive computer, Harry noticed. The young man than began to explain in great detail what the machine could do, using terms completely alien to Harry such as ‘modems’ and ‘hard drives’. Fortunately, the sales assistant also punctuated his sales patter with practical demonstration of what the computer was capable of. Harry heard Ginny gasp when the youth demonstrated some sort of game which featured some unseen, gun-wielding aggressor blowing the crap out of a seemingly endless supply of monsters and zombies.

Ginny was even more impressed when the young man demonstrated the webcam and she saw her own image suddenly appear on the screen.

“Wow, that’s so cool,” she gushed.

“And with this thing I could talk face to face with anyone in the world?” Harry asked, a little in awe of the devise himself.

“As long as they have the compatible software, then yes,” the salesman grinned.

“Harry, you have to buy this,” Ginny insisted enthusiastically. “If nothing else, I want to kick your arse on that shooting game!”

Harry laughed. “I guess I’ll be taking one of these,” he told the salesman, who must have been working on a commission basis judging by his happy smile. Half-an-hour later, Harry left the shop with a large box under his arm and with a larger dent in his credit card limit.

“That thing is amazing!” Ginny said as they headed back down the street. “I had no idea that Muggle stuff could do all that.”

“They seem to have made a lot of technological advances in recent years,” Harry admitted. “If you don’t mind, can we nip back to Dora’s flat to drop this off? I don’t want to be carrying it around while we find somewhere to eat.”

“Of course,” she nodded. “Can we have a quick play of that game before we go out?”

“I have to set this thing up first,” he pointed out. “Plus, I need to cast a few Charms on it so our magic doesn’t fry the bloody thing. You can play with it at the weekend.”

“Aw, spoilsport,” she pouted and slapped him on the arm. “Seriously, though, do you think your bad guy might be using something like this, too? That could give him a tremendous advantage.”

“It’s possible,” Harry admitted. “It’s ironic, really. After the Dark Lord was defeated, the Ministry cracked down on all the old haunts that his supporters had used, forcing them to hide amongst the Muggles. Now it appears like they’ve absorbed some of the Muggle culture and are using their technology against us. That would never have happened in Voldemort’s time, I can tell you!”

“You would have hoped that after seeing the Muggles up close, these pureblood idiots might have been a bit less against them. I guess that’s too much to hope for,” she sighed.

“Nobody ever could accuse those racist morons of logical thought,” Harry agreed. “Come on, let’s drop this thing off and find a nice place to eat. What do you fancy?”

“Hmm, perhaps Italian?” Ginny pondered.

“Sounds good,” he grinned. “I can romantically roll meatballs to you with my nose.”

“What?” she said in confusion.

“I am so buying you a DVD player for your birthday,” he muttered.

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After what proved to be an extremely nice meal during which Harry’s nose remained mercifully free of tomato sauce, they retired back to Bill’s flat. He was staying at Dora’s place that night, and the Weasley siblings maintained a strict policy of not being in the same location if their respective partners were staying over. Harry had thought the whole issue could be solved with a few Silencing Charms, but he wasn’t going to make an issue out of it.

He and Ginny were currently tucked up in her bed, cuddling. It was little moments like this that made Harry truly appreciate what he’d been missing all this time. While sex with Ginny was great (and it really was spectacularly great) he’d never had a relationship where he could just curl up with his partner and simply enjoy her company. While the sensation of her bare skin against his was wonderful, it was the feelings of affection and closeness that radiated from her that really warmed his heart. He’d only known her for a couple of months, but already Harry knew he never wanted her to leave. He’d fallen hard for his little curse-breaker.

Ginny’s head was currently tucked up under his chin and he could smell the fragrant aroma of her hair, as sweet as a flower-filled meadow. Her fiery locks were spread over his bare chest and her legs were intertwined with his. He was warm and utterly content. Sleep was just about to claim him when he heard a gentle knock on the bedroom door.

“Harry? Are you in there?” he heard Bill’s voice call out.

“Bill?” Harry responded groggily.

“Yeah, it’s me. I’m sorry, but you need to head back to Tonks’s place immediately.”

“Bugger off, Bill,” Ginny called out sleepily.

“You’d better not have had another argument with Dora,” Harry added warningly.

“No, I haven’t,” Bill responded irritably. “An incident has occurred and all of your mob has been ordered to report to the Ministry immediately.”

“What’s happened?” Harry asked, all thoughts of sleep vanishing from his mind.

“Gawain Robards has been murdered,” Bill said soberly.

Harry’s jaw dropped in shock.

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Around an hour later, Harry found himself in the crowded office of the section. Every member was present and all of them wore a grim expression on their faces.

“Settle down, everyone,” Dedalus called to gain their attention. “Right, now you’re all here, let’s begin. At around 5.30pm this evening, Head Auror Gawain Robards was murdered outside his home. It’s an open secret that the man hated Floo travel and nearly always Apparated home. It appears someone was waiting for him and attacked him as soon as he arrived. He was murdered using the Killing Curse.”

“Do we have any clues to the killer? Has anyone claimed responsibility?” someone asked.

“No, we have no clues, at all. We only know as much as we do because his wife was looking out of the window of their house, awaiting his arrival. She reported seeing him arrive and then almost immediately afterwards being hit by a green light. A Healer later confirmed the use of the unforgivable.”

“Who’s taken over the Aurors?” Dora asked.

“Stepson has been appointed as the temporary head, subject to ratification by the Minister. He’s a good man, in my opinion,” Dedalus said approvingly.

“Yeah, he should have got the job in the first place,” Dora agreed. “Bloody hell, the Head Auror cut down in the street. This is going to stir-up a shit-storm!”

“Sadly, I fear you are right,” Dedalus nodded. “Obviously, the press are going to be all over this. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you all that you are not to talk to any of them and all questions should be referred to the Ministry’s Press Office. I understand that Minister Shacklebolt will be making a public statement first thing in the morning.”

“What will we be doing about this?” Harry asked.

“Nothing, apart from increasing security around the Minister even further. As you can imagine, the Aurors are up in arms about this and they’ll be leading the investigation into Robards’ death. We will, of course, offer any assistance required, but this will be their party. We will only be involved if asked, and I doubt we will be.”

A mumble of agreement swept round the office. The Aurors had lost one of their own; it was only right that they should be the ones to catch the killer.

“In the meantime, I want everyone working hard at tracking down the person or persons behind the riot and the campaign against the Minister. You all need to give this your complete attention.”

“Could the murder of Robards be linked to this in some way?” Hestia asked.

“I would not be at all surprised,” Dedalus confirmed, “and if this person has now escalated into assassination, then we need to catch him, or her, immediately.”

Dora caught Harry’s eye and he nodded to her sternly. Things were starting to spiral out of control.

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“Wow, this place is looking great, Harry,” Ron exclaimed, approaching him with a sausage roll in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other.

“It’s pretty good, isn’t it?” Harry agreed, looking around the room with approval. “Your classmate really did a great job.”

“Yeah, Parvati always had an eye for this kind of stuff,” he confirmed, before shoving most of the sausage roll into his mouth in one go, causing his sister to tut in disgust at him.

Harry grinned at Ginny’s indignant expression before taking a slip from his own wine glass. The party looked like it was just starting to get going, and he had to admit he was delighted at the number of people who had accepted his invite to attend the housewarming of 12 Grimmauld Place.

The last few weeks had been difficult ones. The Aurors had virtually torn apart every corner of the Wizarding world in an effort to find the killer of Gawain Robards, without success. In between taking their turn in providing the Minister with protection (not that Kingsley felt he needed it) he and Dora had combed the Wizarding enclaves within the Muggle world, hunting for clues to the murderer’s identity and evidence of insurrection against the Ministry. While there no hard leads, they did find that there was a lot of very frightened people out there.

This housewarming party was a welcome distraction from the pressures and frustrations of the recent weeks. As soon as Ginny had declared Grimmauld Place safe (and presented Harry with a bill from Gringotts that made his eyes water) he’d enlisted the help of the interior designer that his girlfriend had previously recommended. Parvati Patel proved to be a talented individual, not only in the actual decoration of the property but in interpreting Harry’s half-baked ideas about what he wanted. The results were a house that was light, welcoming and mercifully free of the terrible memories the place had previously invoked.

“So, any luck in your investigation?” Harry asked Ron, not needing to spell out exactly what investigation he was referring to.

“Nah, not a bloody thing,” the tall redhead grumbled. “Whoever killed Robards has gone to ground. How about you? Any news on who was behind the riot?”

“Not exactly, but I have a few hunches,” Harry admitted. “There seems to be a climate of fear amongst the underclasses of London at the moment. We’ve had a few problems with ex-members of the Snatcher gangs and such like, stirring up trouble again. The thing is, whenever we’ve dropped the name of this mysterious ‘Mr Winter’ we were investigating previously, everyone goes pale and shuts up. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one that’s behind all this. There wasn’t half this trouble before he appeared on the scene.”

“Are you still convinced this bloke was behind the murder of Tonks’s two informers?” Ron asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Harry nodded. “There was no way that Topa was into illegal Potion trading in a big way: he was a user, not a supplier. Like Sudsy, it was just too much of a coincidence that he was killed shortly after he talked to us.”

“Stepson has backed away from the theory that that Topa bloke was a dealer. He hasn’t come out and actually said it, but he’s inferred that he wants us to look for links between the two murders and that of Robards. Let’s face it, there aren’t many people around these days willing to start throwing Killing Curses around, are there? The fact that three people have all been killed using that method in such a short space of time can’t be a coincidence, can it?” Ron said softly.

“No, it can’t,” Harry agreed. “I’m also still worried that there’s been no sign of that plastic explosive that we found the packaging for at Topa’s place. I just have this horrible feeling that it’s going to turn up at the worst time.”

“Is that stuff really as dangerous as it’s made out to be?” Ron asked. “I mean, I asked Hermione about it and she seemed to think it was really bad news, but what would a wizard do with the stuff, exactly?”

“Any number of things,” Harry said. “Besides, using Muggle explosives would fit with the methodology of this person. He’s already used mobile phones to organise that riot, and it seems pretty likely that he’s using the Muggle world to hide in, too. Using a Muggle weapon would be just his style. That’s another reason I think this ‘Mr Winter’ is involved. He clearly has a great deal of familiarity with doing business in the Muggle world. It just all fits perfectly.”

“Perhaps too perfectly,” Ginny, who had been shamelessly eavesdropping, noted.

“Maybe, maybe not; until we find out a bit more about this bloke it’s all guesswork,” Harry shrugged.

Ginny nodded, before turning to her brother with a smug grin. “So, you’ve been talking to Hermione, have you?” she said lightly.

“Only in a professional capacity,” Ron replied stiffly. “She was the best person to answer a question regarding Muggle stuff.”

“It wasn’t so long ago that she wouldn’t speak a word to you,” Ginny continued breezily. “That sounds like progress to me.”

“Leave it out, would ya, sis,” Ron grumbled. “Me and Hermione are a thing of the past.”

“Oh, of course,” Ginny agreed in a distinctly insincere tone. “Still, didn’t you dump that blonde witch you were going out with because you thought she was an airhead? It sound like you need someone with a bit more intelligence to me.”

“Don’t even go there, Ginny,” Ron growled.

“I think you might have hit a tender spot there, Ginny,” Harry grinned.

“She’ll have a bloody tender spot if she doesn’t leave off about me and Hermione,” Ron said warningly.

“Did I hear someone mention me?” a voice asked. They turned and saw the very witch in question approaching with a glass of white wine in her hand.

“I was just explaining to these guys what you said about those Muggle explosives Harry thought might have been at Topa’s place,” Ron said quickly, his ears turning red.

“Oh, yes, the idea that the murderers might have got their hands on something like that is a tremendous worry, isn’t it? Are you certain there was actually explosive in the shop, Harry?” Hermione asked with concern.

“Not one hundred percent, no,” he admitted, “but the packaging was exactly like that I encountered in my old job. It had that distinct marzipan smell to it, too.”

“Great, now I won’t be able to eat a slice of Battenberg cake without worrying it might explode,” Ron grumbled.

Hermione laughed. “You’ll just have to stick to fruitcake, Ron,” she advised.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he agreed with a shy smile.

“Harry, I think Dora needs to talk to you,” Ginny announced suddenly.

“Oh, yeah, I think you’re right. I’ll catch up with you two in a minute,” Harry announced, catching onto Ginny’s plan with surprising speed. They quickly headed across the crowded room, leaving Ron and Hermione alone together.

“That was sneaky,” Harry whispered to his girlfriend as soon as they were out of earshot. “You’re absolutely determined to get the two of them back together, aren’t you?”

“They’d be good for each other,” Ginny said unrepentantly. “Ron would inject a bit of fun into Hermione’s life and help her loosen up a bit, while she’d give him a bit more discipline and focus. He did really well to become an Auror, but with her behind him, who knows how far he could go.”

“Ah, thus your fiendish plan for the world to be taken over by redheads would be further progressed,” Harry grinned.

“Of course, we are nature’s greatest creations, so it’s only right and proper we take over,” she sniffed.

Harry wisely said nothing, but instead guided his girlfriend over to one corner of the room where he’d spotted Dora standing by herself looking a little glum.

“Hey, where’s Bill?” he asked as he approached his friend.

“Oh, just popped off to use the little Wizards room,” Dora replied with a slightly forced smile.

“Are you alright?” Ginny asked in a slightly concerned voice.

“Yeah, it’s just… I think it’s finally hit me that Harry’s moving out of my flat. I’ve just got so used to this big lug being around, you know?”

“You’re just upset that you won’t have the opportunity to barge in on me and Ginny while we’re in bed,” Harry smirked.

“Hey, I was drunk that night, and with good reason,” Dora protested. “Seriously though, I’m really going to miss not having you there.”

“I’m only a Floo trip away, or a half an hour walk if you’re feeling energetic,” he pointed out.

“Or a thirty second car journey,” Ginny said wryly, having witnessed Dora’s driving for herself recently.

“I know, but it still won’t be the same, will it?” Dora replied a little sadly.

Harry just draped his arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug. He sincerely hoped that Dora wouldn’t get upset about this as he was still rather worried about her. While she seemed a lot happier since she’d patched things up with Bill, Harry still took the precaution of having a quick look through their rubbish bin every once in a while, just to check there were no empty vodka bottles in there. So far, he was pleased to see, Dora’s consumption seemed to have been restricted to social drinking.

“I have it on good authority that my brother is extremely pleased Harry’s got his own place,” Ginny told Dora. “There’s much less chance he’ll accidently see his beautiful sister getting down’n’dirty with her hot boyfriend this way.”

“Good point,” Dora sniggered. “Mind you, I doubt you’d want to see what Bill and I get up to when you’re not around.”

“Amen,” Ginny agreed, and clinked her beer bottle with Dora’s.

Bill chose that moment to reappear.

“This is a great party, Harry,” he announced. “I just can’t believe how different this place looks from when I first saw it.”

“Yeah, it looks great, doesn’t it? Actually, I was just glad of the excuse for a party. It feels like everyone’s been working too hard lately, what with everything that’s been going on,” Harry replied.

“Hopefully, things will ease up a bit soon. The last of Kingsley’s garden parties is next week and we won’t have to mount anymore of those huge security operations to cover them,” Dora pointed out.

“Good point,” Harry nodded. “I won’t miss those, definitely. Maybe we’ll actually have the time to get somewhere with our own cases.”

“Ron was saying that the Aurors are no nearer to catching the person who killed Robards,” Bill noted. “I just hope we don’t get a repeat of all that trouble we had in Diagon Alley.”

“I’m still convinced that whoever was behind that has had a hand in the murders, too,” Harry said in frustration. “I just wish I had something to confirm it.”

“Hey, you never did take me to that place your suspect vanished from. I was going to see if I could discover anything, remember?” Ginny pointed out.

“Oh, yeah! I completely forgot about that, what with everything that’s been going on,” Harry said. “I don’t suppose there’s a lot of point going now, having left it so long.”

“It still might be worth having a look,” Bill disagreed. “Remember, us curse-breakers are used to tracing magic that might have been cast hundreds or even thousands of years previously. There might still be some residual traces of something there.”

“We’ve both got the day off tomorrow. It won’t take long to have a look around, at least,” Ginny told him.

“Okay, it’s worth a shot. Merlin knows, we haven’t got much else to go on at the moment,” he agreed.

“Great, we’ll take a look tomorrow morning,” Ginny smiled, “and in the meantime, let’s eat, drink and be merry!”

“I’ll drink to that,” Harry agreed, raising his glass.

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It was a rather drab, overcast morning when Harry and Ginny entered the small alley situated near the ‘Creative Creations’ cake shop. The change in the weather had made Harry feel a little gloomy, and he had little hope of the visit yielding much success, despite his girlfriend’s undoubted skill.

“Whereabouts did this bloke vanish, exactly?” Ginny asked, looking around the dreary alley in distaste.

“A little further up,” Harry directed her. “I didn’t see the exact spot he vanished as I was running flat out at the time. It was definitely somewhere before those bins up there, though.”

“Okay, you keep an eye out for Muggles,” Ginny said, pulling out her wand and giving it a wave. She then backed-up, and began to cast a complex series of spells that Harry could honestly say he had no clue as to their function. Ginny’s brow was creased in concentration as she wove intricate patterns in the air with her wand. After around five minutes, she let her wand arm fall to her side and she turned and looked back at him.

“You say that a couple of Unspeakables found nothing here?” she asked him with a frown.

“Yeah, but as I said, they didn’t appear to have put a lot of effort into it,” he clarified. “You’ve already been here about twice the length of time they were.”

“Well, they’re idiots,” she replied loftily. “There’s a clear magical reading coming from the manhole cover there. It’s pretty weak, but it should have been detectable to anyone half competent.”

“I guess that counts them out, then,” Harry grinned. “So what is this magical manhole cover then? Some sort of Portkey?”

“Nah, there’s not nearly enough magical energy to power something like that,” she disagreed, kneeling beside the round, metal plate. She poked it with her wand. “You know, Harry, I don’t think this cover is real. It’s just a thin sheet of metal fixed to the ground made to look like a manhole.”

Harry came over and knelt beside her. The cover had no obvious means of being lifted and his fingers couldn’t get underneath the edge of it to provide any traction. He had to agree that it was a fake.

“Okay, so what does it do?” he asked.

“Beats the hell out of me,” she admitted. “Due to its low levels of residual magic I would guess that it’s some sort of passive trigger or detection device. It’s too much of a coincidence that your man just vanished in this exact spot, however. I suspect it might need an external energy source to activate it. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it does, though.”

Harry gazed at the cover in frustration, before an idea hit him.

“You know, every time we’ve chased one of this gang, they’ve always been able to vanish into thin air quite without difficulties, so my guess is that whatever this is, they must use it frequently,” he mused. “I think if we could see exactly how this mob uses this plate we could figure out what it is, exactly.”

“That sounds reasonable, but I doubt one of these buggers it just going to conveniently give you a demonstration,” she pointed out.

“True, but I think it’s time to take a leaf out of their book,” Harry announced. “They’re not the only ones who can use Muggle technology.”

Ginny raised an eyebrow.

Several hours later, she asked, “So, are you going to tell me what your great idea is, and where you’ve been all afternoon?” Ginny asked irritably as they made their way back into the alley.

“I had to pop back over to France for a couple of hours,” Harry explained with a calm smile. “I needed to see a contact I have with the DGSE, that’s the French Military Intelligence service. I did this guy a favour a while back and I thought I’d ask him for something in return. He came up trumps, too, and lent me this little baby.”

Harry opened the small bag he was carrying and displayed what looked like a small, black box that had a round, glass lens on one side.

“This,” Harry said triumphantly, “is the latest in Muggle technology. It’s a motion-sensor activated recording device. I’m going to hide it in the alley here, and should anyone approach within ten meters of it, it will start recording. It will also send an electronic signal to my mobile phone every time it’s activated. I’ll just need to come and retrieve the data chip from it and I’ll be able to play back the recording on my laptop. Hopefully, it will capture a one of our mysterious gang members using that manhole to do whatever it does.”

“Sounds good,” Ginny agreed. “This thing won’t be affected by magic, will it?”

“Nah, the necessary protection spells have already been cast on it. The French have had their problems with rogue Dark wizards too, you know.”

“Great! Where are you going to hide it?” she asked looking around the alley.

“I think I’ll magically carve out a small alcove in the brickwork, and then cast an Illusion Charm on it to keep it hidden. I think that should do the trick,” Harry decided.

“Well, aren’t you a clever lad,” she grinned. “Hopefully, if we get a clear recording we can figure out exactly what this metal cover is used for and how it’s activated.”

“Yeah, I hope so,” Harry agreed, before drawing his wand and starting to create an aperture for his recording device.

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In the end, it was another three days before the recorder active and sent a warning message to Harry’s phone. Unfortunately, at the time he was busy undertaking a security task so he had to wait until the evening to recover the data stick from the recorder. After viewing the contents on his computer once, he called Dora, Bill and Ginny over to Grimmauld Place to see the results themselves.

“Recognise that man?” Harry asked Dora, pointing to the image of a man on the computer screen.

“Yep, that’s the bloke who we chased after a while back,” Dora confirmed. “Looks like we were right to go after him.”

“Absolutely, now watch what happens when he approaches that manhole cover Ginny was so suspicious of,” Harry instructed them.

As the recording device had been placed at the back of the alley, they had a clear vision of the man approaching the cover head on. He strode forward confidently until he reached the metal plate, apparently intent on walking straight over it. As soon as he stepped onto the plate, however, he shimmered for a split second before vanishing.

“Whoa! That was nearly instantaneous,” Bill noted. “It couldn’t have been a Portkey; it was too quick.”

“It had totally the wrong magical signature for a Portkey, anyway,” Ginny told her brother. “There was only a minuscule trace of residual energy in it.”

“Hmm, actually that reminds me of something I saw back in Egypt,” Bill pondered. “Harry, can we see the recording again and can you slow it down at all?”

“Yeah, I should be able to do that,” Harry confirmed, playing with the settings on the computer for a second.

Again, they saw the man approaching the manhole cover, but this time in slow motion. The second he vanished from the screen, Bill cried out triumphantly.

“There! Did you see? There was a glow around the man’s neck the moment he stepped onto the cover,” Bill said.

“And…” Dora pressed her boyfriend.

“If the metal plate contains as little magical energy as Ginny says, it means that it must only be a trigger or activation devise for something else. I’ll lay odds that glow around the man’s neck was a magical object being activated or invoked, and that’s what caused him to vanish,” Bill explained. “I encountered a similar arrangement in a tomb in Egypt. A powerful wizard who had established a small cult had wanted to set up a meeting place for him and his followers. Knowing that if he had been discovered by the then Pharaoh’s servants he would have been put to death, he created a secret chamber inside a tomb. The chamber could only be accessed by a person wearing a specially charmed broach. When one of the wizard’s followers stood on a particular stone inside the tomb wearing one of these broaches, it would trigger a Recognition Charm allowing the person to be transported to a designated spot inside the secret chamber.”

“So, that glow is probably something similar to one of those broaches activating as the man stepped on the metal plate?” Harry asked.

“Exactly. The only thing is, because of the relatively low magical power involved in these charms, the person is only transported very short distances. In that tomb, the person was literally only transported to the other side of a wall. Wherever this bloke went, it must have been very near,” Bill confirmed.

“Well, it is a manhole cover, so that would suggest that the direction this man went was downwards,” Dora reasoned.

“The cover was a fake, though,” Ginny pointed out. “It was solid concrete underneath.”

“Yeah, but there’s no saying that there isn’t something underneath that concrete,” Harry suggested. “London has a very extensive sewer network, it’s possible there might be a tunnel or sewer right below the cover.”

“Okay, how do we find out for sure?” Bill asked.

“Why, who do we know that is a genius when it comes to finding out things about the Muggle world?” Harry asked with a grin.

Ginny and Dora took one look at each other and answered as one.

“Hermione!”

“Exactly,” Harry confirmed. “Let’s go and see our favourite Legal Witch.”

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“I managed to obtain this plan from Westminster City Council,” Hermione declared triumphantly, as they all gathered around Harry’s kitchen table two days later. “It shows all the sewers and underground tunnels in the area. As you can see, a main sewer runs right under the alley your suspect vanished from.”

“So, it’s a pretty good chance that this bloke just disappeared underground,” Harry pondered. “As an instant means of escape it’s a pretty good idea, I guess. I mean, you can’t disrupt it with a jinx, and unless you know what you’re looking for you’d have no idea where he went.”

“The next question is; what exactly is down there,” Dora said. “Is it just a convenient escape route or is there something more hidden away in those sewers?”

“I guess there’s only one way to find out; we’ll have to go down there,” Harry sighed. “Where’s the nearest entry point to that part of the sewer, Hermione?”

The witch scanned the map for a split second before pointing a spot a few streets over.

“There,” she said. “That’s a main maintenance access point. You’ll just need to follow the sewer to the south and turn at this junction. That should take you directly underneath the fake cover.”

“Okay, I guess Dora and I will be having some fun wading through sewage. We’ll just have to make sure we have some protective clothing with us,” Harry said without enthusiasm.

“I’m coming with you,” Ginny announced in a firm voice. “There’s a good chance that whoever set this up might have left some booby-traps down there.”

“Yeah, and if they have set up a base or supply dump the chances are they will have magically hidden it,” Bill reasoned. “That’s exactly the sort of thing me and Ginny are trained to root out. I’m coming with you, too.”

“More the merrier, I guess,” Dora agreed.

“I volunteer to keep watch on the surface,” Hermione decided. “I can remain at the entrance in case of trouble. Do you know of a way we will be able to communicate once you’re down there?”

Dora tapped the golden earring hanging from her earlobe. “These little babes should do the job,” she confirmed. “They’re Charmed so the wearers can hear each other over a hundred miles away. Harry and I have communicated without problems even when we’ve been on different stations on the Underground. I’ll get a set for each of you three.”

“Great, I guess the only question is when we do this,” Harry said. “The last of Kingsley’s Muggle garden parties is tomorrow afternoon and we’re due to pull security at that. I would like to do this before the party, though. I’ve just got this weird feeling that it’s important.”

“We could do it first thing tomorrow morning if that’s okay with everybody?” Dora suggested.

“Sure, we’ll just log it as a job and send Harry the bill later,” Ginny smirked.

“Yeah, ‘cos I haven’t given the goblins enough of my gold lately,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

“Hey, you could be pleased that you’re helping your girlfriend’s chosen career,” Ginny said with amusement.

“Oh, I am,” Harry nodded with a perfectly straight face.

“Well, if that’s all agreed, we’d better wrap this up. We’ll all have a busy day tomorrow,” Hermione announced.

Somehow, Harry suspected those words were going to be very true.
















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Chapter 15: Chapter 15 - Vision Thing

Author's Notes: The final chapter, and events come to what I hope is a suitable climax.

Before anyone asks, yes, I might well write a sequel to this. I rather like this AU and, as I’m sure you will see, I’ve left plenty of elements that I could pick up on in a further story.

A final thanks must be given to Arnel, who not only corrected my many mistakes, but offered encouragement, advice and suggestions throughout. She’s a star.

Oh, by the way, not only is the title of this chapter a Sisters of Mercy song, but it also fits in with the ending extremely nicely, too. Go on, look it up on YouTube, you might even like it…


Chapter 15 — Vision Thing



“Be careful, these metal rungs are slippery,” Harry called out as he slowly descended into the inky blackness with only the light streaming in from the small circular hole above him to light the way.

“You okay, Harry?” he heard Bill call down.

“Yeah, I… oh, I’ve reached the bottom,” he replied, before pulling out his wand. “Lumos!”

Looking around him, Harry saw that he was standing on a narrow concrete pathway. Below him, a wide steam of filthy brown water ran quickly by.

“I’m coming down,” Bill declared and Harry quickly made room for the man. A few moments later, the tall curse-breaker joined him on the pathway. He too withdrew his wand but rather than creating illumination he began to check for traps.

A noise from above alerted Harry to the fact that Ginny was beginning her descent down the metal rungs, and she was followed shortly afterwards by Dora. He then heard a scrapping sound as the access cover was pushed back into place and the light from above was extinguished.

“What a lovely place,” Ginny noted. She, like the rest of them, wore a plastic, all-in-one suit over her normal clothing. She also wore a yellow helmet with a light mounted on the front, which she immediately turned on. Sheepishly, Harry remembered he was wearing one, too, and reached up to press the ‘on’ switch.

“Okay, we need to keep going down this pathway and we should hit a junction in about a hundred yards,” Dora instructed them. She had placed herself in charge of navigation and clutched a copy of the map Hermione had provided which, thoughtfully, the Legal Witch had placed a Waterproofing Charm on.

“Hold on one sec,” Harry instructed and reached up to his ear and grasped the gold earring that hung from it. “Hermione, can you hear me?”

“Yes, Harry, I can hear you perfectly,” Hermione’s voice boomed in his ear.

“Ouch, not so loud!” he responded, wincing. The other three all grimaced in pain, too.

“Sorry,” she said at a more reasonable volume.

“We’re just about to set out,” Harry told her. “We’ll try and check-in every five minutes, but don’t be afraid to give us a call if you haven’t heard from us in a while.

“Will do. Good luck,” Hermione said. Harry let go of the earring and broke the connection.

“Right, communications with Hermione are fine, so let’s head out,” he told the other three.

“I’ll lead,” Bill said firmly. “You two Ministry types can follow me and Ginny will be in the rear so if I trigger any traps she won’t be hit, too.”

“Looking after your little sister, eh?” Dora teased.

“Not at all; if I do get hit by some Curse or Jinx, I want to know that the only other qualified curse-breaker will be available to bail me out of trouble. It’s standard procedure,” Bill explained.

“Yeah, do you think I would have stood for it otherwise?” Ginny challenged.

“Well, hush my mouth,” Dora replied.

Bill set off along the narrow pathway with Dora close behind. Harry maintained a little separation between him and his work-partner, while his life-partner stayed close behind him. They soon found the junction and saw that the tunnel that they had been following was only a small subsidiary passage and opened up onto a much larger one. They mounted a grid-metal set of stairs and turned right onto an access path that ran parallel to the raging brown water.

After walking for about a minute, Dora halted them at a large, concrete platform that jutted out into the water.

“We should be directly underneath that fake manhole cover now,” she informed them.

“Good spot,” Bill noted. “With the right talisman, our friendly criminals can just pop themselves down here in a split second. The question is, where do they go from here?”

“They could go in either direction, North or South,” Harry pointed out.

“Yeah, and we have no way of knowing which,” Ginny complained.

“There’s nothing for it, we’ll have to split up,” Dora decided. “Harry, you and Ginny carry on South down this path while Bill and I will head back the way we’ve come. If you find anything let us know immediately.”

Harry nodded, and quickly called Hermione to let her know they were splitting up. She didn’t sound happy about the decision, but seemed to accept that they would never be able to search the place thoroughly unless they did.

They set off with Ginny in the lead. She walked with her wand extended in front of her and a look of absolute concentration on her face. After about twenty yards she halted abruptly.

“Hold up, I think we have a trap here,” she said grimly.

“What kind of trap?” Harry asked, his eyes scanning the walkway ahead.

“I’m not sure, but I think it’s linked to whatever talisman activates the transporter back there. I suspect they’ve left a nasty surprise for anyone wandering around down here not wearing one. Stand back a bit,” Ginny told him.

After a few minutes working on the trap, Ginny turned to Harry with a frown. “I can’t deactivate this trap without knowing what exactly prevents its activation. I’m afraid we’ll just have to spring the trap.”

“What if it brings the entire tunnel down on our heads?” Harry protested.

“Then we’d better hope that Tonks and my brother can dig us out,” she grinned. “You’d better call the others and let them know what we’re doing, then get ready to cast the strongest Shield Charm you can.”

Harry quickly called Dora to warn her that they were about to trip a booby-trap and then held his wand in readiness. Ginny glanced at him with a mischievous glint in her eye.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Would it mean anything if I said no?” he challenged.

“Not really,” she smirked. “Okay, cast your Shield Charm… now!”

Harry cast the protection spell with as much force as he could, placing the magical shield about a yard in front of the pair of them. Ginny then brought her wand down with a whipping motion.

There was a bright flash followed by a concussive blast that nearly knocked Harry backwards. Dust filled the air and for a second he was blinded by the billowing smoke which stung his eyes. Desperately, he reached for Ginny and found her standing next to him as she had been previously.

“Woo-hoo, that was fun!” she giggled. For the first time since he’d met her, Harry began to worry about the sanity of his girlfriend.

“I’m glad you think so,” he groused. “That was a hell of an explosion.”

“Yeah, but it was largely directional. If we’d have been standing on the pathway next to the trap we’d have probably been blown to pieces, but I was confident that we’d be fine setting it off remotely. Nice Shield Charm, by the way.”

“Harry, are you alright?” Dora’s panicky voice sounded in his ear.

“Yeah, we’re fine,” Harry replied. “The blast was just a bit bigger then we were expecting.”

“What was that, Ginny?” Bill’s voice asked.

“Level 4 trap; some sort of direction Blasting Charm that automatically detonated when anyone without the necessary Magical signature passed by. It would have been instantly lethal, too. Whoever set this up wasn’t playing around,” Ginny said grimly.

“Okay, at least we know what to look for from now on, but don’t get fixated on a single type of device. Any wizard who knows his stuff will mix and match his traps,” Bill warned.

“Well, duh!” Ginny snapped at her brother. “I do know what I’m doing here, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, Shorty,” Bill teased her. “I’m just reminding you, is all.”

Ginny proceeded to tell him exactly what he could do with his reminder, while Harry examined the spot that the trap had detonated from. There was remarkably little damage to the pathway, although he could see marks on the opposite side of the tunnel wall where debris had impacted. The trap must have been packed with some type of shrapnel, and paired with the Blasting Charm, the combination of which would have literally shredded anyone who set it off.

“Ready to press on?” Ginny asked.

“Yeah, I’m glad you spotted that trap, though. I don’t think there would have been enough of me left to scrape up into a jam jar if I’d come down here alone,” he admitted.

“Which is why it’s always a good idea to have a curse-breaker on hand, preferably a fiendishly intelligent and ravishingly beautiful one, too,” she smirked.

“I’m not arguing,” Harry agreed with a smile. Ginny was clearly enjoying herself.

They resumed their careful way forward, with Ginny once again taking the lead. They’d gone about another hundred yards when Bill called in and informed them that he too had uncovered a trap. This one appeared to be pressure activated, much like a Muggle landmine. Ginny acknowledged her brother and took the opportunity to check in with Hermione, who’d been monitoring the conversation. She urged them on, but begged them all to be careful.

A short while afterwards, Harry and Ginny encountered a T-junction ahead. After some debate, they decided to turn East, otherwise they would have been turning back on themselves. This apparently turned out to be the right choice, as shortly afterwards they encountered another trap, this one designed to shoot a barrage of poison-tipped darts in a spread pattern down the tunnel. Again, they chose to spring the trap, this time conjuring a thick metal sheet to shelter behind and allowing the darts to harmlessly bounce off it.

Their luck ran out about two hundred yards later when they hit a dead-end. The tunnel ended in a solid brick wall with no apparent exits. In frustration, they turned back and reported their situation to Dora and Bill. It turned out that they had also followed a junction East and were now following a tunnel that was gradually turning South.

“Hold up, Harry, I think there’s something I missed,” Ginny announced as she came to a halt about fifty yards back up the tunnel. “I was so intent on looking for traps that I wasn’t paying much attention to illusions. There’s a false wall over there.”

Harry looked at the section of wall to which Ginny was pointing. It looked exactly like the rest of the tunnel, but he didn’t doubt her for a second. The only question was how to get to it, as it was on the far side of the swirling waters.

“I wonder how deep this water is?” Harry mused, staring at the filthy, sewerage-filled liquid.

“Only one way to find out,” Ginny decided. “I guess it’s your turn to take the lead.”

He shot his girlfriend an unfriendly look, but she just smiled. Seeing there was nothing for it, Harry lowered himself over the edge of the walkway and let himself drop into the brown waters. He landed with a surprisingly small splash and found that the underground river only came up to his ankle. Experimentally, he shuffled his left foot to the side and found the floor vanished. He repeated the exercise with his right foot, and discovered he seemed to be standing on a submerged bridge.

“There’s an underwater pathway,” he informed Ginny. “It seems to lead straight to that illusionary wall.”

Ginny nodded. “I wondered if there might be something like that. It’s a bloody good way to hide an entranceway. Hold on, I’ll join you.”

She quickly lowered herself down to where Harry stood, and together they sloshed through the fast-running waters. When they reached the other side, Ginny tentatively prodded the wall with her wand.

“No traps or Recognition Spells that I can see,” she confirmed. “We should be okay to just walk through the illusion.”

Taking a deep breath, Harry took a step forward. His vision blurred for a brief moment, before he found himself standing in a dark corridor that appeared to open out into a wider space. Ginny suddenly appeared next to him, and she blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light.

“I think we can…” she began.

“DOWN!” Harry yelled, grabbing her and pulling her to the floor. He’d seen a faint movement up ahead, and it appeared that had saved their lives as the sickly green light of a Killing Curse shot over their heads.

Twisting on the ground so he could bring his wand to bear, Harry immediately returned fire, sending a pair of rapidly-cast Blasting Curses back towards their unseen foe. Ginny shot a curse that sent a flaming arrow down the corridor at lightning speed. It exploded in a small fireball briefly illuminating the open space.

A scream came from somewhere ahead of them and Harry assumed that one of their spells must have found their target. Scrambling to his feet, he powered down the corridor as fast as he could. While engaged in close combat in a confined space such as this, speed normally equalled protection.

He emerged into the open space, and found that the area was much smaller then he’d originally thought. Ahead of him, a figure was limping rapidly towards a door. When he heard Harry’s footsteps on the hard concrete, he whirled around and raised his wand. On pure instinct, Harry sent a blue bolt of energy sizzling from the end of his wand which impacted on the man’s chest. He was blown backwards and his body slammed into the wall behind.

“Shit, that’s a cool spell,” Ginny said as she came level with him.

“It’s called an Energy Bolt Curse. We used it back in my Department M days. It’s considered less Dark then the Killing Curse, although I’m not sure why. You end up just as dead if you get hit by it,” he explained grimly. “Now, let’s see who was trying to kill us, shall we?”

Harry approached the fallen man and examined him. He instantly recognised the face.

“This is one of the blokes that killed Dora’s informant, Sudsy,” he said. “In fact, this is the bastard that actually killed him. He seems to have a fondness for using the Killing Curse.”

“Any idea who he actually is?” Ginny asked, eyeing the body warily.

“Nope, and he won’t be telling us any time soon, either,” Harry said, angry at himself that he hadn’t tried to simply incapacitate the man. Clearly, his previous combat training was still too deeply ingrained in him. Further self-examination was delayed when Ginny suddenly knelt by the body and tugged at something around the man’s neck. From underneath his robes, she pulled out an emerald necklace that glittered in the faint light of their helmet torches.

“I think this is what activates the manhole transporter and provides safe passage past those traps,” she declared, before tapping the necklace with her wand. “Yep, this is definitely radiating a magical signature. Hopefully, this will make our passage forwards a bit easier.”

“Yeah, good spot,” Harry praised her.

Ginny looked thoughtful for a second. “You know, Harry, I’m certain I’ve seen a necklace like this before. I just can’t think where.”

“I’m sure it will come to you,” he assured her. “I’d better tell Dora and Bill what’s happened.”

He called the other pair and informed them of what had happened. Bill stated he would start looking for illusory walls, too, having already disabled a further two traps. The sewer network was proving to be an extremely dangerous place. Hermione broke into the conversation wanting to know if she should summon back-up from the Ministry, but they decided that having more people tromping around the narrow tunnels would probably cause more problems than it would solve.

Cautiously, Harry and Ginny opened the door that the dead wizard had been trying to reach. It led to another corridor, with a further door at the end of it. They were about halfway towards the far door when it suddenly flew open and a bright red bolt of light came sizzling towards them. They flung themselves down and tried to return fire.

Unfortunately, it soon became evident that there were two attackers ahead of them, alternatively casting offensive and defensive spells between them. Harry and Ginny were in an extremely exposed space with absolutely no cover and it was all they could do to protect themselves.

“Fall back,” Harry shouted to his girlfriend, trying to give her some cover fire. As soon as she started to edge backwards, however, a pair of spells came hurtling towards her and she had to put all her concentration into forming a shield in front of her. They were, Harry realised grimly, pinned down.

“Damn it, we can’t stay here!” Ginny yelled desperately. “Those bastards can use the doorway for cover while we have to shield against every spell they throw at us. We’ll soon be exhausted!”

“I know,” Harry called back, taking an increasingly rare opportunity to send a Blasting Curse towards the doorway. “We’ll just have to start trying to crawl backwards together.

“Okay, we’ll…” she began when suddenly a bright flash came from the doorway accompanied by a scream. They paused for a moment, wondering what had happened, before they heard a familiar voice.

“It’s us,” Dora yelled, “Don’t fire!”

“Dora?” Harry gasped in amazement. “How the bloody hell did you get there?”

The young woman’s grinning face appeared around the door frame. “We found an illusionary door just like you did,” she explained. “This place must have two entrances on opposite sides. Bill and I heard the spellfire and came to investigate. One of these buggers is the other wizard we saw at Sudsy’s place, by the way.”

“Are they dead?” Harry asked, climbing to his feet and hurrying forward.

“That one is, but the other one is just stunned. We should be able to question him,” Dora replied.

“Great, maybe we can get a few answers now,” Harry said with relief.

As Harry and Ginny passed through the doorway, he noticed that he was entering a corridor much like the one he’d just left. The only difference was that there was another door on the far wall which he intended to investigate shortly. Before that, they had to have a little chat with their attacker.

Bill was dragging the body of the other wizard they’d killed out of the way, leaving the captive slumped against the doorframe. They quickly searched the man, finding only his wand and another of the emerald necklaces. After tying him up securely, they awakened the man. After shaking his head groggily for a moment, he fixed them with a hate-filled stare.

“You, sunshine, are nicked,” Dora informed him angrily. “So, do you want to tell us your name and what you’re doing down here?”

The man spat at her, hitting her boot with thick glob of greenish liquid.

“Oh, you are so lucky I’m wearing this waterproof coverall,” Dora told him in a dangerous tone.

“I guess we have to do this the hard way,” Harry decided, aiming his wand at the man’s head. “Legilimens!”

“Screw you, you bastard!” the wizard yelled defiantly and bit down on something aggressively. A second later, his body started to shake and he began to gag. Before Harry or any of the others could do anything, he stiffened and slumped backwards.

“Shit!” Harry cursed and leapt forward. A quick examination revealed the worst: the man was dead.

“What the hell just happened?” Ginny demanded.

“He committed suicide,” Harry informed her. Carefully, he pulled the man’s jaw open and peered into his mouth. “Damn, it’s just as I suspected. There’s a tooth missing. I think this bloke had a false tooth that contained a deadly dose of poison. All he had to do was bite down really hard onto the tooth and it would crack open and kill him instantly. I saw something similar to this in Russia.”

“So, this bloke was Russian?” Bill asked.

“Not necessarily,” Harry disagreed. “It’s a standard trick in the intelligence community when an operative can’t afford to be taken alive. Clearly, this man had some secrets in his mind that he didn’t want me seeing.”

“Bloody hell,” Ginny muttered.

“Yeah, pretty extreme, huh?” Harry said, rising to his feet. “So what’s behind that door over there, then?”

“Dunno, we haven’t had a chance to look yet,” Dora advised him. “We were too busy saving your arses.”

“Good point,” Harry nodded. “Well, shall we see what secrets this underground base has? I tell you, if they have a hidden submarine pen down here, I’m going to piss myself.”

“What?” Ginny and Bill both said in confusion.

“Don’t worry about Harry,” Dora advised. “He’s watched too many James Bond films in his time.”

Sniggering, Harry moved over to the door and looked meaningfully at Ginny. With a smile, she came over and waved her wand around the doorframe several times.

“It’s clear,” she advised.

Carefully making sure he kept his body behind the wall, Harry reached over and turned the door handle. It opened easily, and he gave it a shove. No lethal spells came flying through the open doorway, however.

Peering around the frame, he found himself looking into a large room that was dominated by a table in the centre. Various metal framed cages containing all manner of items were stacked against the far wall, and the other two visible walls were covered in charts, maps and papers.

“I do believe we’ve found our villain’s secret headquarters,” he announced happily.

The four of them all entered and began to search the room. Dora was the first to make a significant discovery.

“Look,” she called out, holding up a small box. “There’s a whole stack of mobile phones here. I bet this is the evidence we need to tie in this mob to the riot.”

“Yeah, look, there are copies of those posters they put up in Hogsmeade,” Ginny declared, waving a wad of A4 paper at them.

“Spare wands, a shitload of potions, masks,” Bill announced as he sorted through one of the racks.

“Oh, shit, Harry look at this!” Dora called out suddenly.

He hurried over to where his friend was standing examining a map that was pinned to the wall. When he saw what the map was of, his blood went cold.

“That’s the site of Kingsley’s last garden party,” he gasped.

“Yeah, and what are the odds that these bastards were going to do something to disrupt it?” Dora spat. “That will piss off old Flirty-tits Greengrass, having her precious party disturbed.”

“Oh, bollocks!” Ginny suddenly exclaimed. Everyone turn to look at her in surprise. “Harry, I’ve just remembered where I’d seen one of those emerald necklaces before! Daphne was wearing one when we had dinner at their place!”

Harry’s jaw clenched.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

They made their way back out of the base as quickly as they could. Even so, it took them half an hour to exit the sewer, time that they couldn’t afford to waste. Harry briefed Hermione as to what was happening as he ran back through the tunnels, and the Legal Witch was waiting for them as they climbed out of the maintenance hatch.

“Shouldn’t we alert the Ministry?” Hermione asked in a strained voice.

“Practically the whole of the DMLE will be at the garden party by now, setting up security. I’d send a Patronus, but I’d be too worried that some Muggle might see it,” Dora explained.

“Greengrass normally coordinates these parties from her office at the Ministry until it’s just about to start,” Hermione revealed. “If we hurry, we might be able to catch her there.”

“Okay, let’s go,” Harry said forcefully, and using the cover of a nearby alleyway, he Apparated to the Ministry. He was just pulling off his waterproof coveralls when the others joined him.

He fretted as they all removed their cumbersome garments, before setting off towards Daphne Greengrass’s office at a fearsome pace. Hermione was soon struggling to keep up, but the others were obviously much fitter. The few minutes it took them to reach the office seemed like a lifetime to Harry, and he practically kicked down the door as soon as he arrived. He found himself face to face with a flustered witch who stared at him in horror.

“What do you think you’re doing, coming storming in here?” the witch demanded.

“Greengrass, where is she?” Harry demanded in such a threatening tone the witch stepped back a few paces.

“She’s not here,” she spluttered.

“We didn’t ask you where she isn’t, we asked you where she is,” Dora yelled angrily as followed Harry into the room.

“She…ah… the party…” the frightened woman stammered.

“Shit! We’ve already missed her,” Harry cursed and turned to leave.

“Wait, Harry,” a breathless Hermione gasped. “We don’t know exactly what Greengrass’s plan is. At least check her desk to see if there are any clues.”

Harry nodded, and began to search the desk while Dora physically threw Greengrass’s assistant out of the room. Hermione also started to leaf through a pile of parchments until she noticed a document lying prominently on the desk.

“Oh, look!” she exclaimed, picking up the document.

“What is it?” Ginny asked.

“It’s an invoice for catering services for the party today. More specifically, it’s a bill for a large decorative cake that’s going to form part of the buffet,” Hermione explained with a shocked look on her face. “Can you guess who the cake supplier is?”

“Oh, I think I can take a stab at that,” Dora growled. “Would it be ‘Creative Creations’ by any chance?”

“Exactly, the Greengrass family must have been behind this whole thing”, Hermione declared.

“But why?” Bill asked in puzzlement. “What are they hoping to achieve?”

A horrible thought suddenly occurred to Harry.

“Dora, I think it’s a pretty bloody good chance that those bastards who killed Sudsy also killed Topa, right?” he said.

“Yeah, very likely, I should say,” she agreed.

“Well, what’s the one thing we found at Topa’s place that we haven’t accounted for yet?” he pressed.

“Oh, hell! The plastic explosive!” Dora cried in alarm.

“A big cake like we saw in the shop could fit quite a bit of explosive inside it, couldn’t it?” he reasoned.

“We need to get there! Now!” Dora yelled, already heading out the door.

“We have to send a Patronus now!” Hermione argued. “It doesn’t matter if a Muggle sees it.”

“Yeah, but Greengrass might see it, too,” Harry disagreed. “It might prompt her to detonate the bomb early.”

Fuelled by that logic, the group ran to the Ministry’s Apparation point in the Atrium as fast as they could. As neither Ginny nor Bill knew of the garden party’s exact location, Harry and Dora were forced to Side-Along them. Harry cursed every wasted second.

They arrived in a secluded grove of trees set in the large garden the party was being hosted in. The loud pops they made attracted attention, however, and one of the Ministry’s security staff ran over to check what was happening. It proved to be a familiar face.

“Blimey, what are you lot doing?” Ron demanded as he caught site of them.

“Ron, we have a credible threat to the life of the Minister. Where is he?” Harry demanded.

“Over by the house,” Ron replied instantly. “He’s been greeting guests as they arrived and has just delivered his welcome speech. They’ve just set out the buffet and…”

“Bollocks!” Harry spat and sprinted past the surprised Auror with the others hard on his heels. The garden was full of guests all dressed appropriately for such a social occasion. They all looked at Harry in shock as he ran past them.

Looking desperately around as he ran, Harry caught sight of a row of tables with crisp, white tablecloths covering them. They were covered by a veritable feast of foods, but his eyes were drawn to a large, multi-tiered cake that sat in pride of place on the centre table. To his horror, Harry saw Kingsley Shacklebolt standing next to the table, chatting to a number of his guests.

“Kingsley, get down!” Harry yelled as he ran towards him.

The big man turned and looked at Harry in surprise. “Harry, what’s happening?” he rumbled.

Not taking any chances, Harry skidded to a halt near the confused Minister and pulled out his wand. With a flourish, he Vanished the cake, causing a gasp of surprise from the assembled Muggles.

“What the hell are you doing?” Kingsley demanded in a strangled voice. One of his guests, an elderly woman, chose that moment to faint and toppled to the grass.

“He had no choice, Kingsley,” Dora called out as she came to a halt beside Harry. “There was a bomb in the bloody cake. Daphne Greengrass is behind the whole campaign against you and we think she’s been trying to assassinate you.”

“Daphne? Surely not,” Kingsley said in surprise. “The Greengrass family are neutral; they wouldn’t do something like that!”

“You’re quite right, Minister,” a voice called out. “Assassinate the Minister for Magic using a Muggle bomb? Unthinkable.”

They turned to see Ophion Greengrass emerge from out of thin air, with his daughter close behind him. They both wore robes and rather smug expressions.

“Ophion, will you please tell me what the hell is happening? Why are you wearing those robes, anyway?” Kingsley demanded. Harry, however, just pointed his wand at the pair of them.

“Drop your wand, Greengrass,” he said firmly. “We know you’re the mysterious Mr Winter and that you’ve been running that criminal gang here in London. We found your secret hideout in the sewers, too.”

“Ah, yes, how unexpected and, it I might say, rather stupid of you. Honestly, Mr Potter, we’ve been laying a trail of clues leading straight to the door of ‘Creative Creations’ for months now. Did you really not think to simply search the place?” Ophion laughed.

“Yes, we’ve had the packaging for that Muggle explosive hidden away in the kitchen for days now. I would have thought that your little curse-breaking whore might have at least helped you break in to have a look around, but no. You always have to do it the hard way, don’t you, Harry?” Daphne smiled.

“I told you to drop your wands,” Harry repeated loudly.

“We’re quite unarmed,” Ophion replied in a superior voice. “With all these Aurors and Ministry staff around, we wouldn’t dream of trying to attack the Minister directly.”

“So that’s why you tried to smuggle that bomb in, was it?” Ginny challenged the man.

“Oh, there was no bomb, you stupid little girl. I simply wanted Mr Potter here to be seen performing magic in front of the Muggles,” Ophion said haughtily.

There was silence for a moment, before Harry addressed the Greengrass elder in disbelief.

“What the hell will that achieve?” he demanded. “Yeah, the Muggles here will have seen it, but we have enough trained Obliviators here that none of them will ever remember the event.”

“I’m so glad to hear you say that,” Ophion crowed, before turning and directing his attention to the Muggle guests. “Perhaps I should explain what the young man is talking about. You see, unbeknownst to you all, a race of magical beings has been living under your noses for years. We are bound to keep our existence a secret by an agreement called The International Statute of Secrecy. We wizards will do anything to maintain that secrecy, including wiping your memories, a procedure called, as my friend here noted, ‘Obliviation’. They will quite literally rip the memories from your minds.”

“Stop this,” Dora yelled angrily. “What the bloody hell do you hope to achieve by all this?”

“It’s all quite simple,” Ophion smiled and then walked forward to the front of one of the catering tables. He picked up a small object from it and displayed it to the crowd proudly.

“While you must understand that you Muggles are an inferior breed to us wizards, I must applaud you ingenuity. This marvellous little device is called a web camera, and it’s currently filming live footage of this entire event which is, even as we speak, being uploaded on to the internet. I’ve made sure the footage is posted to hundreds of sites all over the world. Within hours, the whole world will know of the existence of magical beings in their midst.”

Harry felt his blood run cold. Had the Statute of Secrecy really just been blown to pieces? He stammered out the one question he could think of. “Why?” he demanded.

“Why?” Daphne repeated in amusement. “Isn’t it obvious? So these stupid Muggles can see what we, the superior race on this planet, are capable of. I’m quite sure they won’t like it, of course, especially now they know we’ve been running around wiping out their memories. No, they’ll try and attack us, I don’t doubt and we, the true masters of this planet, will subjugate them! No witch or wizard will have a choice, they will be forced to eliminate the Muggles or face being destroyed themselves. My father and I have triggered a war that will see us restored to our rightful place as lords of this world.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” Kingsley protested. “Why this elaborate scheme? Either of you could have just performed magic and posted it on the internet.”

“But this way we’ve already exposed the British Minister for Magic, thus making your position untenable,” Ophion smiled. “You’ll be kicked out within days for allowing this to happen, you Muggle-loving fool.”

“We admit this wasn’t our original plan,” Daphne continued. “We had intended to just involve you, Kingsley, but when we heard that Harry Potter himself had returned to the country, well, that was just too good an opportunity to miss. The man who defeated the Dark Lord and ensured the Muggles would be left in peace, responsible for breaking the Statute of Secrecy and exposing the Wizarding Community to the world? Why, that’s priceless!”

Harry stared at them in horror. Had he just been responsible for outing the existence of witches and wizards to the world?

“Why have you done this, Ophion?” Kingsley demanded. “The Greengrass family has always been neutral. You’ve never shown the slightest desire to buy into this racist supremacy crap. Why now, when you stand to lose so much?”

“Because we stand to gain so much more,” Ophion snapped. “While we never sided with that insane lunatic Voldemort, it didn’t mean we never believed that the Muggles should be shown their rightful place. Look at the mess they’re making of the world, the foul miscreants! It’s time for us to step from the shadows and take control, as we should have done centuries ago! And now, thanks to the Muggles’ own technology, we will achieve it. After this film has been seen across the world, everything will change!”

“Err, no, it won’t,” a small voice said.

Every head turned towards the speaker, who proved to be a small, slightly dumpy waitress who was standing nervously behind the table.

“What did you say, Muggle filth?” Ophion spat.

“I said; no, it won’t,” the girl confirmed, sounding a little more defiant. “No one will see your webcam footage.”

“And why, pray tell, is that?” Ophion growled menacingly.

The girl reached down and grabbed a thin cable and was attached to the web camera. She then held it up so the crowd could see it. The cable was clearly not attached to anything.

“I unplugged it,” she announced. “I do loads of these posh events, and they always warn us to be on the lookout for journalists and photographers trying to get in. When I was bringing the sandwiches out, I nearly tripped over this wire. As the security brief we had didn’t mention anything about cameras around the place, I figured it was just some paparazzi trying to get some sneaky pictures, so I unplugged it. I meant to mention it to someone, but I… err, got a bit distracted.”

“So, this footage hasn’t been recorded?” Harry asked the girl.

“No, not through this camera, anyway,” she confirmed.

Harry turned and looked at the Greengrasses. For a second, he feared they might have other cameras about the place, but their enraged expressions suggested otherwise. Ophion was livid, and looked like he was about to leap over the table and attack the waitress with his bare hands. Harry pointed his wand at the man and was about to tell him to surrender himself, when a snort of laughter escaped his lips.

Ophion and Daphne both snapped their heads round to look at him. Such was the outraged expressions on their faces that he couldn’t help himself: he burst out laughing.

At first everyone stared at him like he was mad, but then he heard a giggle from behind him. He turned to see a bright-red Ginny, barely able to keep in her laughter. As soon as she saw his face, she gave up and howled with laughter.

Hermione stepped forward and pointed at Daphne. “You think you’re so clever, you stuck-up, pure-blood cow, but your whole intricate scheme has just been shot to pieces by a Muggle waitress who possesses a bit of common sense. That’s hilarious!”

Two generations of Greengrass’s stood, trembling with anger, as every witch and wizard in the garden roared with laughter at them.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Ophion and Daphne Greengrass were led away in handcuffs while the bemused Muggles looked on. This gave the Ministry Obliviators the perfect opportunity to get to work. Within minutes, all of the Muggle guests at the garden party were chatting away, completely unaware of the drama that had just occurred, even if a few did question what had happened to the marvellous cake that had been the centre-piece of the buffet.

Harry and the rest headed back to the Ministry, too. They were required to provide full statements of what had happened, not to mention that none of them were exactly dressed for a high class function. Dedalus joined them as soon as they arrived, and they provided him with full details of their adventures underground. He immediately dispatched a team from the Magical Patrol to further investigate the secret base and to retrieve the bodies.

Several hours later, Kingsley returned and immediately summoned the five of them to his office, where they were forced to give him a full account of the whole affair. After running through the background to the case, Harry started to explain what more they had discovered after interviewing the Greengrasses that afternoon.

“The whole thing was an elaborate set up to firstly discredit you and the British Ministry, and then expose the whole of our society to the Muggles,” Harry explained. “Ophion was sure that they would attack us if they became aware of our existence.”

“He knew the Muggle world quite well, you see,” Dora continued. “It appears that the Greengrasses lost nearly everything in the first war. Although they never openly declared their support for Voldemort, they financially backed him to the hilt. When Harry here blew him to kingdom come the first time, they lost everything.”

“Ophion’s a pretty smart guy, however,” Harry took up the story again. “Knowing that questions would be asked if he suddenly went bankrupt, he decided to rekindle his fortunate by stealing from the Muggles. At first it was just petty crime like stealing jewellery and robbing the odd bank, but then he realised that he could set up legitimate businesses to hide his criminal activities. For the last fifteen years or so he’s been creating a Muggle business empire on the back of his ill-gotten earnings.”

“But what about that Edgar Stephens character? He was being used to transfer funds out of the magical community and into the Muggle one, not the other way round,” Shacklebolt objected.

“It was a big circle of corruption,” Harry smiled grimly. “In fact, Stephens was at the end of the money laundering operation. Stolen Muggle money was being illegally passed into our economy, and then passed back into the Muggle one via Stephens. Of course, to the Muggle authorities the funds were then completely untraceable. Ophion’s, or should I say, Mr Winter’s, income appeared completely clean to the Inland Revenue.”

“Okay, so Greengrass had himself a nice little setup, there,” Kingsley acknowledged. “So why risk it all now? Why did he try to pull off this mad scheme?”

“Ah, that would be your fault, Minister,” Hermione leapt in. “I’m afraid all your new Anti-discrimination laws were an anathema to Greengrass and his daughter. Plus, he was worried that the closer cooperation you were fostering between the Ministry and their Muggle counterparts would expose his operations. He decided that it was time to try and succeed where his former lord failed and destroy the Muggle world, once and for all.”

“Ophion is the ultimate gambler. Unfortunately for him, his gamble didn’t pay off,” Dora said smugly.

“What about those thugs of his? Who were they?” Kingsley demanded.

“Loyal family retainers,” Dora confirmed. “It appears they actually received training to become Death Eaters during the second war, but Harry snuffed out Voldemort before they had a chance to join the fight. For years they’ve been the muscle in his criminal activities, which explains why they fought like Death Eaters but knew so much about Muggles.”

Kingsley sighed. “Well, that was a close run thing. I have to say, though, I’m deeply displeased that a pair of Gringotts employees had been dragged into the middle of a Ministry investigation. If the goblins get wind of this…”

“Not a word!” Ginny said hastily.

“Trust me, Minister, it’s in our best interest that they never find out, too,” Bill assured him.

Further conversation was briefly halted when Kingsley’s secretary, Lavender, entered bearing a tray of refreshments for them all. They remained silent until she left, although Harry did notice the especially warm smile the girl gave to her boss as she left.

“You know, if Ophion Greengrass hadn’t been so hell bent on dragging you into this farce, his plan would have succeeded,” Kingsley noted, stirring his coffee with a sullen expression on his face.

“He overcomplicated his plans, too,” Harry agreed. “I guess he was a bit like Voldemort in that respect; too caught up in his own cleverness.”

“The plan wasn’t that clever, though,” Hermione disagreed. “I really should have figured most of it out much earlier; the clues where all there. I can’t believe I missed the significance of his holding company’s name, for instance.”

“Sorry, I missed that bit,” Dora admitted.

“Remember, it was called Otherside Holdings Plc,” Hermione prompted.

“Ah, where is the grass not always greener?” Harry said, understanding coming to him in a flash.

“The other side, and in this case, on the Muggle side,” Dora nodded. “Bloody hell, we should have picked up on that.”

“I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it,” Kingsley told her. “It would have been a flimsy lead at best. Still, the repercussions of this whole affair will need to be considered. The speed at which Muggle technology is progressing is a threat to us all.”

“Surely you don’t buy into the idea that Muggles are a danger to us, do you, Minister?” Hermione asked, sounding faintly outraged.

“Not in the way you’re implying, Miss Granger, no,” Kingsley smiled. “I merely refer to our ability to remain hidden from them. Very soon some random Muggle is going to capture an image of one of us performing magic and the game is up.”

“Most people would think it was faked, surely?” Harry protested.

“Probably, but it only takes a single incident to start people asking questions and things can snowball from there. Imagine if a film of a witch casting a spell with her wand ends up getting shown all across the world. At the moment, if a Muggle catches sight of one of us with a wand they wouldn’t ask too many questions; it’s just a bit of wood to them, after all. But if that film came into the public domain, well, that would be a different story. Besides, a disgruntled witch or wizard like Greengrass can easily get access to Muggle technology.”

“I’m sure if the Muggles started actively looking for us, it wouldn’t take long for them to find us,” Dora added. “Let’s face it, these garden parties have shown how much effort has to be put in so that the average witch or wizard can fit in with Muggles. Most of us would stick out like a sore thumb.”

“The International Statute of Secrecy was fine in its day, but times have changed,” Kingsley said thoughtfully. “I think I’m going to have to call a meeting of the ICW regarding this. We need to prepare for the day when we are outed. I’m convinced it will be a matter of when, not if.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Kingsley,” Dora agreed. “It will be better if we decide how we make ourselves known to the Muggles, rather than have them uncover it themselves.”

“I quite agree,” Kingsley nodded. “I do have one final question, though. As Ophion asked, why didn’t you two raid the bakery? That should have been right up there on your to-do list.”

“The Greengrasses did too good a job of turning the business around,” Harry shrugged. “We were convinced the bakery was a legitimate business that was simply being used in a money laundering operation. We didn’t think we’d uncover anything useful by raiding it. Besides, we’d already checked the place out once.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry to say, Ginny, that Harry put down a deposit for a wedding cake for me and him. I hope you’re not too jealous,” Dora grinned.

“Oh well, as long as I get to be a bridesmaid,” Ginny sighed tragically.

“Actually, while we’re on that subject, I have something that I need to give to you two,” Kingsley announced, pulling a pair of golden envelopes from his robes and handing one each to Harry and Dora.

“Ooh, have we won a tour of a magical chocolate factory?” Dora joked.

Grinning, Harry opened his envelope and stared at the neatly printed card contained within it. He felt his jaw drop as he read.

“Married? You’re getting married?” he gasped.

“What?” Dora exclaimed and ripped open her own envelope.

“Oh, congratulations, Minister,” Hermione smiled. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“Lavender, his secretary,” Harry told her, waving his invite at her. He turned back to look at the Minister, “and you denied anything was going on, Kingsley!”

“Yes, well, that was a slight mistruth, I must confess,” the big man admitted uncomfortably, “but Lavender is a beautiful young witch and I’m not getting any younger, you know.”

“Wait a minute,” Dora interrupted. “I distinctly remember you once saying you’d never be dragged down the aisle! In fact, you normally think marriage is a swear word!”

“It’s all a bit rushed this wedding, isn’t it? The date for the ceremony is in just two weeks’ time,” Harry speculated. “I mean, you haven’t even announced the engagement yet. What’s the hurry to get hitched?”

“We just didn’t want to wait,” Kinsley said defensively.

“Really?” Dora said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You didn’t want to wait, or you were worried that Lavender would be starting to show if you didn’t?”

“Minister, Lavender isn’t…” Hermione began to say.

Kingsley didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. The guilt was written plain on his face for them all to see.

For the second time that afternoon, Harry collapsed into a helpless ball of laughter.

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Gently, Harry placed the bunch of flowers at the foot of the simple gravestone. The stone was starting to look a little weather-beaten, but at least it was in keeping with the rest of the cemetery.

He stepped back and was blinded by the sunshine which had previously been blocked by the trees. He was glad that Sirius was at rest here where the sun could reach his grave. His godfather had previously left strict orders that if anything should happen to him he was on no account to be buried with the rest of his family in the Black family crypt. Sirius’s request had been the least Harry could do for the man who in many ways was the only father he’d ever known.

“You okay, Harry?” a voice asked.

He turned and looked at Ginny. She was dressed simply in jeans and a t-shirt, but she still looked absolutely stunning to him. A gentle breeze stirred her long hair and the sun shining through it made it look like she was surrounded by a halo. Truly, the stone angels dotted around the Highgate Cemetery had nothing on her.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he replied. “I’ve always liked this place, you know. I think Sirius would have liked it, too. It’s so beautiful here.”

“It is,” she agreed, “although it’s a bit creepy, too. Those tombs look like something straight out of a horror story.”

Harry chuckled. “The Black family crypt is over there, and Sirius was always adamant that he wouldn’t be buried in it. I think he shared your opinion of it.”

Ginny nodded. “Do you need a bit longer here? I can go for a wander if you want to be alone.”

“No, I think I’m ready to go. Besides, I’ve spent enough time on my own over the last few years. It’s much nicer being here with you.”

He walked over to her and slipped his arm around her shoulders. Ginny gave him a quick hug, and they began to slowly walk down the leafy path that led to the main entrance.

“I really must go and visit my parents’ graves, too,” Harry said after a while. “I haven’t been there since I left to go and join Department M.”

“They’re buried in Godric’s Hollow, aren’t they?” Ginny asked. “I seem to remember reading that somewhere.”

“That’s right,” he confirmed. “Sirius and I always used to go there at least once a year, normally at Christmas. I really must get back into the habit.”

“I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have my parents,” Ginny admitted sadly. “You’ve lost so much, Harry. It breaks my heart.”

“Sometimes life is like that. If I spent my time pondering all the things I’ve lost, I would end up slashing my wrists. I have to think positively and count my blessings for the things I do have. I have some family left, and an increasing number of friends. I’ve got a pretty hot girlfriend, too,” he grinned.

“Prat,” she laughed and gave his middle another squeeze. “So, on a lighter topic, how serious are Bill and Tonks getting? They just can’t seem to be apart from each other at the moment. Do you think there will be wedding bells in the near future?”

“That would be cool, but I don’t think they should rush into anything,” Harry told her. “They were both totally hung-up about their previous partners, and they need to make sure that they’re not just using each other as a substitute. I don’t think they are, and that they make a great couple, but they don’t need to hurry. They can take their time, unless Dora’s up the duff, of course.”

Ginny giggled. “Poor Kingsley. Lavender’s taking over totally. Hermione heard that she flatly told Kingsley that he has to get rid of his sports car and buy something more sensible, instead. He’s under the thumb already.”

“Hey, he lived the playboy lifestyle long enough. It will do him good to settle down,” Harry said, but he did have rather a malicious smile on his lips as he spoke. “Talking of Hermione, how are things with her and your brother, Ron?”

“Merlin knows,” Ginny said in exasperation. “I swear those two think that arguing is a form of foreplay. I know they went out for a meal ‘as friends’ the other day, but I’ve no idea how they got on. They’ll either end up getting married or killing each other, I expect. Perhaps both.”

Harry chuckled in agreement. By now they had reached the exit and beyond the gate he could see the busy traffic hurtling by outside. It was a stark reminder of the modern world.

“I hope Kingsley can convince the ICW that things have to change. We stand less and less chance of remaining hidden, now, and it would be far better if we can control our exposure to the Muggles,” Harry said.

“I agree,” Ginny nodded. “In fact, when you think about it, it’s a miracle the Muggles haven’t found out about us already.”

“Yeah, but things aren’t going to stay that way forever. I think we’ll see some big changes in the next few years,” he prophesised.

“I’m not worried, not when we have Harry Potter around to save the day. Can I have your autograph, please, Mr Potter, sir?” Ginny asked in a little girl voice, fluttering her eyelashes at him.

“You can have a lot more of me then that,” he replied with a leer.

She laughed, and then looked at him with an evil glint in her eyes. “Of course, you know my parents still want to meet you. Bill and Ron have both been going on about what a nice bloke you are, and my mum is dead keen on finally checking you out herself.”

Harry groaned. “Perhaps I can use Greengrass’s underground base to hide in?” he speculated.

She slapped him lightly on the arm. “Coward!” she giggled. “I don’t know, Harry Potter; hero of the wizarding world and international super-spy, afraid of one middle-aged witch! The worst thing she’ll probably do is try to feed you too much. Come on, Harry, you can’t avoid them forever.”

“Well… okay, as long as you’re there to hold my hand and protect me,” he agreed reluctantly.

“Of course, you’re not getting away from me that easily, you know,” she smiled wickedly. “Besides, we make a pretty good team. I don’t think there’s anything we can’t achieve together.”

“I think you might be right,” he smiled. “Come on, let’s head home.”

Because, finally, he was back where he belonged.








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