|SIYE Time:20:01 on 11th December 2017|
Strangers at Drakeshaugh
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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Genres: Drama, Fluff, General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language
Summary: The locals in a sleepy corner of the Cheviot Hills are surprised to discover that they have new neighbours. Who are the strangers at Drakeshaugh?
Hitcount: Story Total: 165315; Chapter Total: 1647
Awards: View Trophy Room
Interlude: Last Rites?
‘Let me see that,’ Susan demanded, pushing herself between Lavender and Camelia.
Harry pushed the large sheet of parchment he’d been reading across his desk. Lavender and Camelia crowded around the blonde and tried to read over her shoulder. Behind them, Bobbie stood on her tiptoes and looked over Camelia’s head. Lavender laughed. Bobbie sighed. Camelia didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
‘The last funeral I attended was my adopted son’s,’ the vampire said thoughtfully. ‘I had to pretend to be his great-niece, of course.’
‘Do we have to do this?’ Susan asked her boss. Her colleagues groaned.
‘It’s a request, not an order,’ Harry said. ‘I’m Polly’s executor and, as you can see, she’s given me some very specific instructions about her funeral arrangements. If you refuse, I have to find replacements.’
‘If I said no,’ Susan began. Ignoring the cries of outrage from her colleagues, she pressed on, ‘If I said no,’ she repeated firmly, ‘who would you ask?’
‘Given what happened, Trudi would be my first choice,’ Harry told her.
‘No!’ Lavender shook her head firmly, but Harry ignored her vociferous objection.
‘If Trudi says no, then I thought about asking Ellie Cattermole,’ he added.
‘There’s nothing to worry about, Susan,’ said Lavender dismissively. ‘You won’t have to buy nail varnish; I’ve enough for all of us.’
‘You’ve enough nail varnish for the entire Ministry, including the blokes,’ observed Bobbie sarcastically.
Ignoring the laughter, Lavender continued. ‘I may have enough black lace gloves, too. If you need to borrow some, I’ve definitely got enough pairs of fishnets for everyone, except…’ She paused, stared into space, and put on a sultry expression. ‘The last time I wore fishnets, Emmsy...’
‘We don’t want to know,’ Bobbie told her firmly. Lavender smirked.
‘I can provide my own clothes, Lavender. I was a Goth myself, for a while.’ Camelia stared thoughtfully into the deep, dark abyss of her past. ‘They’re probably in one of my 1980s wardrobes.’
‘Don’t you throw any of your old clothes out?’ asked Lavender enviously.
‘Not often. I don’t get fatter or thinner and, even after more than two hundred years, I have no idea what might come in useful in the future. The only thing I can remember ditching from the eighties was one of those ridiculous puffball dresses.’ As she spoke, Camelia pushed her raven-black tresses back over her shoulder and began planning her outfit. ‘I’ll wear the patent leather button-up boots I bought in the 1890s. You’ve seen them, remember? When we infiltrated that gang of steampunk vampire hunters, to make certain that they didn’t find one?’
‘Muggles!’ Lavender shook her head in despair.
‘Oi!’ Bobbie protested.
‘Can I assume you’ve said yes, Lavender?’ asked Harry, desperately trying to keep the conversation on track.
‘It’s a chance to dress up. Of course I’ll do it,’ Lavender said. ‘My lovely Mark can cope with our little angel for a few hours without me. You will do it, too, Susan. We owe it to Polly; she got us together.’
‘I’m in, too,’ said Bobbie. ‘You’re right, Lavender. I owe my current career to her and Harry. Although I’m certain that this is simply one final joke. It’s her final revenge on us.’
‘Probably, but we have to do her proud!’ Lavender said forcefully. She wiped a tear from her eye and noisily blew her nose. ‘I’ll miss her.’
Susan sighed. ‘You’re right, Lavender. I’ll do it, Harry.’
‘This has instructions for you, too, Harry,’ Lavender said, pointing to the final paragraph. ‘Are you really...’
‘Yes,’ he sighed.
As his client signed the final pieces of paperwork, the funeral director looked around the deceased’s home.
The black painted walls were covered with posters of bands, most of which he’d never heard of. On the mantelpiece, where most people would have had ornaments, there stood a collection of empty beer bottles. He read the labels: Hobgoblin, Ghost Ship, Pendle Witches Brew, Black Cat, White Witch, Black Wych, Blonde Witch, Mostly Ghostly, Thatcher’s Green Goblin, Centurion’s Ghost, Phantom, King Goblin, and Pride of Pendle. There were thirteen bottles–and a definite theme.
Turning his attention to the pallbearers, he examined them carefully. The smallest, a raven-haired youngster, was stick-thin and barely five feet tall; the tallest, the one with mousey, short-cropped hair, was pregnant. Even after twenty years in the business he’d never had a pregnant pallbearer before. It was only the second time he’d had four females take on the role.
‘You’re certain that you can do this?’ he asked, trying to mask his doubt.
‘Yes,’ the four women spoke in unison.
‘It’s for Polly,’ the dimple-chinned blonde said.
‘I’m a lot stronger than I look,’ the black-haired waif assured him.
All four women wore a mix of black, blue and bronze eyeshadow, and all wore blue lipstick. Painted fingernails, also a mix of black, blue, and bronze, protruded from four pairs of black lace fingerless gloves. Beginning with the “P” on the thumb, the nails of their left hands bore the name of the deceased, one bronze letter on each blue nail. All also wore at least one pair of black fishnets. Additionally, somewhere about their person, they wore a rose. All this, he knew, was at the request of the deceased. Other than that, their outfits were startlingly different.
The blonde’s hair was a neat bun wrapped in black lace. Of all the quartet, she looked the least comfortable in her outfit; it was almost as though someone else had dressed her. The tails of her black velvet tailcoat fell halfway down her calves, far below the tight skirt that ended four inches above her knees. A gold watch-chain dangled from her buttoned yellow and black checked waistcoat. Her rose was in the buttonhole of her tailcoat.
The pregnant woman wore a black bowler hat with a rose in its chequered band. The bowler appeared to be a genuine Metropolitan Police female uniform hat–it even had the badge. He didn’t dare enquire, but the black lace-up boots she wore looked to be police standard, too. Her baby bump distorted the lace-hemmed purple sweater-dress she wore, and it was unlikely that the black ankle-length trench coat she wore over it could be buttoned. She looked a lot more at ease than the blonde.
The other two women were obviously enjoying themselves.
The curvaceous woman’s lavender-coloured hair was mounded up into a lace-festooned beehive and topped off with the rose. She was the only one of the four wearing opera gloves, and her shoulders were bare. The flouncy collection of lace skirts and petticoats below her black, cleavage-displaying corset were so short that the red and yellow garters that held up two pairs of torn and laddered fishnets were visible. On top of the lot, she wore a floor length black cloak lined with red silk.
The raven-haired woman wore a pillbox hat with a veil that not only covered her face, but also curved under her chin. Her unbound hair cascaded down the back of the black off-the-shoulder Victorian dress she wore; her rose was placed in its cleavage. The dress, which appeared to have been crudely hacked short, fell to just above her knees. The red lace petticoat beneath was calf length, and beneath it, patent leather button boots gleamed.
‘Is that everything?’ asked his client. The bespectacled man with the lightning scar on his forehead leant forward and handed over the paperwork. He was no less bizarrely dressed than the pallbearers.
Now the papers were signed. the executor, Mr H J Potter (“Call me Harry, please.”), was exuding a simmering grimness. His purple frock coat was open, revealing a blue and yellow striped waistcoat. Looking down at his coat, Mr Potter adjusted the rose in its buttonhole and checked his inside pocket. This caused the funeral director to check his own pocket, where he had a copy of Mr Potter’s eulogy, just in case. Now lost in thought, Mr Potter was examining the raven feathers protruding from the band of his purple top hat.
The funeral director checked his own buttonhole. The roses were a variety he now knew well. He had spent a frantic day tracking down every “Black Baccara” rose he could find. His client had told him that money was no object. It was just as well; this was one of the most expensive funerals he’d ever organised.
When Mr Potter pulled a battered gold pocket watch from his waistcoat, the funeral director was brought back to the present. Looking at his wristwatch, he folded up the forms–the bureaucracy of death–and turned to his client. ‘Yes, Mr Potter, everything is in order,’ he said. ‘It’s time to leave.’
Standing, the funeral director led the quintet from the flat and down the stairs. As he opened the door, he heard his client gasp.
‘It looks like a lot of people saw the notice, Harry,’ the lavender-haired woman observed dryly.
They made their way out to the glass-sided, horse-drawn hearse. The blue and yellow beribboned wicker casket inside was surrounded by Black Baccara roses.
There were, the funeral director estimated, almost one hundred people in the street, plus four loudly grumbling motorcycles. His client had been unable to tell him how many people would be attending the funeral. He’d estimated forty or fifty, and he’d been wrong.
The street was a sea of black, blue, red, and purple. Tattoos, piercings, unnatural hair colours, and strange hairstyles were everywhere. There were leather jackets, frock coats and lace, even among the more mature of the mourners. Close behind the hearse stood a stout grandmotherly figure and a thin sallow-faced man; both were around sixty, and both were wearing long black cloaks. The woman also sported a pointed witches hat. Suddenly, the five people he’d met inside the deceased’s home didn’t look at all outlandish.
‘I will lead the hearse,’ the funeral director reminded his client. ‘You should walk directly behind it, Mr Potter. Ladies, in pairs behind Mr Potter, please.’
Leaving them to sort themselves out, he walked over to have a quiet word with his two assistants. ‘Kevin, call ahead and tell the cemetery they’ll need to put out about fifty more chairs. Walter, get to the back and try to keep this lot two abreast. Kevin will help, once he’s make the phone call.’
Moving in front of the horses, he put on his top hat. He was straightening his coat when two of the motorcycles roared past the hearse and pulled alongside him. One, whose pot-bellied rider had grey hair hanging lankly down his back, pulled up to the kerb. The other stopped alongside the funeral director.
‘Me’n Slim’ll lead,’ the bushy-bearded, black-jacket-wearing man told him. ‘Make sure there’s no tosser tries t’ stop us. Boris ‘n Nobby are gonna keep order at the back, okay?’
‘Certainly,’ the funeral director said, although he was, in truth, far from certain. ‘Let’s go.’ He raised his umbrella into the air. When he dropped it, he set off at a stately pace. Ahead, two bikes rolled slowly forwards, riders constantly glancing in their mirrors. Behind him, reins jangled as the coachman coaxed the two white-stockinged black Shires into motion.
The walk from Kentish town would take half an hour and, as he strode down the streets, past the gawping public, he wondered who Polly Protheroe had been. Getting a burial plot in Highgate was almost unheard of, and the numerous mourners behind the hearse were some of the most eccentric he’d ever seen.
Ginny wore a knee-length black dress, a fitted jacket, and the black Homburg she’d worn to every remembrance service at Hogwarts. As she watched the additional chairs being hastily set up, she wondered what the unfortunately absent witch-fashion correspondents–who hated the fact that she’d worn the same hat every second of May for five years–would make of the Black Baccara rose she had attached to the hatband.
She had been at the cemetery for almost half an hour. Not being part of the cortege didn’t concern her. She wasn’t an Auror, and she didn’t know Polly well. Her presence at the cemetery was a wifely duty, a reassurance to her husband. Harry wanted everything to run smoothly, and he’d been worried about the graveside ceremony. As she watched the Muggles efficiently reorganise the seating, she knew his anxiety had been unfounded. But she also knew that her presence would be a comfort to him when he came to read Polly’s eulogy.
When the cortege arrived, right on time, it’s size and make up surprised her. It certainly explained the hastily placed folding seats. Ginny tried not to smile as the mourners poured forwards; they were trying get a good location while also keeping a degree of funereal decorum. She distracted herself by watching her gaudily-dressed husband attend the four members of the Muggle Interface Team as they lifted the coffin from the glass-sided carriage.
The funeral director and his three men had been alert when the wicker casket was pulled from the hearse, presumably concerned that the four women would be unable carry it. The coffin was, however, carefully balanced on their shoulders and they bore its weight with a determined ease. Bobbie and Susan were at the rear, Lavender and Camelia at the front, and many of the Muggle attendees were using their mobile telephones to photograph the four female pallbearers.
This was only the second Muggle funeral Ginny had attended, and it was very different from the first. Reminded of that occasion, Ginny looked around to check on Dennis. He and Lesley–who couldn’t possibly get any more pregnant–were standing between the Corners and a sallow faced older man in a black-cloak. The Creeveys were hand in hand, and both were crying. The older man was also crying. He was an Auror and, from his age, Ginny assumed that he was Aloysius Webb, the oldest member of Harry’s team.
‘D’you know who that lot are?’
‘The pallbearers?’ Ginny turned to face the heavily tattooed and pierced woman who’d stepped up to her side to ask the question.
‘Yeah.’ The woman wore a motorcycle jacket, a black leather calf-length skirt, which contained far more zips than were necessary, and a black t-shirt. The t-shirt puzzled Ginny. The image was of Death, the Grim Reaper, a concept she knew was familiar to both Muggle and Wizardkind; however, the words underneath the image —“I COULD MURDER A CURRY”— made no sense. Realising it must be a Muggle thing, she said nothing.
‘You’re Trish-from-the-pub, aren’t you?’ Ginny asked.
Startled, the woman nodded. The chain that stretched across her cheek from her nose ring, through an extremely large hole in her earlobe, and back again rattled against itself.
‘You’ve spoken to my husband. He came to see you.’ She indicated Harry. ‘The wake is being held at your pub.’
‘The Dorsetshire Arms, yeah,’ the woman nodded. ‘So–you’re “The Harpy”? I fort you must be, ’cos of your ’air, but you’re not what I was expecting.’
‘The Harpy? Is that what Polly called me?’ Ginny asked, somewhat surprised that Polly had ever discussed her other life with the woman.
Trish nodded, and once again Ginny found herself watching the chains rippling across the woman’s cheek.
‘She never called nobody by their proper names–’cept me an’ big-boss-Harry. E’s younger van I fort, so are you. So, who’s the blonde?’
‘So, that’s Prim! Bloody hell, getting’ ’er dolled up like that must be Poll’s idea of a joke. She was the one I wasn’t sure about. Plod and Plughole were easy to spot, but from what she said, I fort Polidori would be a helluva lot older.’ She indicated, in turn, Bobbie, Lavender, and Camelia.
‘Prim, Plod, Plughole, and Polidori?’ asked Ginny, intrigued. ‘Prim, I get, and plod is police, right?’
‘Yeah,’ Trish agreed.
‘What about Plughole and Polidori?’
‘What happens when you pull out a plug?’ Trish asked.
‘The water drains…’ Ginny stopped and thought. ‘Everything in the sink revolves around the plughole.’
Trish smiled. ‘Poll said you was sharp.’
‘Polidori?’ Ginny asked.
‘Not sure about that one,’ Trish admitted. ‘John William Polidori wrote “The Vampyre”. I fink it must be somefink to do wiff that. It’s one o’ Poll’s jokes, like plughole, but she never explained that ‘un. What about old “Spider,” is he here?’
While they’d been speaking, the pallbearers had carefully lowered the coffin to rest next to the open grave. Harry was striding over to join Ginny and Trish at the podium. Heads bowed, the pall-bearers followed.
‘Spider?’ Ginny asked. ‘Who’s Spider?’
‘That’s what Polly called Aloysius Webb,’ said Harry as he stepped up to the podium. ‘Hello, Trish, there isn’t a problem with the wake, is there?’
‘Nah,’ she shook her head. ‘So, is Spider here?’
Harry pointed out the sallow-faced man.
‘Black cloak and purple velvet jacket at his age? Respect!’ said Trish, impressed. ‘Poll always liked ’im. I’ll go an’ say ’ello.’
As Trish scurried away, Ginny turned to her husband. ‘I feel distinctly underdressed, Mr Potter,’ she said. ‘You’re looking good, damn good. You should wear a waistcoat more often.’
Harry stared at her in disbelief.
‘D’you think I could carry off Lavender’s ensemble?’ Ginny continued.
‘In the privacy of our bedroom, perhaps,’ Harry murmured, a twinkle in his eye.
‘What’s so funny, Ginny?’ Lavender asked as she moved to stand at Harry’s left.
‘And what is this din?’ Susan asked as she stepped up next to Lavender.
‘It’s called Love Song and it’s by The Damned,’ Camelia told her. ‘I saw them live a couple of times, nearly thirty years ago. The second time I managed to nick Captain Sensible’s red beret. I wonder where it is now?’
‘The Damned?’ Susan pursed her lips.
‘What are they playing during the committal, Harry?’ Camelia asked.
He checked his notes. ‘Spellbound, Siouxsie and the Banshees,’ he said.
‘Polly was a wicked witch! I wish I’d met her sooner,’ said Camelia, laughing. ‘This is different, isn’t it?’
Before he could reply, the funeral director signalled that the last of the mourners had been seated. The music faded. Harry looked out at the crowd, and silence fell.
‘I’d like to thank you all for coming. I’m sure that Polly wouldn’t be surprised to see how many people are here to send her off,’ he began. ‘She’d be “totally bleedin’ gobsmacked”.’ He paused to allow the nervous laughter to die down. ‘Before we start, I’d like to invite everyone to The Dorsetshire Arms after the service. If there’s anyone here who doesn’t know where it is, please speak to the landlady, Trish.’
Trish stood and raised a studded-leather gloved fist. There was a muted cheer.
‘My name is Harry Potter, and I was Polly’s boss,’ Harry began. ‘We’re here today to celebrate the life of Polly Protheroe, and the first thing you need to know is that her name wasn’t Polly. That surprised me, too. Did anyone, other than Polly herself, know that the name on her birth certificate is Mary Magdalene Protheroe…’
Harry looked around the crowded bar. The place was jumping: the music was loud, the buffet was well picked-over, and the mourners were a raucous lot. So far as he could tell, no one in Polly’s large circle of Muggle friends had a real name and, so far as the Muggles were concerned, neither did any of the magical mourners.
‘So, you’re “boss-man-Harry”,’ was the standard greeting he’d received from the many Muggles who had shaken his hand. He and Ginny had tried their best to socialise. They had spoken to those who “Trish-from-the-pub” had identified as Polly’s closest friends. Despite the strangeness of their names, Bert–whose relatively normal name disguised the fact that he was actually called Kevin–had joined Mustang Sally, Knobhead, Rat, Tray, Slim and Scotch Wullie in expressing a deep sense of loss.
The two worlds that Polly had inhabited had come together and, astonishingly, they seemed to be getting along. The members of the Muggle Interface Team–Prim, Plod, Plughole, and Polidori–were surrounded by curious well-wishers, all of whom had heard much-edited tales of their exploits investigating ghosts and other weird stuff. Lavender was already on her third pint of Pendle Witches Brew. Harry, who was still nursing his first, had turned down more offers of a drink than he could count.
Aloysius Webb was deep in conversation with three of Polly’s closest friends. Tray, a blowsy bleached-blonde in an ill-fitting catsuit, was crying black mascara tears as she spoke to the Office’s oldest working Auror. Mustang Sally–whose husky voice was almost male, although everything else about her appeared to be female–and Scotch Wullie–who was wearing a kilt because of a long-ago conversation with Polly–were helping Al Webb to console her. Webb had shed tears when he discovered how far Polly’s nickname for him had spread.
Harry thought back to his own conversation with Scotch Wullie. It seemed to sum up Polly’s world.
‘First time I met her she said “Yer accent’s Scottish, and your last name starts “Mac” so where’s yer kilt?”. I told her that I wasn’t Scottish, and that fact should be bloody obvious. I was born in Zimbabwe, but raised in Fife. Ma name is Wilson Mkhuze, but that didnae matter tae Polly. From that day te this, everyone in this place has called me Scotch Wullie. For years she pestered me. “Where’s yer kilt, Scotch Wullie?” Every bloody time I saw her it wez the same question. She pissed me eff so much that one day I telt her she’d nivvor see me in one, but I’d wear one to her funeral.’ He shrugged sadly. ‘Nivvor thocht it wad happen, but here I am.’
‘You didn’t know about this, did you?’ Ginny asked. Harry shook himself free of his contemplation and turned away from the room.
‘I knew she where she lived, and she’d sometimes tell us stories about her Muggle friends, but to be honest, I was certain she was exaggerating. I didn’t believe half of what she said.’ Harry stared out across the pub.
‘But now you do,’ Ginny said.
‘If anything, she was understating things.’ Harry nodded. ‘Any random Muggle could walk into the Leaky Cauldron and see a more normal looking crowd than this lot! She was the first ever Muggle-born Auror, you know? And now we’re back down to one.’ He glanced over at Dennis Creevey.
‘Wotcher, boss. Good turn out,’ Polly said. ‘I hope you haven’t cleared out my desk. We’ve got an Auror killer to catch.’
Harry swore, and almost knocked over the remains of his pint.
‘Pendle Witches Brew, good choice,’ Polly told him, floating through the table to examine the beer.
‘What…’ he began.
Ignoring him, Polly let out a whoop. ‘Good old Scotch Wullie. He remembered his promise,’ she yelled gleefully. Waving to the Aurors, most of whom had already noticed her, she floated through another table, crouched down on the floor behind Scotch Wullie, and looked up his kilt. ‘Lavender,’ she yelled. ‘He’s wearing it in the traditional way. Does your darling Emmsy do that?’
Lavender–who’d been indulging in a bit of gentle flirting with a couple of young men who weren’t actually conversing with her, but with her cleavage–dropped her pint. Susan and Camelia simply stared.
‘What’s going on?’ Bobbie Beadle asked her companions. ‘You three look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘There’s a very good reason for that,’ Camelia said. One of the Muggles, Mustang Sally, screamed and pointed at Polly.
Harry put the key into the lock.
‘You don’t need to be here, Ginny. You could go home.’ Although he tried to sound relaxed as he made the suggestion, they’d been together too long for her to believe him. It was just as well that he didn’t really want her to go, she’d already decided that she was staying. Ginny could see the tension in his stance. Looking into his pale face, she saw the anxiety and firmly shook her head.
‘Definitely not,’ she said. ‘I need to give that stupid, selfish, thoughtless … ghost a piece of my mind.’
‘She thought…’ Harry’s protest was half-hearted.
‘No, Harry.’ Ginny stared up at her husband. ‘She didn’t think; that’s the problem.’ Sliding a hand around his head, she pulled him down for a reassuring kiss.
‘At least four Muggles saw her before she fled from the pub,’ Ginny continued when they parted. ‘But that’s not why you’re annoyed and unhappy.’ Taking his hand, she slid her fingers through his and held on.
‘It is!’ Harry told her.
‘No,’ she said, squeezing his hand. ‘That’s simply what you’re telling yourself.’ Pausing, she caught his downcast eyes with her own. ‘I suppose it’s part of the reason,’ she admitted. ‘But… I don’t want to upset you, Harry, but you have to face the truth, and I have to tell it to you, because no one else will.’
Certain that she had his complete attention, Ginny took a deep breath and continued. ‘You’ve mourned her, Harry. I’ve watched you. I’ve held you every night since she was killed. I know what you’ve been going through. It’s brought back bad memories, and your old nightmares are back too. It’s not just you. The entire Auror Office has been mourning Polly. She’s the first Auror to die in the line of duty since The Battle, and we all hope that she’ll be the last. You haven’t…’ forcing herself to be firm, Ginny tried again. ‘You haven’t been this low since the summer of ninety-eight, and you’ve been dealing with her death by throwing yourself into your work.’
With her free hand, Ginny reached up and gently held his chin. ‘I’m not complaining, it’s perfectly understandable,’ she assured him. ‘It’s helped you to cope over the past week. I hoped that the funeral would give closure, not only to you, but also to the rest of the Auror Office. That hasn’t happened, and you know whose fault that is!
‘While you were training, while I was still at school, you told me that Polly taught you how to cast a very powerful Blasting Curse. Well, she’s just fired one into everyone’s grieving process. The feelings of loss that everyone was coming to terms with have just been blown apart! You were starting to make order out of the chaos, but she’s exploded back into your life and made things even more chaotic. I’d suggest that we take a holiday, get away from this nonsense, but I know you! You won’t rest until the killer is caught.’
Removing her hand from his chin, Ginny slipped it around her husband’s waist, pulled herself into him, and rested her head on his shoulder. She felt his free arm slip over her shoulder, while his other hand squeezed hers. The sigh of relief that exploded from him was close to a sob, and she forced herself to remain sensible and strong for him.
‘You know I’m right, and the first thing you need to do is tell her,’ She told him. ‘Because if you don’t, I will!’
‘Thanks,’ he whispered. Holding her in a rib-crushing hug, he struggled to get the words out. ‘Thank you, Ginny.’
‘You’re welcome.’ She managed to keep her voice even and practical. ‘Now, let’s go and let her know what we think. But first…’ She released him.
‘First?’ he asked.
Throwing her arms over his shoulders, she kissed him. ‘I love you,’ she told him when they finally parted. ‘Never forget it.’
‘You might have to keep doing that occasionally, just to remind me,’ he told her. The brightness was back in his eyes, and she knew that the lifeline she’d thrown him had worked. He was pulling himself from the pit of despair.
‘No problem,’ she said cheerfully. ‘How occasionally? Will once every fifteen minutes be often enough?’
He was still smiling when he turned the key in the lock. His smile vanished when he opened the door, because he opened it through Polly’s ghost. Surprised, he took a step backwards and pulled his wand from his pocket.
‘Sorry, boss,’ Polly began.
‘Were you listening at the door?’ Ginny demanded.
‘I heard the key go into the lock, but no one came in. I wondered what was happening. Poked my head through the door, but you was snogging–the first time. You snog a lot…’ Ginny glared, and Polly went back to the subject at hand. ‘I heard everything after that first kiss. I’m really sorry Missus P. I didn’t think this through, did I?’
‘From what I hear, you never bloody do!’ Ginny, who was close to boiling, took the opportunity to let off steam. ‘That nasty little Prophet columnist, John Richards, has been calling for Harry’s dismissal again. I swear that the next time I’m in the Prophet office I’m going to hex that overprivileged oaf! I spent last week assuring Harry that he was doing a good job, because he is. No one ever tells him that! He deals with crap from the press, and the politicians, and the public. The last thing he needs is crap from his own staff.’
‘I am sorry! Honest,’ Polly sounded contrite, and she was drifting hastily away from Ginny. ‘But I was at this gig, you see, and I had to make a decision. I made the wrong one again, didn’t I?’
‘Again?’ Harry asked, walking into her flat. Ginny followed, and curiously examined the unusual décor.
‘Personal stuff,’ Polly shrugged. ‘Years ago, it’s not important.’
‘Are you talking about Kiwi Sam?’ said Ginny. Both Polly and Harry looked at her in surprise. ‘Harry doesn’t listen to Lavender’s gossip, Polly, but I do,’ she explained. ‘He was there, at your funeral, flew over from Christchurch just to attend. Trish pointed him out to me. He wouldn’t come to the wake, although Trish begged him.’
Polly buried her head in her hands, and began to wail. Ginny looked through insubstantial hands at the unhappy ghost. ‘I’m sorry, Polly, but you should know that your death affected a lot of people.’ She watched the ghost carefully. ‘You didn’t realise how many, did you?’
Polly shook her head and used her fingers to wipe translucent tears from her cheeks. ‘I’ve really messed up again, boss,’ the ghost said sadly. ‘All I wanted to do was get back to work, to help catch my killer.’
Harry shook his head. ‘You can’t simply get back to work. You’re not an Auror, Polly, not now,’ he told her.
‘Polly…’ Harry was uncertain what to say.
Ginny took over. ‘Your death in service benefits paid for your funeral. Harry’s your executor, remember? He’s been dealing with your estate. You’re dead, and you aren’t an Auror. Your contract ended when you died.’
‘So, I’ll have to re-apply for my old job,’ said Polly. ‘There’s a vacancy in the Auror Office, and I’m ideally suited, because it’s the job I was doing. And I can identify the man who killed me. Don’t you want to know what he looked like? You need to know what I can tell you about the man who killed me, don’t you?’
‘I can’t guarantee that you’ll get your job back. Lavender was difficult enough, and she’s a witch. Camilia was worse and you’re…’ Harry sighed, and Ginny took his hand.
‘Camelia’s dead, and she’s working for you,’ Polly protested. ‘And then there’s old Cuthbert Binns up at Hogwarts. Employing a ghost isn’t unheard of. You’ve already got a werewolf Auror and a vampire Auror; you need a ghost Auror to complete the set, boss-man, it’s obvious! Besides, you’ll need my help to catch this guy.’
Releasing his wife’s hand, Harry walked up to the ghost of his colleague and tried to stare into her eyes. The fact that she was transparent didn’t make it easy. ‘You died eight days ago, Polly, and…’ he hesitated. ‘And we were all very sad, but we kept working. There were four witnesses to your death: Dennis, Trudie, Ellie, and Gaheris Robards. We have eye-witness testimony from all of them. The Auror Office continued to function without you; it could function without me, too.’
‘I suppose.’ Polly was even less happy than when Harry had opened the door through her. ‘I can’t change my mind now, boss. I don’t know how this works, I suppose that I might get the chance to go through the door to “Onwards” again. But…’ She threw up her hands.
‘The door to “onwards”? Where have you been?’ Harry asked as his curiosity finally got the better of him. ‘Did you have to wait until your funeral? Could you have …returned … sooner?’
Polly shrugged. ‘I don’t know, Harry. I remember being hit by the Killing Curse. That was weird. I stayed upright, and my body sort of fell out of me, and I saw Dennis get his Shield Charm up, to protect the others from the debris. At the same time, Ellie and Trudi both fired off Stunning spells, but the guy was Disapparating and their spells went straight through him. Then the mist descended.’
‘Mist?’ Harry asked.
‘It was white and fluffy, like I was standing in a cloud,’ Polly told him. ‘It sort of morphed into moving spotlights and dry ice, swirling around my ankles. It was very trippy. Then I was standing in a venue, and the place was totally rocking. Sid Vicious was on stage, and the world’s two greatest Ians; Dury and Curtis were there, too. I watched loads of long-dead acts, but eventually the last encore ended, and I knew it was time for me to leave. I looked for an exit sign, and I finally found two doors. They had those big green “Fire Exit” signs above them, but instead of saying fire exit, one said “Onwards” and the other said “Back”. I stood there for ages, but I finally chose to come back. I stepped through the door, ended up here.’ She indicated her flat. ‘It took me a while to find you. Eight days! What have I missed?’
Opening his wallet, Harry pulled out a photograph.
‘That’s him,’ confirmed Polly, a little deflated. ‘That’s the man who killed me. Have you caught him?’
‘No,’ Harry shook his head. ‘But we know who he is. He was born Pelias Hume, and his face is on wanted posters everywhere. Even the Muggles are looking for him.’
‘Pelias Hume? That’s not a name that’s come up in any briefing I read,’ Polly observed. ‘What about that fake friend of Michael’s, Jason? D’you know what his real name is? What about his girlfriend, Frances Sidebotham, is she really as thick as she seemed to be?’
Harry sighed. ‘You’re not an Auror, Polly. I can’t brief you about the case.’
‘I’ll hold a witness interview with you tomorrow. Because you did witness your own death,’ Harry came to a decision. ‘But not in the Auror Office. I don’t want you turning up and upsetting everyone. As you heard, people are still coming to terms with your death.’
Ginny stepped forward and took Harry’s hand.
‘Mary Magdalene Protheroe,’ said Harry firmly. ‘You are a material witness in your own death. Are you prepared to give an interview here, tomorrow? Ten o’clock. Myself, along with Aurors Bones and Boot.’
Polly slumped, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’
‘You can start by looking up the regulations regarding ghosts,’ Harry suggested. ‘You’re now aware that four of your Muggle former friends can see you. You can’t allow yourself to be seen by them.’
‘That means I can’t go back down the pub!’
Harry nodded. ‘If you’re serious about getting back into the Auror Office, you’ll need to be interviewed for the vacancy, Polly. And…’
‘And if there are any outstanding magical misdemeanours on my record, I won’t even get an interview. Shit!’ her annoyance lasted only a moment. She smiled wickedly. ‘I am allowed to haunt my killer, aren’t I?’
‘Do you know where he is?’ Harry asked.
‘No, but I could go to Hogwarts and ask around. There must be a way for a ghost to be able to track down the person they want to haunt,’ said Polly. ‘See you tomorrow boss-man-Harry.’ She flew through the wall.
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