|SIYE Time:22:06 on 18th November 2017|
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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Nymphadora Tonks
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence
Story is Complete
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 43574; Chapter Total: 3381
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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