|SIYE Time:21:59 on 20th January 2018|
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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: 45060; Chapter Total: 3095
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
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.
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.
“…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.
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.
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