Midseason Murders: Down The Pub by sapphire200182



Summary: Auror Harry Potter and his girlfriend, professional Quidditch player Ginny Weasley have been invited to a charity dinner by the Holyhead Harpies Fan Club held at an old Welsh pub. However, the event is interrupted when a body is discovered, and it seems the murderer is still on the premises. To solve the mystery, Harry must unravel the web of lies and secrets linking the owners of the pub... before the killer’s work is complete.



Based on the award-winning TV series Midsomer Murders, and certain tropes associated with British TV police procedural dramas. Canon-compliant. Written for the Harry and Ginny Discord 2021 Birthday Challenge. Complete, updates twice weekly.
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarhalf-star
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2021.09.09
Updated: 2021.09.18


Index

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4


Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: Cross-posted on AO3 where I keep my new works. I'd love to hear what you liked and disliked about the fic, please review! Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy the fic!


Chapter One



Gerald Yaxley-Seymour sipped his tea and sighed as he looked up from his paperwork out the office window. On his desk sat the remains of his afternoon tea; Welsh bakestones, clotted cream, and summer berry jam. It was a sunny late July afternoon in the little town of Holyhead, on the Isle of Anglesey. The fresh air streaming in the open window brought with it a delightful summertime perfume of ripening apples from the hedge of apple trees outside his window, and the faint salty tang of sea-spray. The very distant roar of the surf from Holyhead Beach, just out of sight behind the trees, brought a faint smile to his lined old face.

When you’re nearly eighty years old and have nothing left to reach out for, these were the little things that truly mattered.

Between the half-dozen offices or the London townhouse where he could be spending his Saturday afternoon, Gerry Yaxley, as most of his family and friends knew him, liked his pub the most, even if it was objectively the one that caused him the most headache. His primary money-maker, the specialty herb import business, was bringing in a comfortable profit. The pub was really something of a private indulgence. None of his other businesses had quite such a view. Besides, he only had a quarter-share of the pub anyway, whereas he fully owned nearly all of his other enterprises.

There was a knock on his door. “Come in,” said Gerry. “Ah, it’s you. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Do you know, I have a good feeling that tonight’s gala will herald the solution to all of our problems.”

“Why yes, I think so very much, as well. And I’m glad you’re having such a nice last day.”

“Come again?”

“Good-bye, Gerry.”

* * *


In the master bedroom on the second floor of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, London, Harry Potter was grumpily nursing a mug of tea. He was not looking forward to the coming evening. Even after all these years, Harry was something of a celebrity in Wizarding Britain, and tonight especially he was going to have to play up to the role. A role which he hated every part of, especially the attention it gathered, good and bad; from the prying curiosity and unwanted adulation on one side of the coin, through to the baseless hate and the - what was that word Hermione had used, oh yeah, schadenfreude (thanks, Hermione) - on the other. Because that was every bit as big a part of the cult of the celebrity as the adoration, wasn’t it - waiting for him to trip and fall, just so they could say smugly that even heroes were flawed, inside...

Harry was no more comfortable with fame at twenty-three than he had been at fourteen.

He shot a glowering look at the damn sport jacket hanging beside him, that item of social wear that in Harry’s eyes stood for all of the trappings of fame, because he never wore it other than to such functions. But then the indirect reason for this particular social event padded out of the bathroom, and Harry’s scowl softened considerably.

Ginny Weasley towelled her hair vigorously, looking around for her wand to do a Drying-Out Charm. She caught his eye, and the corner of her mouth quirked. “What did that cuppa ever do to you?”

A stupid memory floated up from somewhere in the back of Harry’s mind. “It’s more the fact it exists, if you know what I mean,” said Harry. He downed the tea and stood up. “You look great,” he said, smiling wider as his eyes roamed over her fetchingly damp and clinging T-shirt and shorts.

Ginny snorted. “Bollocks, I just got out of the bath, I look a mess; and no, you’re not getting your hands on any of this, we have to get ready for the party. Eeek!” She batted his hands off her bum, but didn’t resist too much as Harry wrapped his arms around her and breathed in deep, savouring the feel of her lithe body and the smell of fresh-washed her, overlaid with the flowery scent of her favourite handmade bath soap.

She leaned into him for a few tender moments, then turned around in his arms and looked up at him.

“Harry,” Ginny said gently, “I know you don’t like all of this. But at least, this once, you’re using your fame for a good cause.”

Harry’s smile vanished. “It’s just a pub,” he grumbled, but only half-heartedly. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”

“It’s not just a pub, it’s the unofficial official fan club pub of the Holyhead Harpies, the team that pays me to play Quidditch. And, remember, love, we talked about this. No, it’s not the end of the world, and that’s a good problem. Cause Harry Potter is done with all that rot.” Ginny pecked him on the corner of his mouth. “You have much smaller problems now.”

That corner turned upwards in a half-smirk. “Yeah, you’re right. I’m just your average ordinary everyday former Chosen One now. Nothing left to do but sign autographs for screaming groupies.”

Ginny swatted him on the chest. “As if! Now we’ve gone all the other way round to self-pity I see, Mister Youngest Auror in the Department.” She pushed him away. “Right, enough, I really have to get ready and so do you.”

“Youngest?! So are Neville and Ron and Sue!” Harry pulled on an oxford shirt.

“Ron and Susan’ve got you beat by a few months, and Nev by one day.”

“Bah, days.” Harry frowned. “What does ‘unofficial official fan club pub’ mean anyway?”

“It means the Holyhead Harpies Fan Club does not actually have an officially-recognised boozer, but everyone’s been going to the Druid And Daffodil for pre- and post-game piss-ups for more centuries than even I care to think about,” said Ginny as she buttoned up her jeans. “But the old Daffy’s come down in the world a little, which in fact means if they can’t scrounge a few extra Galleons they’re not actually going to be around next season. Which would be rather a pity as the fans are quite attached to the Daffy. So they’re throwing a ‘mid-season party’, really a fund-raiser, to which they’ve invited the Harpies’ most famous fan: you.”

“Lucky me,” muttered Harry.

“Lucky Harpies, rather, because all your screaming groupies,” Ginny rolled her eyes, “have suddenly jumped on the Harpy bandwagon ever since your girlfriend got herself promoted to the First Seven. And if at least a few more of them show up tonight, maybe the Daffy will rake in enough Galleons to tide it over. Provided you behave yourself like a good boy, and don’t hide away in a corner and disappear after an hour like you do at all those Ministry events.”

“Oh all right,” said Harry, as he threw on the hated jacket. “I’ll be nice. But just for my girlfriend the Harpy.”

“Oh, thank you so very much.” But Ginny’s smile was teasing, and she let Harry kiss the top of her head - he knew by now better than to smudge her freshly-applied makeup.

When they went to the study to use the Floo, Kreacher was waiting for them.

After Harry had decided to live in Grimmauld Place and invited Ron to stay with him, they had made a few changes to the house. Harry and Ron took over a bedroom each. Ginny and Hermione had two guest rooms, to keep up the official story (which nobody believed) that on those nights they accidentally fell asleep and forgot to go home, they weren’t actually tucked up in bed with their boyfriends. The former drawing room was now a study where the four of them spent most of their free time together, when they weren’t in the kitchen. The other rooms were unused, closed and placed under preservation spells; and the whole house was under even more protective enchantments than ever before.

As for Kreacher, well… despite Hermione’s best efforts, house-elves were still less than clear about the concept of freedom. One particular idea however had penetrated Kreacher’s brain from the piles of literature and hours of lectures that Hermione had given him, even if it wasn’t exactly what she had intended. He had added, to his customary crisp white tea-towel, a black tea-towel cut like an evening jacket and now stood as straight as his bent old body could accommodate. His beloved locket was tucked into a pocket, only its chain visible, attached to the tea-towel tunic. He had left off bowing deeply, and now gave firm, sharp nods instead.

“Master Potter, Kreacher will tidy the bedrooms while Master is away, and prepare the guest room should Miss Weasley wish to stay the night.”

Merlin only knew what Kreacher made of their sleeping arrangements; whatever it was, he regarded it as his duty nonetheless to maintain the charade. This had come in useful on a couple of occasions when Mrs Weasley had visited.

“Thanks, Kreacher, you’re the best,” said Ginny cheerfully. “Don’t stay up waiting for us.”

There was the faintest hint of a smirk on the house-elf’s face. “Kreacher will be in Kreacher’s quarters by seven.”

Harry and Ginny had given up being embarrassed by the bedroom arrangement, but not by being inadvertently interrupted by Kreacher while enjoying a romantic moment in the common areas - or by Ron and Hermione. So everyone co-ordinated their schedules; on Kreacher’s part that meant having a whole room to himself, festooned with elf-heads and Black Family memorabilia, and in which he spent his free time.

“Well, here goes,” said Harry, throwing Floo powder into the fireplace. “Public face on.”

Ginny took the time to admire her boyfriend on one of the few times he could be bothered to dress up, sliding her hand along one firm shoulder. “You look great,” she said.

Harry gave her tight jeans, fitted shirt, and black dragon-hide jacket a slow, appreciative once-over. “You look gorgeous,” he said.

Ginny heard the tell-tale purr in his voice; it never failed to make her stomach swoop. “Later, tonight.”

Harry caught the familiar look in her eye, the one that spoke of banked embers of desire, and grinned. “Tonight.” He stepped into the green flames. “The Druid And Daffodil, Holyhead.”

* * *


“It’s him!”

“Who… oh, Harry Potter!”

“This way, Harry!”

“And Ginny Weasley, too!”

“Oooh!”

A couple of camera flashes went off. Harry knew the game by now, so he kept his smile pasted on, kept his movements carefully controlled so he didn’t get photographed making any inadvertent gestures, and slowly scanned the crowd, as Ginny came through the Floo. Yes, there was his arch-nemesis, the gossip columnist from Snitch! , and yes, the girl from Witch Weekly , and even the entertainment correspondent from the Prophet. Oh well. At least they knew better than to approach him for quotes, and Harry knew he was on home ground. There would be no really confrontational types here, not in the heart of Harpies fandom.

“Mr Potter, Ms Weasley, welcome!” Harry recognised the lady striding forward to greet him with hand outstretched, he had seen her pouring drinks behind the bar, the handful of times he had come in on match days. “Carrie Wilson, I’m so happy to meet you.”

Carrie Wilson steered Harry and Ginny to the bar, where she drew them two pints of pale yellow ale. “This is our house special, Druid’s Gold, made with a secret recipe of flowers and herbs. I do the brewing as well as the bartending,” she said proudly.

“Cheers,” said Harry, and tried the beer. He wasn’t really much of a drinker and his favourite was still Butterbeer, but the ale was delicious; refreshing, lemony and flowery to taste, and he said so.

“It is, isn’t it?” said Carrie. “It’s our best seller. It’d be such a pity if the Daffy closed down, we’d never see its like again.”

Carrie looked about thirty-something, with very dark red hair, a few worry-lines, and a wistful expression as she surveyed the room. It was not hard, thought Harry, to imagine Ginny looking something like Carrie at that age, if she was harassed with bills and fretting over a failing business. He began to feel a little better about coming to the pub tonight, and had another sip of ale.

“If the Daffy goes, you could still make this and sell to other pubs, couldn’t you?” asked Ginny.

“Perhaps. Many of the other pubs have their own special brews, and I’d have to sell a lot more to cover expenses. And I don’t know what else we could do. My husband Hugh and I, we’re just a little too old to start over in a new line. But, well,” Carrie brightened up, “who knows, maybe after tonight we’ll have more regulars. Excuse me.” She went off to serve other customers.

Harry and Ginny found a table for two in a corner, and sat down. A few people gave them nods and waves, and two or three young fans who looked barely out of Hogwarts asked them for autographs, but otherwise they were left alone. That was one of the things Harry liked about the Harpies’ fans; once the initial star-struck effect had worn off, most of them had closed ranks around Harry and Ginny, and they discouraged - often with fists and wands - too much intrusion into Harry and Ginny’s personal space. In fact, at this very moment, a couple of tight-lipped fans were shooting significant looks at the Daily Prophet reporter, who was trying and failing to not look over at this corner of the room every ten seconds.

So Harry sat back, relaxed, had another swig of Druid’s Gold, and took Ginny’s hand which was lying on the table between them.

“Enjoying yourself, Potter?”

“Yes,” admitted Harry. “You?”

“They are rather making a point of not bothering us, aren’t they?” Ginny smirked. “I could get used to that. The place does look a tad grubby, though.”

Harry looked around. The Druid And Daffodil was housed in a squarish building made of sandstone and probably nearly as old as Quidditch itself. The beams overhead were black with age, and so were the stone floors and walls. Harpies memorabilia covered the walls; tapestries, posters, portraits, photographs, clippings, Quaffles and Snitches and other Quidditch gear, probably each with its own story of past glories; but a lot of them looked shabby, dusty and uncared-for. The furniture wasn’t quite as old as the building, but looked and felt rickety, as if they had seen too many Mending Charms as well.

“Rather rum sight, innit?”

The man who appeared suddenly beside Harry seemed to be in his mid-thirties, and was dressed like Harry but a little more carelessly, with at least two stains already on his jacket, a sharply-receding hairline, and a bottle of pumpkin fizz in hand. “Owen Griffiths,” he said, sticking out a calloused hand to shake with. “I’m the head cook. Sorry I didn’t say hello earlier, I’ve been making sure the kitchen doesn’t muck up dinner. Thanks a bunch for dropping by, both of you, though Merlin knows if it’ll do much good.”

Harry supposed that explained Owen’s rumpled appearance. “Well, I hope the Druid And Daffodil can keep going,” he said carefully.

Owen snorted as he began assembling and lighting a roll-up with quick, practised movements. “Fat chance. Just not enough punters coming in these days. Oh sure, the Harpies club do their bit, but it’s not enough by a long shot.”

“Carrie was a little more optimistic,” said Ginny coolly.

“Even Carrie thinks the pub won’t survive without a makeover,” said Owen. “She wants to renovate the whole place and get in new fittings, do a proper job of it, not just patching things up with spells. But that sort of thing takes gold, and she wants to go to the goblins for it.”

“You don’t approve?” asked Harry.

Owen made a sweeping gesture. “Do you really think a lick of paint and getting in new tables and chairs will bring in new customers? Would you stake everything you have on that belief? There’s no turning back on a decision like that, you know. Goblins aren’t known for forgiveness, especially where gold’s concerned. Nah. Better to let the Daffy go quietly.”

Harry and Ginny exchanged looks. Owen was right about goblins, at least. Harry, Ron and Hermione had had lots of trouble with Gringotts over the break-in, and it had taken Ministry pressure, Harry paying quite a bit of gold, and the issuance of public apologies to soothe their ruffled feelings. And the goblins still treated Harry like dirt, which was why he avoided setting foot in Gringotts these days.

“Well, that’ll be for the owners to decide anyway, isn’t it?” asked Ginny.

“Oh, didn’t you know? There’s four of us,” said Owen. “Myself, Carrie, Daphne, and old Gerry. It’s me and Carrie who do most of the day to day work. Gerry does the books. Daphne’s lot’s a bit of a silent partner,” he sniffed. “Always have been.”

“You’re a part owner?” said Harry in surprise. “You don’t look...”

“Old enough?” Owen laughed. “The Daffy’s been handed down, generation after generation. I got my bit from my dad, who got it from granddad. He said, ‘Son, you might as well take it off me hands now and see what you can make of it.’ He’s always buried in his work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Maybe I should have joined him at the Ministry,” he said musingly.

“If you’re not interested in continuing the business, why don’t you just sell your share?” asked Ginny.

Owen chuckled. “Believe me, the thought’s often on my mind. But the Daffy’s ownership contract is a bit funny. People did things differently back in the old days; they wanted to tie things up so that outsiders couldn’t just buy their way in. Any family leaves, their share is split amongst the others. I’d get no gold other than whatever the others might give me out of the kindness of their hearts. That’s the big problem: we’re all locked in together, unless three of us four decide to close the shop. Fat chance of that.” Owen’s smile dimmed. “Hey, you two carry on, yeah? I need to check in on the kitchen.”

“I begin to see why this place is in the dumps,” muttered Harry.

“No wonder Gwenog and the others weren’t keen on showing up,” said Ginny. “They must think it’s practically a lost cause.”

A short while later a waitress came by, and with a practiced flick of a wand, charmed a basket of Glamorgan sausages to fly through the air and land gently on the table. “Compliments from Owen,” she said with a quick smile, and then hurried off.

Ginny pounced on the finger-length breaded cheese-and-leek sticks with gusto. “These are good,” she said. “Ow! Hot!” She spotted one of her team-mates and got up. “Oh hey there’s Tabby, I’m going to go say hello.”

“I’ll get us new drinks,” said Harry.

The pub began to fill up. More people Flooed in; fans, famous people, and former Harpies players. Ginny went a little pink when Gideon Crumb, her favourite Weird Sisters band member, appeared and she insisted on introducing themselves to him, and then chattering away with him breathlessly for fifteen minutes about her favourite songs and his favourite Chaser tactics. Most of the time however, it was Carrie Wilson who adroitly circulated people round to their table. It was dawning on Harry that as he was the Harpies’ Most Famous Fan and Ginny was one of only two other members of the First Seven present, they were the star couple in the room, and being given the VIP treatment.

After a while however, even Ginny began to fidget and sneak glances at her watch. “I hope dinner’s almost ready,” she muttered.

Harry recognised the signs. “Somebody’s hungry. Right, why don’t we have a look at the menu and see if we can get a light snack in first.”

Just then, there was another swirl of people around the fireplace, the reporters hurrying over to get photographs of the new arrivals. Carrie cut through the throng, making a few remarks to the press, then began leading a familiar young lady over to their table.

“Harry, Ginny, I’d like to introduce you to our youngest business partner.” There was just the slightest derisive emphasis on the word youngest in Carrie’s voice, so faint that it might almost be imagined. “This is Daphne Greengrass. In fact I think she’s about your age, perhaps you’ve met at Hogwarts? Daphne, I’m sure you know-”

Daphne’s smile was wholly professional socialite cordiality. Harry pasted on the similar one he had learned to put on over years of having to exchange small talk with people he’d rather not have to meet at events he’d rather not be at. It was true that Harry had never had any run-ins with Daphne through all the turmoil of his school years, as she was not a regular member of Pansy Parkinson’s gossipy gang; but it was equally true that he also had never so much as said hello to her. Furthermore no Slytherin students had fought against Voldemort in the battle at Hogwarts, and even now Harry still had strong feelings on that score.

Carrie was still making introductions. “-Daphne’s brought her sister, Astoria-”

Likewise, Astoria Greengrass was an unknown quantity to Harry. He vaguely remembered seeing her around Hogwarts; she was shorter and slimmer than even Ginny, with a thick head of sleek dark hair, a pixie-ish face, and large hazel eyes. To Harry’s surprise, Ginny perked up, and the two of them exchanged positively friendly smiles and handshakes.

“-and this is Astoria’s date,” Carrie continued, but Harry didn’t need to hear the rest.

Standing behind Astoria, looking almost sneeringly urbane in a crisp T-shirt, blazer and chinos, all midnight black, all screaming expensively bespoke tailoring, was Draco Malfoy.

“Malfoy,” said Harry evenly.

“Potter,” said Draco, with not the slighest hint of a nod.

“Ah, I see you do know each other,” said Carrie brightly. “Excellent. I’ll seat you all together at dinner.”

* * *


And that was the end of the beginning, thought the killer. All the pieces were now in play.

In the kitchen of the Druid And Daffodil, line cooks and wait staff put the finishing touches on steaming serving trays of soups, starters, main courses, and puddings. An army of wine bottles stood on the sideboard. A fresh cask of Druid’s Gold was broached.

As dinner commenced, orders came flowing into the kitchen, and the staff swept their wands over the food. Charmed tureens ladled soup into bowls, starter plates began assembling themselves, long sharp knives carved into roasts and racks of ribs. The wait staff double-checked each order before guiding them to the proper places with sweeping waves of their wands; as many as fifteen dishes at a time orbiting each server as they walked out to the dining room.

The killer gathered a selection of plates, and joined the bustle.


* * *

Back to index


Chapter 2: Chapter 2

Chapter Two



There were, of course, speeches.

The President of the Holyhead Harpies Fan Club introduced herself as Mrs Bethany Bevan. She was a plump middle-aged lady in a green twinset, bottle glasses, and a Harpies scarf wound comically round her neck. First she thanked the guests of honour for gracing the occasion; five former Harpies, two longtime club sponsors, Seeker Tabitha Lewis, and of course Chaser Ginny Weasley and ‘notable fan’ Harry Potter. Then she gave a quick summary of the Druid And Daffodil’s history, and its recent financial troubles.

“Dear old Gerry, Carrie, Owen and young Daphne’s family have hosted us all most graciously all these years,” said Mrs Bevan in her lilting Welsh accent. “I’m sure we all have many fond memories of the times we spent here, especially on match days, and I know we all feel the Daffy’s like a real home away from home. So let’s all pitch in and see if we can save the old girl. Tonight’s a good start, and we have more activities and fêtes planned for the rest of the year which I’ll talk about later. But for now, let’s tuck in!”

Harry and Ginny shared a bowl of leek and potato soup, prawn salad, cod and chips, and a lamb roast with new potatoes. The dishes were satisfyingly portioned, and Ginny attacked her plate with true Weasley appetite. Harry focused on his dinner as well, in no small part to avoid addressing the elephant in the room, the spectre at the feast - the Malfoy at the table.

The seating arrangement had been obvious of course; Astoria and Daphne flanked Ginny and Harry respectively, so the Greengrasses formed a demilitarised zone between them and Malfoy. Everyone present knew that was the only layout that stood a chance of making it through dinner without hexes flying. The one disadvantage was that every time Harry looked up, Malfoy was directly across the table, himself concentrating on his plate and only occasionally shooting glowering glances his way.

Git.

On her part, Ginny was having a good time. Astoria was a friendly girl with whom Ginny had had a few words, usually when passing by each other in the Hogwarts library or greenhouses. Astoria was mad for plants, as Ginny had discovered when her dorm-mates dragged her to a meeting of the Herbology Club once and she’d talked both Ginny’s ears off. In turn Astoria had taken a cordial interest in Ginny’s Quidditch and congratulated her when she’d won the game - and Harry - that memorable fifth year, as well as when she was recruited by the Harpies.

Besides, this evening they both had something else in common to bitch about: boyfriends.

“He hasn’t said a word,” muttered Astoria angrily.

“Mine neither. It’s like Hogwarts all over again.” Ginny rolled her eyes.

“Acting like first years. Boys!

“At least yours has an excuse, he’s all the way over there. Harry hasn’t so much as asked Daphne to pass the cruet.” Ginny hesitated. It wasn’t as if she and Astoria were that close. But she reasoned it was a very natural thing to ask, and since they were on the subject, and she was terribly curious… “How are you and Draco getting on?”

Astoria’s pale cheeks coloured a little. “Rather well. Draco can be kind and attentive, when he wants to be. He just occasionally needs a little...”

Ginny couldn’t help herself. “Bashing over the head?”

Astoria smiled. “...needling, I was going to say. And how goes it, being the girlfriend of the great Harry Potter?”

Alright, I deserved that, thought Ginny. “Tiresome, occasionally. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like. Harry is… very keen on his Auror work. And so protective.” She rolled her eyes.

“So is Draco, sometimes.” Astoria smiled wickedly and meaningfully. “It’s not always a bad thing. It can be rather sexy, can’t it?”

Ginny laughed.

Harry wondered what his girlfriend and Malfoy’s could be whispering so animatedly about. He glanced over, and caught Ginny’s eye. Ginny’s eyes flicked quickly to Harry’s left, and she gave him the do it or you’re going to pay afterwards glare. Harry sighed inwardly, and turned towards Daphne Greengrass.

“So, Daphne, I’ve heard you’re the fourth partner in the Druid And Daffodil,” said Harry. “How did that come about?”

If Daphne had any grudges against Harry, she didn’t show it, plunging eagerly into this fairly safe table topic. “Our quarter-share in the pub has been in the Greengrass family for centuries,” said Daphne. “Daddy decided last year it was time I tried my hand at managing a business, and deeded me the pub. I think Astoria might get part of a farm for her own next year.”

The Greengrasses, Daphne explained, owned a lot of farms across Britain, mainly in dairy and magical herbs, as well as a few odds and ends such as the Druid And Daffodil. Preston Greengrass was teaching his children to take over the family businesses, and one of the ways he did this was by giving them a small business to manage for themselves, once he judged they were capable enough. It was test and training and reward all in one; if the business did well, they kept the profits.

“Our brother Caerus mucked up his first business, and Daddy had to step in,” said Daphne. “But he got lots better at it, tried again, and now he’s got two hundred head of Friesians and fifty Mooncalves of his own.”

“Why did you choose this pub, in particular?” asked Harry.

Daphne blushed a little. “I didn’t really think it through,” she admitted. “I met Gerry and Owen and the Wilsons at one of Daddy’s dinners, and thought it would be a low-risk enterprise to try my hand at.” She grimaced. “I didn’t know it would be such a bloody mess.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Harry. “Owen says he would rather just walk away from it all, no matter what people like Mrs Bevan seem to think.”

“Owen and Carrie are far too involved in the day-to-day running of the business to take an objective view,” said Daphne.

Just then Carrie Wilson came by, a half-drunk glass of ale in her hand. “Daphne, you haven't seen old Gerry around, have you?” she asked. “He’s missed half the dinner already, and he’s supposed to be giving a speech before pudding.”

Daphne shook her head. “No, I haven’t seen him all evening,” she said.

Harry noted her tone was coolly polite, the kind of tone people adopted when they disliked the other but was keen on pretending nothing was wrong. Harry got quite a bit of that at the office. Even Aurors were human...

“Right. I’ll send out the search parties,” said Carrie dryly.

A young, rather good-looking man in a shirt and smart knit sweater came up behind Carrie. “Will you please relax, Carrie. You know Gerry’s never on time. And you’re not supposed to be drinking,” he chided gently.

“Oh, quit nagging for a second and make yourself useful,” snapped Carrie, before storming off, the young man at her heels.

“That’s Hugh Wilson,” said Astoria.

“Really? He looks young,” said Ginny, watching his receding back.

“He’s twenty-seven to her thirty-six,” said Astoria. “Fit, isn’t he? I don’t know what he sees in her. I don’t think she knows what she sees in him, either.”

“That’s sad,” said Ginny, with genuine sympathy.

The sight of the arguing couple was getting Harry down as well. He reached over and took Ginny’s hand. She turned her bright brown eyes on him, and Harry sort of willed her to understand. That’s never going to be us. I love you.

Ginny smiled. Did he realise he’d actually mouthed those three words? Drunk Harry was adorable. He’d do and say a lot of things he usually kept fiercely private. How many drinks had he had, three? He was such a lightweight. Ginny mouthed back, I love you too, and squeezed his hand.

“Gerry is running late, even for him,” muttered Daphne. In answer to Harry’s questioning look, she said, “Gerry Yaxley’s the senior partner, does the book-keeping and all the paperwork. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, very set in his ways. He’s the main reason why the pub looks like this.” Daphne gestured at the walls. “He refuses to spend a single Knut, refuses to change a single fixture, would rather keep it the way he’s remembered it for sixty years.”

“And what’s your take?” asked Harry.

Daphne grimaced. “Neither Gerry nor Carrie are entirely wrong, given their lights,” she said. “The Daffodil might just tick on another few years just the way it is, but it’s a slow and sure death. If we want to turn it around, Carrie’s right, we do need gold. Just not from the goblins.” Daphne flicked her head elegantly at the Harpies fans. One of them was standing up on a bench and was conducting with a glass of beer a rude song about the Caerphilly Catapults, the Harpies’ most hated rivals. Twenty fans were gleefully roaring out the chorus. “This place is mainly for them, isn’t it? Maybe they should help out more with the expenses.”

...and when he finished on the bitch, she cried out loud and flooded the pitch! So Caerphilly, Caerphilly got the Snitch!”

“I suppose,” said Harry. He was about to change the subject when sweet old Mrs Bevan got up in front of the dining room again.

“I trust you all have had a lovely dinner,” she said a little tipsily. “Before we move on to pudding however, I have a surprise for one of you. In honour of one of the biggest Harpies fans to join our club, let’s have another song! Everybody together now!”

The lights dimmed, and Owen Griffiths came in levitating a massive birthday cake, iced in Holyhead Harpies green-and-gold and dozens of candied Snitches with sugar-spun wings that flapped and fluttered realistically.

Led by Mrs Bevan, the entire pub chorused exuberantly: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HARRY POTTER! Happy birthday to YOU, happy...

Harry saw red. He shot a glance at Mrs Bevan, and caught the pleased look she gave the reporters, who were hastily digging out cameras. He looked around the table at Daphne’s uncomprehending, congratulatory face; at Malfoy’s thin-lipped scowl; Astoria, who had sensed something amiss and was watching him with narrowed eyes; and then at Ginny. And then he swallowed, and tried his best to take control of his own rising temper.

Because Ginny was absolutely livid.

And only Harry would be able to convince her not to start hexing.

* * *


“Once again, for the hard of hearing and thick of skull, we did not, repeat NOT, agree to a birthday celebration!” raged Ginny. “No, I do not give a flying five-finger fuck what you thought, we were explicitly clear! NO! BIRTHDAYS! Which part of that did you not understand?! No, it’s not ‘just a little cake and a sing-along’, and you damn well know it! Nasty? Oh you want to try for nasty, do you? Shall I tell you what I really think about your Galleon-grubbing sack of sycophants and your STUPID SODDING publicity stunts? No, wait, shall I tell the press? They’re right outside in the dining room! Yes, that sounds brilliant, please give me a moment! Oh, really? Now? Get away with you! You lot make me sick!

Harry sat, brooding, in the back offices of the Druid And Daffodil. Out in the dining room, the members of the Holyhead Harpies Fan Club were enjoying ale, cake, and summer berry pavlova. Ginny was in Owen Griffiths’ office, along with Hugh and Carrie Wilson, Daphne, Mrs Bethany Bevan and three other Fan Club committee members, ostensibly for privacy, although whatever muffling charms were on the door were obviously no match for Ginny in full fury. Astoria and Malfoy sat on the sofa opposite him, talking quietly and watching him warily.

Mrs Bevan had tried to press him for a speech, of course. Harry had coldly declined, and Mrs Bevan hadn’t pushed her luck. Ginny had let the party go on for five minutes and then had them all brought in here, and then proceeded to rip into the Fan Club committee.

The door slammed open. Ginny stormed out, her long red braid mussed, and stood there eyeing everyone else beadily as they shuffled out of Owen’s office and into a larger, mahogany-doored one further back. Mrs Bevan was near tears. Everyone avoided Harry’s eye.

He thought it was time to try and calm Ginny down. Harry stood up and took hold of her hand, and guided her down onto the chair next to him. She perched on the edge of the seat, back rigid, arms crossed, fingering the wand sticking out of her jacket pocket. Harry put one arm very loosely behind her, and patted her shoulder lightly.

“They’ve decided they want a private meeting with Gerry Yaxley,” said Ginny scornfully. “How they think that’ll help, I can’t imagine. I’ve words for him, too, if he had anything to do with this!”

Gradually Harry felt her relax, or at least lean back stiffly into his arm. He pulled her closer, and buried his face in her flowery-scented red hair. “They’re just a bunch of idiots looking for their undeserved five minutes of fame,” he said quietly, “and they can all rot in bloody hell for all I care. This is nothing. The fans and the papers will do what they do, and we’ll do what we do: ignore them and get on with life. It’s only you I care about.”

Ginny looked up at him, scowling still. “They’re always prying and snooping! They’re like hyenas feeding off what isn’t theirs! And that woman! Pretending to care about you, when all she really wants is to take advantage of all you’ve done for her own bloody self!”

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Harry grimly. “We’ll get Hermione to think of something nasty and legal we can do to them, she’s good at that. I just don’t want you hexing anybody and giving them more mud to sling at you and ruining your Harpies career.”

“You think I give a damn about my career, compared to this... this tawdry opportunism?!” Ginny fingered her wand, and mused, “What would I get for a couple of good hexes? Maybe a two-match ban... that’d be worth it though...”

“Maybe you think it’d be worth it,” said Harry. “And I love that you’re willing to do this because they tried to take advantage of me. But I don’t want you to sacrifice even a single game of Quidditch, Ginny, even if you think it’s worth it. I’ve never seen you happier than when you’re on a broom making the Tornados cry, and I love that. It feels like this was everything we fought for - so that we could live our lives to the fullest. That’s what I want our revenge to be.”

Ginny sighed. “That doesn’t make it right, Harry.”

“I agree. But none of this really matters, in the big scheme of things.”

“Stop being all noble and forgiving, Harry, you know you hate them as much as I do.”

There it was, a hint of Ginny’s temper finally receding. Harry began smoothing her messy braid, tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, his thumb running down her cheek. “You know what matters?” he murmured barely audibly, “When we’re done here, I’m taking you away. Just the two of us. We’re going to go to some remote muggle island beach nobody knows the name of and just be ourselves for a few days. Nobody to snoop around, nobody to distract us, and you’ll have all of me, one hundred percent.”

Despite herself, Ginny’s focus on imagining the jinxes she could cast on the Fan Club Committee wavered. “Well, that’s nice, we’ve talking about going on holiday for ages, but...”

“I mean it, Ginny,” said Harry, pulling her close. “Robards owes me a lot of leave, and I’m calling it in. The moment you can clear it with Gwenog, we’re gone. One whole week. We’re going to fly and fish and swim and,” his voice dropped even lower, “you’re going to wear that tiny bikini of yours that even Hermione can’t bear to look at all day and we’ll make love on the beach, by the fire, all night until neither of us can walk.

She could see that he meant it, every word. And whatever Harry said he’d do in that tone, he did. The images Ginny’s mind conjured up set a different kind of fire burning inside her. “That does sound good...”

“We’re going to have a glorious time, and it’s going to be just for us. And there’s nothing Mrs Bevan or the Daily Prophet or Snitch! can do about it, but weep bitter tears that they don’t have what we have.”

“And I hope she chokes on them. I should have known the team had good reasons for steering clear of this lot,” huffed Ginny. She sat back a little more relaxedly, her anger tamped down now to a low simmer at the bottom of her chest. Suddenly she hated this stupid pub and all the people in it and all the trappings of professional Quidditch; all she wanted to do was to get away with Harry and forget about all of this.

At this point, however, Astoria broke in. “I’m sure Daphne didn’t know what they were up to,” she said. “I don’t think she even knew you were attending tonight, she would have mentioned it to me. They’re always conveniently ‘forgetting’ to let her know things.”

A terse “I hope so” was all Ginny could bring herself to say. She wasn’t sure how culpable Daphne was, and she didn’t want to offend Astoria, who was after all Daphne’s sister.

There was a strange look on Malfoy’s face. Finally, looking at Ginny, he said the first words he’d addressed to them the whole evening: “It must be upsetting, having one’s private life intruded into,” he said slowly. “And by so-called ‘fans’ of your Quidditch team. I hope it will not have any ill effects on your popularity.”

Ginny tried to work out if Malfoy was trying to be insulting, but beside her, Harry flared up straightaway. “Back off, Malfoy. If you want to know about intrusion, I can give you plenty. The Auror Office would love to have another poke around Malfoy Manor sometime.”

Ginny expected Malfoy to come back with a scathing retort, but instead he merely blinked as if surprised. It was Astoria who stepped in and said quickly, “Draco didn’t mean anything. We do know what it means to have people nosing about our private lives. We hate it as much as you do.”

Ginny could see Harry was about to blow up. All the restraint he had shown earlier had disappeared when Malfoy put his oar in. For Astoria’s sake, Ginny decided to give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt, and to say something to head Harry off. She said quietly to Malfoy, “Birthdays have always been something special to us, for celebrating with family and friends, with people who actually wish us well. It’s not something we want to share with people who are just sucking up or playing a role so they can get publicity.”

Malfoy nodded. “I... empathise,” he said.

A high, shrill scream cut through the air.

Harry leaped to his feet, wand out. A moment later, Ginny had hers out, and then Malfoy and Astoria.

Habits learned in war-time died hard.

The scream cut through the hubbub from the dining-room, stopped, and then set up again, as if the person had only paused for breath. The noise from the partying Harpies fans had stopped, so this one seemed even louder, as it echoed around the now silent pub.

“It came from the back office,” said Ginny.

Harry immediately advanced on the door through which Owen and the rest had gone. Ginny followed, clutching her own wand. She glanced back over her shoulder; Malfoy stood protectively in front of Astoria. He made no move to follow them. Astoria was pale with fear but gripped her own wand determinedly.

The office door slammed open, and Ginny jumped. Owen Griffiths stood in the doorway, breathing heavily. He didn’t seem to register the four wands pointed at him.

“It’s Gerry Yaxley. He’s dead.”

“Who screamed?” asked Harry.

“Mrs Bevan. She found him in his private toilet when she went to wash her face. She’s had rather a shock.”

Harry nodded grimly. Raising his wand above his head, he swept it in a wide circle, and intoned: “Disapparation Inhibeo.” To Owen, he said, “Don’t let anyone touch the body, and don’t let anyone leave the pub. Show me to your Floo, I need to contact the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol.”

* * *


Gawain Robards, Head of the Auror Office, sat in front of his office Floo in evening dress robes. “The Night Squad is on a call-out up north, reported Dementor activity,” he informed Harry brusquely. “We’re very short-handed. I’ll see if I can send you a couple of the freshies, but right now you’re the most senior Auror I can spare. Alright lad, the case is officially yours. You know what to do.”

“Got it.”

“I’ll tell the Floo Office to secure your Floo and get someone to man it on this end. Ruined your party, has it?” said Robards suddenly, with a nasty chuckle.

Harry sighed. “The party wasn’t much fun anyway, sir.”

“Aye, I hear that. I’d come in myself but I’ve got to stick with this bloody boring diplomatic do at the Ministry, and I’ve had a few drinks anyway, I’ll probably end up trampling all over your shop. Well, hold the fort till morning, then I’ll swing Morgan or Strathclyde on it. Give me an update by, oh, say eleven tomorrow morning.”

That was Robards to a tee, thought Harry as he closed the Floo connection and contemplated another sleepless night on the job. Although gruff and apparently uncaring, he was a good boss underneath. That didn’t change the fact however that Harry was looking at a long night ahead, and probably for some time to come. This was going to be a high-profile case, as wizarding murders were blessedly rare nowadays, and that was another left-handed sign of Robards’ favour: he had made Harry the official Auror in charge, which meant that if he solved the case there would be a very good mark on his record.

If.

Harry went back to the Druid And Daffodil’s executive office toilet, now guarded by a DMLE Patrolwizard. Gerry Yaxley-Seymour lay on the lavatory tiles with his arms at his side, as if laid out at a wake. Harry had done the spells that revealed the use of the Killing Curse and that he had died about six hours earlier, sometime in the afternoon. While everyone was getting ready for the party, someone had killed him and put him in his private toilet to reduce the likelihood of the body being found... until when? Why? To make a getaway?

To establish an alibi.

Harry felt his pulse quicken. Reason said not to rule out any possibilities. Experience cautioned further not to jump to conclusions. But instinct told Harry this: the murderer was someone very familiar with the pub, most likely one of the staff... or one of the owners.

“Hello, Harry!”

Harry looked up and smiled. Knowingly or not, Robards had detailed him his two favourites of the new Auror intake: Elizabeth Peasegood and Gordon Cresswell. They were both clever and dedicated, with their own personal reasons for joining the Aurors - Lizzie for having been abused by the Carrows at Hogwarts, and Gordon for losing his father, Dirk Cresswell, to Voldemort’s regime.

“Hello, you two. That was fast,” he said.

Lizzie Peasegood managed a sleepy half-smile, her hair still wet from showering; Gordon said with a grin, “It’s no matter, only a fine Saturday night lie-in with wine and my girl you’ve dragged me from.” He was wearing a very non-regulation Weird Sisters T-shirt and jeans under his Auror uniform cloak.

Harry quickly filled them in. “We don’t have much time,” he concluded. “There are around eighty patrons out there in the dining room and ten staff. There’s only the three of us from the Auror Office and I can only spare three Patrolwizards to help. You’ve learned the interview procedure in training, right? I want everyone to give a statement detailing their activities since, oh, say midday. Ask them if they knew Gerald Yaxley, and if they did, the nature of their relationship, when they last saw him, and if they knew anyone who might want to kill him. Use the private offices and the empty guest rooms as interview rooms. There are four Fan Club committee members in there, divide them up between yourselves. Oh, and do Prior Incantato on all their wands.”

“The Reverse Spell only shows the very last spell performed by the wand,” said Gordon. “If Yaxley was killed in the afternoon, the killer’s probably done loads of spells since then. Apparated away, at the very least.”

“You never know, you might get lucky,” said Harry. “It’s better to cover all angles rather than miss the obvious because it was too obvious. And the pub staff have always maintained an Anti-Apparation Jinx on this pub, I myself had to Floo here this evening. I’ve put up another Jinx though.”

“Why?” asked Lizzie.

“I didn’t want the killer lifting their own Anti-Apparation Jinx and getting away,” said Harry grimly. “Because I think the killer is either one of the staff, or one of the owners. Which is why I will be interviewing them myself.”


* * *

Back to index


Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Chapter Three



Owen Griffiths drew hard on his cigarette, and spoke fast, his Welsh accent more pronounced now. “I was cooking for the party all day. There’s a lot of prep to do. Do you cook? You know you can’t rush cooking with magic, and multiplying complex dishes hurts the taste. I was in the kitchen since sun-up, or having a smoke-break out back.”

“You didn’t leave the pub at all?” asked Harry. “What about lunch? Run any errands?”

“We all had lunch here. I didn’t need to pop out for anything, we’d bought all the food yesterday. Ask the other cooks.”

“When was the last time you saw Gerald Yaxley?”

“He had lunch with us, in the dining room. We had spaghetti bolognese and garden salad.”

“Did you know anyone who would want to kill him?”

“No one that I know of,” said Owen. “He could be short at times, and didn’t think much of us ‘young uns’, but he didn’t set out for to do anyone harm.”

“Tell me what happened just now between the time you,” Harry groped for the correct words, “er, spoke to Ginny, and when you came to find me.”

Owen nervously took another deep drag on the cigarette. “We went into the office hoping to find Gerry. He wasn’t there. We Flooed Gerry’s house. He lives alone, but has a family house-elf to answer the Floo. She said he had not been back since leaving in the morning. We Flooed each one of his businesses. Well, of course they all said they hadn’t seen him. There was an argument; Mrs Bevan complained about Gerry’s absence, and Carrie blamed Mrs Bevan for, um, upsetting you and Ginny. Mrs Bevan broke down crying and went to use the loo, and that’s when, well...”

“I see,” said Harry. “I’ll need to check your wand. Please give it to me for a moment.”

The last spell Owen Griffiths’ wand had performed was a Mending Charm.

* * *


“I spent most of the afternoon restocking the bar,” said Carrie Wilson. Occasionally she dabbed at her eyes matter-of-factly with a hanky, but otherwise her expression was stoic. “I had to check on the brewing in progress, bring up casks from the cellar, and do a few odd jobs around the place “ selecting wines, cleaning glasses, repairing fittings, that sort of thing.”

“Were you alone?” asked Harry. “Did anyone work with you?”

“My husband, Hugh, was with me all the time,” said Carrie. “We do most things together. At about half past three we Flooed home “ we live on the mainland, near Conwy “ and got ready for the party. We Flooed back here about five.”

“When did you last see Gerald Yaxley?”

“We had lunch together, all of us. It’s important to get everyone together before a big night, relaxed and ready to pull together and do their best.”

“How well did you know Gerald?”

Carrie considered the question for a long moment before replying. “Not all that well, I realise now,” she said finally. “There was always some distance between us. Fifteen years I’ve worked with him, ever since my mum died and left me my share of the pub. He was friendly but professional. I rarely met his family. They’re quite rich, the Yaxleys, but Gerry’s something of a black sheep. His mother married a rich muggle, and that was part of the problem. He never married, himself. I heard he had girlfriends “ and boyfriends. But that was when he was younger, before my time.” Carrie snorted. “I shouldn’t speak ill of the quite-so-recently dead, but Gerry was always lording it over the rest of us a little. Made much of his age and experience.”

“Which is why you disagreed over the future of the pub,” said Harry.

“Yes,” said Carrie. “We all had different ideas what to do; myself, Owen, the Greengrasses. And that’s why it always ended up the same way “ changing nothing, and the pub steadily losing our saved-up Galleons for it.”

She didn’t know of anyone who would want to kill Gerald Yaxley, and corroborated Owen’s account of how Mrs Bevan stumbled on the body.

The last spell Carrie Wilson’s wand had performed was a cosmetic spell.

* * *


Daphne Greengrass looked lost, as if staring into space, and seeing a totally different picture in her mind.

Harry had seen that particular expression before, and he felt a little pity. It was how many students had looked like after the battle at Hogwarts. It was how Hermione and Ginny had looked for days afterward. But then he remembered that no Slytherins had fought at Hogwarts on his side, and that thought ate away at the pity considerably. Besides, he had a job to do; a murderer to bring to justice.

“Daphne, could you please tell me where you were and what you did between twelve in the afternoon until the body of Gerald Yaxley was discovered?” asked Harry.

“I was with Draco and Astoria the whole day,” said Daphne. “We had lunch at Malfoy Manor, then Astoria and I went home to get ready at half past five. I remember the time, because we were running late.”

Harry remembered that they had been the last guests to arrive. “What did you do between lunch and half five?”

Daphne hesitated just a little, her eyes flicking sideways. “Draco, Astoria and I had some business to discuss,” she replied. “We were together all the time.”

Harry mentally noted that little tic down, and moved on. “Did you know Gerald Yaxley well?”

“I didn’t know any of them well,” said Daphne. “I heard stories of Yaxley from Daddy, of course, and we met every month to talk about the business. But he kept us all at arm’s length. He didn’t much like me.”

“There’s a Death Eater named Corban Yaxley,” Harry prompted. “He’s doing life in Azkaban.”

Daphne smiled thinly. “Gerald wouldn’t have had anything to do with him, nor would most of the family. As a matter of fact, his mother married a muggle, his full name is Gerald Yaxley-Seymour.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“He Flooed me about a week ago to tell me about tonight’s party,” said Daphne. She looked Harry in the eye. “I didn’t know they were going to throw you a birthday party against your wishes. They like to leave me in the dark.”

Harry was not up to commenting on that; he shrugged non-commitally. “What else have they not told you about?”

“Simple things to do with the running of the pub, that owners ‘don’t’ need to know about,” said Daphne bitterly. “Planned events “ I get an invite as if I’m a patron. Financial reports “ I have to practically beg to be updated every quarter. That sort of thing.”

“You don’t get along with Owen or Carrie either?” asked Harry.

“Owen thinks anyone not in the kitchen isn’t pulling their weight,” said Daphne. There was that sideways flick of the eyes again, the slight hesitation. “Carrie and I... have differences regarding the future direction of the pub.”

Harry made a note of the tic again. Daphne was holding something back, he was sure of it. “May I have your wand for a moment?”

The last spell Daphne Greengrass’s wand had performed was a Locking-Up Charm. Daphne met Harry’s questioning look directly and replied, “I used it on my jewellery box, before I came here.”

* * *


Harry remained alert as he worked his way through the rest of the kitchen staff, but none of them roused his suspicions as much as the other three. There was one bar assistant, one waiter and two waitresses, two cooks and a kitchen assistant “ the cooks made sure Harry knew the difference. “Gareth doesn’t actually cook, y’understand,” said Rhonda Hughes. “He chops vegetables, peels potatoes, cleans pots and plates, and helps with the serving out. Lot of work, even with magic, cookin’ eighty dinners.”

Two of them were temporary staff hired for the occasion and were more inclined to treat the murder as a curiosity than a tragedy. They all agreed that the whole crew had assembled for lunch, and then worked hard the rest of the day. That was when most of them had last seen Gerald Yaxley, except for Ashley Ollivander, waitress and great-grand-niece of old Mr Ollivander. “I took Mr Yaxley’s tea-tray up at four,” she said, her eyes round with excitement. “He was alone, there wasn’t anyone else with him, I’m quite sure of that.”

Well, that was something at least, thought Harry. He rubbed his eyes tiredly, and checked Fabian Prewett’s old watch; it was nearly midnight.

Ashley Ollivander watched him with great interest. “Do you investigate this sort of thing all the time?” she asked.

“Not really,” said Harry. “Since the end of the war, we get about one or two murders a year, amongst wizards that is. Most of the time it’s muggle killings and assault that has us running around. Still too many of that going around.”

“That’s horrible,” said Ashley with all the solemnity of an eighteen-year-old girl. “Great-grand-uncle says you saved his life.”

“Uh, well, that’s...” Not exactly untrue, but not exactly planned. And Malfoy Manor was not something Harry “ or any of them “ liked to think about, even now.

“I think that’s really neat. Can I have your autograph?”

Harry couldn’t help smiling. “Well, alright... if you can do me a favour? Please get me a very strong coffee with a lot of milk and two sugars.”

* * *


Sipping his coffee and enjoying the much-needed caffeine hit, Harry wandered out from the kitchen of the Druid And Daffodil out to the dining room and into a storm of shouting. Lizzie Peasegood, all of five feet two, was facing down three men and two women, and her hand wasn’t even on her wand.

“It’s gone midnight!” yelled the leader, a fat red-faced man who probably thought his flattened nose gave him a more menacing look than his ample belly belied. “We’ve given our statements an hour ago! You’ve can’t keep us locked up like this!”

“We’ve rights, you know!” screeched the tall woman beside him shrilly. “I know people in the Wizengamot!” She made the mistake of jabbing Lizzie in the shoulder with one long-nailed finger.

Lizzie stiffened and eyed the offending digit coldly, her light brown eyes darkening like battleship gunports opening. “A man has been murdered!” she barked sharply, and the woman flinched back a half-step. “Your co-operation is required in our investigations. We will keep you as long as is necessary and no longer. If we find it necessary we have the right to detain you for twenty-four hours, is that clear? And you, madam “ poke me again, and I will have you charged! Then you can explain yourself to your friends in the Wizengamot in court!”

Harry cleared his throat. “Is anything the problem, Lizzie?”

Lizzie turned her back on the group and strode over, stopping in front of Harry a tad more formally than necessary. “No problem, sir,” she said loudly. Then, quieter, “We’re almost done with the witness statements. This lot got fidgety. I’ve had the Floo disabled and all the doors locked, so even if they dare make a break for it, they shouldn’t get anywhere.”

Harry smiled. “I don’t think’d dare, but good thinking. Alright, entertaining as it would be, let’s not keep this lot any longer than we have to. When the last interviews are done, have everyone not on watch gather in the main office and we can go through the statements together. I’ve got Ashley to brew up, so make sure you all get some coffee down your necks.”

“Aye aye, skipper.” Lizzie didn’t even blink at the prospect of another weekend spent working late into the wee hours.

Harry surveyed the pub’s dining room. Everyone had been gathered here, the easier to control them; two Patrolwizards were stationed near the doors and keeping a general eye on things. His eyes were drawn of course to the flame-red head across the room; Ginny, her hair done up again in her usual practical braid, sitting calmly and talking to Astoria Greengrass. He sighed, and decided it wasn’t quite utter negligence of duty if he took a few minutes off the job to check on his girlfriend.

Ginny’s eyes lit up as she saw him approach, and she smiled radiantly. It made Harry feel warm inside; in that moment he became no longer Harry Potter, Ministry Auror of 5 years’ seniority; but just another 23-year-old young man, his insides still capable of being turned to absolute mush by his girlfriend. Said girlfriend got up as he neared, placed her hands around his waist and buried her head in his chest; Harry enfolded her tightly in his arms, kissed the top of Ginny’s head, closed his eyes and let himself rest there for a moment.

“Hey,” he said at last.

“Hello there,” Ginny said softly. “Long night?”

“Rather. Are you alright? Did someone come and take your statement?”

Ginny looked up, grinning mischievously. “Are you sure you’re supposed to talk to me about that? I could be a suspect, you know?”

“Just now you’re officially the least suspicious person in the whole place, as you’ve been with me all day.” Harry couldn’t help himself, it had been a long night; he bent down and pecked her lightly, hopefully, on those smirking lips. Ginny responded with a more lingering kiss, shifting her hand up round his neck to pull him closer.

A few moments later Ginny leaned back, her cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling. “Not that that wasn’t fun, but we are in the middle of the dining room, not to mention an investigation, and your ‘favourite’ reporters are all crammed in here with us.”

Harry grinned. “I’ve had their cameras confiscated so we can inspect their photographs. They can only watch and fume.” He sighed. “You’re right about the investigation though.”

And just like that, the moment was lost, sighed Ginny inwardly, as Harry straightened up, turned away from her, and scanned the pub. But his arm remained wrapped around her; she covered his hand with hers, stroked it with her thumb and was rewarded with a squeeze.

Ashley Ollivander came in through the doors from the kitchen, her wand in hand, large serving dishes and jugs orbiting her head. “We’ve made sandwiches, coffee and tea for everyone,” she announced to the room at large. “On the house.”

The mood in the room lightened up considerably; a long queue formed in front of the sandwich platters and an even longer one in front of the coffee jugs. Harry decided that he’d spent as much time with Ginny as he could justify; he was turning back to her to give her a good-bye snog when the lights went out.

All of them.

There was a chorus of startled screams, oaths, and the tinkle and crash from a couple of dropped glasses; Harry instinctively pulled Ginny close and lit up the tip of his wand with a “Lumos”, followed a couple of seconds later by the Patrolwizards. The bluish wand-lights shone over a roomful of nervous patrons, a couple of them inadvertently knocked onto the floor.

“Keep calm, keep calm, I’ll get the lights,” Ashley called out loudly. “Lumiere totalus!” The magical bulbs lit up again, every one of them. “No worries, must be a mistake, Light Orbs these days, eh? No harm done, sir, ma’am...”

Gordon Cresswell appeared at the dining-room door and beckoned urgently to Harry. Harry made his way across the room as quickly as he could. “It’s Carrie Wilson,” said Gordon quietly. “She’s been stabbed.”

* * *


In one of the Druid And Daffodil’s guest-rooms, Carrie bit her lip as Lizzie continued laying healing and protection spells on the gash on her arm; the broad-bladed kitchen knife lay on the table in an evidence bag, blood smeared on the blade.

“I was on my way to the loo when the lights went out,” Carrie explained between grimaces. “I was startled, turned around, and then I heard someone moving. And then...” She gestured at her arm, winced again.

“Can you describe the attacker?” asked Harry.

Carrie shook her head. “I couldn’t see a thing. It was pitch dark. There were people walking around, others waiting in the corridor to use the toilets, but I didn’t really pay attention “ I wouldn’t recognise any of them, I think.”

“Alright. You stay here in the guest-room, and rest. PW O’Malley here will be with you.”

Harry mentally kicked himself for letting them wander around the pub unsupervised. But it was half twelve in the morning, and he was short-staffed, damn it! “Gordon, change in the crowd control plan; I want one PW each stationed in the dining-room, the loo corridor, and the kitchen. When you’re done here,” he said to Lizzie, “I want everyone else in Yaxley’s office for a conference. The killer is still here,” Harry said, “and isn’t stopping.”

* * *


In the executive office, Harry listened as his two Trainee Aurors and five of the Patrolwizards gave him a summary of the witness statements they had collected. As he expected, there were about a dozen or so who didn’t really have an alibi for their movements around half past four in the afternoon, but none of them had any obvious connection with Gerald Yaxley. They had all Flooed in for the party from around six o’ clock when the pub opened. No, the killer was most likely to be amongst the pub staff, thought Harry. But which one?

"The weapon is a regular old chef’s knife that’s been charmed with a Blood-Draining Curse on it,” said Gordon. “Would have killed her in a few minutes, but we got to her quickly. It was embedded in her arm, maybe the killer lost hold of it when she fell.”

Harry frowned. “Where were Owen Griffiths and Daphne Greengrass when the lights went out?” he asked.

“Griffiths was in the kitchen making sandwiches,” said Gordon. “Greengrass I’ll have to check.”

“Okay, I think we can safely dismiss everyone who was in the dining room when the lights went out who is not a member of the pub staff,” said Harry. He nodded to one of the junior Patrolwizards, who immediately went out. “Get brief statements from everyone else, that shouldn’t take long. I want to question Greengrass and Griffiths again. Keep them separated and under guard, I don’t want any more incidents happening. Everyone stay alert and keep your wands handy. This is one brazen fellow we’re dealing with, to try and pull something off under our very noses. Who knows what else they have in mind.”

“You seem to have an idea, Harry,” said Lizzie.

“I have a possible motive,” said Harry. “The Druid And Daffodil is worth some money, even if it is in financial trouble at the moment. But there are four owners, and at least three of them must agree to sell off the business. Gerald and Carrie were very invested in the business and refused to budge, but perhaps whoever would inherit the business from them could be more amenable. Now do you see who the two prime suspects are?”

* * *


As Harry walked towards the office he was using as an interview room, a couple of familiar figures barged in from the dining room: Malfoy and Astoria, a Patrolwizard following behind.

“Harry Potter,” began Astoria, “we need to talk.”

Malfoy came straight out with it. “Why are you letting the rest of us go but keeping Daphne? She was with us the whole day, I can assure you.”

“I’m holding her because I have further questions I want to ask her, and I have every legal right to do so,” said Harry coldly. “PW Fawley, this office is supposed to be a restricted area, why did you let these two come in? Non-staff witnesses are supposed to be confined to the dining room and toilet corridor areas only.”

“Sir, they were very insistent, and...” The young Patrolwizard trailed off.

“Daphne could not possibly have committed the murder,” said Astoria. “She did not leave Malfoy Manor for even five minutes. We were in a very important meeting, all four of...” She stopped.

“Your witness statements have been recorded,” Harry said coolly. “You did mention the three of you had business matters to discuss in the afternoon. If you wish to add a fourth witness, you can choose to officially amend your statement. However, right now Daphne is being investigated in connection with what happened when the lights went out just now. She was not with you then.”

“Potter,” grated Malfoy, “Daphne. Is. Innocent. Everyone knows you have a grudge. Fine. You can go after all the other Slytherins and Purebloods if you like, but if you lay a hand on my girlfriend’s sister, you will have me to deal with.”

“Draco!” hissed Astoria.

“I’ve dealt with you before, Malfoy,” said Harry. “And I seem to recall defending you at your trial, so if anything, I’d say maybe I’m too merciful to Slytherins and Purebloods.”

Malfoy opened his mouth angrily to reply, but Astoria snapped “No, Draco! Not a word! I said no!” And to Harry’s surprise, Malfoy actually shut up. Astoria turned to Harry. “We’re trusting you to be honourable, then.”

Harry said, “I’ll be fair. PW Fawley, escort them to the Floo.”

* * *


Sitting there in Owen Griffiths’ erstwhile office, Daphne looked scared, thought Harry. But not all of it was the right kind of scared. Not all of it was there’s a murderer trying to kill all the owners of the pub and I’m one of them.

There was a little bit of something else too.


“You’re not telling me the whole truth, Daphne,” said Harry.

“I told you, I was on my way to the loo when Carrie was stabbed,” muttered Daphne.

“Really? Did you happen to witness the stabbing then?” asked Harry. “Carrie was knifed right outside the ladies’. And it’s a really short walk from the dining room to the lavs, so you must have been right there.”

“I swear on the heads of all my family, I’m not the killer.”

“That’s worth nothing to me,” said Harry bluntly. “You’re lying and I want to know why.”

Daphne said nothing. Her eyes flicked this way and that, taking in Owen Griffiths’ office clutter “ receipts, kitchen utensils, a half-eaten packet of party rings.

“You don’t like Carrie Wilson,” said Harry. “I saw that. And you stand to gain control financially from the death of your business partners. Those are the facts. If you have a different view of the situation, I need you to tell me.”

No answer.

Harry nodded, and was getting up to go when she finally spoke: “I know we weren’t friends at school. And maybe I’m just another spineless Slytherin to you “ everyone knows what you think of our kind. But do you really need to do this? Can’t you just… let things be? Can’t you just stop digging…?!

Behind the obstinate jut of her chin, Harry saw the unshed tears. “A harmless old man has died,” he said. “And another woman’s life is in danger. No, I can’t stop. Not if I can do something about that.”

* * *


Outside the office, Gordon Cresswell was waiting for him, with Rhonda Hughes, Owen’s assistant chef. “I sent the knife back to the office for testing. Rhonda here has something important to tell us about Griffiths,” said Gordon. “Go on, Rhonda.”

The cook bit her lip. “You remember when I said Owen had been in the Daffy all day today? That wasn’t entirely true. He… he went out for a bit in the afternoon. He often does that, on weekends. Says he’s off for a smoko, but he’ll be gone for at least an hour.”

Harry tried very hard not to let his irritation show; he must have failed as Rhonda winced slightly and Gordon turned away so neither of them could see him laugh. “Alright, Rhonda, thanks. What made you decide to tell us at last?”

The cook fidgeted, staring at her hands, then looked up. “I guess I just didn’t really take things seriously. I didn’t want to think someone I’ve worked with for so long could be running around and… you know. But after the attack on poor Carrie, I guess I thought… if it helps…”

Harry nodded. To Gordon, he said, “Take her statement. I’m going to speak to Griffiths.”

* * *


“You were absent from the kitchen for quite some time this afternoon,” said Harry. “Would you care to tell us where you went?”

“I usually take a couple of smoke breaks...” began Owen, but Harry rode over him quietly but forcefully.

“Not for a whole hour you don’t. I’m tired of being given the run-around. This stage of the investigation is supposed to be simple. I just want to know where you lot were, and I’m getting all sorts of non-answers, and I’ll be frank, that looks pretty damn suspicious.”

“You don’t think I killed Gerry, did you?” asked Owen incredulously. “Why would I want to kill him?! Why would I want to stab Carrie?!

“It’s not my job to think, it’s my job to gather evidence and find out where they point to, whoever it may be,” said Harry. “You were missing for a long time in the afternoon. You lied about that. You stand to gain a third of his share of the pub. So yes, right now you are on the list of prime suspects.”

Owen threw up his hands. “Alright, alright, damn you! I was at the broom races! Go ahead and charge me!”

Harry breathed a sigh of irritation. “Where. When. Tell me exactly what you did. And no lies, this time.”

“I told the kitchen staff I was going for a smoke,” said Owen slowly. “I walked out far enough to Apparate, and then...” He looked up. “Do you know where the races are held?”

The Department was in fact aware of the illegal broom races, but they were considered a low priority, as the organisers were also keen on not letting enforcers of the Statute of Secrecy spoil their fun. Well-covered with various Muggle-Repelling and Cloud Camouflage Charms, the real risk was to the racers, who loved flying dangerously low. From long-past DMLE briefings, Harry was dimly aware that the Welsh circuit favoured routes around the sparsely-populated and excitingly mountainous Gwynedd and the Irish Sea, but he wasn’t going to share that information with Owen. “Assume I don’t,” he said dryly.

“This afternoon’s route was down the coast, from around Harlech to Aberystwyth and back,” said Owen. “I didn’t watch the whole thing. I just...” He hung his head shamefacedly. “I just Apparated to the Harlech paddock, placed my bets with the bookies, and came straight back. I’m... look, I know I have bad habits, I’m trying to kick it, alright?”

So. It was the gambling aspect that Owen was ashamed of. “Can you name the people you spoke to?”

“You know I can’t do that. They’d... come looking for me.”

That’s true enough, thought Harry. But he was annoyed all the same.

In the silence, Owen said plaintively, “I swear I didn’t kill Gerry, honest.”

Harry didn’t bother replying. He went out of the office and called in the Patrolwitch standing outside. Her name was Wainwright, if Harry remembered correctly. “Give her details of the bets you made, and anything else you feel able to share,” he said to Owen. “Then sit tight. You’re not off the hook yet.”

If there was one person who would know anything about Welsh illegal broom racing, Harry knew who that was.

* * *


“I don’t know anything about illegal broom racing, Harry,” said Ginny. She stood with her arms crossed and looked just a little nettled. “Who on earth do you take me for? Gwenog would boot my arse off the team in no time flat if she thought I was anywhere near that lot. And you know I wouldn’t do anything like that and not tell you at least.”

“I know, and I wasn’t asking if you raced, Ginny,” said Harry. “I just wanted to know if you knew any... alright, I’m sorry, I’m an idiot, alright? I’m not thinking straight. Shit, what was I thinking?” They were alone in the Druid And Daffodil’s main office, he could afford to drop his mask a little, with neither Lizzie nor Gordon nor the Patrolwizards present. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. It didn’t help much with the headache building behind his eyes.

“Your brain went Wales, flying, girlfriend, and jammed on make a fool of myself, probably?”

“Probably. It’s having you around, it’s distracting. It’s...” Harry glanced up at the wall clock, “nearly half past one in the morning. Why don’t you go on home?”

Ginny stiffened. “Are you sending me off?” she asked, and this time, there was a real frost in her tone.

“Oh, damnit, no, I... argh.” If Ginny’s temper had one particular trigger, Harry had learned, it was even the hint of being deliberately left out of anything. Harry ran his fingers through his hair ruefully. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, Ginny. I’m just tired, and you’re here, and I’m not used to that when I’m working a case, and I just want to crawl into bed with you and...” He stopped. “Uh, can I take that back and start my apology over?”

“Hmm,” said Ginny, theatrically inspecting her fingernails, “I can’t say it wasn’t getting good. Go on. I’m waiting for you to work up to the abject grovelling, that’s always a laugh.”

Harry was relieved to hear that familiar teasing tone. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “You’re very welcome to stay on if you want, you’ve been wonderful. I’m going to be here all night. Just be on your guard. The killer is around here somewhere.”

Ginny pecked him lightly on the mouth. Quick apologies quickly accepted. That was their way. They’d learned that, over the years. “I’ll be careful,” she said. “I’m surprised you’d ask me and not the Department about the races, though.”

Harry sighed. “No-one’s supposed to know this, but we don’t have anyone investigating the illegal races,” he said. “It’s not exactly priority at the moment. We still have our hands full dealing with muggle attacks, Dementors and smuggling. In a perfect world, we’d have all the resources we need to handle all these things.” He caught up Ginny’s hand and brushed his thumb over her fingers tenderly. “In a perfect world, we’d just be together, forever.”

“Well, it’s not too bad,” Ginny smiled. “There’ll be time for us. For now… go on, go do your Auror thing.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


* * *

Back to index


Chapter 4: Chapter 4

Chapter Four



PW Wainwright nodded to Harry as he entered the office. “We’re done here,” she said, rolling up the scroll and stowing the Dictoquill. Owen Griffiths smoked moodily, not looking up at them.

“Okay, Owen, you can go home,” said Harry; “Just stay contactable. We might want to call you in again for further interviews.” He peered closer at Owen; the man looked tired, even a little ill. Well, fair enough, they had all been up all night.

Owen looked surprised as being allowed to go, but said nothing. He got up, and stumbled a little over his own feet. “S’alright,” he mumbled. “What’s going to happen to the Daffy? Can we open for business tomorrow?”

Harry shook his head. “No. We’ll tell you when we’re done with our investigations, then you can reopen.” To his surprise, he saw tears spring to Owen’s eyes.

“What’ll Dad say?” Owen Griffiths managed. Then he vomited, and with an expression of shock, tottered and fell back into his chair.

At first Harry was merely concerned and disgusted, the natural reaction of anyone to someone blowing chunks in front of them. Then he registered that there was blood in the puddle of sick... far too much blood. He stepped quickly around it, slammed open the office door and roared, “BACKUP IN HERE, NOW! LIZZIE! GORDON!”

Every Auror was trained in emergency Healing, and with practice and experience, the charms came to Harry almost automatically; he cleared Owen’s airway of vomit and blood, tried to slow down the bleeding, cast a diagnostic spell, and paled a little at the response it gave him: poison. He didn’t have his Auror kit on him. He shouted over his shoulder: “GET ME A BEZOAR, FAST!”

Harry knew he had to work quickly; magical poisons tended to be fast-acting. A bezoar was his best bet. Wainwright beside him, the hairy mass in her hand. Carefully open the mouth, puke and blood still dribbling out. Bezoar in. Her slim fingers forcing it down. Swallow, damn it! Owen’s eyes rolling up into his head; Revival Spell, deep shaky choking gasp. Anapneo, airways cleared again. Lizzie Peasegood beside him now. Where’s the Blood Replenishment Potion?

“Got it here, skipper.” Lizzie uncorking the glass vial, forcing it in. Too much potion spilling out. Still coughing up fresh blood, pieces of flesh. The bezoar wasn’t working like it should. It could only cure most poisons, and perhaps slow the deadly action of some others.

“He needs to go to St Mungo’s, use the Floo,” Harry ordered. “Petrificus Convalescum - Mobilicorpus “ one of you stay with him and keep me updated. Liz, you take the head. Gordon, feet. Go!”

They left, moving as quickly as possible while manoeuvreing Owen’s floating, recumbent body through the office.

Harry sat on the desk and stared at the Patrolwitch. Wainwright was slumped on the floor, leaning against the wall, her eyes wide and staring back at him, panting slightly.

“All right there?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “What’s your name?”

“Wainwr“ it’s Margaret.” They were both dappled in vomit and blood; there were patches all down the front of Harry’s shirt and trousers, but Margaret Wainwright had gotten the worst of it, soaked from fingers to elbow. She gazed at her fingers; they were covered with blood, and she’d barked a couple of them on Owen’s teeth, jamming in the bezoar. “Well... I’d never done that before.” She attempted a grin, and failed.

She looked about Tonks’ age and sounded Muggleborn or at least half-blood; Harry wondered what she had done during the war. Had she gone on the run, had she fooled the Snatchers with a forged identity, had she been captured, had she lost anyone...? These were questions he still asked, even after all this time… He shook his head to clear it, like a dog shaking off water from its ears. “Come on, Margaret, let’s clear up this stuff.”

“Right, I’m fine, it’s just the shock, the job isn’t always this bloody messy, and I...” PW Margaret Wainwright realised she was babbling, took a deep breath, and they began casting.

It took several Cleaning Spells to do it, but after five minutes of intense spellwork their clothes were clean enough, if not exactly freshly-laundered. Some magic spells just didn’t do a perfect job. Harry looked over at Margaret Wainwright, and said kindly, “Would you like a moment? You can go get a cuppa and have a sit-down, if you like.”

PW Wainwright raised her chin almost defiantly. “I’m alright now,” she said. “There’ll be time for all that later.”

Harry grinned. “You’re absolutely right. Now, let’s look for that poison.”

* * *


They found it easily enough. Another Patrolwizard called Harry into the kitchen; he had his wand stuck into the remnants of the cawl soup. Harry frowned. Surely many other patrons had drank the... “Here,” called another PW, her wand jabbed into the cut-up cake. “Here too,” said another PW, pointing at a serving tray of sliced roast lamb, and then Harry’s stomach did flip over; he’d had the roast lamb, and so had Ginny...!

It was all poisoned.

“Well, that doesn’t make any bloody sense, no one else has dropped dead,” said Gordon, clearly hiding his disquiet behind flippancy. “You had dinner here too, didn’t you? You feeling alright, Harry?”

A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t an ounce of logic, remembered Harry. Think like Hermione... “Byrne,” he said to one of the PWs, “go check Owen Griffiths’ witness statement and see if he mentions what he ate. If he doesn’t, go to St Mungo’s and see if the Healers can tell, or if he’s in a fit state to talk. Give me an update on his condition, and tell the Healers what we’ve found, and that we urgently need to know what poison has been used.”

Harry thought carefully before he spoke next. Then he said to Gordon Cresswell, “If all the food is poisoned, but only Griffiths is affected, then either he alone was exposed to some kind of catalyst that activated the poison, or we all were poisoned, and also given the antidote, which was withheld from him.”

Gordon blinked. “That makes a lot of sense.”

“First Gerald Yaxley, then Carrie Wilson, and now Owen Griffiths,” said Harry. “The pattern is obvious, isn’t it? I need to talk to Daphne again.”

“No,” said a voice behind him.

Harry turned around. Hugh Wilson, Carrie’s husband, stood there, smiling sadly at him. “The person you need to talk to is me.”

* * *


Since Owen Griffiths’ office was now a crime scene, Harry had to conduct the interview in a guest room. It was furnished as drably as the rest of the pub, with an old-fashioned four-poster, an even more ancient-looking sofa and a couple of armchairs, and walls painted what had once been cheery yellow but now reminded Harry uncomfortably of vomit.

Hugh Wilson sat at one end of the sofa, nursing a cup of coffee (checked for poison). Harry had a good look at him for the first time that evening; he looked like a cross between unscarred Bill and Percy, tall, broad-shouldered, with a boyishly good-looking clean-shaven face but the thick limbs of an active handyman worker. He seemed eager to tell his story now that he had taken the plunge. Almost before Harry sat down in the armchair opposite, Hugh blurted out, “The fact of the matter is that Daphne Greengrass and I were having an affair.”

Harry’s first reaction was to think, Daphne had been in his year. Twenty-three was far too young to be ‘having affairs’. But all he said was: “You said ‘were’.”

“This afternoon, at four o’ clock, I met Daphne at Malfoy Manor. Mr Malfoy and Daphne’s sister, Astoria, arranged the meeting to convince us to stop seeing each other. We spoke for an hour, and finally decided to call it quits. I went back home at about a quarter past five, and...” Hugh shrugged. “You know the rest.”

“Let me get this absolutely straight,” said Harry. “You’re telling me that you lied in your previous statement, in which you said you were at home all afternoon, and corroborated the alibi of your wife?”

“Yes.”

There was a clock on the wall, an ugly, baroque, leftover-ish kind of thing that seemed to embody to Harry the spirit of the entire damn pub. It reminded him that it was now nearly two in the morning. He let the pendulum go back and forth twenty times before speaking again.

“How long have you and Daphne been carrying on this affair?”

Hugh Wilson continued to smile, but the words came out in a resigned monotone. “I met Daphne at a Christmas party held by Preston Greengrass two years ago. We started talking, and... things just got out of control. I’m the main reason why Daphne asked Preston for permission to manage the business. Eighteen months, and at first it was excitingly dangerous... but the game is not worth the candle. We’re both sick and tired of the lies, the skulking. I knew Carrie suspected, and tonight was going to be the end. I was going to tell her, to make things right, but I never thought... I was too...” He trailed off and ran down to a stop.

“You do realise,” said Harry slowly, “just what you’re implying by making this statement.”

Hugh stared at his coffee, the smile gone now, and did not look at Harry. Harry gave it a minute, and then he reached for the Dictaquill, preparing to terminate the interview.

“I was in Cedric Diggory’s dorm,” Hugh said suddenly. “We weren’t close friends, but of course, when your name came out of the Goblet of Fire, we all had a good old slag-down. You’d stolen our thunder, you see. We called you a lot of choice names. But Cedric told us off and said you didn’t want to be there. You recall what Dumbledore said that year? ‘Remember Cedric Diggory’, and about making a choice between what is right and what is easy? I’m afraid I didn’t quite take his words to heart.” Wilson shrugged. “My whole family moved to Canada in 1996, and we didn’t come back until after the fight at Hogwarts.” He looked up at Harry. “After that, I said I wouldn’t make the same mistake.”

“And yet,” said Harry quietly, “you kept up the affair with Daphne all this while. Until today.”

That sad smile appeared again on Hugh Wilson’s face, along with a teardrop that slowly made its way down his cheek. “I’ve always found it hard to make the right choice,” he said simply.

* * *


Lizzie Peasegood was waiting for Harry in the executive office. “Owen Griffiths is missing a lot of blood and about a quarter of his stomach lining, but he’s not going to die,” she informed him. “The Healers have identified the poison and found a simple antidote, a potion mainly made up of marigold and river startip. They’re dosing him right now, and there’s extra in case anyone else needs it.”

Marigold. Herbs. Bad habits. Another piece fit into place in Harry’s head.

“Operations still has their hands full dealing with Dementors up near Edinburgh, so we’re not getting any Auror reinforcements. Your friend Weasley’s taken a team into the air to chase them down,” she said admiringly.

Harry chuckled. “Ron always did jump at any chance to fly on the job. Lizzie, is Owen conscious and able to answer questions?”

Lizzie shook her head. “They’ve had to put him into a Living Death coma, or he would be in a lot of pain. I left PW Byrne to liaise with the Healers. Figured you’d need more Aurors this side of things.”

“Much appreciated,” said Harry. This was one of the main reasons why he liked Lizzie; she had drive and wouldn’t ever be caught shirking the tough jobs. “Well, you’re in luck, because I think I know who our murderer is. I’m going to have a word with PW Wainwright, and then let’s go find Gordon.”

* * *


Lizzie Peasegood, Gordon Cresswell, and Harry settled down in the chairs on one side of the guest room-turned-interview room. The two Trainee Aurors fiddled with notebooks and glanced over at Harry, who was thinking hard with his eyes closed, but didn’t say a word.

PW Margaret Wainwright entered, along with Carrie Wilson, her injured arm in a sling. The barkeep and quarter-owner of the Druid And Daffodil sat down expressionlessly opposite the Aurors. PW Wainwright took up position by the door.

Harry let Gordon handle the preliminaries of activating the Dictaquill and identifying the people present. Then he said, “Carrie, please tell me where you were from four to five o’ clock on Saturday afternoon?”

“I told you, I was at home with my husband Hugh.”

“That is what you told us, but Hugh tells us otherwise.”

Spots of colour appeared on Carrie’s cheeks. She shrugged. “I don’t know where my husband was either. Why don’t you suspect him of the murder?”

Harry didn’t intend to answer that question; instead he said, “It’s a stroke of misfortune for you, because you relied on him to cover for you. You came here in the afternoon and killed Gerald Yaxley. You tried to kill Owen Griffiths by poisoning the food served tonight, and you tried to frame Daphne Greengrass by putting out the lights and stabbing yourself.”

“A fanciful story,” said Carrie scornfully, “but can you prove it?”

“We’ve identified the poison you used and right now a team of Patrolwizards are searching your home brewery, where no doubt they’ll find traces of the poison. Besides, what was the last spell you performed, before you damaged your own arm? Lizzie, take her wand,” ordered Harry, who had been watching Carrie’s eyes and saw the startled flick downwards to her pocket.

There was a brief struggle, but Carrie had the disadvantage of her wand-arm being in a sling and not being quite as fast as a talented Trainee Auror. Lizzie performed the Prior Incantato without needing to be instructed; several smoky lightbulbs emerged, then disappeared all at once.

Carrie gave a short, high-pitched laugh. “I forgot,” she said simply.

“There’s no reason for you to hide any further now,” said Harry. “Why don’t you come clean? The Wizengamot will take that into consideration.”

“What else is there to say?” she shot back. “You seem to have it all sewn up. How did you guess?”

“Your husband came clean at last,” said Harry. “But we would have got there in the end. It was the antidote that confirmed my suspicions. You knew Owen Griffiths was trying to kick drinking, didn’t you? I saw him stick to pumpkin fizz all night. You, on the other hand, drank when you weren’t supposed to, and you made sure all the rest of us drank too “ drank your ale, the Druid’s Gold. You knew your secret blend of herbs and flowers in it contained the antidote. Marigold and river startip. Why did you poison yourself and all of us? Why not just Owen?”

“I couldn’t guess what he would eat and it would have been too easy to pinpoint anything I passed him,” said Carrie. “I thought you might also suspect it was Death Eaters if I made it look like an attempted mass poisoning that had been luckily averted.”

“That was clumsy,” said Harry. “And so was stabbing yourself. You were trying to remove yourself from the list of suspects, I take it?”

“Yes. It wasn’t elegant, but I was out of ideas. You were supposed to zero in on Daphne as the only real suspect left. I didn’t think Hugh would provide an alibi for her.” Carrie laughed shortly. “I guess he chose her over me, in the end. Well, fair play to him, I chose myself over him. I had already met with a buyer for the pub. With Gerald and Owen dead, and Daphne either convicted or at least under suspicion, I would have had full control of the business. I could deal easily with whoever their inheritors were. I was going to sell out, leave Hugh, and move somewhere far away and start afresh.”

“And that was worth killing Gerald Yaxley and Owen Griffiths?”

“Why should I have let that stop me?” Carrie shrugged. “I felt nothing for them, alive or dead. They were not really my friends. I saw them as obstacles.” The casual way she spoke chilled Harry to the bone. “I see the judgement in your eyes. You don’t know what it’s like, being trapped like I was. Hating my work, hating my husband, hating this stupid pub, hating my life, and with no way out. What was I going to do, grow old tending bar forever? Or worse, chucked out when the Daffy finally goes under, and scrape for a living doing whatever job I could find? Maybe I could be a barmaid somewhere else, eh?” Carrie laughed shortly. “Can you imagine living through another sixty years of such a pointless hell?”

Harry couldn’t help himself. “For God’s sake, Carrie, where were you in the war that just ended?!” he snapped. “I fought, people suffered and died, just so you can live and breathe and be free from the whims of some stupid madman! You could have done anything, could have divorced Hugh and gone on your way!”

Carrie Wilson laughed sardonically. “You found your happiness in Weasley. I could see that this evening, as clear as day. You have a bright future ahead of you. Hugh and I, we were a mistake, a fling that went on too long. I’m no longer as young as I was. When you’re my age, you might understand. I had to leave with something more tangible, something to show for all the shit I’ve endured. A few thousand Galleons doesn’t seem much to ask. And how fitting that the Greengrass girl would pay for what she had done to me.”

Harry couldn’t think of anything to say to that. He was about to end the interview when Carrie spoke again.

“Hugh found his escape in the Greengrass girl,” she said. “I deserved my escape too.”

There was a hint of a plea for understanding, under the defiant tone. Strange that she would want that now, thought Harry, after all she had said and done. “Did you know where Hugh went in the afternoon?” he asked. “He went to Malfoy Manor, to meet Daphne Greengrass and her sister. He told her he couldn’t cheat on you any more, that he was going to be faithful to you from now on. He was going to come back to you and start over.”

Carrie shook her head ruefully. “That’s Hugh to a tee,” she said, her eyes glossy now. “Always a day late, and a dollar short.”

* * *


Ginny sat at a table off to one side of the dining room, nursing a cup of tea. A couple of Patrolwizards occupied another table, going through piles of paperwork and talking animatedly. Another couple of Patrolwizards assembled small bags of evidence, mainly samples of poisoned food.

By some kind of strange group premonition, all talk stopped and all eyes in the dining room turned to the grim procession heading towards the Floo, though it was unannounced. First came Gordon Cresswell and PW Margaret Wainright, looking both physically and emotionally tired out. Carrie Wilson followed, her head held high; as her arm was in a sling, her hands were pinioned in front of her instead of behind. Lizzie Peasegood had placed one hand firmly on Carrie’s shoulder, the other resting on the hilt of her wand.

Harry brought up the rear.

He stood there watching as Lizzie led Carrie away to the Floo. Around the dining room a couple of the Patrolwizards were whispering and gazing at him with admiration, awe, maybe a little fear. To anyone else but Ginny, he looked exactly like the ‘wonder boy’ of the Auror Office they had finally seen in action tonight; stern, granite-faced, scarily-efficient, wrapping up a double murder in record time and striking another powerful blow for justice, despite his astonishingly young age. Perhaps only Ginny saw just how wounded he was.

She came up next to him and tucked her arm around his. Harry blinked, looked down, and smiled tiredly. “I’m sorry, Ginny. I’m afraid the night’s been rather spoiled.”

Ginny shook her head. “Only you would apologise for having to deal with a random murder out of nowhere. Well, it was interesting, in a way “ I don’t often get to see you in action.”

Harry grimaced. “I hate stuff like this. Dealing with Death Eaters was so much easier. At least they’re all nasty sorts. Why do perfectly ordinary people find the need to just be complete arseholes to their fellow beings, for a petty revenge, for a few thousand Galleons. There was so much else she could have lived for. What really was the damn point?”

This, thought Ginny, this was the Harry that Ginny was privileged to know. Everyone else saw only the hero, the Chosen One, the Auror. She saw the bewildered, scared and unsure little boy, thrust into a whole new world of magic, struggling with all its myriad seductions and dangers, with not even a parental hand to guide him, but who still descended into a hidden chamber to fight a basilisk and rescue a silly girl, simply because it was the right thing to do. And she loved him for that, even when it took him away from her, even when it terrified her that some day she might lose him forever, because they both wanted so fiercely to do the right thing.

What did that say about herself?

Ginny sometimes wondered who was the stupid noble one here.

But well... there were always the moments in between. They had that.

“People are just people,” she said. “Even Tom Riddle was just a power-hungry maniac afraid of death and willing to do anything, kill anyone, to avoid it. You’ve done your part here, Harry. The rest... is up to her.”

Harry didn’t quite smile, but Ginny felt some of the tension ease. He planted a kiss on the top of her head, and led them to a corner table, snagging a pot of tea and two cups along the way.

There was a little time for one more stolen moment. Harry and Ginny spent it sitting quietly in the corner, sipping tea, his fingers intertwined around hers, watching as Gordon and the Patrolwizards went in and out of the pub sorting out the innumerable little tasks that remained, but mostly just enjoying the respite of being together. At another table, PW Margaret Wainwright was sitting down with her own cup of tea and another PW, clutching a hanky. Then Lizzie reappeared from the fireplace, looked around, saw them, and headed over with the unmistakable expression of someone who had finally found a superior to unload a problem on.

Harry sighed. “Back to work.”

“Go on, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Ginny kissed him goodbye, and took the Floo back to the Burrow.

* * *


The work of securing the crime scene; gathering and processing evidence, witnesses, victims and suspect; and tidying up administrative loose ends in a way the courts would find acceptable was not by any stretch complete by eleven o’ clock the next morning, but by that time Harry could hand over properly to Senior Auror Morgan the next day and make his report to Robards with the sense of a job well done. The Head of the Auror Office, of course, had a few choice remarks to make.

“Damn it, you weren’t supposed to solve the whole lot in one night,” grumped Robards. “Bloody typical. Can you not be an over-achieving twit for once, Potter? You’re making the rest of us mere mortals look bad.”

Harry tried not to smile at Robards’ back-handed praise, which was easy; he was completely exhausted. It was not that he was new to twenty-four-hour shifts; they were part and parcel of the Auror life, but the mental exertion of the last twelve hours was something else entirely. All he wanted to do was to crawl into bed... Too late he realised he had zoned out; Harry mentally pulled himself up and mumbled one of those catch-all boss replies: “I’ll try, sir.”

Robards grunted. “Go on, get out of here and get some sleep, you look like death warmed over, I’m not having one of my Aurors walk around the Department looking like you do right now. Lets the whole side down. Come in tomorrow and sort out the paperwork.”

Harry managed a real smile this time. “Thanks, boss.”

He barely remembered walking out of Robards’ office and Flooing back to Grimmauld Place. The last reserves of energy he could muster were running dry. But he woke up a little when he stumbled out of the fireplace and saw a familiar figure seated at her writing desk.

Ginny looked up as the Floo flared up and Harry emerged. She took in the bags under his half-lidded eyes, the fatigue-slumped shoulders, slack expression, yesterday’s shirt and trousers under the red Auror uniform cloak looking very much the worse for wear, and tsked under her breath.

“Why’re y’here?” slurred Harry, “s’posed t’be ‘n Burrow...”

“I wanted to see how long Robards was going to keep you. I thought I was going to have to come rescue you at lunch, but I see the rumours are true; Robards might just have half a heart after all,” said Ginny. She stood up. “C’mere, you.”

She grabbed his hand and towed him to the bedroom. Harry managed to dump the cloak over the back of a chair and doff his shoes and socks but then fell otherwise fully-clothed into bed. Ginny pulled on an old jumper and shorts, and climbed in with him, pulling the sheets up over them both. Tenderly, she took off Harry’s glasses and put them on the nightstand. Harry stirred, wrapped his arms around her and buried his head in her midriff.

“Thank ‘oo,” he mumbled into her sternum. “Dunno wha’d do ‘thout ‘oo...”

Ginny stroked his messy hair. “What you’re going to do is get some sleep,” she said, putting on her I-will-not-be-disobeyed voice, “then you’ll wake up in the afternoon, take a bath, and have a light lunch, maybe soup and rolls. You’re not to answer any Floos or owls at all today; we’ll roll around in bed doing God knows what, go out for dinner somewhere in Muggle London where absolutely nobody knows who we are or is hatching any plots for you to stumble on, then we’ll come back early and find something to do to while away the evening, I’m sure you can come up with ideas.”

“Sounds won’ful... love you...”

“I love you too, Harry. And I’m very proud of you.”

And then he was finally asleep.


* * *



Epilogue



Two weeks later.

“Percy, George, sort out the tables and chairs. Ginny, dishes and cutlery. Ron, I’ll need you to give me a hand with the food,” commanded Molly Weasley. “Harry, will you be a dear and get out the drinks?”

Out in the Burrow’s garden, Hermione was waving her wand in wide sweeping motions, covering the trees and bushes with conjured bunting, ribbons and bows, balloons of all shapes and sizes, and a giant banner with the words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY!” in big cheerful letters that glowed and flashed and changed colours in rhythmic patterns. In a corner, under a tree, Andromeda Tonks sat demurely on a picnic blanket, watching Teddy as he chased a dog-shaped balloon Hermione had enchanted to scamper along at child’s-head height.

As plates and bottles began levitating out of the house, the kitchen Floo flared up and Bill and Fleur came through; with a big grin, Bill slapped Harry hard on the back, causing him to stumble, and shoved a carelessly-wrapped package into his hands.

“Happy birthday, Potter, see if you’ll find that useful. Charlie clubbed in with us too,” said Bill, and wandered over to the stove to greet his mother and hopefully steal a bite of something.

Fleur swished over in a floral print summer wrap dress, managing to look glamorously chic even while balancing Victoire on one hip in a matching outfit. “Say ‘appy birthday!” she cooed; Victoire lisped “appy bufday”, flushed Weasley-red and then buried her face in her mother’s neck. Fleur laughed, gave Harry an enthusiastic “ ‘appy birthday, ‘arry!” and two Gallic kisses on the cheeks, then glided out to the garden.

Ginny passed by with a box of knives and forks; she grabbed a fistful of Harry’s shirt, dragged him down and smooched him soundly on the mouth. “Mine,” she growled, shooting a dark look at the departing Frenchwoman’s damnably perfect back.

Harry grinned, leaned in, and kissed her again softly. “All yours, Weasley.” He brushed his thumb over her cheek; Ginny was a huge mass of freckles all over from training in the July sun, and suddenly she couldn’t help it; a schoolgirlish giggle broke out of her, and she walked hand in hand with Harry out the kitchen door.

Soon the tables outside were creaking under the weight of giant platters of food; there was a massive joint of roast beef, stacks of Yorkshire puddings all puffy and crisp, steaming jacket potatoes, lettuce and carrots and peas fresh from the Burrow’s vegetable garden, bottles of Butterbeer and elderflower wine, jugs of pumpkin juice, and both treacle tart and a birthday cake for afters.

Ron rubbed his hands appreciatively. “I’ll say it’s handy having you around for one thing at least, Harry; Mum always pulls out all the stops for you.” Hermione elbowed him.

The air rapidly filled with the sound of spoons clattering on plates and talk and laughter, and as the twilight deepened, Hermione conjured up a constellation of hovering candles that lit up the whole garden with a cheerful flickering glow. But just as they were starting on the tart and the cake, the doorbell rang, its magically-enhanced chimes echoing out to the garden.

“I’ll see who it is,” said Percy, getting up. When he returned, it was with an odd expression on his face and two figures in summer cloaks following somewhat timidly behind. “Harry? Ginny?” he called.

It was Astoria Greengrass and Draco Malfoy, the latter holding a large, elegantly-wrapped package, and with a carefully-neutral expression on his face.

“I’m sorry, I hope we’re not interrupting,” said Astoria. “We just came to pass over a package for Harry. Since we don’t know where he lives, we thought this was the next best place to look for him.”

This was the first time Harry had ever received a gift from Malfoy. He said eloquently, “Er.”

“It’s something of a thank-you from Daphne,” said Astoria. "She would have passed this over herself, but she's so very busy, now that she's doing the lion's share of the work for that pub, so she asked us to drop this off." Diplomatically, she took the package from Malfoy, and held it out to Harry with a charming smile.

Okay, now this was familiar ground. “I was just doing my job,” said Harry. “According to Ministry regulations, I’m not sure I can... ouch! I mean...”

“Well, maybe I can take that for you,” said Ginny, as she removed her foot from on top of Harry’s. “Thank you very much, Astoria.”

Mrs Weasley had come up behind them, and was hovering protectively behind Ginny. She shot a frown at Malfoy, which softened as Astoria said brightly, “Ah, you must be Mrs Weasley. Please excuse Draco and I for intruding on your party. You have a very lovely home,” she said sincerely, “and I’ve heard a lot about your garden from Draco’s aunt, Andromeda.”

Harry and Ginny exchanged glances, and waited for Mrs Weasley’s reaction.

“You’re as thin as Harry was when he first came here,” observed Mrs Weasley. “Come along, why don’t you join us? There’s plenty of the roast left, and we’ve only just started on the pudding.”

“I really shouldn’t,” said Astoria, but her eyes were shining as she took in the dinner scene in the garden. “Oh, maybe I will have a glass of juice,” she said, and she let Mrs Weasley put an arm around her and pilot her to the dinner tables.

Malfoy looked like a guard dog whose ward had been stolen very willingly from under his nose. He hesitated, then squared his shoulders, tucked Astoria’s cloak under his arm, and followed, hovering protectively as Mrs Weasley conjured up a chair and poured her a glass of pumpkin juice. Andromeda Tonks said hello to her niece, her eyes darting between Malfoy and the Weasleys; Mr Weasley and Bill looked a little nonplussed at the new arrivals; and George and Ron stared at Malfoy for a long moment with open hostility. It was Percy who drew up another chair for him, and wordlessly passed him a glass of wine, before launching loudly into a discussion with George about Class XXX creature import regulations.

Astoria, Mrs Weasley and Mrs Tonks chattered away, and very shortly afterwards, all three were crouching near the flowerbeds while Astoria burbled about dappled gazanias and shy lantanas. Malfoy sat silent, nursing his wine and watching over her. The other Weasleys decided to ignore him and the volume of conversation rose again to something approaching normal. Victoire and Teddy helped by getting into a rough tussle in the grass.

Comfortably stuffed with Mrs Weasley’s cooking, Harry leaned back in his chair, Ginny nestled under his arm, and rested his cheek on the top of her head. He closed his eyes and breathed deep and just let the sounds of family wash over him. After a while, he said, “Ginny, d’you remember that week’s holiday I promised?”

“What about it?”

“Well, whenever you can get time away from Gwenog, I’ve got Robards to approve it in principle. It’s just a matter of confirming the dates.”

Ginny did a little wriggle of happiness against him that ticked Harry’s pulse up a few notches. “Brilliant! I’ll clear it with Gwenog right away. I can’t wait!” Craning her head up to reach his ear, she whispered, “I’ll be sure to pack the bikini.”

His pulse went up a little bit more. Suddenly Harry felt another celebratory glass of wine might be in order.

After a while, George and Ron announced they were going to see to the special fireworks, and sidled off in the direction of the broom shed. Ginny went to play with Teddy and Victoire. Astoria came back to the table clutching a couple of cuttings in brown paper, clearing her throat; Malfoy immediately leapt for the jug and poured her a glass of pumpkin juice. The first firework soared into the sky and burst into a giant flapping Golden Snitch as Malfoy poured more wine for himself. He hesitated, then leaned over and refilled Harry’s glass as well.

Harry looked up, watching the expression on Draco’s face. What was he thinking? Did he understand what was happening here? The Draco Malfoy he had known in his schooldays would have sneered at the Burrow, the simple home-grown and home-cooked food, the well-used and careworn air of everything here...

Malfoy held up his glass a fraction. After a moment, Harry picked up his own glass and tilted it slightly in his direction.

“This is what I call a real birthday party,” Harry said.

Malfoy nodded, and it seemed to Harry that he did understand. “Many happy returns,” said Malfoy.

Well, Harry could drink to that.

So they did.


END



* * *



Author’s note: The prompt/twist I received for this Challenge was “Someone throws Harry and/or Ginny a birthday party that misses the mark”. I like the idea that even after leaving Hogwarts, the Trio and Ginny are still not shot of Malfoy; he inadvertently shows up all over like a bad penny, and of course with his better half in tow. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work in a more active Ginny sub-plot I had in mind... perhaps the next time.

This is my first mystery fic, and I hope to write more, as I love Auror-Harry-Casefics. As always, do please drop a line telling me what you liked, disliked, what worked for you and what didn't; would very much appreciate it. Hope you all enjoyed reading!

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