SIYE Time:15:43 on 26th October 2021

Midseason Murders: Down The Pub
By sapphire200182

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Category: Post-DH/AB
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, General
Warnings: Death, Mild Language
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 13
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 1387; Chapter Total: 245


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.”

* * *
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