Chapter 11 : Market Day
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The Potters had presents to buy. They were on their way to 'Quality Quidditch Supplies', to find a good used-broom, because they felt almost all of the old ones left in the Weasley tool shed were patently unsafe, to sweep dust with, much less fly steadily off the ground..
They were doing it because they had begun training Teddy, as well as their niece Victorie, how to fly. Harry was determined what had happened to Teddy's father, Remus Lupin, an impoverished and lonely boy with no resources, and Harry himself with only a months knowledge that he was wizard and could fly, was not going to happen to his god-son. Teddy was going to be ten, start school a year from now, and for his birthday coming up he was going to get a new broom. They'd already seen to that, so this one today was for Victorie. Most of the family had already seen the two already had a connection to each other. It made Ginny smile to watch them, which pleased Harry no end. It just seemed right that the two would get their first flying lessons together.
That other wizarding families did this, despite the contravention of under-age magic ordinance, was a widely accepted practice. It was done routinely in families with strong Quidditch ties, like the Potters. As long as it was kept on the family property and/or out of sight of neighboring Muggles, the Ministry turned a blind eye. An attempt to enforce the rule was liable to bring about a change in government. Many in the upper reaches of the Ministry of Magic did the same exact thing.
James had already collected several other children his own age for an impromptu game of tag, which seemed to have little sense of rules, mostly consisted of running, shrieking between the stalls on the Alley.
“Two-and-a-half and already leading a gang,” murmured Ginny to her husband. They walked slowly down the narrow street, arm-in-arm, not really in a hurry. They had already waved to a distant George Weasley, in front of his store, who was trying to put up a sign about a sale of some sort without any help. They'd visit when they were done, and when Harry determined George was about going to kill himself falling.
Harry saw him everyday. Potter was playing truant from his office next door to Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. Buying big-kid-toys was far more important. Especially ones he could play on.
Harry calmly muttered back, “Never too early to meet the other kids. Maybe if more of that was done in our time -more often- families wouldn't be so split.”
“Bit different now. Think you and Draco be pals, off playing tag together, twenty years ago?” Harry's wife shook her head, “Voldemort really was a threat, you were special, and you didn't even know this place existed.” Ginny pointed her chin at a knot of preschoolers running back and forth across the cobble stones. “Don't get all maudlin on me. Those weren't the 'best of times.' My family certainly knew what it was like to not be accepted. Had nothing to do with you. Still aren't.”
“Ten years, Ginny. People still are divided up into camps. Who supported which side or how stridently they now support the winners. I get stared at less and less, but still the occasional dirty look, or the disgruntled comment. The issue wasn't so much how they loved the Death-eater's, it was how a certain family or certain group is so much better than those people or families. Or convinced they were better. The Muggles have the same problems, and it is even less logical.”
“I think you are doing all you can. Nothing was going to change people all in an instant. They were just relieved you had gotten ride of a tyrant. We do the best with what we've got. You don't play their game, when the government uses your name to curry favor. I think things are better than when I was a little girl. We don't hear anyone say Mudblood.”
“Not in front of us. Don't think the sentiment is gone.” Harry grew silent as they watched the kids run back and forth between the stores.
The Potters weren't the only parents out this afternoon. But Harry and Ginny were still being careful, as were the rest of the Weasley's and the Longbottoms. No other incident like the death of the balloon vender had occurred. No one felt good about not being able to go to the Aurors about what they knew, but at least had faith now that Astrid would do all she could to find the perpetrators. What she could do about it was another matter.
Ginny must have been thinking the same thing, “You think Astrid is really trying to find out who killed that man?”
Harry was silent for a moment, but then said, “Yes, I have more faith in her than her 'boss'. Think she already knows. But I'm not sure we will get the truth. Astrid has her own problems. She seems to oscillate between calm, cool assurance and morbid depression. I think Astrid hates what she's become, and is trapped being this thing that must hunt people. She might have been your distant ancestor, but I don't think that makes her any safer for us. A thousand years..... it's a wonder she's not insane, or a recluse. And I don't trust 'Nell'. I think Bill's right, she'd kill us in a minute if it solved her problems. Hermione has to be kept safe, and out of their reach. She has the knowledge and the power to destroy the..... (he had trouble speaking, there were strangers in earshot) ..the others.”
Ginny nodded, and was about to say more, when the Potters suddenly noticed two little children staring up at them, from where they had been about to put their feet. A boy and a girl, maybe about five or six, well dressed and obviously well cared for.
“Sorry for this, they recognized you from my step-son's wall poster.” A pretty woman, younger than Ginny, came forward from the nearby store front she'd been standing at. Harry didn't recognize her, but luckily, before he could say something foolish, it dawned on him that the kids were staring, open mouthed at his wife.
“Their step-brother is a Quidditch nut. Bit of a 'Harpies' fan, though I suspect it is a bit wee premature adolescence involved. Had all the ladies on the championship team up on his wall. Their outfits weren't all that loose. You are there, of course, Mrs. Potter.”
“Ginny, please, and sorry about that, the uniforms were the advertisers' idea. Hardly anyone remembers, ….now …...I hope. The next year's team that wins the cup usually makes the public forget the rest of us. Got to admit I can't recall who won two years before us.”
“Bristol, won out in the final game, they were suspect of using tainted bludgers.” Harry knew it instantly. Quidditch was still a passion for him.
“Oh, yes, thank you Mr. Know-it-all. I was trying to make people forget. Bit embarrassing for the profession.”
The woman laughed, “I have no idea myself. Never good on a broomstick. Could never get off the ground with the things.”
“Wow, it is really her,” the little boy asked? Apparently, he'd been peeking at big brothers wall art.
Harry leaned to speak to the kids, still opened mouthed, “Maybe if you ask nicely, she'll sign her name on something of yours.” Harry said with a smile, with some trouble keeping a straight face. Ginny being recognized and him being ignored was such a good feeling. “She's very famous.” His wife rolled her eyes, but was pleased she hadn't been forgotten already.
“Gee, cool, but I don't have anything...” the boy looked worriedly about him. His sister and he just had their cloaks over their day clothes, and no books or toys at hand.
“See what I can do with this.” Ginny crouched and fingered the inside hem of the girl's cloak. With her wand, Ginny began to spell out her name in gold lettering, and quietly prompting the two kids for their names, put her autograph on their cloaks.
While they were watching, the woman looked intently at Harry. “You might not remember me. I was a First year....that night.”
Harry really had no idea who she was, but knew instantly what night she referred to. His memory of others from the night Hogwarts was stormed -and Voldemort destroyed- was crowded out by the violence and destruction. That was probably the one and only time he could have laid eyes on the girl this woman had been, and he hadn't a clue. This was not the first time. Luckily....
“Course, you must have been in back benches (not too hard to guess, from her age group). I was a bit busy, ….didn't get a chance to meet many of the Hufflepuffs.” (her blouse pin and the colors on her handbag.) Harry was good at quickly putting visual clues together, and guessing the correct answer. Sort of his profession.
She looked pleased, “You were too busy. We had only just been sat, when they were hustling us back out the Great Hall to get away through that passage. We were all a bit terrified. It had been a horrible year. I didn't want to come back.”
Harry suddenly had a picture in his mind's eye, a frightened little face matching the young twenty-something, a bigger boy tugging her arm. “You and an older boy, he was trying to protect you.”
“My brother, Robert. A Slytherin. We don't have much to do with each other, now.” She sounded wistful.
This was where it always deteriorated for Harry. He never knew this woman, and the boy must have been one or two years younger than even Ginny. Potter was constantly reminded that his very presence divided families and separated school friends. Another reason he kept to himself. Quite apart from being starred at, he was tired of people treating him deferentially. There wasn't a good reason to march about, antagonizing the wizarding public home life by thrusting his face on the newspaper or at public events.
Some of what he was thinking must have been obvious to the woman. Ginny, too, as she occasionally glanced up from the boy patiently spelling his complicated name. She said, “No, Harry, not because of you. We don't have much in common, my brother and I. His opinions about you and your family he has learned to keep out of my earshot. There are plenty of other things we don't like about each other. Shame, but just the way it is.”
“Like my own family. We have a slew of relatives that, praise Merlin, we only see once a year.” Ginny stood by them, as the kids compared the brilliant gold lettering, mostly at their names so fancily spelled out. They only had a vague idea who the lady from the poster was. Ginny had a pretty good idea that Harry still had no idea of the woman's identity. “Good to see you, Julie.”
Harry thought, Julie? ...no, still nothing jogged a brain cell.
The woman probably had the same idea, but didn't want to make Harry uncomfortable. “Lookout, Ginny, is that your boy? Wrestling in the gutter” 'Julie' laughed. With an oath, Ginny snagged James by the collar with a surprisingly long arm grab. He was covered in dust and old candy wrappers.
“How could you tell? His general filth or volume of his voice.” Ginny grumbled as she was attempting to pat off the bigger clumps of dirt, all the while James was giving full-throated opposition to being taken away from the game the others were playing.
“You must be joking. His face!” Julie gestured up at Harry Potter and back to the unhappy boy. 'I'll leave you to it, then, before mine join in,” and she hustled them off.
They watched her go back toward the Alley's exit, and soon discovered James was already escaped back to the other urchins. She gave Harry a knowing look,“Still don't know who she is?”
“Not a clue.”
“Julia Cartstairs, Hufflepuff. A second marriage for her husband, some sort of wizarding investment banker. Never met him. And why are you laughing?”
“Just the full bio, and next you're going to tell me tell me about the brother.”
“No idea of him. Probably a flaming asshole. He kept out of my way, that's certain.” Ginny Weasley had a reputation for pugnacious belligerence, barely tolerated by Minerva McGonagal during Ginny's final year at Hogwarts during the rebuilding of the school. 'Head Girls' are supposed to be models of propriety and politeness. Harry always wondered about McGonagal's choice of his wife as being a prefect. A little suspicious.
Wisely, he said none of that. He'd actually been remembering the skin-tight 'Quidditch' uniforms the Holy Head Harpies had worn in their championship game.
“I miss that outfit.” Harry had in fact had Bill secret the said 'uniform' into the Potter family Gringott's vault.
“Yes, well, as you should. Remember it fondly, husband, because all that went up in smoke.”
Actually, no, Harry had rescued it from the crate of her Quidditch stuff in the burn pit out behind the Burrow. Quickly, Potter!
“You were the only one that looked good in it. Spandex doesn't become somebody with a beater's build.”
“That's the truth. I'd blow out the seams on it now. Damn, did that teach me to read the fine print on the contract. I had enough of that sport. The final straw, anyway. Can't believe Gwennog bought into that. We looked like the Holyhead Showgirls. All it was missing were tassles and pasties.”
“You've had your revenge. They've the worst record in the last three years. Serves 'em right letting go their star seeker.”
“Don't be petty. Only a couple were a bit surly. I'm surprised some of them didn't turn out to be vampires, too.” Ginny said that in an undertone, but the tongue-tying curse made it impossible for her to say anything too loudly. “Mrs. Mumfrey is buying the kids ice cream. Let's steal up to your office. I need to sit. These shoes are killing me and the kids banging about is like driving a spike into my forehead.”
“Yeah, I'm finding it a bit irritating too.”
With a wave to the beleaguered grandmother of five that foolishly volunteered to take the kids to the ice cream parlor, the Potters ascended the steps to Harry's detective agency. To be confronted by ..
a much enlarged Madeleine Weasley, in a full-length peasant dress, tie-dyed blouse, and flowers in her hair, happily singing along to the Muggle boombox blaring out music from the edge of her own desk.
“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
to another land...” 1
She couldn't carry a tune, to save her life. She looked up sheepishly when she saw the Potters grinning.
Maddie cleared her throat, “ummm, Oh, sorry you two. No one was about, so I was getting back to the Wheeze's accounts.” Maddie had turned out to be very good with numbers, and since both Harry and George failed dismally in the ledger/record keeping/tax return departments, she had more or less coopted the financial 'records' of both adjoining businesses, and had been slogging through the frightful mess that was George's business.
“What's all this.” Ginny laughed, pointing at the dress.
“Luna's idea. Says music stimulates the infant's development. Says I should dress the part. Really extraordinary stuff, you should come over. She'll be here this afternoon.”
“Already developed my two, thank you very much. Is this all of Xeno's stuff then.” Ginny waved at a large box of smaller boxes. They were 'cassette tapes' rescued from the storage of the Longbottoms house. Almost all of it music Xeno and Minerva's generation had listened to. Harry had more or less agreed to take it, he had the vinyl records stored somewhere in his own attic. Neither Ron or Neville would tolerate the antique music recordings, a lingering bad feeling over how it was acquired. The 'tapes' were conveniently small enough that the box of them didn't add much to the clutter that was Harry's business establishment. So much clutter already inhabited both his office room, and the ante chamber that was Maddie's receptionist waiting room that one more box of junk made little difference.
“Oh, pardon me...” She tapped the music player with her wand to silence it, and belted “WEAS- LEEEE!” through the opened half door that separated George's building with Harry's. The two men jointly owned both structures, now, so the door was mostly opened full time now.
“Where did you hear that.!” Ginny face lit up with pleasure. “That's straight from Mum. Could have sworn that was her.”
“Well, have to learn from somebody. Only parenting I got was orders to do the dishes and the laundry, and a whack on the side of the head. Seems to get his attention.”
“Yes, dear.” George looked disgruntled and less than fully overjoyed to be summoned.
“Don't be sarcastic. I need the box of receipts from five years ago. Not four. Lee brought the wrong one up,.... the tax stuff?”
“Fine, he's busy with customers. I'll go into the storage and burrow about. All my copious free time.” He sourly nodded to the Potters and slunk back into his building.
“Oh, Merlin, there truly is a God!” Ginny radiated with pure joy.
“What you mean?” said Maddie.
“Nothing. Just happy for my brother. How are you feeling?”
“Eat like a football team. Feel as big as one, now. Does this last?”
“Wouldn't know. For the second one, it was all I could do to stomach anything that wasn't too odiforous.” Ginny couldn't stop chuckling. “So, ….getting motherhood tips from Luna? I ought to warn you, she has some.... unorthodox theories. Not too sure the music she was referring to was … what was that by the way.”
“The Happy Fatalities, Greatly Dreadful or something, such and such...” Harry mumbled, digging into his own pile of papers in his office desk. It was a massive and ugly looking thing, like a piece of a wooden sailing battleship that had lost it's final battle, and washed up to shore. A 'Black' family heirloom, only Harry was able to open the drawers, some sort of tie-in to the magic that still defied their best efforts to completely tame, at Sirius's old home.
“The Grateful Dead, and they are pretty good. You should listen.” Maddie corrected him, as though it was sacrilege to get the music group's name wrong.
“All yours, Maddie, not really my cup of tea. And what's this note on top by the way?” Harry held up a flowery decorated paper.
“Mrs. Worthington, sends her appreciation and warmest regards. Invited you to luncheon, with all her friends.” Madeleine could barely restrain from laughing. Ginny herself gave up and just sat down in the waiting chair, slapping her knee with laughter.
The oath Harry gave was not for polite company. He bit back the rest of it, but said, “Ach,.... you didn't accept, did you..... They are all about a hundred years old, and think I live to rescue their pet miniature hyenas from the garbage....Oh, ….how could you?”
“Paying customers, Mr. Potter. I assume you wish to maintain the illusion you are fiscally solvent. They help spread good things about your good works. Always advantageous to have some champions among the old lady crowd.”
“... that little black one, especially, the snaggle-toothed one that punctured my thumb.”
“The woman or pet canine?” Ginny guffawed.
“The hideous dog..... part miniature dragon, right through the fleshy part on my palm. Had to go to Mungo's for that......son of bitch...”
Maddie shook her head reprovingly, “Hmmm, hmmm, ummm, language!...as I was saying. They talk to their relatives, make you known to do a good job. Something other than dueling Death-eaters and … what did you call them? Dementoids?”
“Yes, exactly, thank you very much, Mrs. Weasley. You're invited to attend, according to this...'please bring family'. ”
“What! … I mean, well that's smashing. Too bad.... allergic to canines... did I just hear my husband call?” Bracing her back, pregnant Maddie lurched up from her nice office chair and dashed as fast a possible into the Wheezes.
“Thinks she can dodge this, ha, ha, ha... will see about that!” Harry grimly crumpled the stationary, but softened his tone. “Have we made your day, Mrs. Potter?” He got up and walked over to give her a hand up from the seat. They managed to become entangled somehow, and resumed talking after a quick kiss.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Potter, this was the best idea all morning. Come on, James has probably put the whole dish of ice cream down on his lap by now. Mrs. Mumfrey is probably hiring voodoo practioners as we speak to put a hex on us.”
“Don't know why. She watched Teddy for us, too. Can't be worse than that.” Harry straightened out the crumpled note, and handed it to Ginny. “You're invited, too, by the way. See?, it says 'family is welcome. Look forward to meeting your wife', etc..... Maddie is family, you are my wife. Consider that your first job assignment.”
“Harry, I don't really know about this. I think we will get on each others nerves. And I'm not very good at puzzles..”
“We've been talking for months now. What you are going to do when the boys are old enough to be in school. Muggle elementary takes up several hours in the day. You'll be bored to death staying at home. This is perfect. You're good at handling people. That drives me insane.”
“Good at handling people, hah!” Ginny made a rude snort, and laughed, “I yell at the difficult customers and you get the dogs stuck in drain pipes and tackle the supposed-missing owl-conspiracy plots?”
“No, well, yes, umm, well, we can work into the other stuff. See, the desk opens right up for you.” Harry tapped the desk front, and the deep drawer on the bottom slid open on its own accord. The room was deathly silent, but Ginny could have sworn she had heard a maniacal laugh eminate from the bowels of the wooden ediface.
“Wouldn't take him up on that.” Madeleine had reappeared with a manila envelope haphazardly stuffed with papers, and a half eaten sandwich. “Harry assures me the desk recognizes me as part of the family, but I only use a metal implement, jammed in to keep a drawer slamming shut.” Pointing to the armored cod-piece on the wall. “Damn sight more useful than other things that shape, I can tell you. Afraid the desk will take my hand.”
“Nonsense. I've never had any problem.” Harry always breezily dismissed others concerns about the haunted furniture. He liked it.
“Well, maybe I'll get my own enchanted desk. We can watch on boring days while they battle for dominance.” Ginny walked around to slide shut the drawer, and paused, looking inside. “A hand!”
“Go on. Let me see. Probably been there centuries by the look of the desk. The work of Druids.” and Maddie peered around the stunned Ginny, the receptionist-accountant looking a lot like one of the 'flower children' in Hermione's magical 'Party Portrait', a big mouthful of roast beef sandwich in her cheeks, and looked down at a beautifully manicured woman's hand, long red lacquered finger nails, looking as fresh and real as if it were one of her own, and perfectly severed at the wrist.
Maddie almost made the garbage can before she lost the sandwich she'd half eaten.
[An hour later, after the aurors had arrived]
“Don't say anything to anyone, Harry.” Ronald Weasley came walking swiftly back down the stairs to the main floor of Wizarding Wheezes joke shop. They had gathered there waiting for Auror investigators to be done looking for clues about 'The Hand'. “They are looking at it now, bringing in a magical forensic alchemist.”
Ron glanced worriedly to Astrid, his auror partner. She was also secretly a vampire, hiding her identity from the 'ordinary' witches and wizards. Their immediate suspicion was this was an attempt to compromise Harry, or at least implicate Potter in some foul deed. Their main hope was that it wasn't part of body of one of the neighbors.
Astrid shook her head and subtly motioned her head to Lee Jordan, looking as nauseated and queezy as Madeleine had been. Ron got what she meant. Lee Jordan wasn't party to the secret of a group of hidden vampires among the magical population. They'd be trapped by the tongue-tying curse if they tried to talk openly with Lee present.
Thinking quickly, Ron said, “Lee, it's important that you do this. Go find out what's become of James at the ice cream shop. And then, if all is fine, stay there with him till my Dad shows up.”
“If Harry's in trouble, I'm not budging.” Harry smiled at his school friend's loyalty, but there were wider issues involved.
“Thanks, Lee. I know you mean it. Someone's trying to 'set me up'. We need our child to be safe. Can you do this.”
Briefly, Lee Jordan looked mutinous, but Astrid said, “Please, go, Mr. Jordan. I think we have an idea who did this.”
Jordan, along with Seamus and a few other of the Hogwarts friends, were in complete thrall to Astrid's Nordic good looks and athleticism, completely unaware she was a deadly creature, hundred of years old, and not just Ron's current auror partner.
Everyone nodded for Lee to go on, and he left the shop, closing the door looking puzzled and a bit put out. He knew he was being left out of a secret.
George looked conspiratorially up stairs and said in a low voice, “Do they know what it was from?”
Astrid shook her head. “No, George, but you know as well as I that hand belonged to one of my kind. Almost no blood, and very little deterioration. It's probably been there a couple of days.” She turned her face to Harry, sitting next to Ginny, looking at his own hands. “Any idea how long it's been there, Harry?”
“No idea. It's no lie that I'm not the neatest person in the world. It's probably been days since I opened the drawer.”
“I can vouch for that, Astrid. He a complete pig.” Maddie said brightly.
“Maddie, you've been in the office almost all the time. Anyone come up there?'
“No, not missing a hand! Not during business hours, at any rate. And it's been slow all week long. Harry and I have been without any new clients....for at least several days.”
Astrid nodded, and saying to Ron, “Makes sense. If they were able to come when people were here, we'd be talking over their dead corpses.” Gesturing her head to Harry and Madeleine.
“Hmm,” George grunted. At the looks of the others, he explained, “Last Monday, I found the connecting door unlatched, when I came in to open up the shop. Harry and you hadn't come up to start the day. Figured I may have just forgotten to close it the night before.”
“The Wheezes would be easier to get in, despite the wards, than the building next door.” Ron rubbed his face, and glanced worriedly up the stairs.
“But why leave something like this?” George puzzled.
“They might not have had a choice. Remember the Vow's obligations. If they seek to obstruct, strange accidents will happen.” Ginny mused, “Also, we've always made jokes about the desk, but it has never felt safe to sit at. I wanted Harry to get it out of the townhouse straight off.” She nodded to Astrid. “I'll bet one of her compatriots is lacking a hand, and is pretty angry.”
“We feel little pain, but it's 'uncomfortable' I guess you'd call it. I've nearly lost my leg from the thigh, in one battle. Remember the vampire on the bus. She could have kept on coming, even if you had broken both her legs. You learn that it grows back, eventually, depending on what is damaged. Never better or worse, exactly the same.” She stiffened, “Quiet, they are coming down.”
Ginny blanched, remembering the moment, “Merlin, what would stop a vampire.”
“Nothing.” Astrid the Vampire motioned for silence.
“Down here, Charlie. What have you found.”
“Only the most elaborate joke I've seen in a long time, Astrid. And that desk isn't safe. Could have sworn I heard someone laugh, and the top drawer nearly flew out and beaned me in the noggin.” He rubbed his head. “The spell came back with a physical age of 500 years old, yet the hand looks like it was fresh as the day she got the manicure yesterday.”
“Then it must be mine.” George said out loud.
Despite the hiss of breath from the others and a frantic “Georgie, what are you doing?” from Madeleine.
George overrode them, “We had an order for fake limbs, years ago, somebody's idea of a practical joke. Somehow the shipment got dumped into separate boxes, and we lost track of some of it. How one of them could end up next door, I don't know but it is the only explanation.” He looked the investigator in the face. “Do you think it is real?'
“With that age, and the fact it is perfectly preserved, no way.” the auror alchemist said confidently. “Somebody got their money's worth. Creepy thing to buy.”
“Drove us bonkers, keeping the things in a crate. Fred was still alive. It was one of the Death-eaters who ordered them. I can go over the receipts with you. Never knew why or asked and glad not to see them anymore. No clue how it got over there, but we used to keep stuff on the empty rooms next door, before Harry moved into the place.”
“Brother, I can believe it. Yeah, downtown will need us to see it. Ronald and Astrid, if you'd keep people out the office till we clean up, I'd be obliged.”
George left, with his wife in tow, thinking frantically where and how he could come up with paperwork for a Death-eater he never sold anything to. But Maddie was squeezing his hand, and shook her head when he gave her a questioning glance, and the Weasleys disappeared into the back store room.
Astrid whispered to Ron, eyeing the alchemist on the other side of the room, “Let them do what ever it is they are doing. We'll only mess it up, helping.”
Within minutes, a soft thud and a yell, and then Madeleine's voice saying, “George Weasley, if you hope to touch me again, you'll get that out of my sight.”
Ginny and Astrid looked brightly at each other, while the men shook their heads in sympathy.
The alchemist murmured, “New marrieds, are they?”
Ron nodded, frantically trying to think of what his brother could be up to, “Yeah, just last Christmas.”
And sure enough, Maddie returned, triumphantly flourished a handbill to a known Death-eater from ten years ago, and George came in …..with two noses.
He tossed the one to the alchemist, who jumped initially, but then chuckled when the nose morphed into a blob in his hand. George said, “There's a fancy meta-morph spell you have to cast, and something more complicated than me nose takes time. They will stay the same shape if you make the spell correctly. The things gave us the creeps, and we took them off the shelf almost the same day.
“Think we have the answer. Time past you should be cleaning up, Harry. We found an old sandwich in the other drawer.”
“Ughh,” Mrs. Potter gasped, looking incredulous.
The alchemist called up the stairs, “Pack it up boys, its another Wheezes product that got left behind.” Still chuckling, 'Charlie' said, Sorry to trouble you, Missus. Your husband has some untimely house-cleaning to attend to, I fancy.” he was still laughing, “Mind if I hold on to this, George? Got an idea for my sister-in-law.”
“... and they had to call the Aurors.” Ginny grimly sat starring ahead. The alchemist raised his eyebrows at Potter and beat a swift retreat up the stairs to get his stuff out of the Potter office.
There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone, but mercifully conversation was muted till they heard the investigation aurors leave next door, and after Astrid had crept with unnatural silence up to the office and back down to signal the all clear.
George almost collapsed to the floor. “Miracle I still had those things, just enough to do something small. Maddie remembered the bill.”
“Wondered how you were going to explain why a Death-eater would want them. I doubt it was to spring a practical joke on Voldemort!” Ron said, sitting down on a lower step.
Maddie solemnly kneeled before the Potters. “I want you both to realise that there's nothing we won't do to give you a hand,” patting their hands with both of hers.
Both Potter's leapt out of their chairs, “Merlin...... Maddie what happened to your hands?”
“Damn-it, six fingers!” Ginny yelled in outrage as Maddie sat back laughing, and George and Ron joined in. Astrid just shook her head and expressionlessly kept watching Harry's face. Mrs. George Weasley raised both her hands and wiggled the extra finger on each. “Just in case our alchemist needed more convincing.”
“Lovely woman!” George said fondly.
“Thanks for stopping my heart, you two.” Ginny patted her chest, but sounded forgiving.
“Guess we have no worries about you two being compatible,” Harry weakly laughed but it sounded forced. Astrid had noticed the sudden look of rage in his face, but he had controlled himself quickly enough. A bit out of character for Potter, she thought.
Then, he stood abruptly straight up, “Oh, damn! I know what they were looking for.” Harry leapt to charge up the stairs, but Astrid easily blocked him with a hand to the shoulder.
“What do you think your doing, Harry. We've got to find where they entered the buildings, it's not safe yet.”
He looked like he'd fight her, a crazy gleam in his eye, but he looked to the others. “Dumbledore's picture is gone. I never thought till now. I haven't tried talking to him all week.”
They all pounded up to the second floor, and burst in through the connecting doorway to the Potter offices. Dumbledore's desk portrait that had sat on Harry's desk the last ten years, was gone.
1. Box of Rain, Grateful Dead - Words by Robert Hunter; music by Phil Lesh.
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