Chapter 11 : Eleven
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“Hello, lads,” he grinned. “We don’t see you here nearly enough. I heard a rumor that you’re finally wedding that lovely Discerner, Mr. Potter. Could that be true?”
“It is a rare instance where rumor is true, and if you don’t call me Harry, I won’t answer. How is Dorling, Adrian?”
“It’s a grand little place to live, to be sure. Remus and Zanni know you’re here?”
“No, this was a whim.” Ron smiled absently at the waitress who brought the stew and the butterbeer, and picked up his spoon. “Any new Dark wizards round about this part of the country?”
“Not that I’ve heard, and I try to hear everything.” He waggled a finger at a ten-year old boy nearby. “Robin, run round to the Lupins’ back door and tell them Mr. Harry Potter and Mr. Ronald Weasley have turned up here.”
“Yeah, okay, Adrian.” He nodded to the esteemed guests and ran out.
“They’ll want to know, even if they can’t come in,” he said to Harry’s raised eyebrow. “Getting the Hollow all fixed up for the wedding, then?”
“As a matter of fact, I think that’s exactly what they’re doing. Graínne doesn’t tell me much, for which I am extremely grateful. Originally we were going to marry in the summer, but now they’re talking about tents and heaters and forced blooms and all sorts of things I don’t know anything about. She been around much?”
“Not too much. Came in today to meet with Tink and Fidgel about some sort of bouquets.” He grinned. “Seems like a lot of work. Can’t just sneak off to the vicar?”
“We would like nothing better, but she’s been missing four years, and her mother won’t hear of elopement. Family relations are in a delicate balance at the moment, and we don’t want to disturb them any more than necessary.”
“And you, don’t you have a lovely wife already? Where is she?”
“Sleeping at home, supposedly. Expecting, we think, although it’s early to tell yet. You going to slip off to the vicar anytime soon?”
“Nah, lad, I’m waiting for that pretty sister of yours to get her fill of professional Quidditch and settle down to a serious life.” He laughed at the look on Ron’s face. “What was her name again?”
Ron laughed. Adrian took his leave of them, going to chat with others who might have news for the unofficial sheriff of the neighborhood.
Soon Remus came in. “Hallo, lads. Haircut’s a big improvement, Harry. Ron, you look sleepless.”
“So do you. Children giving you a time?”
“Dreadful time, yeah. Wish I’d started having them twenty years ago. We had lunch with Graínne,” he added, signaling the bartender for a pint. “She’s looking lovely, all smiles. Her mother’s something fierce, isn’t she?”
“Something fierce, all right,” Harry agreed. “May we have more bread, miss?” he asked the waitress politely, making her giggle. She was at least sixty.
“I read Lestrange got caught,” he hinted, looking from one to the other. “I’ve watched the paper every day since, and it’s been almost four weeks, but no one was ever given credit.”
“It was a bit embarrassing,” Harry admitted. “And it’s classified. Let us say it was absurdly easy, but we also let Lucius Malfoy slip away in the process. We think we were in the same room with him tonight, but the door squeaked. He and someone else got away. Might have been Draco.”
Remus whistled softly. “That’s a pair of arses I’d like to see nailed to the wall.”
“Please, I’m eating,” Ron grumbled.
“How’s school?” Harry asked.
“Good. Great, in fact. They’re just little ones, you know, and I’m getting inquiries all the time from as far away as Manchester about boarding. Well, I’m not boarding small children, they should be at home, that’s all there is to it. But I wonder all the time if we should open another school, this one in the Midlands. But it would be a strain, financially. We have enough, plenty, in fact, but I’d be afraid if a second school were to open and then fail. And then there’s getting a qualified Head who has a passion for it, who would have the same sort of commitment.”
“You need an investor,” said Harry thoughtfully. “Of course you could be Head of a second school, if you had a competent Deputy Head for each institution, but teachers are the sticking point, don’t you think?”
Remus chuckled. “I thought money was the sticking point. No, you’re right, I have five excellent teachers, and I’m teaching some as well, but if I was to open a second school, I’d need to get another teacher here. Molly Weasley would be a good one.”
“She would,” Ron agreed, “but if you opened a Midlands school, she’s a Midlands woman, she speaks the same dialect. She’d be better suited there. You’d need someone local.” He looked up at the waitress, who had brought another round, but Ron’s drink was in a tall glass. It wasn’t butterbeer, it was some sort of mixed drink, which was swirling pink and blue and garnished with pink and blue umbrellas. “What’s this?”
"The gentleman at the bar sent it to you with his compliments,” she answered in her gravelly voice and best English, trying hard not to laugh.
“Is there something you wanted to tell us, Ron?” Remus grinned.
Ron, looking comically unamused, saluted Adrian at the bar with a rather rude gesture, which got laughs all around the room. Then he took the drink and downed it, to much applause. “We’re not sure yet, but she’s acting like it again,” he answered Remus, not looking all that happy. “Damn, what was in that?”
“Probably fire whiskey,” Remus laughed. “Adrian thinks that anyone who is embarking on fatherhood needs sedation. That was a pretty strong one you just swallowed, most likely.”
“Damn,” he said again, staring from Remus to Harry. “And I’ve got to go pick up Conan at my mum’s house. Hermione’ll have fits.”
“She’s asleep, she’ll never know. I’ll go get Conan in an hour or so, if you’re tanked. I’ll pick up Graínne and we’ll bring him home and put him to bed, no worries.”
“You’ve eaten plenty, though,” Remus pointed out, “maybe it won’t bother you too much. Graínne mentioned testing for advanced placement in college?”
Harry nodded. “What did she say about it?”
“Not much, just that she was. Any idea how it’s going?”
“Oh, Kingsley’s got his wind up. He’s ordered it strictly confidential, which means that all the testers are telling me exactly how she’s doing, inviting me to the tests, stuff like that. He’s suspicious that she’s doing so well without any training.”
Remus snorted. “He’s looking for a fight, still. He’s a warrior, and peacetime is uncomfortable for him. I think he was the wrong one to promote. He was much happier in the trenches.”
“Who do you think should have been promoted?” asked Ron interestedly.
“Tonks. She’d be a good administrator. But they let her slip away. If she’d been offered a better position, she and Will would have stayed here.”
“Oooh, maybe I won’t tell that to Graínne. I think Will’s her favorite brother. It’ll piss her off at Kingsley, more than she already is, I mean.” Harry shook his head at a third butterbeer. “Coffee, maybe, Hester?” he asked, smiling up hopefully.
“Anything for you, Harry,” she chirped.
Ron made a face at him, and they all laughed. Hester bent and gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug around the neck, and said “You too, Ron! You just move your family up here to God’s country, so we can see you more often!”
“I may have to,” he answered cheerfully.
The door opened, and in came Graínne and David and a woman Harry had never met. The three of them got to their feet, and Harry kissed Graínne hello while David said, “This is Alison Taylor. Ali, this is Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, and Harry Potter.”
She offered her hand to each of them in greeting, and they all sat down again. Hester hovered around and took orders, and while she was getting more food and drink, David continued the introductions.
“Ali and I have worked together in the past, but she’s since quit the department.”
“He’s that hard to work with, eh?” said Harry, his eyes twinkling.
She laughed, her eyes going to David’s. “He told me he never dated people he worked with.”
Ron snorted. “If we obeyed that company policy, half the population of the Ministry of Magic would be single and desperate.”
They all laughed.
“Did you marry a Ministry employee?” she asked, seeing his wedding ring.
Ron had a mouthful and couldn’t speak, but Graínne leaned over. “High school sweetheart.”
“Oh,” Ali grinned. “And where is she?”
“Home, sleeping. And she is a Ministry employee, just not full time, and not in the office. Someone has to stay with Conan, he’s dangerous by himself.”
“Their son,” Graínne explained briefly. “So are you going to be touristy, see the Tower, the castles, the cathedrals?”
“We’re going to Canterbury day after tomorrow,” David answered. “Tomorrow, we thought we’d hang around and annoy you and Mom. Unless you’ve got something more interesting, Harry?”
“We locked down the Malfoy manor this evening, so tomorrow is going to be painstaking drudgery with a forensics team. I hope those bloody house elves really did leave and stay gone, otherwise it will be wasted effort.” Harry stirred cream into his coffee. “We’d love your help, but the judges frown on unauthorized personnel traipsing around crime scenes. If we actually turn up some evidence we can use, I don’t want it to get chucked out on a technicality.”
Graínne looked instantly alert. “Locked it down? They had been there?”
“They had, we think. We need to make sure. Someone was there who didn’t want to be found, and whoever it was left a pair of green dragon skin boots.”
“Pricy,” said Remus thoughtfully. “And in this weather.”
“So sad,” said Ron coldly. “Well, couldn’t happen to a bigger berk. What time are we supposed to be where tomorrow evening, Graínne?”
“Your wife will know; she’s one of those who planned it. I’m not even sure.”
“I was ordered to be at Godric’s Hollow no later than seven o’clock,” Harry offered.
Remus and David chuckled. “Hermione’s getting a little forceful these days,” said Remus.
“Again,” said Ron with a grin. “Suck it up, lads, she cries if you tell her she’s bossy.”
“Speak nicely of my friend, or I’ll tell on you,” Graínne threatened.
They all pretended to be afraid.
After everyone had eaten and drunk all they were going to, Remus said goodnight and went off home, where his lovely wife was starting a new batch of potion. David and Ali went back to Godric’s Hollow, where they were spending the night with the others members of Graínne’s family who had come to visit. Ron wasn’t tipsy at all, the drink having been quite harmless, and went off to get Conan from his parents, leaving his friends in the road outside the pub. Harry turned to Graínne.
“Where are you staying tonight?” he asked quietly. The village was getting darker as people went to bed.
“I don’t know, where are you staying?”
He laughed. “In my chilly, lonely flat, and if your mother found out you stayed with me at this late date, she’d skin us both.”
“What she doesn’t know can’t hurt us.”
“One of these times you’re going to depend on me to be strong, and I won’t be able to. Want to walk back? It’s not too cold out, tonight, might be nice.”
She sighed. “If you aren’t going to take me somewhere private and have my way with you, then walking home together would be very nice.”
“Don’t you mean let me have my way with you?”
“Isn’t that what I said?”
He laughed. “I rather think it was, now. It’s one and the same thing, no matter whose way it is with whom. All the more reason to stay out of my flat at this time of the evening.” They set off up the east road out of the village.
They didn’t hurry, and they didn’t talk after a certain point. Sometimes silence was enjoyable, and tonight it enabled Graínne to hear an odd, out of place noise, somewhere in a lonely stretch still a quarter mile from the house. Far enough away to be out of earshot, close enough to make sure it was Harry, for who else would come that way on foot? Harry swept his Invisibility Cloak around them both at the first signal from her, and they moved out of the road. As they waited there in the shadows, invisible, a figure appeared at the stile across the road, fifty feet on.
“I guess I didn’t hear anything after all,” said a muffled voice. “He usually Apparates.”
“Fool,” said a second, lower and yet sharper voice. “Get down and shut up.”
“It’s only now last call. He could be another hour yet. He’s got lots of friends there.”
“If you had established a contact in the village like I told you to, we wouldn’t have to wait out here all night. Now shut up.”
“I tried, but it’s a closed community, and very suspicious.”
“Don’t blame your failings on others. You bungled it.”
“You know what, Draco? You can bite me. I ought to leave you here to deal with him all by yourself. How’d you like that, eh?”
“You do, and you’ll explain it to him.”
The figure at the stile seemed to slump a little. “You’re always yelling at me,” he complained.
Silence descended again. Harry and Graínne moved carefully toward the stile. There was no need to speak, they knew exactly what to do and how to move together. It was a wide set of steps, though steep, solid, no squeaks or creaks. From the top, it was easy to see two figures standing by the fencerow, off to the right, toward the village end of the field. Graínne transformed into a cat very briefly, so that she could see which was which. Then she motioned to Harry that she would take the near one, who was Edward Nott, and leave Draco to Harry. Carefully they maneuvered until they each had a clear shot without crossing the other. It entailed getting behind them, so that the two figures were between them and the road.
They stunned in unison, from under the edge of the Cloak, but instantly Harry heard an extra explosion, and threw Graínne to the ground. There was someone else in the field as well. Someone sprinted past them and grabbed Draco around the waist and Disapparated. Harry leapt to bind up Eddie Nott, cursing inventively. Throughout the next hour, as he dealt with law enforcement and with Kingsley, he kicked himself roundly.
“It’s not your fault,” said Morag firmly. She was administering scotch in the drawing room at Godric’s Hollow.
“Of course it’s my fault,” he answered, putting his feet up on the coffee table tiredly. “I walked right into it! And the worst thing is, Malfoy has such a mediocre brain, and he’s been a step ahead of me all day.”
“Graínne!” gasped Morag.
Graínne had been sitting in near silence since they had come inside. She had dealt efficiently with Eddie Nott, kept her mouth shut while Kingsley yelled at Harry, and had been gazing off into space for a while. Now she blinked and turned her eyes on Harry.
“That’s who that was. It was Pansy Parkinson.”
“Did you see her?”
“Yes. I just had to think about it for a few minutes, remember what I saw. I saw her. She came running out of the hedge at the side of the field. If you hadn’t been so quick, she’d have Stunned you.”
She flapped her hand impatiently. “She doesn’t know about me yet, and if she does, she doesn’t care. Not yet. She was there to trap you. They didn’t expect you to have company. I guess they didn’t know I’d gone to the village. Which makes sense, because I Flooed there. She was there as back-up, and as a last resort they abandoned Nott and she grabbed Malfoy and Disapparated.”
“It’s plausible, but how does it help us? We’d never pin it to her. She’s sure to have an alibi.”
“Maybe. But we do know now that there’s a new face to watch for, and we know they’re back together, at least in this. And she’s still on the pale side of the law, so she’s public access.”
“Graínne,” said Morag uneasily. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m just going to watch her a little. That’s all.”
“Graín, what if she’s trying to draw you out?” Harry asked, frowning.
“She never saw me, Harry. For all she knew, it was Ron under there, or you shoot fast. And she’s still reputable, at least as far as the law is concerned. She’s not going to attack me in public.”
“I don’t like this.” Harry frowned at her, and Morag nodded vigorously.
She smiled brilliantly. “No worries. I won’t touch her.”
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