rillalicious: (Rilla writing)
[personal profile] rillalicious
Title: Spring Street
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: ~25,000
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to JKR and Warner Brothers.
Warning(s): Highlight to read: Mild torture and violence, minor character death
Summary: Harry's been undercover for eight years, on a case that's going nowhere fast. Then Pansy Parkinson is kidnapped, and everything changes.
Author/Artist Note(s): Thanks so much to my wonderful betas who were patient and indulged me in a ton of hand-holding as I wrote.

I should probably note that any Americanisms are completely intentional, to contribute to the feel of the story, and that in a few places, I played fast and loose with the canon, though it's not a complete AU. Also, it may help if you (very slightly spoilerish, maybe, so highlight to read) picture the part of Mad Eye Moody's portrait as played by Edward G. Robinson.



Can I blow this small town, make a big sound
Like the star of a film noir postcard
Can I just forget the frames I shared with you?
-Dar Williams, Spring Street



The Magical Tap, Wizarding District, New York City

The lawyer's day had been abominable. Not one, but two secretaries had up and quit on him, he'd lost a case on property rights due to his clerk's legendary incompetence, and his wife had called him at lunchtime to let him know that her mother was coming into town this weekend, and could he please clear his schedule for Monday and Tuesday because she wanted to go sight seeing. One of the senior partners at the firm--the one referred to in the break room as "the grim reaper"--had been eyeing him suspiciously all day, and when he finally got out of the blasted place and stepped onto the sidewalk, some imbecile had let his dog lift its leg and piss all over the lawyer's favorite pin-striped dress pants.

When he had agreed to take the job in lower Manhattan, he'd thought he was signing on for something far more glamorous. This wasn't how he'd imagined his life. Most days, it wasn't entirely a bad life for a squib, but every now and then, a today would roll along, and all the things he could be doing, if only he'd been blessed with the right magical aptitude, would gather in the shadows all around him, casting aspersions on him in hushed tones that would play over in an incessant loop inside the lawyer's head long into the night.

Well, tonight he was going to drown those voices in gin, he thought. He might not be able to work amongst wizards (still considered by the lawyer to be "his people", even though they weren't really), but they were more than happy to let him drink with them come quitting time. Today, he sat at the bar, sipping his gin and tonic and looking over the shoulder of the scruffy, shabbily dressed wizard beside him, catching up with the New York Daily Grimoire.

"It's a shame about that Parkinson dame, isn't it?" said the lawyer.

The wizard glanced up, his eyes obscured by a weather-beaten fedora that cast long shadows over his round glasses. "Pardon me?"

He was British.

"Hey, are you from England? Did you know the broad?"

"I'm sorry, what are you talking about?"

"Right here," said the lawyer, pointing to the bottom of page 3A. "Plain as day. Pansy Parkinson, that socialite that was engaged to the crime boss. Been missing over a week now. It's been all over the papers. Don't you get out, mister?"

"Oh, I... Didn't see that." The wizard adjusted his glasses, nudging the hat up further on his forehead.

The lawyer didn't know why his eyes followed the movement, but they had, and now he saw a mark there, just beneath a lock of unruly black hair. It was a mark he knew, though it took a minute for his brain to swim through all that gin and come up with the answer.

"Wait a minute! I know you now. You're Potter. Harry Potter. What are you doing in New York?"

"Sight seeing."

The lawyer sniffed. "You've let yourself go, buddy. You're the savior of the wizarding world. Never would've guessed it at first glance."

Potter shrugged. His jaw was covered with at least a few days worth of beard growth, and the circles beneath his green eyes were dark and deep. "I like my anonymity," he said.

"Then you should do something about that scar."

Potter's brow creased and he tugged down a little more hair from beneath his hat to cover it. The hair seemed to automatically curl away from the spot where he'd tried to smooth it down. "Better?"

"I thought you were supposed to be a recluse now."

"I get out every now and then." Potter coughed into his hand, the sound raw and hoarse.

"Jesus," said the lawyer. "What the hell chewed you up and spit you out, Potter?"

"Life," Potter said, carelessly, and he gulped the rest of his firewhiskey down.

"Was there a dame?" said the lawyer.

Potter looked down at the bar. He tapped his cigarette into the ashtray. "There's always a dame, isn't there?"

"Wait. No, I remember. It was that redhead. The Quidditch player, right? Weasley?"

Potter shrugged. "My ex-wife. Ginny."

"Yeah. Yeah. She was hot, man. How'd you mess that up?"

Potter pushed his glass aside and slapped a handful of coins down on the bar. "You take care, mate," he said, and without another glance at the lawyer, he left the bar.

The lawyer turned on his stool, watching the famous Harry Potter walk away, as if he expected The Boy Who Lived to take flight the moment he stepped outside the door. Behind him, the bartender collected the coins with a low whistle.

"That guy was one hell of a tipper," he said.

"You'll never guess who it was!" The lawyer's voice was starting to rise in his excitement.

"All right, then," said the bartender. "Tell me if I'll never guess."

"Harry Potter!"

The bartender stared at the lawyer for a moment, studied his face, and then began to laugh. "Another Harry Potter sighting! Right here in The Magical Tap! Did you hear that, folks? I just served some of my cheapest firewhiskey to the Chosen One!" He grabbed the half-full glass away from the lawyer. "You're all done for tonight, Lyle. I think you've had enough."

"But I'm not making it up! It was Harry Potter!"

"All right, all right. Whatever you say. Come on, then. I'll let you use the back room's Floo Network connection. You shouldn't be flying home in your condition."

Lyle frowned, dropped his feet to the ground a bit unsteadily, and held onto the bar for good measure.

"I'm telling you, Henry," he said. "That was him. It was Harry Potter."

"I'll make a deal with you, Lyle. If that old transient turns out to be the Harry Potter, I'll wipe out one whole month of your tab myself."

Lyle let go of the bar and took Henry's arm, wide eyes setting upon the bartender as Henry steered him to the back room.

"Are you sure you can afford that, Henry? I know business has been kind of slim, lately."

Henry just chuckled. "Believe me, friend. I'm not worried about it. Not worried about it one bit."

***


24 Hours Earlier, London

Pansy Parkinson strode through the dimly lit parking lot on the river's edge, her chin thrust high into the air. She wasn't about to afford them the satisfaction of watching her run. Pansy didn't run. But that didn't mean she'd make it easy for them to catch her. She stopped at a low fence that overlooked the river and turned to face the parking lot, leaning back against the cool metal rail. Casually, she pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lit one, her first drag long and slow and resigned.

In the distant sky, two small lights drew closer, and closer still, until their forms came into clear view. Each was a hulking wizard in a long, dark robe--robes that reminded her too much of the ones worn by her friends' fathers, in a war that she'd been trying to forget for a very long time. She shifted her weight to one hip, rested an elbow on the rail.

"You gents certainly took your sweet time," she said, then she took another drag of the cigarette.

"C'mon, doll," said the taller one, a vast mountain of a man with shoulders so wide they blocked out the light from two streetlamps at once. His flat, American accent sounded vulgar to her ears. Merlin, how she hated that accent now. "Mr Grimes doesn't like to be kept waiting."

"Mr Grimes," she said, her voice brimming with sweetness and charm, "can go fuck himself if he pleases. You can pass that message on."

The second wizard, the shorter one with long scraggly hair combed sparsely over his shiny bald head, cracked his knuckles. His head came forward from his body on a neck that seemed to be screwed on all wrong, and he looked like a turtle to Pansy, his back hunched up above his neck. He moved like one too, but not at all lacking in menace.

"You've got nowhere else to run, sweetheart," he said, and she sneered at the epithet.

"A girl always has her options," she said.

"Oh yeah?" The first wizard was closer now, and she blew a plume of smoke in his direction. "Because it looks to me like you are clean out of options, Ms Parkinson. So why don't you just come along like a good girl and we'll get on with this. I guarantee you'll like Mr Grimes better when he's a happy man."

"I know what kind of man he is," Pansy snapped, and she reached inside her peacoat. Both wizards drew their wands, but neither fired a hex. "And he's not taking me alive."

"Don't make me hurt you," said the taller wizard. "We're not supposed to hurt you."

"We're not supposed to tell her that," said the turtle wizard.

"Don't tell me what I'm not supposed to tell her!"

"Just shut your piehole and do as we're told."

Pansy cleared her throat impatiently and both men shut up. She raised between two fingers a small glass vial, her lips curling up in satisfaction.

"Do you know what this is, gentlemen?" She didn't wait for an answer. "It's poison. A potion that's been passed down in my family for many, many years. A potion used to murder, to usurp power, to take down powerful witches and wizards in their prime. It works instantly. No pain, no consciousness, nothing. Immediate, permanent death."

She took another drag of her cigarette, then flicked it from her fingers, sending it tumbling down into the river, a thin trail of smoke still hanging in the air behind her.

"One more move," she said, uncorking the vial, "from either one of you, and you have a dead witch on your hands and a very unhappy Mr Grimes. I believe we've already covered the part where we discuss how much more pleasant he is when he's happy."

"Don't--" began one of the wizards, and she didn't even wait for the next word.

Pansy emptied the vial down her throat, tilting her head back and holding her breath, letting it empty into her. Then a black cloud rose up all around her, and she collapsed to the pavement.

***


The Daily Prophet
Parkinson Heiress Kidnapped!


The Daily Prophet has learned that early this morning, wizarding wireless mogul Hawthorne Parkinson reported to the London Aurory that Pansy Parkinson, his only daughter and sole heir to the Parkinson fortune, had gone missing sometime during the night. Details were not available and both Parkinson's spokeswizard and the Ministry Department of Public Relations declined to comment. Initial suspicion has been cast upon Darius Grimes, eldest son of the infamous American wizarding crime family. Though the Parkinson family is denying that ransom demands have been issued, The Daily Prophet has it on good authority that the amount being asked for Pansy Parkinson's safe return would empty even her father's vault at Gringotts.

More on this story as it develops.


***


Harry Potter's Third Floor Walk Up, East Village, New York City

"Potter, do you have any idea how many other Aurors I could have brought in on this case?"

Minister Shacklebolt's head danced in the green flames as Harry knelt by the hearth.

"With all due respect, Minister, I've been working this case for eight years. I sacrificed my public persona, my career, everything, for a chance to bring the Grimes family down. Because I know I can do it. Every time I get close, the case takes a turn, but this time... I know he set this up, Kingsley."

"You have proof? Anything at all that ties Darius Grimes to the Parkinson kidnapping?"

"Are we going by your definition of proof, or mine?"

"Harry, I'm trying to be reasonable here. The American Bureau has nothing. Nothing. He's nothing more than one suspect amongst dozens."

"I'm in deeper than any of their agents. We know that. I've got to follow this thing as far as it goes. This kidnapping, it's big. If I can tie Grimes to it, we've got him."

"I'm not arguing that, but... Eight years is a long time to wait for case to crack--"

Harry didn't let him finish. They'd had this conversation so many times that it felt like a dance. The Kingsley tango. And Harry was determined to lead. "You know that no other Auror could have done what I have. No other Auror could have made it this far. How many good men and women did we lose to this guy? But I'm still here."

"Then maybe it's time to wrap it up," said Kingsley.

Harry sat back on his heels, pushing his glasses up his face to rub the center of his forehead. "Is it that time of year again?" he asked. "Because you're getting predictable, Mr Minister. Late autumn rolls around and you decide we have enough."

"And you decide we don't," said Kingsley evenly. "Harry, we have fifteen guaranteed convictions. That's more than anyone ever imagined."

"But we don't have Grimes. Not yet."

"Maybe not ever."

"I'll get him," said Harry. "I know I will."

"Eight years, Harry."

"This case, it's my life's work."

Kingsley sighed and his head shifted out of the flames for a moment. Harry knew that he was rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, the telltale sign of his imminent acquiescence. Finally, the Minister returned to the conversation, looking just that much older than he had before. If Kingsley Shacklebolt had any hair, Harry reckoned he might have been able to take responsibility for every single grey.

"Do you have any idea how often I have Robards in here, demanding I remove you from this case so he can put another team of Aurors together?"

"Daily?"

"At least."

"Kingsley, I want this."

"I'm not denying that."

"And I'm going to get it."

Kingsley was silent for a long time, just contemplating Harry, it seemed, without really focusing on him at all. Then his eyes cleared and he shook his head. It's your funeral, Harry, his expression said. But Harry didn't agree.

"Then go get it," he said. "But Potter..."

"Yeah?"

"I'm not waiting another year. Have you got that?"

Harry nodded and reached for the pinstriped hat hanging off the arm of the chair beside him. He seated it on his head, tugging the brim down just a bit. "I've got it, sir. And thank you."

"I know you won't let me down, Harry."

"Never, Mr Minister," he said, and then Kingsley's floo connection went dark.

Harry rose to his feet and turned to face the wall, floating photographs of Pansy Parkinson and Darius Grimes hovering in front of the hotel's garish wallpaper.

"I'll find her, Grimes," he said. In the photograph in front of Darius Grimes crossed his arms over his chest, snickering, and rocked on his toes. It was a dare. And Harry was up for it. "I'll bring her home."

Harry raised his gaze to meet Pansy's eyes in the photograph just above Grimes, and he watched her for a long moment, then turned away, sweeping through the room and grabbing his black trench coat on his way out the door. He had a list of witnesses to compile.

***


The Dragon's Breath, back room, Wizarding District, New York City

Ron coughed and waved his hand in front of his face, frowning as he entered the room.

"Blimey, Harry, smokey enough in here for you?" he said, frowning as he sat down. "I'd rather not go home tonight with the green lung. I don't reckon Hermione would be too understanding."

"Black lung," said Harry. "It's called "black lung." And you're not going to get anything, mate." He produced his wand and lazily cast a spell that pulled every last wisp of smoke into the tip of it. "I just had a meeting with one of Grimes' higher ups."

"Smells like a great bloke," Ron said, and he pulled out a chair and dropped into it.

"Yeah, well. I'm at the "proceed with caution" stage of the game. I couldn't exactly tell him that my best mate was going to be here in an hour and he's a little sensitive to airborne pollution."

"I'm not a little sensitive to anything," Ron said, a bit of a pout in his voice. "So what's the deal now? Are they going to let you shift over to the pug's case?"

"Don't call her that, Ron."

"Sorry. You're right. The Parkinson case."

"Yeah," said Harry. "Kingsley and I have come up with... a strategy."

"That sounds ominous."

"It might be."

"So what's this strategy, then?" said Ron.

"We're not starting with Grimes. We're going to dissect Pansy's life piece by piece. Because when I find her, I'm going to need her testimony to put this guy away for good."

"You've been spending too much time with Americans, mate. You're starting to sound like them. And you're assuming that you'll find her. She could be at the bottom of the Thames."

"She's alive, Ron. I know she is."

"Has there been a ransom demand?"

"Not yet. And I know what you're thinking. But she's out there."

"Harry..."

"Don't," said Harry, his voice going sharp. He stiffened in his seat. "I know where you're going with this."

"Well, it's not the first time I've had to give you this lecture in the past six months. Ever since Parkinson got involved with Grimes--"

"She's our way in! In eight years I couldn't get as close to Grimes as she did in three dates."

"She's got better legs."

"There's something else," said Harry. "At Mr Parkinson's request, I'm taking the case publicly, Ron. Harry Potter is officially back in the Auror business."

"To be fair," said Ron, "you've always been in the Auror business, it's just the rest of the world that thought you were off your nut. So, how are you going to explain that away?"

Harry shrugged. "All those Harry Potter sightings? Rubbish. I've just transferred from the Department of Mysteries. Neither I nor the Ministry are at liberty to give details."

"Ooh," said Ron. "Now that's cryptic. You think the public will buy it?"

"If not, there are plenty of ways we can leak just enough information to avoid suspicion."

"You mean Luna," said Ron.

"Among others," Harry said.

"Oh yeah, like who?"

"I'm not at liberty to divulge."

Ron rolled his eyes and rocked his chair back on two legs. "You'd think after all these years I'd be used to getting shut out all the time, but nope. Still stings."

"If it's any consolation," said Harry, "you know more than you should." He smirked. "In fact, if I was following the handbook to the letter, you know so much that I'd have to kill you."

Ron snorted, his smile reluctant, but there was good humor in it. "I'll consider myself lucky that Harry Potter's never been one to follow the rules. All right, you. Get your disguise back on and meet me at the bar. I'm buying."

***


Hawthorne Parkinson, Wizarding Wireless Broadcasting Offices, London

"Hallo, Lee," Harry said, stepping off the lift and into the vastly spacious atrium of the Wizarding Wireless Broadcasting offices.

"As I live and breathe, Harry Potter. You don't look nearly as insane as they say you are, mate!" Lee Jordan smiled widely, extending an eager hand to Harry.

Harry tipped his hat and shook Lee's hand. "That's good to hear," he said. "How's the broadcasting business?"

"Beautiful, just beautiful," said Lee. "I get to run off at the mouth all day long, and at the end of the week, they give me a paycheck for it. Life is good."

"Glad to hear it," Harry said.

"What about you?" said Lee, lowering his voice just a bit. "All those rumors. Were you really an Unspeakable for all those years?"

"I'm not at liberty to say," said Harry.

Lee smiled crookedly. "Thought that's what you'd say. It was worth a try, anyway."

"Listen, Lee, I'd love to catch up, but I have a meeting this afternoon. Can you point me in the direction of Hawthorne Parkinson's office?"

"You're meeting with the big guy, himself," said Lee. "I heard you were taking that case. Shame about his daughter."

"Yeah," said Harry. "How's he holding up, anyway?"

Lee shrugged. "I don't see too much of him, but the bloke's such a bloody workaholic that some folks around the office are wondering if he's even noticed Pansy's gone."

"Is that so?" Harry rubbed the two day-old scruff on his cheek and frowned.

"That's so," said Lee. "But if you want my opinion, and everyone always does," he grinned charmingly, "everybody deals with grief in different ways. I mean, take Fred's passing for example. George didn't come out of his room at the Burrow for over a month, but me? Hell, you couldn't shut me up, or stop me from buying round after round of drinks for my mates. It's a miracle Katie married me after all that. What I'm saying is that maybe Mr Parkinson is more of a Lee than a George, right?"

"Maybe," Harry said.

"Anyway," said Lee, "his office is at the end of the hall. Big black doors with a gold nameplate that you can't miss. Literally. It's charmed to jump right out in front of your face."

"Subtle," said Harry. "Thanks, Lee. I appreciate the help."

"Any time, mate!" said Lee. "Just glad to see you alive and well is all. The wizarding world's been missing its hero something fierce. You, uh, probably don't want me to mention this on my evening show, though, do you?"

"Actually, Lee, that would be just fine. Mr Parkinson wants publicity for this case, and I can't think of a better source. Let everyone know Harry Potter's back in the sleuthing business."

"You got it, Harry. Take care, mate!" And with a clap on the shoulder, he was gone.

Harry adjusted his hat, straightened his coat, and started off down the hall. Lee had been right about the nameplate, and Harry only barely resisted the urge to shatter it into a thousand glimmering pieces when it whizzed by, grazing the tip of his nose. Shaking his head, he pushed open the big black door, and approached the secretary's desk. She scrambled to notify Mr Parkinson of Harry's arrival, and less than a minute later, Harry was seated in an enormous, overstuffed leather chair while Mr Parkinson sat on the other side of the desk, steepling his fingers.

Harry took off his hat and set it in his lap; this was a grieving man, and though the hat rarely left Harry's head, if there was ever an instance to show proper respect, this was it.

"Potter," he said. "I appreciate your willingness to drop everything for this."

Harry shrugged. "It's refreshing to exist on the record again." He watched Parkinson with interest, gauging the other man's reaction to every word.

"I suppose it is." Parkinson's voice grew very soft. "I should like very much for my daughter to exist 'on the record' again," he said, and Harry was reminded of Xenophilius Lovegood, all those years ago, telling him that all he wanted was to see his daughter back safely. He doubted Parkinson would appreciate the comparison.

"I know, sir," said Harry. "That's why I'm here. You've given your statement to several Aurors, but I need to speak with you directly. I need to find out everything you know."

"I don't know much," Parkinson said, shaking his head vaguely. "She was... a troubled girl. Never keen on the wireless business. Then she took up with that... violent piece of filth." He nearly spat the words. "I tried so hard to keep her interested in what we do here, to make this a place she'd want to work. If only she'd married the Flint boy, like I wanted--"

"Marcus Flint?" Harry interrupted.

"Yes," said Parkinson. "He used to work for me. In the PR department."

"How long was he with Pansy?"

"I don't see what this has to do with--"

"Answer the question Mr Parkinson. How long was he with Pansy?"

"I hardly think it's relevant to--"

"The question!"

"But Marcus Flint certainly didn't--"

"Hawthorne Parkinson! I will place you under arrest for obstructing my investigation if you don't--"

"Three years."

"Three?"

"Yes." Parkinson drew a slow, long breath, bringing his fingers up to his lips and pressing them there for a moment. "She broke it off a few weeks before Grimes entered the picture."

"And how would you characterize her relationship with Flint?" said Harry.

"Potter, you can't honestly think that Marcus Flint is a suspect in this case," said Parkinson, the genuine shock on his face matching his tone. Harry made note of it; the man was sincere.

"The more we learn about Pansy, the better the chance that we find her before it's too late," said Harry.

Parkinson shook his head. "If it's not too late already."

Parkinson's eyes went out of focus as he gazed out his office windows, and Harry knew he was losing his witness now.

"Mr Parkinson, did Pansy have a room in your home? A childhood bedroom that's still intact perhaps? Some place she might have visited recently?"

"Pansy never stayed at home anymore." Parkinson was mumbling the words now, his eyes glossy with tears. "I tried. I asked her to come home..."

"Mr Parkinson, do I have your permission to search your home? To see if I can find anything there that might lead us to her whereabouts?"

Parkinson waved his hand in the air. "Do what you will," he said, and Harry rose to leave.

"Good day, sir." Harry

"Potter," he said, and Harry stopped by the door, glanced back over his shoulder. "Bring my daughter home."

"I will, sir," said Harry, and then he left.

***


Harry Potter's Apartment, East Village, New York City

"You're botchin' the case, boy." Mad Eye Moody's voice grated its way up Harry's spine as Harry stuffed his satchel with everything he was going to need for an extended trip. From time to time, Hermione's undetectable extending charms came in terribly handy.

"I didn't get you out of my old office so I could hear you complain," Harry told the portrait.

"No, you got me out because you need help. And by the looks of things, you should have done it as soon as the kidnapping broke."

"Look," Harry said, without looking up, "I know you think this sort of thing is your territory, but I know what I'm doing."

"I've seen you through eight years of this Grimes case, Potter," Moody grunted. "I didn't stick with it so you could throw your cover under the Knight Bus and go public."

"You stuck with it because you don't have legs," said Harry. He turned and lifted the portrait. "Mad Eye, you've trained me, and you were brilliant, but I'm the one calling the shots on this case."

"Grimes will be on to you." In the portrait, the magical eye whirled around, then settled on the wall of photographs across the room.

"Grimes is a narcissistic prick," said Harry. "He's never going to guess that his up and coming lackey is moonlighting as Harry Potter. If anything, it'll make my cover more secure."

"It doesn't matter what he is. You need to talk to him first. Don't give him time to get sneaky."

"No," said Harry. "I need to find her without Grimes. Let him think our investigation is unconnected for now."

"He'll know you'll want to talk to him." Moody's magical eye lighted on Harry. "His kind always knows."

"Then let him wonder why I don't. It's not like he's going to admit to anything. And if I find Parkinson first... There's still a chance I can get her to turn on him."

"Let that go. Focus on the big fish. You're too confident," said Moody's portrait. "You need--"

"Constant vigilance," said Harry, rolling his eyes. "When have I not shown it? I sleep with one eye open."

"That's only because you have the luxury of two eyes to begin with."

Harry ran a fingertip along the brim of his hat and set the portrait on the dresser. "Fine. Give it to me. How would you solve this case, Mad Eye?"

"I'd bring along the Auror who'd been doing this for decades before you were even in diapers, boy."

Harry's lips twitched. "I'd bring him along too. Except he's dead."

"Pity that," said Moody. "Then I'd bring along the next best thing."

"I'm sure that wouldn't look suspicious at all," he said. "Excuse me Mr Flint. I need to ask you a few questions about your former girlfriend's disappearance. Just let me set up my artwork first."

"Sometimes you're thick as a tree trunk, Harry. Keep me in a bag, why don't you? I could hear everything and wouldn't be seen. Use those brains in your head, boy."

"Ah, right, in a bag," said Harry, frowning as he lifted a tie to examine it by the light of the window. A beam of sunshine split through the moth-eaten holes. Harry tossed the tie into the bin. "You reckon you can keep your mouth shut for an entire interview?"

"I've never blown my cover on an important mission."

"No, Mad Eye never blew his cover on an important mission. You, on the other hand, never seem to know when to shut up."

"I spent a lot of years stuffed under a bloody floorboard. And look at the layer of dust on me now."

"I've never been much of a housekeeper," said Harry. "All right. If you promise to behave, I'll let you come along. But we're doing this my way."

Moody harrumphed, and turned away from Harry, his eye rolling back in the socket to keep watch. Harry grinned and tucked the portrait into the bag. If nothing else, he'd have company. And there were an awful lot of interviews to conduct. It would be good to bring along a second pair of ears to keep all the details straight.

Harry had found the portrait by chance. Mad Eye's office at the Ministry had been full of booby traps and nasty jinxes waiting to spring, and therefore sat abandoned in the Aurory for years. It had been Harry who decided to make it usable again, unable to bear the idea of the room sitting empty and waiting forever more. The portrait had been found in the floor, beneath a floorboard that creaked out an encoded signal that not even the Department of Mysteries could decipher. Last Harry heard, they were still working on it.

The portrait had referred to himself as "The Last Sentry", and insisted that his living counterpart swore him to secrecy under threat of burning should he reveal his purpose in the office. After gently informing the portrait that the real Mad Eye Moody had been dead for years, Harry had waited out three days of the silent treatment before the portrait had come around. In the end, it turned out that only he knew the password to disable the most dangerous hexes Mad Eye had placed on his office.

Harry spent the next two months with the portrait on his desk, poring over case files that hadn't seen the light of day in decades, and learning everything Moody could teach him. It was more thorough than Auror training, more taxing than chasing horcruxes all over Britain, more frustrating than growing up with the Dursleys. And Harry wouldn't have traded a second of it. Even if it meant putting up with Moody's well-meaning advice for the rest of his life.

***


Marcus Flint, Crete

Harry stepped out onto the balcony of Marcus Flint's small apartment and sat on the edge of a chaise, placing his satchel on the floor beside him. He rested his elbows on his knees as Flint followed him out, then took his own seat on a long bench shaded by an overhead olive tree.

"You know why I'm here," said Harry.

"Pansy's missing. You want to find her. You reckon her jilted fiance had something to do with it."

"Not necessarily," said Harry. "I just want to make sure I'm turning over every possible stone."

Flint scoffed. "Right. You have some swampland you'd like to sell me while you're at it, Potter?"

Harry ignored it, focused instead on his questioning. "Tell me about your relationship with Pansy."

"Now, or then?"

"Start with then. End with now."

"All right," said Flint. "I've known Pansy since Hogwarts. I was, I dunno, maybe five years out of Hogwarts when I got up the nerve to ask her on a date. She said no. I asked again. Still no. Again. It started to become a joke, you know? I'd ask her out whenever I saw her, she'd say no, we'd have a laugh. And then, this one time... This one time she was standing there in the middle of the street, and it was just starting to rain, and her hair was all glistening with little drops of water. The streetlights were just coming on then, and she just sort of... stood there shining. Then she said yes."

Flint paused, looking up at the sky beyond Harry's head and reliving the memory for a moment. "So I asked her to marry me."

"That same night?" said Harry.

"Yeah. She said no."

Harry snorted. "Dames."

"Tell me about it," said Flint. He pulled a sleek metal cigarette case from his breast pocket. "Smoke?"

Harry shook his head. "So what happened next."

"Another year went by. She was all over me. I thought she was madly in love. So I asked her to marry me again, and she said yes, but..."

"But what?" said Harry.

"She wasn't happy about it. She smiled and all, but... I could tell. She didn't want me. I don't think she wanted her life. I think if you want to know the truth," and here, Flint's voice took on an edge, his heavy mouth curving downward as if just the thought of it angered him, "Pansy Parkinson had something else going on all together. Some secret... thing. That's why she left me, took up with that gangster."

"What do you mean a secret thing?"

"Like, some kind of life, or something. Something better than what she thought I could give her."

Harry leaned forward. "I bet it was hard, competing with the fortune of a man like Hawthorne Parkinson."

Flint nodded numbly, Harry's question leading him along like a dog on a leash. "That bastard only wanted to boss her around. He dangled her inheritance in front of her face and made her dance for it."

"Funny," said Harry. "But he seemed to like you just fine."

"Of course he did!" Rage flashed in Flint's eyes as they met Harry's. "You think I would've said anything about this to him? You think I would have said a word about it to anyone but the Harry Potter? Are you daft?"

"Why would you say it to me, Flint? Why are you telling me all this? You've got to know it only makes you look guilty."

"Because you can fix it! You're still the bloody Chosen One, right? Right? You can find her."

"I need to know everything if I'm going to find her, Flint. Why did you think she had another life?"

"Spring Street," said Flint.

"Spring Street?" said Harry.

Flint nodded. "Off Diagon Alley. She kept a flat there. Never let me up."

"You've never seen it?" said Harry. "How did you know about it?"

"She's was ordering some robes this one time. We were staying here and there was a new Greek line out that she said she had to have." Flint rolled his eyes. "I overheard her telling the shop girl to send them directly to Spring Street. I asked her about it and she said, 'A woman's got to have her secrets.' Load of rubbish that is. She had another boyfriend. Might have even been this gangster bloke."

Harry wasn't sure exactly why, but the suggestion that Pansy had been cheating on Flint settled uneasily in his gut. Something about that theory didn't add up. She couldn't be a cheater. Not if she was his answer to solving the Grimes case. He needed her testimony and he needed to know that once he got it, he could trust her word.

Flint's gaze trailed slowly across the balcony, finally resting on the twisted branches of the olive tree. "We were together for three years, engaged for two. She never let me see that flat. Do you find that strange?"

"Maybe she was a private person," said Harry. In his satchel, he heard Moody scoff, and he kicked the bag, eliciting a grunt from the portrait. He shrugged apologetically at Flint. "Pet ferret," he said.

Flint narrowed his eyes, but didn't comment on it. "Are we done here, Potter?" he said, and his tone was cold and even again. The man had more moods than a Hungarian Horntail in heat.

"Only if there's nothing else you can tell me about Pansy's recent whereabouts. Before she was taken."

"Why don't you ask your ex-wife?" said Flint.

"Come again?"

"Pansy took up a sudden interest in Quidditch just last week. Saw her at a match in Portree. Alone."

"Portree's a long way from Crete."

"I like Quidditch. Used to play, remember?"

"Mmm," said Harry. He rose to his feet. "I do remember." He had a strong feeling that Flint's appearance at that game had a lot more to do with Pansy than Quidditch. "Thank you, Flint. You've been helpful. I'll be in touch."

Flint nodded. "Potter?"

"Yeah?"

"When you find her, you'll tell her that, won't you?"

"Tell her what?"

"That I was helpful?"

"Uh... sure. Sure, I'll mention it."

Flint's lips parted in some estimation of a grin, though he looked more as if he were trying to bare his teeth at Harry. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." With two fingers, Harry adjusted his hat, then exited the balcony. He had to find out what Pansy was doing at that Quidditch match.

Luckily, he had a reliable source.

***


Harpies' Locker Room, Holyhead, Wales

Harry leaned against the door frame, hesitating at the entrance to the Harpies' locker room, and rapped his knuckles on the open door.

Ginny, with one foot up on a bench as she laced her shoe, raised her head. The entire locker room was immediately alight with hushed whispers.

"Give us a moment, will you?" Ginny said, and the Harpies team fell in line, filing out toward the pitch.

Ginny straightened, her Quidditch robes falling into place as she pulled her foot from the bench and stood.

"Give a girl a little notice before barging into her changing room next time," she said.

One corner of Harry's mouth quirked up. "I'll try."

Ginny smiled. "It's good to see you alive and well, Harry Potter. If it hadn't been for my brother, I might have fallen for those rumors that you'd gone round the bend and disappeared into the night. That last sighting was a nice touch, by the way. Blaming it all on the ex-wife who left you."

"I thought that might amuse you."

She shook her head ruefully and crossed the room, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "So, you're on the Parkinson case now."

"Nothing gets past you, does it, Ginny?"

"I do tend to read the papers," she said. "And I listen to Lee. I'm guessing you're here because Pansy came to see me."

"She came to see you?"

"You didn't know?" Ginny turned to her locker and pulled out her broom and a jar of polish. "Be a dear and get my broom in shape."

Harry took the polish and sat on the bench, summoning a towel to drape over his lap before resting the broom across it.

"Flint told me she came to last week's match. That was all I knew."

"And you were going to pump me for information?" She raised an eyebrow. "It's been a long time since you've used that tactic, Harry."

Harry cleared his throat and dipped the rag into the broom polish. "Why did she want to see you?"

"Her father wants to purchase the Harpies," said Ginny, and she turned to the mirror now and began plaiting her hair.

"She was there on behalf of her father?"

Ginny nodded. "He had a reasonably generous offer prepared and everything."

"But you didn't take it."

"Not my call," Ginny said, her reflection watching him from the mirror. "I'm only team captain. But the Harpies have never had a wizard owner, only witches. I told Pansy as much."

"And what did she say?"

"She didn't seem bothered. I don't think she wanted to be there at all." Ginny shrugged. "I dunno. She was... strange. But she's Pansy Parkinson. The rich and their eccentricities and all that."

"She's not known for being strange," said Harry. "Strange how?"

"I don't know," Ginny said. "Just... distracted. Uneasy. She obviously had other things on her mind. Like I do right now. Harry, I've got a match in thirty minutes and I need to focus. And my team needs their locker room back."

"What was going on with her?" said Harry, only half aware that Ginny was still talking. Did Pansy know someone was going to take her? Had she already got herself on Grimes' bad side? No, that didn't make sense. She would have reached out for help. Wouldn't she?

"That look on your face, I've seen it before, Harry."

"What look on my face?"

"The one that says you're obsessed. With Pansy Parkinson."

"This is my case, Ginny. The case against Darius Grimes that I've been building for eight years."

"Is it really, Harry? Or is it something different now?"

"I haven't spoken to Parkinson since Hogwarts."

"But you've written her."

Harry narrowed his eyes. "How did you know that?"

"Women talk. They especially like to talk to ex-wives, it appears." She turned to face him. "You wanted her testimony."

"I told you. It's all about--"

"The case. Yeah, you said that." Ginny strolled over to him, took her broom from his lap and drew her fingertips up the side of his face. "That's the thing about you, Harry. You never see it in yourself."

"See what? Ginny, I wrote to Pansy to see if she'd take a chance and testify. It was too soon."

"You put your whole career on the line for that."

"I've been putting my whole career on the line daily for this case," Harry said, his voice taking on a harder edge as he rose to his feet.

Ginny sighed. "And people ask me why we didn't last. You exhaust me, Harry Potter. Like no one else on Earth can. Go save the girl, Harry. Just don't let it all blow up in your face, all right?"

Harry smirked, turned away from her. "Take care of yourself, Ginny," he said.

"I always do. Oh, and Harry? Give Mad Eye my love, will you?"

***


Room 8, The Leaky Cauldron, London

"You need to find that Spring Street address. You should be there now. Not fixin' yourself up for tea with Malfoy."

"Draco and Pansy were close," said Harry, frowning into the mirror as he fixed his tie. "I think he might have that address."

"I think you're overestimating your powers of persuasion," Moody said. "And your invincibility."

"Oh, come on," said Harry. "Draco is no more likely to try anything with me than any regular wizard I pass on the street every day."

"Precisely my point."

"And here I thought the real you was paranoid."

"Caution kept me alive for all those years."

"Kept him alive," Harry corrected absently. He grabbed his hat from the hat rack and flipped it onto his head.

"It'll keep you alive too if you listen to me."

"I appreciate the concern, but I'm not worried about Draco Malfoy. We were boys the last time I saw him. We're both men now. It's not the same anymore." Harry swung his satchel over his shoulder and started for the door.

"Where're you goin' all by yourself?" Moody growled.

"Oh, no," said Harry. "I'm not taking you with me this time. I'll give you an exact recounting of our conversation when I get back. But you're not coming."

"Why not?"

Harry thought that if Moody were capable of crawling out of that portrait and following him to the door, the old Auror would have done it. He looked back over his shoulder.

"Because the last time Draco Malfoy said the wrong thing to you, you turned him into a ferret. Well, you didn't do it. The Death Eater masquerading as you did. But he had you dead on. Even fooled Dumbledore."

Moody snorted. "That's because none of you ever took my advice. Con--"

"--stant vigilence," Harry finished for him. "Believe me, I know."

Harry shook his head, grinning just a little bit, and opened the door. As often as he reminded Moody's portrait that it wasn't the real deal, there were moments when Harry himself seemed to forget that.

"Wait just a minute!" Moody called after him as Harry left the room. And as he closed the door, Harry heard the portrait grumble, "Pet ferret indeed!"

***


Draco and Astoria Malfoy's Townhouse, London

"What do you know about Parkinson's flat on Spring Street? I want an address."

Astoria Malfoy set the tea tray on the table between Harry and Draco, and Harry found himself slightly amazed that the icy wall dividing them could be so easily breached by a set of fine silver and a few lace doilies. The way Draco had been glaring daggers at him since he entered the Malfoy home had left Harry wondering if Moody hadn't had a valid point after all.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Draco said, raising his chin.

"I think you do," said Harry. "Parkinson kept a flat on Spring Street, but no one seems to know the address."

"That's too bad," said Draco. Astoria stood there, still as a lamppost, watching him with disapproval. Draco cleared his throat and her eyes narrowed slightly, but she began to pour the milk.

Harry shook his head and she handed him his tea, black. It was strong, as he always preferred, and he gave her a grateful nod as he sipped it. He set the cup aside, returning his attention to Draco.

"I have reason to believe that Pansy knew something bad was coming," Harry said. "She was anticipating it. If she knew Grimes was going to make a move on her, chances are good that she would have talked to someone close to her. Someone who could protect her."

"Well, that person clearly wasn't me," said Draco, and Harry thought, though he couldn't entirely be sure, that the words were laced with regret.

"If the two of you hadn't fought so badly," said Astoria, "I doubt that you would--"

"What my wife is trying to say," Draco said, silencing her with a tone that made Harry's temper flare, and not just on Astoria's behalf, "is that Pansy and I had hardly spoken in recent months. As tragic as her disappearance is, I'm afraid I can't be of any help to the Aurory."

"Is that so?" said Harry.

"That is so." Draco raised one slender eyebrow in challenge.

"And when did you say you last spoke to her? Exactly?"

Draco frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "Six months ago, I suppose."

"As soon as she started seeing Grimes?"

"Thereabout."

"Did you notice a change in her behavior when she took up with him?"

"If you want to accuse Darius Grimes of a crime, Potter, why don't you just do it?"

Harry blanched. He didn't like what Malfoy was playing at here; it was far too close to the truth. "There's more to this case than I'm at liberty to reveal," he said.

"Ah, yes." Draco steepled his fingers in front of his chin. "Pansy's nothing more than a means to the end for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, isn't that right?"

She'd told him about the letters. Harry had figured as much from the moment he walked into the house.

"It's not like that," said Harry.

"Of course it's like that," Draco snapped. "Or you wouldn't be wasting your time with me right now! In fact, I suspect you're going to be wasting a lot of time in the near future, aren't you? You probably have interviews arranged with all of Slytherin house. Have you spoken to Flint yet? He was sleeping with her, you know. For a long time--"

"Draco--"

"Not now, Astoria. How long are you going to carry on with this charade, Potter? How long are you going to leave Pansy's life at stake for your greater good?"

Those words, those particular words, were a knife in Harry's spine and his usual cool all but vanished as they pierced him.

"Don't you ever presuppose my motivations, Malfoy," he said, his voice low, but uneven.

Draco smirked, and it was that smug, self-satisfied look that had grated on Harry when they were kids, then rose to his feet. "You know something, Potter? Not everyone in the wizarding world was hanging on to the hope that you were going to return."

"Thanks for all the help, Malfoy."

Draco paused and looked back at him. "What else could I possibly tell you that would be of any assistance?"

The question wasn't entirely aggressive, so Harry decided to bite. "You can tell me what the fight was about. You and Pansy. When the two of you stopped talking."

Draco grinned then. "You," he said, and he left the room.

By the time Harry reached the door, he was gone, but Astoria was standing there in the hallway, watching Harry.

"I'll see myself out," Harry said. "It's no problem."

Astoria nodded, then took a few steps closer. "Draco was telling the truth," she said, slipping a piece of parchment into Harry's hand. "He doesn't have that address. But she does." Her lips curled in a faint, sad smile, and then she whisked herself off down the long hallway.

Harry stared after her for a moment, then opened his hand, nodding to himself as he read the address within.

***


Millicent Bulstrode's Holiday Chateau, Nice, France

"How'd you know where to find me?" Millicent said, stubbing out a short, quickly-smoked cigarette in the milk glass ashtray beside her.

"Astoria Malfoy." Harry opted to open the conversation with honesty. He'd told Moody as much when they arrived in France, and the portrait hadn't objected to the idea.

With her father's corporate success in recent years, Pansy had been in the spotlight more often than not, and it was well known that she associated with other upper echelon wizarding families, Malfoys, Flints and the like, but Bulstrode had faded into the wallpaper, an old, familiar name that never made it into the society page articles or gossip programs on the wireless. Millicent Bulstrode, it appeared, was easily forgotten. Looking at her now, Harry had a feeling that it was the proverbial story of her life. This was a woman who wasn't used to being addressed directly, and his presence alone seemed almost too much of a spotlight for her.

She wasn't unattractive, Harry thought, though she hadn't outgrown the square jaw and broad shoulders that identified her back at Hogwarts, either. Her clothes were plain, but nice, and her hairstyle flattering enough to soften her face just a touch. But it was in her eyes that Harry saw a different story. If one didn't look her in the eyes, one might think she was a woman of thirty or so, but Millicent had the eyes of someone much older, someone who had grown tired of seeing the same things again and again. Millicent wore a weariness born of monotony, and Harry reckoned that was the reason she still kept company with Pansy. Because Pansy had everything Millicent did not.

"Color me surprised," Millicent said. She pulled another cigarette from the pack. "And you're here about Pansy."

"I didn't think it would take you long to figure that out," said Harry.

"Well, if you saw Astoria, you saw Draco, and you know that Pansy's cut herself off. I haven't heard from her, either."

"I don't care whether you've heard from her recently," said Harry. "I'm looking for an address. Her place on Spring Street."

Millicent smiled. It was a slow thing, spreading across her face like honey, almost scary. She pressed her smiling lips together around her cigarette and inhaled, leaning back in her chair.

"Yeah," she said, when she finally took the time to exhale, "I've been to Pansy's place on Spring Street. What do you need to know?"

"Just the address," said Harry.

"Why should I give it to you? How's it going to help you find her, anyway?"

"I reckon it'll be enlightening," said Harry.

Millicent's lower lip protruded as she blew out a plume of smoke and her face was obscured by the cloud for just a moment.

"Yeah. I'm sure it'll be enlightening."

She watched Harry for a while longer, and he didn't move, just sat there returning her gaze with due regard, really looking at her, because that was the one thing she wanted most.

"All right," she said, crossing her legs. "Twenty-two Spring Street. That's Pansy's place."

Harry frowned. "There is no Number Twenty-two on Spring Street."

"And there's no Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King's Cross," said Millicent.

"She's hiding it," said Harry.

"Of course she is."

"Fidelius?"

"She wasn't that paranoid. Classic concealment charm. I'm sure you're clever enough to figure it out."

Harry smiled slightly. "I'm sure I am," he said.

Millicent stubbed out the cigarette. "Then why are you still here? Go get her, cowboy."

***


Pansy's Spring Street Flat, off Diagon Alley

"You realize I only brought you with me for your technical expertise, yeah?" Harry murmured to the satchel tucked beneath his arm.

Inside, Moody grunted indignantly.

Harry smiled. "Then we're agreed," he said. He stood between Number Twenty-one and Number Twenty-three on Spring Street, and began to recite the incantations just as Moody had told him.

In a few seconds, a cloud of dust began to rise up from the ground. As it settled, Number Twenty-two appeared.

"That'll do," Harry murmured to his bag. "Come on." And he walked up the steps and in the unlocked front door.

The foyer fanned out around him, narrow doors everywhere. Pansy was cleverer than anyone gave her credit for, he thought, and Millicent had been shrewd enough to neglect to mention this. Harry reached for a doorknob and the doors started to spin like a wheel all around him. Harry threw open the satchel and pulled out the portrait.

"Suggestions?" he said as the doors came to a gradual halt.

"Choose the right door," said Moody.

"Thanks," said Harry. "Never would've thought of that."

He started to reach out again, but realized this method would get him nowhere. With his wand, he cast a glowing purple X on the the door in front of him, then he grabbed the doorknob. As soon as his fingers made contact the door was whisked away from him. Again and again Harry followed the same pattern, marking doors and trying them, only to be wrong every time.

Finally, there were only three doors left.

"You're not much for saving time, are you, Potter?" said Moody.

"It's not like I'm not trying," said Harry.

"What's this girl protecting in there?"

"That's what I want to find out," said Harry. "Her identity, her privacy? I won't know until I'm in there."

"Who's she protecting it from?"

"Not Millicent Bulstrode," said Harry. He thought on that for a moment. "The location wasn't entirely secret. And she had to know that whatever curses she used, a wizard like Grimes would be able to counter-curse..." He raised his wand suddenly, but instead of sending a purple X, he cried, "Reducto!"

All three doors burst into splinters. The space behind two of them was dark and empty, but behind the third, was another door.

It was wider than the spinning doors, with an ornate glass handle and a wreath of intertwined flowers framing the peephole. Harry reached out and took hold of it and the door stayed in place. He pulled on the handle. Locked.

"Alohomora." The door clicked open.

"About bloody time," grumbled Moody.

"Do you want back in the bag?" said Harry.

Moody scowled and looked away.

Pansy's place was everything Harry had expected. Every item inside probably cost more than any piece of furniture he'd ever owned, but it was... imperfect. Purposely so. It was as if she'd tried to create the antithesis to her father's grandiose offices in here. And she'd succeeded. There was a bohemian feel to it all, and it gave him the impression of someone far more carefree and transient than Pansy's friends had described her. It had to be intentional. Was she trying to recreate herself here, or was this the Pansy they didn't know?

"You can stand here gawking all day, but that's not finding the Parkinson girl," said Moody.

Harry set him down on a weathered, antique sideboard. Moody looked from side to side, the magical eye straining as he tried to peer beyond the frame's boundaries.

"Can't hardly see a thing from here," he said.

"Aren't you always telling me not to overlook the obvious?" said Harry. "Well, stay here and check out the obvious. I'll be right back."

And he left Moody alone in the living room. He was going to start with the bedroom.

It was a woman's bedroom, there was no doubt about that, with faded morning glories climbing trellises on the light pink wallpaper. Every once in a while, one of them would open, blooming toward Harry and waving in an imaginary breeze, then folding back into its two dimensional space. The accoutrements on her dressing table were laid out with deliberation, clearly, but the silky slip draped over the corner of the mirror and the stack of opened letters spilling across the makeup tray made it just unkempt enough to show that she didn't have time to be bothered.

He wondered, for a moment, if she expected him to find this place. That was crazy. How would she have known he was coming? This case was getting inside his head. He had to be more careful.

The letters on her dressing table were, obviously, the first pieced of evidence he picked up. The two on the top of the stack were from an oversees aunt, beneath that was a letter from Blaise Zabini, dated shortly before Pansy started seeing Grimes. Harry scanned all three, quickly discarding them when they yielded no useful evidence. The next letter stopped him breathing.

It was one of his, one of the letters he'd sent her when the press first linked her to Grimes, telling her she had a chance to put him in Azkaban before he hurt anyone else. Before he hurt her. He didn't know why he'd thought the appeal would convince her to turn on her new boyfriend and side with the Ministry. He'd taken a wild chance. The real Mad Eye Moody would have killed him if he knew, but Harry had signed his real name.

Eight years was a long time to ride the same case, and any way out was starting to look like a like a good one. This case had become Harry's life's work, his obsession, but that didn't mean he wanted it to last forever. He wanted Grimes in prison, and the second that photograph showed up in the Daily Prophet, the one that showed Pansy and Grimes leaving a wizarding opera together in Istanbul (the one in which Pansy's eyes lacked any sign of interest or excitement), Harry saw his chance.

Now he was sitting on her kidnapping case and wondering why the hell, if she'd kept all the letters, Pansy Parkinson had never bothered to write back.

"Are you collecting evidence in there or trying on her shoes?" Moody called out from the living room.

Harry checked his watch. He'd been in here too long already.He was losing focus, and he couldn't let that happen. He rifled through the rest of the letters, hanging onto the three that he'd written, then tucked them into his breast pocket before leaving the bedroom.

"You know," he said to the portrait, as he passed by on his way to investigate the kitchen, "this would go a lot faster if you had arms."

***


Blaise Zabini, Ravenna, Italy

"I thought Spring Street was going to be the answer," said Harry to the blank space on the sidewalk cafe table in front of him. "I thought that would be the break through."

Beneath Harry's invisibility cloak, Moody grunted. "You realize you look mad talking to the water glass, don't you?"

Harry shrugged. "My reputation's seen worse," he said. He checked his watch. "Zabini's late."

"His sort likes to show up fashionably late," said Moody. "That's how they let you know they think they're in charge. You're not going to get anything useful out of him anyway."

"I don't know about that," Harry said. "He sent her a scarf from Milan in April. At least I got that out of Spring Street. They've been in contact, at least they were in contact."

"You're starting to chase dead ends, Potter. You need to regroup. Focus. You need--" Moody didn't get to say another word because Harry reached out and swung his hand in the air, knocking the portrait face down against the table as Blaise Zabini arrived at the front of the restaurant.

"We had a deal," Moody growled. "I was sitting in on this one!"

"Then hush," Harry said, groping around the table until he found the portrait's edge and propping it up again. "He's here."

Harry dropped his hand and looked up from beneath the brim of his hat as Zabini approached the table.

"Potter."

"Zabini."

Zabini pulled out the chair and sat down. "I assume this is about Pansy Parkinson rather than a social call?"

"Yes," said Harry. "I'm speaking with everyone who had contact with her in the months before her kidnapping."

Zabini snorted. "Contact? I suppose you could call it that."

"You were in regular correspondence."

"You make it sound like something serious," said Zabini.

"Was it?" Harry ran two fingers down the side of his water glass, tracing a smooth line in the condensation.

"Hardly," said Zabini. "Lots of men loved Pansy. I wasn't one of them."

"So what did you write about?"

"You knew we were in touch. You saw the letters, yeah?" Zabini smirked. "Then you already know."

"I saw one letter," said Harry. "How many more were there?"

"Years worth," said Zabini. "But that all stopped a while ago. I get the impression you didn't see that particular letter."

Harry frowned. The letter he'd found had been mundane at best, but with the case grinding to a halt all around him, he had to follow this lead.

"That's what I thought," said Zabini. "I'll give you the sanitized version. I let Pansy know, in no uncertain terms, that she was persona non grata in my social circles as soon as she started dating that Grimes character."

"You don't like Grimes?"

"The man's an open criminal," said Zabini, his lip curling away from his teeth in disgust. "That kind of scum doesn't deserve the benefits of upper tier society."

Harry took a sip from his water glass to help him choke down Zabini's words.

"So, what was it? Tough love, then?" asked Harry. "You were doing her a favor by cutting her off from her friends?"

"Something like that," said Zabini, and he had the gall to look amused, sipping his own water casually.

"Maybe you shouldn't look so pleased with yourself, Zabini," Harry said, his voice edged with building frustration. Moody made an indistinct noise from beneath the cloak, but Harry wasn't about to be deterred. It was because of people like this smug bastard that no one saw this coming. If they hadn't all abandoned her--He cut the thought off angrily.

"If you hadn't given up on your friend, she might be safe right now," he snapped.

"A man in my position doesn't have friends," Zabini said, drawling the last word as if it were a concept he found antiquated. "I have people who want to be near me, and people who know they can't."

Harry rose to his feet, hooking the edges of the cloak in his hand and scooping Moody's portrait off the table without Zabini's notice.

"And you were more than happy to shove Pansy into that second category," he said, sliding the cloak and portrait into his open satchel, then swinging it over his shoulder. He straightened his hat. "Thing is, you forgot about the third category."

"Oh?" Zabini raised an eyebrow.

"People who wouldn't want to be near you if hell had frozen over." Harry started to walk away, too disgusted with Zabini to trust himself to say anymore.

"Auror Potter?"

He almost didn't stop. He didn't owe Zabini another minute, and he didn't think he could stand to hear another word out of Zabini's mouth.

"What?" he said. From inside the satchel, Moody muttered that it was a waste of time. Harry silently agreed.

"I wasn't entirely honest with you," said Zabini.

Harry didn't move toward the table. "About what?"

"About the last time I saw her," said Zabini. "From a distance, certainly, but I still laid eyes on her. It was actually a Quidditch match. Little over a week ago." He smiled, and it was all teeth. "Your ex-wife's team was playing."

"Don't be too proud of yourself," Harry said, and something in the back of his head told him that he was starting to sound a lot like Moody. "You're not telling me anything I don't already know."

Harry turned away again, and this time made for the door without stopping. He could hear Zabini chuckling behind him and he cracked his knuckles as he walked, tamping down on the urge to throw a hex. That wouldn't help anyone. Zabini had been almost entirely useless. But now, Harry knew where he had to go next.

***


Hawthorne Parkinson, Wizarding Wireless Broadcasting Offices, London

Lee Jordan wasn't present when Harry returned to Hawthorne Parkinson's building, and Harry was glad for it. He didn't want distraction of any sort. He marched through the waiting area outside Hawthorne's office and instead of flashing a badge at the secretary, he tipped his hat up with one finger and showed her the scar. Damn thing had to come in handy for something these days.

The secretary was alerting Parkinson to Harry's presence as Harry burst through the doors.

"Hullo, Hawthorne," he said. He didn't bother to take a seat. "You've been keeping information from me."

Parkinson sputtered and began rearranging paperwork on his desk, as if there were something there he didn't want Harry to see.

"Potter! What do you think you're doing? You're supposed to be searching for my daughter, not barging into my office to level accusations."

"Why didn't you tell me you sent Pansy to buy the Harpies a week ago?" Harry said.

"It wasn't relevant," said Parkinson, his cheeks sagging as he frowned.

"It's all relevant!" Harry said. "All of it! She didn't want to go, did she?"

"What does that have to do with--"

"Answer. My. Questions. Sir."

"No, she... she didn't want to go."

"But you made her do it anyway," said Harry. "You wanted her in the family business so badly that you were willing to force her to do it."

"It wasn't like that," said Parkinson. "I only wanted what was best for my daughter. Her mother never worked a day in her life and--"

"This is about Pansy, dammit! Not your late wife. Pansy's life. Not yours. She had every right to make those decisions for herself."

"Mr Potter," Parkinson's voice was suddenly softer, more curious than indignant, "what exactly is your interest in my daughter?"

Harry grit his teeth, his gaze leveled on Parkinson as coldly as his tone. "I'm the Auror who's going to bring her home," he said.

Parkinson opened his mouth to speak, but just then there was a banging at the window. A huge, jet black owl rapped on the window again with its beak. Parkinson waved his wand and the window opened.

The owl circled the room once, letting out a horrible cry, then dropped an envelope on Parkinson's desk. The owl swooped out the window again without pausing for reward. Parkinson opened the envelope and began to read.

Harry watched as Parkinson's face faded to the color of the parchment in his hands. Parkinson raised his eyes to look at Harry, then thrust out his hand. Harry took the letter.

"Well," said Harry. "I'd call that a break through. Looks like our ransom note has arrived."

***


Pansy's Spring Street Flat

"What's slowing you down?" Moody asked, watching Harry from his perch up on the bookshelf, where he could see everything Harry was doing in Pansy's bedroom.

"What? Nothing," Harry said, glancing up over his shoulder. He set down the stack of stationary he'd been rifling through. Moody was right. There was something holding him back, some reason he couldn't just focus on what was in front of him and get this job done.

"Uh huh." Moody didn't sound convinced. After a moment, he added, "So what do you think about that ransom?"

Harry scratched the back of his neck. "It's not right," he said, and it all clicked into place. He rolled his head to the side and shot Moody a long-suffering look. He hated it when Moody figured it out first.

"Oh yeah?" Moody's mouth curled up on one side, he was humoring Harry now. "What's not right about it?"

"The amount for one," said Harry. "It's exactly twice what Parkinson was offering for the Harpies. That could be coincidence but... why now? Why wait so long before letting Parkinson know that money's what they're after? It's got to be a red herring. There's more to this case."

He reached into the drawer and pulled out a small box, a Christmas tag still tied to the ribbon that held it closed.

To: Pansy
From: Draco
Happy Christmas


Harry shook his head and rose to his feet.

"I never should have let Malfoy walk out of that room," he said. "That was my first mistake."

"You think he's behind it, then?" This time, Moody sounded genuinely intrigued, and Harry felt a swell of pride in his chest.

"I think he's got answers that he's not sharing."

Moody's grin spread across his face. "Then go get him, boy. Watch your back. You've been shaking up a hornet's nest, you know."

Harry thought about that for a moment. Perhaps there was a time when that was true, but so many years after the war...

"That Slytherin hornet's nest has been dormant for years now, Mad Eye," he said.

"You can't be so sure," said Moody. "Wizards can still go bad. Even after the great Harry Potter saves them all."

"But all the bad wizards won't come from Slytherin," Harry said. "People are more complicated than that."

He walked over to Pansy's dressing table for maybe the dozenth time this afternoon, and picked up a framed photograph of her. She was looking over her shoulder at the camera, half-amused, half-bored. She was looking right into Harry's eyes, as if she wanted to tell him a secret.

"What are you trying to say?" he asked her softly. The Pansy in the photograph just licked her lips and kept watching him.

"You're crossin' a line here, Potter," said Moody.

"Which line this time?" Harry asked.

"With the girl," Moody said, and the usual antagonistic tone in his voice was gone. Harry swore that he sounded apprehensive.

"Finding a kidnapped witch is crossing the line?" said Harry. "Funny, that. I thought it was doing my job."

"Finding a kidnapped witch is one thing. Obsessing over your quarry is another."

"What do you mean "my quarry"?"

"I mean you don't know at this point whether you're saving her arse or flushin' her out."

"Don't tell me what I do and don't know on this case," Harry said, he set the photograph aside. "I'm the one with the inside track here. I'm the one who tells you what you can and can't hear. I know this case better than anyone."

"You know your side of it," said Moody. The fight was gone from his voice now, and he shook his head. "And if you keep this up, it's all you're ever gonna know."

***


Draco Malfoy, Paris

Draco was smoking when Harry met him on the balcony of his hotel room in Paris, but it wasn't the cigarette that caught Harry's attention. It was the cigarette case.

"Pansy has one just like that," Harry said, nodding to the silver case embossed with an emerald serpent.

Draco reached out over the glass-top table to push it closer to Harry.

"Perhaps you'd like to submit this into evidence," he said.

"You're not a suspect, Draco. Not at this time."

"I wasn't a suspect last time, either. That didn't stop you from interrogating me as if I were."

"Is that why you had security stationed outside your room when I got here?" said Harry. "You wanted protection in case I decided to take you in?"

Draco looked uncomfortable. "Mr Parkinson has issued a reward for Pansy's safe return," he said. "I'm sure you've heard."

Harry's expression hardened. "I hadn't."

"Ah, well. I suppose you're not doing your job quickly enough for him. Whatever the reason, you're not the only one who sees me as a suspect, Potter. I need to protect my family."

"Right," said Harry, but he decided to let that one go. For now. That wasn't the reason he was here. "You said that when you fought with Pansy, it was over me. Why?"

Draco blew out a plume of smoke. "You can't figure that out for yourself?"

"It was the letters, wasn't it? The letters I sent Pansy. She told you about them."

"Yes, Potter, she told me about them," said Draco. "And once again, your incompetence never ceases to amaze me." At Harry's look, he continued. "You used your name. You gave her an address of where to meet you. It didn't take a genius to figure out that you were undercover in the organization."

"I took precautions," said Harry. "None of that led directly to my cover identity."

"Not for Grimes," said Draco. He grinned then, a wicked little grin. "But he doesn't know you like I do."

"Was Pansy going to turn on Grimes, Draco? I need to know."

"Since when are we on a first name basis?" Draco tapped some ash into the ashtray. "All right, yes. Pansy wanted to contact you."

"And you told her not to. Why?"

"Because you would have got her killed, Potter. Harry. You have all the subtlety of a hippogriff in a tea shop."

"I would have protected her. Every step of the way. I would have--"

"Well, it's irrelevant now, isn't it?"

"Who took her?" Harry said. "You know. I know you do. Tell me who took her, Draco. You'll get a deal."

Draco snorted a short laugh. "You should be able to figure that one out for yourself."

"I haven't heard a word about Parkinson since that night she tried to turn me over to Voldemort."

Harry frowned, because it was the truth. He knew it was his own preconceptions driving this case, his own ideas of who Pansy was and what she wanted. The reality was that she had no reason to even consider Harry's offer. And there was no logical explanation why she would. At its core, that was a truth Harry didn't want to consider.

Draco shook his head. "Pansy's a more complicated woman than that, Potter. Not that you've ever given any Slytherin a fair shake."

"What do you mean by that?" said Harry, the argument oddly echoing his last argument with Moody.

"It could be that you're looking in all the wrong places. It could be that she's right under your nose, Potter," said Draco. "If you can get out of that big head of yours for just a minute."

He gave Draco's words careful consideration, and then, as understanding dawned, he couldn't hold back a faint smile.

"Do you still travel with Crabbe and Goyle?" Harry asked.

"You don't think I can do better for company?"

"Answer the question, Malfoy."

"Back to Malfoy, is it?" Draco took a drag of his cigarette and shrugged. "They may be in the city right now."

"I need to borrow them," said Harry.

"Can't do that. They're providing security for Scorpius."

"Who has the big head now? No one's after you, Malfoy. You don't need a security detail."

"You don't know that. I'm an important man. I'm linked to a high profile kidnapping case." Draco smiled wryly. "I've got Aurors interrogating me all over Europe."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll put two Aurors on the kid. Tell Crabbe and Goyle to meet me at that cafe," he pointed to a spot across the street, "in an hour. I've got a proposition for them."

"Why should I do that?"

"Because she's your friend."

"WAS my friend."

"You claim I'm the one who came between you, right? Let me make this right, Draco. Let me find her."

"And if finding her isn't the answer?"

Harry rose to his feet and tipped his hat with one finger. "It's the answer," he said. "Trust me on that."

***


Grimes's Warehouse at a Loading Dock, Grand Harbor, Malta

Harry only had to revive his cover in Grimes's organization for one afternoon in order to learn the whereabouts of the two most likely suspects. They were supposedly retrieving Grimes's yacht in the Mediterranean, but they'd been on that assignment since the day Pansy went missing, and no one had heard another word. Those in Grimes's employ who were clever enough to put it together weren't commenting. Harry wasn't surprised.

Even before he took a portkey to New Jersey to feel things out, he'd known which cronies Grimes would call upon to pull off a kidnapping. He just hadn't realized it until that last discussion with Draco Malfoy. As he'd sat there with Draco, discussing the other man's security, he'd realized that Grimes had his own set of loyal followers, the kind of men who'd do his bidding without question.

Troy Dorsey and RJ Merle. If Crabbe and Goyle--at least, the Crabbe and Goyle Harry remembered from Hogwarts--each had an American twin, they would have been Dorsey and Merle.

The real Crabbe and Goyle, however, stood here behind Harry now, staring out at a sky as strikingly blue as the water in the harbor. Not a single housemate from Hogwarts would have recognized them. Like Harry, their appearances were drastically altered, thanks to Polyjuice potion. They were all members of Grimes' gang now, and they had just enough time to get onto the boat and corner Dorsey and Merle.

"Gentlemen," Harry said, without looking behind him, "it's time."

Crabbe nodded to Goyle and pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket and slipped them on.

Harry exhaled slowly. He was used to working with competent Aurors when he needed back up, not Draco's sidekicks, but he couldn't think of anyone better suited for the job. The truth was that Harry was willing to handwave quite a few rules to get the information he wanted today, and taking official backup wasn't an option. He might have felt a pang of guilt about the idea if it hadn't come from Moody himself.

Grimes's yacht was a three-story monstrosity with shiny chrome railings and an on-deck pool. That was where Harry spotted Merle lounging in the sun, a beer in one hand and a sandwich in the other.

There was only one other guard stationed by the gangplank, but once he'd granted them access to the yacht, Crabbe sent a stunning spell that knocked him to the dock for a good, long while. Harry suspected that Crabbe would have done more than that if not for Harry's watchful eye.

As soon as they stepped onto the pool deck, Merle looked up with a scowl.

"Now, what're you three doin' here? We told Mr Grimes it was all under control!"

"It is under control. RJ, what did you do?" Dorsey was standing in the doorway, Muggle gun in hand, looking suspiciously from one man to the next.

"I didn't do nothin'!" said Merle. "They came on their own."

"Did they now?" said Dorsey. "What'd they come for?"

"Yeah, what'd you come for?" said Merle.

"Grimes sent us to get a look at Parkinson," said Harry evenly. "To make sure you're treating her all right." He could feel the Polyjuice bubbling away beneath his skin. Any moment now the scar would be back, and then his hair...

Dorsey shot a look at Merle, then raised the gun. Merle raised his wand in turn.

"All right you three, up against the rail. I think we're going to have us an old fashioned plank walking."

Harry snorted and let his wand slide into his hand. He nodded to Crabbe and Goyle, urging them to follow the directions. As they started to move, and Dorsey's gaze moved with them, Harry pulled his wand.

"Expelliarmus!" he shouted, and both the gun and wand flew through the air.

Goyle nearly toppled over the rail trying to retrieve the gun, which hit the water with a thunk and presently sank, and Harry caught the wand, smirking.

"Goddamn, it's Potter!" said Merle. "You were supposed to be on the lookout for him!"

"Yeah, well, I wasn't the one who was sittin' out here entertaining 'em, was I?" Dorsey shot back.

"Shut up!" shouted Crabbe. Then he added, "Er, sorry, Potter. Forgot this was your gig for a minute."

"Uh, thanks," said Harry. "Hands up where I can see them. Do you blokes see these two gents behind me? They're not Aurors. In fact, they're not even the good guys. No offense, Crabbe, Goyle. Now, there are certain rules I can't break, being here in my official capacity, but these blokes? As soon as I turn my back, I can't be held responsible for anything they may or may not do. Are we clear on that much?"

Merle snorted. "You think we're afraid of them?"

"The way I see it," said Harry, "they've got wands and you don't. And by the way, Dorsey, a Muggle gun? Really? That's how you're protecting Pa—Parkinson?"

"Tell him." Merle whispered the words through clenched teeth, but they were clear enough.

"Tell me what?" said Harry.

"Nothin'," said Dorsey, glaring daggers at Merle out of the corner of his eye.

"Tell me what?" said Harry. Behind him, Crabbe cracked his knuckles. Nice touch, thought Harry.

"Tell you that we don't have Parkinson," said Merle. "We never did."

"Goddammit, RJ!" Dorsey growled.

"Silencio!" said Harry, and Dorsey went quiet. "You make another sound, and you're going to lose that mouth all together." Behind him, Crabbe or Goyle let out a low whistle of appreciation. "Now, what were you saying, Merle?"

Merle cleared his throat, looking at Harry with nervous, beady eyes.

"We never had Parkinson. We went to grab her, just like the boss told us to, but when we got there, she offed herself."

"She... You're telling me Pansy Parkinson committed suicide?" Harry's ears were ringing suddenly. "Was this before or after you got there?"

"After. She did it right in front of us."

"What did you do with the body?"

"That's the thing, ain't it? We kind of panicked, me and Troy, and we took off at first. The next day, there was an article in the paper about the kidnapping. Then we got to thinking about it and we thought maybe the boss didn't need to know that Parkinson wasn't alive anymore. Maybe we could still collect the ransom money. Keep it for ourselves, you know?"

Harry crossed his arms over his chest. "So you went back for the body."

"Yeah, but it wasn't there"

"Someone took it?"

"That we don't know, but it was gone."

Harry swallowed hard, ignoring the little voice in the back of his head chiding that Moody had been right all along; he got himself too invested in this case.

"I see," he said. "So your plan was to capitalize on Pansy's death by playing Grimes for a fool? And you weren't expecting that to come back and bite you?"

"What do you mean?" said Merle.

"What happens when a wizard like Grimes finds out you double-crossed him?" said Crabbe.

Merle stared over Harry's shoulder at the bigger man, blinking slowly. Beside him, the silent Dorsey looked equally blank.

Goyle leaned over to Crabbe and stage-whispered, "These guys are not very good at this henchman thing."

Harry, though, was a million miles away. None of this added up. The Prophet article seemed especially off. No kidnapping took place in that empty lot. Grimes' thugs left a body behind. Why did the paper insist that she'd disappeared? How did they know.

"Someone wanted them to know," Harry muttered to himself.

"Know what?" said Goyle.

Dorsey took the moment of distraction to lunge at Harry, but Crabbe was faster, casting a burning hex that hit Dorsey's forearm, then grabbing that same arm and wrenching it behind Dorsey's back. Dorsey's mouth hung open as he thrashed, silently screaming in pain. Merle shrank back.

"I have to get back to my hotel room," said Harry.

"What do you want us to do with these two?" said Crabbe, who now had Dorsey pinned to the deck with a meaty knee pressed against his back.

"Wrap them up nice and tight," said Harry. "Leave them someplace they'll keep for a couple of days, till I get this case wrapped up."

"Isn't it wrapped up already?" said Goyle.

"Yeah," said Crabbe, "and you promised we could take this guy's mouth off."

Harry snorted. "Consider that an empty threat. Sorry to disappoint. And the case isn't closed till I bring Pansy home."

"Potter, she's dead. These guys saw her die."

Harry smiled, confidently. "She's not dead. And I'm going to find her. You two tell Draco I said thanks for lending you out for a bit."

"And you'll send those letters of recommendation we talked about?" said Goyle.

"As soon as I get my hands on a quill," said Harry.

Crabbe grinned, and Harry thought it was a kind of terrifying sight. "Imagine, working security detail for the bloody Ministry," he said to Goyle.

"Yeah," said Goyle. "No more bully-for-hire work for us."

"Right," said Harry. "Well, just remember, it's only a letter. I'm not in charge of hiring at the Ministry."

"You know," said Crabbe, "this almost makes me sorry I ever wanted you dead, Potter."

"Er, thanks," said Harry. "I think."

***


Hotel Room Reserved Under the Name Violet Beauregarde, Paris

Harry thought that he'd never been on a lift that took so long to reach its destination. She'd wanted him to find her. That was the only possible explanation. She knew that he would come for her, just like he'd known all along. What was her endgame? Was she finally taking him up on the offer? Did she think he'd be her pawn in some bigger scheme? Was he right about her all along?

He had to be. That was the only acceptable answer.

Maybe this was why Flint had lost all perspective. The woman was maddening. And Harry hadn't even been in the same room with her since Hogwarts. Maybe he was driving himself mad. Moody was right; he'd been undercover too long. He'd forgotten how to be Harry Potter all together, and now he'd scrambled his marbles with this case.

Harry scrubbed a hand over his face and forced himself to pull it together. The soft ping that signalled his floor's arrival snapped him out of it and he stepped out into the hallway. Room 405.

When Harry reached the door, he knocked right away, his nerves on edge in a way they hadn't been since his first days as an Auror.

There was no answer.

How's that for anti-climactic? Harry thought. He knocked again. Still no answer. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a card issued to all Aurors on duty in the Muggle world. He slid it into the lock and the door clicked open. Harry held the handle for a moment. After all this time, he was about to walk into her room.

And then he did.

She was there. She was stretched out on the chaise in an evening gown, silky white fabric draping over her ankles and off the cushion. Her eyes were on the door when he walked in, and her expression didn't change. She simply raised her hand, bringing the long cigarette holder to her lips and taking a slow drag.

Harry closed the door behind him. Pansy blew a magical ring of smoke into the air.

"Harry Potter," she said finally. "I wondered when you'd get here."

"Sorry to keep you waiting," said Harry.

Pansy shrugged. "I have ways of entertaining myself," she said. A ringlet of dark hair fell over one eye as she watched him.

"I'm sure you do," Harry said, walking further into the room.

It was dark in here, the only illumination coming from a dim lamp adorned with a rose-colored shade edged in fringe. Pansy shifted her legs on the chaise, the high heel of one strapped sandal rubbing against her ankle. Harry followed the movement with his eyes.

"Nice pseudonym, by the way," he said. "Violet Beauregarde?"

"It's from a book--A Muggle book," she began, but he cut her off.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I know. I saw it at your flat on Spring Street. You have quite the Muggle library."

"Wouldn't Salazar Slytherin be scandalized?" she said dryly.

"I'm sure he would," said Harry.

"You've been to my place on Spring street," she said. "I was wondering if you'd find it. Millicent gave me up?"

"Yeah," said Harry, something like a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. "She did."

"Figures," said Pansy.

"So you kidnapped yourself," Harry said. "How's that working out for you?"

"Well enough," said Pansy. "How's your case against Darius?"

"To be honest," said Harry, "it could use a little help."

Pansy sniffed, smiling faintly, and looked away. "You lack subtlety, Potter."

"Why'd you do it?" he asked. "Why put your father through all that?"

"My father," Pansy scoffed, and slid her feet off the chaise, onto the floor. She stood and paced over to the window, pushing the curtain away so she could see outside. "Why do you think I did it?"

"I've got a theory," said Harry.

Something in him felt compelled to move closer, but he stayed where he was, his eyes never leaving Pansy. Her evening gown was cut low in the back, the plunging V dipping just below the small of her back. It clung to her hips, flaring slightly at the ankles before spilling out behind her onto the floor. Harry's gaze followed the line of it back up again to her shoulders.

"I'd love to hear it," she said breathily, waving the cigarette holder in one hand.

"I think being engaged to Flint wasn't enough for you," Harry said. "Daddy wanted you to take over the family business, but that wasn't in your plans. You were staring down the barrel of the rest of your life and it was killing you. You felt trapped, caged. So you ditched Flint and took up with Grimes. Drove Daddy crazy. But this is the thing, isn't it? You got in over your head. You didn't know how deep his troubles ran until you were buried in them.

"Grimes wanted a piece of your family fortune, a real stake in the game. That business he's running in the States? That's small potatoes compared to the Parkinson fortune. You found out what he had planned and turned it to your advantage. The kidnapping was your way out, your exit strategy. You faked your death in front of Grimes's idiots and went on the run. Your plan was to collect the ransom, but Merle and Dorsey got there first. So you've been using some overseas bank account Daddy doesn't know about to keep yourself in business. Money's going to run out sooner or later, and right about now, you're trying to come up with a contingency plan. Does all that sound about right?"

Pansy took another drag of her cigarette, still staring out at the street below. "Interesting theory, Auror Potter. There's only one question left." She turned to face him. "Why would I call you?"

"Why indeed?" said Harry. "That's the one part of this mess I haven't solved. Unless..."

Pansy's mouth curled up, her smile cat-like. "Unless what?"

"You finally considered my offer."

Pansy's expression hardened then, and she sucked in another lungful of smoke before setting her cigarette holder in the ashtray. She bent to retrieve her purse from a low ottoman, exhaling smoke as she stood.

"When you stop considering yourself the center of the universe, Potter, feel free to look me up again," she said, and started walking swiftly toward the door.

Harry stood looking after her, not sure what had just happened. He let her leave the room, then took off after her, but by the time he reached the hallway, she was gone.

"Dammit," he hissed. He couldn't exactly Apparate himself to the middle of the lobby. He started to run down the hall, pausing at the elevator to see that it was stopped five floors up. He shook his head and ran for the fire escape.

The staircases were steeper than he'd expected, and he skidded down them periodically with only the heels of his shoes skimming the edge of each step, but he always landed on his feet. Finally, he hit the ground floor and burst into the lobby, breathless as he scanned the room. It was crowded, but most of the guests seemed to be tourists, and not a single woman in the lobby matched Pansy in glamour or style.

Then, through the revolving door he caught a glimpse of the train of Pansy's dress disappearing out onto the sidewalk. He shoved a bellhop out of his way as he chased her, pushing through the doors and stumbling out onto the sidewalk.

His mouth was open to call for her, but before he could get the sound out, something hot and electrifying was jammed into his side, the resulting jolt so strong that Harry went limp. As the Parisian sidewalk bustled outside the hotel, Harry was dragged off into the alley, his hat falling to the concrete, forgotten.

***


Undisclosed Location, Paris

When Harry awoke, he was dangling by his wrists, suspended in some dark, empty room. From the smell of the place, and the dark stains on the walls and floor, he surmised it had once been a slaughterhouse, a foreboding place to awaken to if ever there was one.

He heard footsteps behind him, then the Muggle taser was jabbed into his side again, though this time the voltage was lower, and Harry ground his teeth together to keep from crying out as he kicked his legs wildly in an attempt to turn around and face his assailant. When it was over, he craned his neck to see the man behind him.

"Whatever happened to a good, old-fashioned Crucio?" he said.

"That's the thing about these beauties." The man held up his stun gun. "Untraceable. Don't even leave a magical trace like a stolen wand does. Stupid Muggles don't know how good they have it."

"If you're looking for top of the line Muggle torture devices, mate," said Harry, "that thing's not even on the list. Urgh!" He took another hit in the ribs from the taser.

"You shut that fucking smart mouth of yours. Or I'll shut it for you!"

"Your technique needs work."

This time, the thug held the taser on Harry for long enough to leave him trembling afterward, and he kicked out at the man, sending himself swinging from the meat hook. The thug grinned a toothless grin, and held the taser up again, but a long shadow fell across the room, and he froze where he was. Harry looked up to the source of it.

"Enough of that," said a voice from the doorway, the face shrouded in shadows. "I want him to be able to hear what I have to say."

"I'm listening," said Harry.

"Stay away from Parkinson," said the voice. "Close the case and move on."

"I can't do that," said Harry.

The thug had put away his weapon now, and he turned a half step to sock Harry in the stomach, hard, with his fist. Harry grunted.

"I'm not dropping the case."

"Perhaps not," said the voice. "Or perhaps... you just need a little more persuasion." Then the shadow man left the doorway and nothing but bare light spilled into the room.

The thug chuckled. "I'm gonna enjoy this," he said. "Just keep talking, smart boy. Every time you open that mouth, I'll hit you harder."

Harry swallowed, and steeled himself for what was going to come. "Have at me, pal," he said. "Let me see what you've got."

***


Draco Malfoy's hotel room, Paris

This time when Harry came to, the entire room was blurry and his head was aching. He looked up, blinking away the light with one eye, the other swollen shut. The ground beneath him was soft, like a bed, or a cloud, or maybe it was just a couch. The world was swimming.

"Is he waking up?" The voice was familiar, but far away.

"He's coming around."

Harry groaned, his voice rough, and he could taste blood at the back of his throat. Two forms came into slow focus above him, and after a moment, they were distinguishably male and female. The male cast a charm and his swollen eye was healed. Harry blinked it a few times. Pansy and Draco stood above the couch, peering down at him.

"So he's going to live," said Draco, sounding unimpressed. "What do we do with him now?"

Pansy didn't take her eyes off Harry. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I just had the ever-loving shit beaten out of me by a sadistic boxer," said Harry.

"And he's in good humor," said Draco. "Splendid, let's send him home."

"You know that's not an option," Pansy said.

"You're not telling me--"

"He's coming with us, Draco," said Pansy. Her voice softened. "He has to now."

"With you to where exactly?" Harry said, pushing himself upright with a grunt. "What's going on here? Draco was in on it all along?"

"Yes," said Pansy. "And no." She reached down to help Harry straighten himself. "It's none of your concern right now."

Harry let out a mirthless chuckle. "Right. None of my concern. I'm only the AUROR who was supposed to rescue you and arrest your boyfriend. Don't bother me with the details now."

Pansy handed him a small vial of orange potion that he recognized as a healing elixir. He downed it all at once and his aching muscles relaxed in relief.

"Thanks," he said.

"Don't mention it," said Pansy.

"Where did you find me?"

"Out behind that old slaughterhouse," said Draco. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "In a dumpster."

"That explains the smell," said Harry.

"There are some things even a deodorizing charm won't touch," said Pansy. She was still in the evening gown. "Care for a shower?"

"Yeah," said Harry, "I guess I would. But when I get out, you two are talking."

"No time," said Pansy. "We've chartered a boat. It leaves Marseilles in an hour. I've sent word to your hotel transport your things here immediately."

Harry frowned. Moody wasn't going to like that at all.

"Hurry, then," said Pansy. "Draco splinches under pressure, and we have a long Apparition ahead of us."

Behind her, Draco scoffed and took a sip of something from a glass that was mostly ice. "Thanks for sharing, Pansy."

She simply smiled. Then she reached up to take Harry's hat from the hat rack and toss it to him.

"Thought you might want that back," she said.

"Thanks," said Harry. He wanted to say more, but his head was still cloudy and he needed to collect his thoughts. As soon as they got on that boat, though, he was going to get some answers.

***


Draco's Chartered Boat, Off the coast of Crete

Harry stepped up onto the deck to find Draco and Pansy leaning close, speaking in hushed voices. Pansy's wide-brimmed hat, and huge round sunglasses obscured most of her face. Still, Harry could tell she was looking at him. Draco, however, was still speaking to Pansy as if Harry wasn't there at all.

"How does your wife feel about your impromptu vacation, Draco?" he asked, and he didn't bother to keep the bitterness in his tone at bay.

Draco sat back in his deck chair slowly, his gaze narrowing on Harry.

"Just what do you think this is, Potter?"

"I can tell you what I think it looks like," said Harry.

"You look much better with the hat on," said Pansy, and there was that feline grin again. "Come sit with us." She patted the empty deck chair on the other side of her.

Harry walked over, never taking his eyes off Draco. He'd wisely left Moody's portrait in the sleeping cabin, wrapped in a blanket to stifle the sound of the old Auror's grumping. He sat slowly.

"Are you ready to talk?" he asked.

Draco shook his head. "Still think you know everything, Potter? Still think this is your investigation?"

"Pansy," said Harry, and there was an edge in his voice, a warning. Draco wasn't going to get him anywhere, but he still had faith in Pansy.

"Shut up for a minute, Draco," she said. "We're here to see Marcus." She reached over to the ashtray on the side table and took up her cigarette holder.

"Flint," said Harry and his gaze slid back to Draco. "So he's in on it too?"

"Your paranoia is getting old, Auror Potter," said Pansy. "Draco wasn't in on anything. You were right about one thing the other night. Money was a problem. Now it's not."

"Darling, you make this sound so tawdry," said Draco, rolling his eyes. "Pansy and I aren't some secret item, Potter. Like you said, she's my friend. She asked for help. I'm giving it to her."

"If I recall," said Harry, "you were adamant that she was your friend. Past tense. What changed?"

Draco shrugged. "You found her. Not much sense in arguing about whether or not to get you involved if you're already here."

"And what about Flint? Where does he figure in to all this?"

"We don't know," said Pansy. "I got his owl two days ago, right after you disappeared off the street. He said it was urgent, the he knew I'd faked the whole thing, and that he was going to the authorities if I didn't see him."

"How did he find you?" said Harry.

"Those men who took you, Potter," said Draco. "How did they find you?"

Harry closed his eyes for a moment. Dammit. He had been sloppy. "I had a tail," he said. "I led them right to her."

"The only question left is, are they working for Marcus, or Grimes?" said Draco.

Harry's expression darkened. "Or both," he said. He was dying to get downstairs and talk to Moody.

Draco stood. "I'm famished," he said. "I'm going back inside to eat something and floo call my wife and son."

"Get some rest, then, would you?" said Pansy. "You've been up all night."

Draco pinched the bridge of his nose. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe I will. If Potter gives you a hard time, wake me."

Pansy smiled. "I will."

Once Draco disappeared down below, Pansy set her cigarette aside and stood, walking over to the rail and looking out over the sea. Harry stood and followed her.

"How did you find me yesterday?" he said.

"Undetectable trace," said Pansy. "You walked right through it when you entered my hotel room."

Harry smiled wryly. "You know those are illegal."

"I faked my own death and kidnapping, Harry. Legalities are the least of my concerns."

"So we're on a first name basis now?" said Harry.

"You seemed to think so in those letters you sent," said Pansy.

"You held on to them."

"What can I say? I'm a sentimental sort of girl."

Harry braced his hands on the railing and leaned forward a little bit.

"What do you think Flint wants?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Pansy. "He never... let go. He didn't take the break up well. You know this already. I'm sure you've spoken with him."

"I have," said Harry. "It's not that I don't want to be reassuring, but the man has all the makings of a stalker."

"I'm well aware of that," said Pansy. She looked at Harry then. "What do you think he wants?"

"I don't know," said Harry. "But we'll need to be careful. Before we see Flint--"

"We?"

"You're not going alone," said Harry.

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. "I suppose you'll expect me to follow your rules?"

"I've been hounding you for months, Pansy. I know you better than that."

"How long have you been undercover with Darius's people?" she asked, and her voice was softer than it had been since he found her.

"Eight years," said Harry.

"Merlin."

"Yeah." Harry shook his head. "A long time."

"And now," she said, leaning closer, "you're so close you can taste it."

Harry swallowed. She pressed a finger to the button at his collar.

"Help me bring him down, Pansy," he said.

Pansy flicked open that top button. "What do I get in return?" she asked.

"You get to go home," said Harry. "Work things out with your father. Get your life back."

"I don't want that life back," she said.

"People miss you, Pansy. People who cared about you."

"What do you know about people who cared about me?" Pansy asked, and her voice was hard now, angry.

"What are you hiding, Pansy?"

She was so close that he found it hard to focus on her face. Her wide, dark eyes bore into him, as if she could determine his trustworthiness by the expressions on his face.

"I'm not hiding anything," she said. "You've been through my most personal belongings, remember?"

"No," said Harry, and he reached down, clasped his hand around her wrist, keeping her by his side. "I don't think I have. You wouldn't make it that easy. So I'll ask again. What are you hiding, Pansy?"

A brief, secretive smile trembled across her lips and then she was kissing him. She tasted of cigarettes and bourbon, the sum of those flavors sweeter together than Harry had imagined they could be, and he jerked her against him by the wrist, his other hand pressing against the small of her back. Pansy raised her hands to clutch at his collar, her thumbs grazing the skin exposed where she'd opened his shirt. She made a soft, wanting sound, and Harry knew he was being taken, but right now he just didn't care.

"Potter! Explain this!"

With a groan, Harry pulled back, looking over to see Draco, his pale face red in anger as he held up the portrait of Mad Eye Moody. Pansy turned from Harry and stepped away.

"So you've met my traveling companion," said Harry, amused to find that in his apparent outrage, Draco had hardly noticed the kiss. "How'd he get out of the blanket?"

"I heard noises," said Draco. "I thought it was... a cat, or something."

"A cat?" said Harry.

"Oh, shut it. You've got three seconds to explain why I'm not going to throw this thing overboard!"

Harry smirked. "Go ahead, Mad Eye. Tell him why you're invaluable to this case."

"I don't owe this spoiled little ingrate an explanation," Moody spat.

"Apparently he doesn't owe you an explanation, Draco," said Harry. "Is that a problem?"

"Yes, it's a problem," said Draco. "A man should be able to take off his trousers on a private boat without an audience."

Pansy laughed, and the sound carried none of the weight of her earlier words. It was a light-hearted, spontaneous noise, and Harry instantly wanted to hear more of it.

"It's not as though I can look around the edge of my frame," said Moody. "I didn't see much." And he added, in a lower voice, "Not that there was much to see."

Harry tried to give Moody a disapproving glare, but had to press his lips together to keep from smiling.

"You told me Potter was alone!" Draco had turned his attention to Pansy now.

"I thought he was," said Pansy. "And besides, that's not a person, it's a portrait."

Before Moody could address that, Harry interjected. "He's more than a portrait," he said, and he walked calmly across the deck to retrieve the frame from Draco. "This is the Auror who trained me. He's been with me every step of the way on this case. I wouldn't be here without his help."

Moody closed his mouth, the magical eye peering intently at Harry.

"He stays," said Harry.

"Then he stays away from me," said Draco.

"My pleasure," said Moody.

"I'll go put him away," said Harry. "Then maybe we can get back to the actual case."

Draco was still ranting to Pansy when Harry left the deck, and when he returned, after giving Moody a spot near a porthole in the galley, Draco pushed past him on his way below.

"I told him to finish his nap," said Pansy, smoking her cigarette slowly. "Not enough beauty sleep makes him cranky." She shook her head. "Astoria's a saint."

Harry nodded. "I don't think my personal feelings toward Draco have ever been a secret," he said.

"Nor his toward you," said Pansy. "You have that in common, I suppose." She walked back over to the rail and rested her arms on it. "I'm meeting Marcus in half an hour. His owl arrived whilst you were below."

"All right," said Harry. "Where do you need me?"

Pansy smiled. "Loaded question, Mr Potter."

"The case comes first," said Harry.

"Of course it does." Pansy rolled her eyes. "Marcus thinks I'm meeting him here on the boat in forty-five minutes. We're going to meet him up the dock instead. He never had a good head under pressure. If I can rattle him--"

"He's more likely to spill what he knows."

"Yes," said Pansy. "I'm going to freshen up. I'll meet you back here in ten."

She swept off to her cabin while Harry summoned a tie and his Auror robes from his satchel and dressed in the galley. He hadn't worn the robes in years, but Flint knew the meaning behind them, and in this case, Harry thought impression might be everything.

"So she doesn't trust Flint," said Moody. "Can't say that I blame her."

"You don't trust anybody," said Harry, draping the tie around his neck. "But yeah, I agree. If Flint's not the one who had me tortured, he knows who did it."

"You still think this is all one case?" said Moody.

"Could be," said Harry. "But... I don't know for sure anymore." For just a second, he'd dropped his usual confidence, allowed his voice to falter in front of his mentor.

Moody was on it like a vulture. "You've lost your case, boy! I told you that witch would be trouble, but you didn't listen!"

"I don't have time for this now," said Harry, straightening his robes. He tucked his wand into his sleeve, turning away from the portrait.

"Don't think I don't know you were kissin' her, Potter!" Moody called out after him.

Harry tightened his tie as he left the galley. "We'll talk about it later," he said, and he headed out to meet Pansy on the deck.

***


Marcus Flint, Crete

When they reached Flint on the docks, he didn't look like a man who was about to board a boat. In fact, he looked like a man preparing to make a quick getaway. He stood in a dory, bent in half and fussing with something hidden beneath a tarp. Harry took a few swift steps ahead of Pansy, ascertained that the something in question was a broom. A late model, very fast broom.

Harry stopped at the edge of the dock, looking down into the dory.

"Going somewhere, Marcus?" said Pansy, crossing her arms over her chest as she came to a stop beside Harry. Her wide-legged trousers and a striped, boat-neck shirt that hugged her curves and gave her a more carefree appearance than her usual evening wear, even with the implacable expression on her face.

Flint's head shot up and he swallowed.

"Pansy," he said, "this isn't where we were supposed to meet."

"I know," said Pansy. "But plans change, Marcus, you know that."

Flint's hands were shaking. She'd been right about him caving under pressure. Something was way off.

"Speaking of plans," said Harry, "what are you up to, Flint? Going somewhere by broomstick?"

"I..." Flint glanced over his shoulder, at Pansy's boat, and Harry's heart dropped in his chest. "I'm so sorry, Pansy," Flint said.

"Dammit, Pansy, the boat!" Harry shouted, and he started to run, but it was too late.

The boat Draco had chartered exploded into a fireball of light and shrapnel, screams echoing all over the previously placid harbor.

"Draco!" Pansy breathed, her eyes wide and glassy as she stared out at the place where the boat had just been.

Flint had his broom at the ready, but Harry was faster, binding him with a spell, then racing toward the end of the dock. Sharp pieces of wood and other debris were surfacing, and he scanned the water for a body, seeing nothing.

"Accio Draco Malfoy!" Harry called out. He could hear Pansy's footsteps rushing toward him.

The water was still for a moment, then it began to bubble, the noise growing louder and louder until Draco's body finally broke the surface, crashing onto the dock with a wet thud. Harry dropped to his knees to find a pulse. It was faint, but present.

"Draco," Pansy whispered again, and she knelt beside them. He was bleeding from the head and Pansy pulled a scarf from her belt loops and pressed it to the wound.

Harry cast the spell to clear his lungs of water and Draco sputtered, then started to cough violently. Pansy pushed him onto his side. She looked up, her gaze catching Harry's and holding it. She was shaking.

Twenty minutes later, a team of wizarding medics had arrived to transport Draco to St Mungo's, and Harry was handing off Flint, still bound and silenced, to Ron.

"You sure you want to do it this way?" said Ron.

"Of course I'm sure," said Harry. "If Kingsley finds out I've located Pansy, he's going to make me bring her in. We're not done yet."

"Why not?" said Ron. "Because Pansy Parkinson says so? Harry, if you can get her to testify, your case is locked up. Don't take anymore chances. Just look at Malfoy."

Harry shook his head. "That explosion was meant for Pansy," said Harry. "I need to find out why. So does she."

"Then do it the right way," said Ron. "There's no place safer than the Aurory. Bring her in. We can protect her. We can--"

"I know what the Ministry can do for her, Ron," said Harry.

"Sorry, mate," said Ron. "I know you do."

"I have to get to the bottom of this case. If I bring her in now... I think I can still talk to her, get her to open up. It won't be the same at the Ministry, with all those other people around. She'll give them the brush off and I'll lose the last eight years of my life."

"You're giving her a lot of credit," said Ron. "I can't imagine Pansy Parkinson could outsmart a Ministry interrogator. Not the Pansy I remember."

"This isn't the Pansy you remember."

"Blimey, Harry, you haven't gone and fallen for her, have you?"

"That's irrelevant to the case," said Harry.

"Christ, you have," said Ron. "You need to get her back to London, now."

"Not yet," said Harry. "Take Flint back with you. Tell them Draco is the only victim you found, that Flint was wrapped up like a Christmas package. Here." He reached into his robes and pulled out a pocket watch he'd received from the MLE for five years of outstanding service.

Harry put the watch down on the dock and blasted it with a spell that gutted it, leaving a smoldering mess in front of them. He raised it by the chain and leaned over the dock to dip it into the water. When he handed it to Ron, the other man looked grim.

"Harry..."

"I'll straighten it all out with Kingsley and Robards in a few days," said Harry. "In the meantime, dredging the harbor for bodies will keep them busy."

"Won't Flint talk?"

"Confound him."

Ron smiled then. "That makes me an accessory, you know."

"Ron, you've been my accessory since we were eleven years old."

"True," said Ron. "I would have had a trouble free life if it weren't for you, Harry Potter."

"You wouldn't have got the girl, either," said Harry.

Ron snorted. "It would have been dull as hell. I'm expecting that you'll write."

"It's only going to be a couple of days, Ron."

"Maybe."

Harry wasn't ready to address those implications yet. He walked over to the edge of the dock and took hold of the rope guard rail. "Constant vigilance," he said softly.

"You're sure he was on the boat, then," said Ron, joining Harry with his head lowered in respect.

"Yeah," Harry said quietly. "He was."

"I'm sorry, mate," said Ron.

"Me too."

"Hermione always liked that old portrait. She'll be broken up over this. Ginny too."

Harry just nodded.

"All right," said Ron. "We'll do this your way. For now. If I don't hear from you in two days, I'm sending in the cavalry."

"Fair enough," said Harry.

He didn't turn to watch Ron take care of Flint, but he heard the soft pop of Apparition as they disappeared. He raised his wand then and pointed it at the harbor.

"Accio Portrait of Mad Eye Moody!"

For the longest time, nothing happened. Then, something flew from the water and Harry caught it in midair, staggering back a few steps with the force of it. He held open his hands. It was a charred, soaking wet corner of the frame that had held Mad Eye's portrait for all those years. Harry closed his eyes for a moment and exhaled slowly. Then he turned and walked from the dock. Pansy stood in the parking lot, waiting for him.

***


Harry and Pansy's hotel room, Barcelona

They Apparated to at least a dozen places, quickly turning and Apparating again in the hope of losing any tail that might have been on them. They stopped running in Barcelona. Pansy chose the hotel, one that she'd stayed in with her family when she was a child, and they took a room under the names Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Harry thought that was a bit portentous, but he didn't want to start arguing with Pansy in the lobby.

There would be time enough for that when they got to the room.

And so there was.

"We'll have to send out for new wardrobes," said Pansy. "Luckily Draco transferred enough gold to my account to--Harry?" She stopped in front of him with a frown. "What's wrong?"

Harry's jaw was set and he stood stone still, just watching her. "I've had enough of the games, Pansy. How much do you know?"

"I don't... I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do. You've been playing me since I got into this thing. Grimes wasn't just trying to kidnap you. This was never about the ransom. He wanted you dead, but not right away. He wanted to find out how much you know first. Why?"

"Harry," she said, trying to move past him, but he stepped into her path.

"Answer me."

"For Merlin's sake, Harry." Pansy reached for her purse and started rifling through it until she pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She drew one out and lit it with the tip of her wand. "You're not making any sense."

"Draco Malfoy is in a hospital bed right now because Grimes wants to shut you up, Pansy. I need to know what you know and I need that information now. Why were you dating Grimes?"

"You said it yourself. I didn't want to be Daddy's good girl anymore."

"Bullshit," said Harry. "It wasn't true then and it's not true now. Don't lie to me. Why, Pansy?"

She blew a stream of smoke into the air and shifted from one hip to the other.

"Darius Grimes killed Tracey Davis," she said at last.

Harry's brow creased and he moistened his lips. He remembered Davis's death three years prior. The circumstances had been somewhat mysterious, but it had eventually been ruled accidental.

"She had ties to Grimes?" said Harry. "That wasn't mentioned in any of the reports."

"That's because no one knew," said Pansy. "She'd just started seeing him. They were at dinner one night, this little place in Dubai that Darius fancied. It's unplottable," she added, when she saw Harry's quizzical expression. "He got up from the table, said he was using the bathroom. He was gone so long that she went looking."

She took another drag and shook her head, as if trying to clear away the memories. "She found him out in the alley. There was a man between Darius and his henchmen. He was kneeling on the ground. Darius had a wand pressed to his forehead and," her voice cracked, "there was blood pouring out of him, his ears, his nose, his eyes. They were bleeding him to death right there in the alley, in front of Tracey. She crept back into the building, but she swore Darius turned just in time to see her. She was scared to death."

Pansy's hair was still mussed from their frantic travel, and she brushed a few curls from her forehead with the back of her hand, looking so tired, so much older than she'd appeared just hours ago.

"Why didn't she contact the Aurory?" said Harry. "If she had time to relate this story to you, surely she had time to do that."

"Her father was a Death Eater," Pansy said, bitterly. "Do you think she trusted the Aurors?"

"Things had changed. Things--"

"No," said Pansy. "Things changed when you were there. And then you were gone, and it wasn't the same."

"Minister Shacklebolt is a good man."

"Good men make mistakes, too," she said. "It's not always the villains who muck it all up."

Harry took a deep breath. Arguing about the objectives of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was not getting them any closer to Grimes.

"So you started dating him to find out what happened to your friend," said Harry.

"No," said Pansy. "I started dating him to get the bastard off the streets."

"Then why didn't you respond to my owls?" he said. "You had every opportunity to--"

"I never said I wanted to see him in Azkaban." She finished the cigarette and banished it. "I wanted him dead."

"Then why is he still alive?" said Harry. "You had ample opportunity."

"I wanted to hear him confess first," said Pansy. "I wanted him to beg me for the mercy he didn't show her. She was my best friend."

"No one else I interviewed even mentioned her," said Harry.

"Of course they didn't. No one cared. Tracey wasn't exactly in what you'd call the upper echelon of society."

"Did Draco know?"

Pansy swallowed, and Harry watched the movement of her throat, wondered how even her discomfort fit her gracefully.

"I think he had an idea," she said. "We never talked about it."

"Maybe it's time you started talking about things before someone else gets blown up." Harry knew he shouldn't have said it the moment it was out of his mouth.

"Spare me your lecture," Pansy snapped. "You're the man who spent eight years undercover and that got you where? Nowhere. You were begging me for help. Darius took me into his bed after two nights. I could have disemboweled him in his sleep by the time I'd known him for a week. So don't tell me that I need your help to get this done!"

She raised her hands to push him away, but he grabbed her wrists and pulled her close. She was breathing hard, her chest heaving against his, and Harry looked down on her for a long moment, all of the fight leaving him.

"I'm sorry," he said. "About your friend, and about the rest of it. I couldn't get to Grimes, but you did. I'm the one who needed you, not the other way around."

Pansy's tongue skated across her lips. "And what about now, Auror Potter? Do you need me now?"

Harry smiled slightly. "I like it better when you call me Harry."

"All right. Harry. Do you need me?"

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, his thumbs caressing her wrists.

"Yeah. I do." And this time, when he kissed her, no one came to interrupt.



Heavy drapes were drawn across the windows when morning came, but Harry's internal clock woke him early. He rolled over toward Pansy, half-surprised that she'd stayed, and brushed the hair back from her sleeping face. She made a soft, tired noise and her fingers uncurled on the pillow next to her. Harry ran his fingertip over the palm of her hand. The silky sheets clung to the outline of her body, and Harry stretched out on his side, propping his head in one hand.

"Is this your idea of security detail," she asked without opening her eyes.

"Something like that," said Harry.

"I'm fairly sure no one's going to steal me from my bed," she said. She opened her eyes slowly, sleep softening her features. "Are you always awake this ridiculously early?"

"Every day," said Harry.

Pansy sighed and reached out to run the backs of her knuckles down his jaw.

"Run away with me, would you?" she said.

"Abandon the case?"

"When it's over. What do you have keeping you in London? A job that's dead-ended you for almost a decade?"

"Where would we go?" said Harry. The idea had so much appeal in the early morning light.

"Anywhere we want," said Pansy. "Theodore Nott has a place in Cairo. We can lie low there while we decide what we want to do."

"So it's just this easy then?" said Harry. "You fall into bed with me, and the next day we start the rest of our lives on the lam?"

"You've been with me for months," said Pansy. "Ever since those letters started to arrive. You know that as well as I do. Tell me, Harry, what's holding you back?"

Harry rolled over to face the ceiling, folded his hands behind his head. "Grimes will be in London tomorrow night," he said. "We can get his confession and wrap him up there."

"You've got a plan, then?" Pansy asked, and she sat up in bed, letting the sheet fall to her waist.

For a moment, Harry found it hard to think. He reckoned that was exactly what she wanted.

"Yeah," he said, reaching out to slide a hand around her hip and pull her down to him. "I think I do."

***


Taliesin's Restaurant, London

"The Confundus charm still has Flint out of sorts," Harry told Pansy as he handed her the vial of Polyjuice out behind the restaurant. Taliesin's was obscured from Muggle eyes, and stood beside a hotel that wasn't, and if Harry's plan worked, they would make use of both buildings tonight. "He's not talking yet. Grimes doesn't know that. We just have to get close enough."

Pansy held up the vial and wrinkled her nose. "Why Granger?" she said. "Out of anyone who works for the Ministry, why her?"

"Because we had her permission," said Harry. "I'm not taking any chances. Hermione and Ron live here. No one will be suspicious. Nobody else knows where you are, Pansy."

"You trust her," Pansy said, her chin held high.

"With my life," said Harry. "She's saved it more times than I can count." He held up his own vial of Polyjuice. "Ron too."

"All right, then, ginger," Pansy said dryly. "Bottoms up."

After eight years of undercover work, most of that spent under the guise of Polyjuice potion, Harry was used to the vile taste. Pansy, however, was not so lucky, and she gagged and covered her mouth with a handkerchief to keep it down.

"That's disgusting," she said, wiping the corners of her mouth.

"You get used to it," said Harry.

Pansy, now turned Hermione, pulled out a pocket mirror to examine herself. Her brow furrowed as she ran her fingers through Hermione's mane.

"I'll never get used to the hair," she said.

"Luckily you won't have to," said Harry, offering his arm. "We've only got an hour."

"Thank the Fates," Pansy murmured. She pulled out her wand and cast a few charms to adjust the fit of her dress, then she took his arm with a moue of distaste. For the first time since they'd become reacquainted, she reminded him of the girl she'd been at Hogwarts.

Inside the restaurant, it wasn't hard to locate Grimes. Harry felt a pang of discomfort as he noted the heavy Auror presence. He was one of them. He should have been on their side. Then Grimes turned in Harry's direction and any trace of guilt over breaking the rules dissolved. Grimes was smiling broadly, laughing and joking with his compatriots and occasionally shooting smug glances in the direction of the Aurors.

Harry was reminded of every reason he'd been working the last eight years to bring Grimes down. He was also reminded of every sordid, macabre tale of self-indulgence and violence that followed the man. He leaned closer to Pansy.

"Are you prepared for this?"

"I've seduced him before, I can appeal to his sense of self-importance now," she said.

"That's not what I'm asking," said Harry. "We're sending this guy to Azkaban. You get that, don't you?"

Pansy was thoughtful for a moment. "I know what you want out of this case, Harry."

"That didn't answer my question. You have Hermione's wand. It's not going to work like your own."

Pansy smiled. "Practice makes perfect."

"Pansy," he said warningly.

"I've wanted him dead for three years," said Pansy. "You'll have to give me some adjustment time."

"We don't have time," said Harry. "This ends tonight."

"So it does," she said. "Are you ready?"

"This is what I do," said Harry. She hadn't given him an answer, but he had to trust her. There was no other option.

They walked up to the bar. Across the restaurant, a band was playing covers of Celestina Warbeck near a small dance floor. Harry nodded toward it and offered his arm in mock chivalry. Pansy smiled.

"Time to kiss my husband goodbye," she said, and she took him by the arm and pulled him in close.

Harry closed his eyes, shutting out the image of his best friend, of Ron's wife, and imagining Pansy's lips, the ones he'd spent hours memorizing last night. She touched his cheek with a gloved hand, her eyes also closed, and then pulled away.

"Good luck," she whispered, and before he could respond, she'd slipped into a crowd filing off the dance floor and disappeared.

Harry leaned over the bar and ordered a drink, watching from afar. She was going to Grimes's table. Once she got close, she'd pose as Hermione, imply that she wasn't immune to taking a bribe if it furthered her career. If Grimes took the bait, there would be a private meeting in the hotel next door. She needed to keep him busy long enough for Harry to resume his cover in Grimes's organization, present one of Grimes's body guards with a fraudulent summons and collect a bit of hair in the process.

Once they were alone in a room with Grimes, they were getting their confession through any means necessary.

It was a complicated plan, but at this point a quick resolution was what they needed, and this strategy delivered. Harry wasn't about to let Grimes slip through his fingers, not now.

Pansy was already at the table, taking the seat beside him and leaning over to speak quietly to Grimes while one of the body guards examined Hermione's wand. Harry thought about all the times Pansy had done that before, when she wasn't wearing Hermione's face. How many photographs had he seen of Pansy laughing into Grimes's ear?

Without realizing it, he'd started moving closer to the table, just as Grimes and Pansy stood.

"God, she's good," he murmured to himself.

They started to leave and Grimes's bodyguards moved to follow. Harry ducked into the back hallway. Another dose of Polyjuice and he was back to his long-term cover, the underling who'd been kept at a frustrating distance from the boss for far too long now. He tucked his glasses into his breast pocket. Slipping out a door marked "staff only", he took an alley shortcut, catching them in the hotel lobby.

Pansy and Grimes had already turned the corner toward the elevators when Harry caught the shoulder of one of the bodyguards, a short, thickset man called Riley.

Riley looked up at him in irritation. "What're you doin' here?"

"I've gotta talk to you," said Harry. "Some owl delivered this earlier today. Got your name on it." He thrust an envelope into Riley's hand.

Riley squinted at it and looked up with a scowl. "This isn't my name."

"Sure it is," said Harry. "You're O'Brien, aren't you?"

"No, you moron," Riley said. "O'Brien's right--Christ! There goes the goddamn elevator. Grimes is gonna have my ass."

He moved to shove Harry, and Harry tried to take advantage and get the hair, but Riley's mobile phone went off just then, and he stepped back to answer it, one arm still dangling in the air mid-swing. Harry, too, caught himself off balance, bracing one arm on the wall, and watched in horror as his signature glasses fell out of his pocket and hit the carpet.

Harry looked up. Riley was taking the call.

"No, no, I wasn't doin' nothin'," he said. "I'm still down here in the lobby... Yeah, yeah, what's his name held me up. You know, the little squirrelly one."

Harry slowly bent down to grab the glasses.

"No, the stupid one... Right, right. Yeah, apparently he can't read either." Riley snorted at his own joke, moving his leg to nudge Harry, and stopped talking.

"I'll call you back," he said slowly.

Harry closed his eyes around the glasses and straightened.

"Whatcha got there?" said Riley.

"Reading glasses," said Harry.

"Little round ones?" said Riley. "Like the ones we was supposed to keep an eye out for, according to Mr Grimes?"

"Just glasses," said Harry, and he let Ron's wand slide into his palm. His real wand, and Pansy's, were both hidden in the back of his shirt, retrievable with a simple spell, but concealed in case of security checks.

"Can I see 'em?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Stupefy!" shouted Harry, and Riley flew across the hall, slamming into the wall.

There was a gasp from somewhere behind him and Harry looked back, saw a lobby full of Muggles staring at him with wide eyes and gaping mouths. The elevator rang and the doors opened. Harry gave a weak smile, a little bow, and stepped into the lift, just as the sound of Aurors bursting through the revolving door at the front of the hotel filled the room.

He reached the floor where Pansy's room was reserved, and rushed to it. He'd forgotten Riley's hair in his haste, but that didn't matter now. They had to get Grimes the hell out of here, and fast.

Harry threw open the door, and drew his wand, casting Protego just in time as three balls of bright light came sailing at him. Pansy and Grimes were nowhere to be seen, but three of Grimes's henchmen were lying in wait. Harry dove into the bathroom, using the mirror on the wall across from the door to reflect a binding charm and take out one of his would-be assailants.

Two-on-one. He liked those odds better. He took off his jacket and set a charm to fill it with nothing but air, then another to animate it, and sent it out of the bathroom. A flurry of spells blasted it, and as soon as there was a lull, Harry dove out, firing off two hexes as he rolled across the floor.

One of Grimes's men collapsed in an unconscious heap.

"Oh, hell," said the other one, backing up slowly toward the window as Harry got to his feet. "You're not working for Potter. You are Potter."

Harry sent a spell that sealed the window shut. "You're going to talk," he said. "Where are they?"

"Where are who?" the man said nervously, looking from side to side. "Look, Mr Potter, this is my first week on the job. You know how hard it is to find a job with good dental?"

Harry sent a spell that hit the man square in the jaw and he howled in pain.

"You sonuvabitch!" he snarled, firing back a streak of light that licked Harry's ear with flames as it passed him narrowly.

Harry shot a binding spell, but the man pitched himself behind the bed and dodged it. There was a clicking sound, and Harry had barely finished reacting to a blindly launched hex when the man resurfaced with a gun. He'd never understand Grimes's fascination with guns.

He fired off a burning hex that hit the gun directly, and the man dropped it to the ground. Harry skidded over the bed and landed on top of him, pinning him to the floor. Harry's fist connected with his cheek.

"Where is he?" Harry shouted into the man's face. When the answer didn't come quickly enough, Harry hit him again, blood splattering from the man's nose all over Harry's shirt and fist.

"Seventh floor honeymoon suite," the man wheezed.

Harry pulled him up by the lapels, then threw him back to the ground. "Thanks," he said, and he cast a binding spell before Apparating himself to the seventh floor.

Harry raced down the hall, the thundering of his pulse as loud as the pounding of his feet. He threw open the door, the bad knee finally catching up to him, and fell against the door jamb with his wand drawn.

The room was empty.

"Dammit, Pansy!" He cast the charm to pick up a magical signature and found just what he'd expected. Apparition.

He cursed violently and fisted a hand in his hair. If Grimes had her, he had no idea where they'd be. Then he caught sight of something sticking out from beneath the bed and summoned it. A wand. It wasn't Hermione's.

A quick detection spell told him it was Grimes's. Pansy had taken him. Harry closed his eyes for a moment, then tried to Apparate.

He hit a wall.

It knocked him back onto the bed and he tried again. This time the force of the barricade threw him across the room. The Aurors had set the Anti-Apparition wards on the building. He was trapped. Unless...

Harry grabbed the silver ice bucket from the dresser. One of the benefits of being Harry Potter was having the clearance to create a portkey at any given time. And Harry knew exactly where he was going. A few spells later, and he was ready. He held the ice bucket against his chest and watched the clock. In less than a minute, it would take him where he needed to go.

He pulled something small and dark from his pocket and enlarged it.

"Missed you," he said when his hat reached its usual size, and he flipped it up onto his head.

Twenty-five seconds.

Fifteen seconds.

"Expelliarmus!"

Ron's wand was wrenched from Harry's hand and he dropped the bucket, spinning to see a mass of Aurors crowding the doorway.

"Hands in the air!"

"Wait! That's Auror Potter!"

"Potter died on that boat, didn't he?"

"I said hands in the air!"

Harry exhaled, lowering himself to one knee. "Sorry, mates," he said. "I'll explain later."

And he grabbed the ice bucket and disappeared.

***


Pansy's Flat, Spring Street

Harry burst through the front door of Twenty-two Spring Street and blew the revolving wheel of inner doors to bits. The blast seemed to echo, like a second explosion, and Harry didn't want to think about what that meant. He summoned their wands from the back of his shirt, holding them tightly in his hand as he grabbed the knob of the remaining door and threw it open.

It was quiet inside.

Pansy stood in her darkened living room, her long, silver gown shimmering in the light of the streetlamps filtering in through the window. Only the dark flower at her waist didn't glisten like the surface of a still lake. The air smelled of sulphur. She held a gun in one hand and her eyes were glassy as she wavered slightly on her feet.

In front of her, on the floor, lay Darius Grimes, staring unseeingly at the ceiling, a bullet hole dead in the center of his chest, and a pool of blood fanning out all around him.

Harry took a step forward.

"I swear to Merlin, Harry," said Pansy, and her voice was thin and fragile. "He shot first."

It was all clear to him then. There had been no flower on her dress. It was blood, Pansy's blood, deep red and spreading across the sleek silver fabric. Her knees buckled and Harry was there in a second, catching her as she fell.

"Easy now," he said. "Easy, easy."

She caught herself with her elbows on his shoulders, still clutching the gun in her right hand.

"I dreamt of executing him for three years," she said. "But in my head, it never quite went like this."

"You're gonna be all right, Pansy. I promise."

"No," she said. "I just killed a man. And your investigation with him. No one's going to be all right. Not you, not me..."

Harry slid his arm under her knees and scooped her up, holding her against his chest.

"You need a healer, Pansy."

"It doesn't hurt much," she said, her head lolling against his shoulder. "I've always been a better shot than Darius."

"Don't talk," he said. "I'll get you help."

"Mmm," she breathed against his ear. "Run away with me, Harry."

Then her body went limp in his arms, the gun fell to the floor.

Harry looked around her flat. She was right; this was a mess. It would take weeks to sort out, months, maybe. And what would happen to Pansy in that time? She'd be caged, flightless. He glanced down at Grimes, into the eyes of the man he'd been after for nearly a decade.

How important was it that Harry find out exactly what transpired between Pansy and Grimes tonight?

He carried Pansy out into the hallway, then tossed her wand back into the flat. Though he'd never cast the spell for fiendfyre before, he had no trouble conjuring a fearsome blast, and in seconds the entire place was engulfed in flame. He warded the door shut behind them, containing the fiendfyre's destruction to Number Twenty-two Spring Street.

Harry pressed his cheek to Pansy's forehead and carried her off, out of the building and into the night.

***


The Magical Tap, Wizarding District, New York City

Lyle's day had been mediocre at best. It was true that his luck seemed to be steadily improving, what with his awful mother-in-law having eloped with a man she met on her last vacation to New York, and moving to Maui with him, and his good fortune in finding a secretary who not only excelled at her job, but who seemed to have good rapport with even his surliest of clients, but he still wasn't feeling good. He didn't know what it was.

Maybe it was that the spark in his marriage was slowly growing dimmer, or that his caseload had decreased steadily over the past year. Perhaps it was simply a combination of tragic stories in the news and the early winter malaise that had settled over his Brooklyn neighborhood in the course of the last week. Whatever it was, Lyle was going to chase it away with a stiff Old Fashioned at his favorite bar in wizarding Manhattan and hope that he'd wake up to a brighter outlook in the morning.

His drink nearly finished now, he was reaching for his wallet in his back pocket when a hand beside him slapped a small stack of bills on the table.

"This one's on me, mate."

Lyle glanced up and his eyes widened.

"Today going any better for you than the last time I was here?" Harry Potter asked.

"Thought you were dead," Lyle managed. It had been in all the papers. No one was sure whether it had been some boat explosion in the Mediterranean, or a grisly house fire in London, but Harry Potter had vanished off the face of the Earth.

Or so they said. Obviously the papers didn't know anything.

"That's funny," said Potter. "The last time I was here, you thought I was mad."

That was true, and Lyle had to concede the point. He'd apparently been wrong on both occasions.

"Point taken," he said. "So what happened this time."

Potter smiled, and he looked so much younger than all those pictures in the papers, so much younger than the last time he'd stood beside Lyle in this very bar.

"Don't you know by now, mate?" Potter said, and he laughed. "It's always a dame."

He tipped his hat and walked from the bar. Lyle watched him go. He watched through the window as Potter walked out into the fine powder of snow misting the air. Beneath a streetlamp, a woman waited for him.

She wore a long white coat, trimmed in pristine white fur, her dark hair standing out in sharp contrast where it spilled over her shoulders. Her red lipstick stood out as the only flare of color on her, and Lyle watched her lips close around her cigarette as she inhaled.

Potter reached her and she kissed him, kicking up one foot behind her as she leaned against him. Then he offered her his arm and they walked away down the street, turning the corner and disappearing from view.

Henry, the bartender, raised Lyle's glass to wipe down the bar.

"Say," said Henry, his brow scrunched up in concentration as he looked out at the spot where Potter just stood. "Wasn't that...?"

"Wasn't that who?" said Lyle, retrieving his drink from Henry's hand.

"I know this sounds crazy, but wasn't that Harry Potter?" Henry said.

"Don't be ridiculous," said Lyle, and he sipped his drink, smiling around the rim of his glass. "Harry Potter's dead.

"Yeah, yeah," said Henry. "You're right. Must've been hallucinating for a minute. Too many double shifts this week."

"Of course," said Lyle, and he watched Henry sweep the bills Potter had just laid down from the bar. Maybe he'd go home early tonight, take the wife out to dinner.

He turned his stool around, facing the window fully now, and raised his glass.

"Good luck with the dame," he said, to no one in particular, and then he drained it.


[END]




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January 2012

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