SIYE Time:9:28 on 18th January 2022

New Year's Eve
By Northumbrian

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Category: Post-DH/AB, Holidays
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Other
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Mild Sexual Situations
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 21
Summary: New Year's Eve, (or Hogmanay if you prefer). What sort of imbecile thinks it's a good idea to give a married man with two kids, and a very pregnant wife, a love potion? It should be a time to celebrate. For "the best dad in the world" and his wife, it's time for chocolate biscuits, cocktails, an Auror in a leopard print dress, Dung and Coco.

This is a sequel (of sorts) to Beard Hunters. You don't need to read it first, but as it's close to Christmas, you might want to. :-D
Hitcount: Story Total: 8249
Awards: View Trophy Room

Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights © J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.

Author's Notes:
No one was hurt during the telling of this tale, although several egos and reputations were tarnished.


Part 1: Chocolate Biscuits (or: Auror in a Leopard Print Dress)

With an exasperated sigh, and a brisk wave of her wand, Martha Nicholson sent the files flying back into the cabinet. As the metal drawer clattered shut, she turned and stared in annoyance at the open box of Honeyduke’s Finest Chocolate Biscuits on her desk.

‘Coco Crave,’ she muttered in frustration. ‘Coco Crave.’

Auror Lavender Brown entered the office carrying a bulging manila file, and noticed Martha’s irritation. The curly-haired young woman watched Martha with a mix of amusement and surprise. Harry’s secretary usually took everything in her stride.

‘Still here, Martha?’ Lavender asked cheerfully. ‘I thought that you’d be on your way home by now. Here’s the Jacobson file for the boss, it’s all done, and the night shift are all here, poor sods. For the rest of us, it’s party time!’ She dropped the file onto Martha’s desk, lifted her arms high above her head, and twirled. ‘What do you think?’

Lavender was wearing a leopard print dress with shoelace straps. It only just covered her buttocks and, as Lavender pirouetted, Martha noted that the younger woman’s dress was almost backless. There was no more than a criss-cross of shoelace straps from the nape of her neck to the small of her back.

‘Very economical on material,’ Martha told her. ‘Are you going somewhere special?’

‘I’m going to Edinburgh,’ Lavender announced happily. ‘Mark is going to collect me when his shift finishes, which is about now. He should be here soon. He’s taking me to the Scottish Office Hogmanay party. He’s promised me wizards in kilts.’ She pouted. ‘Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to persuade him to be one of them. I tried very hard, but he claims that there’s no such thing as a Moon tartan.’ As she spoke, she reached out for one of the chocolate biscuits on Martha’s desk.

‘No,’ said Martha sternly, hastily pulling the box away from the Auror’s outstretched hand. Surprised by Martha’s outburst, Lavender raised an eyebrow and reassessed the situation.

‘It’s five o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve, and you’re still here,’ said Lavender thoughtfully, switching instantly from flippant to proficient. She peered through the glass door beyond Martha’s desk. ‘And so is Harry. What’s going on?’

‘Love Potion,’ said Martha, indicating the biscuits. ‘And Harry ate one.’ Harry’s secretary, who was usually crisply professional, was frowning in annoyance.

‘It’s not that important, it can’t have affected him,’ said Lavender confidently. ‘After all, love–true love–is the strongest magic of all.’

‘It hasn’t, at least, not much,’ said Martha. ‘But the biscuits managed to get through security and reach his desk. That’s what is bothering him.’

‘Ah,’ Lavender acknowledged the seriousness of the security breach by raising her finely plucked eyebrows and wrinkling her nose. ‘How?’ she asked, her curiosity piqued.

‘Apparently they were hand delivered to Harry by Auror White.’

‘Anne White tried to dose the boss with a love potion?’ shrieked Lavender, astonished. ‘I don’t believe it.’

‘That’s because it’s a lot more complicated, Lavender. It wasn’t Anne. And how many times to I have to tell you: don’t call me “the boss”, you know my name,’ said a peevish voice from Lavender’s left. Lavender noted Harry’s exasperation and slowly turned to face him.

Like her, Harry had already changed out of his Auror uniform. It was quite obvious that the Head Auror wasn’t going to a big and swanky New Year’s Eve parties, although she knew he’d received several invitations. He was very casually dressed, wearing a pair of slate grey chinos, canvas boots, and a white t-shirt bearing the message “Best Dad Ever”. Harry looked past Lavender and addressed his secretary. ‘Have you discovered who this mysterious “love of my life” is, Martha? I’ve just spoken to Ginny; she’s never heard of her.’

Martha shook her head. ‘Sorry, Harry, I know that I’ve heard the name somewhere, but we don’t have a file on her. How are you feeling?’

Harry scowled. ‘It’s been such a long time since anyone managed to slip me a love potion I’d almost forgotten what it feels like. It’s actually having a slight effect, which makes me think that someone has spent a lot of money buying, or brewing, Amortentia. It’s definitely a lot more powerful than the usual rubbishy love potions. Despite everything, whenever I get distracted or drop my guard, the woman inserts herself in my mind. It’s very annoying, like having an itch which you just can’t reach.’

‘That’s what boyfriends are for,’ Lavender interjected. ‘Mark always seems to know which itch needs scratching. I’m sure that Ginny is just as…’

‘Ginny’s at home, but she’s asked her mum to go over and collect the boys,’ Harry announced. ‘As soon as they’ve gone to The Burrow, she’ll be here. She is not happy, but I’m not surprised. Neither am I. I’m a married man with two kids and a very pregnant wife! What sort of imbecile thinks it’s a good idea to give me a love potion?’

‘Someone who has never met Ginny,’ suggested Martha, not quite managing to keep her face straight.

‘Or someone who has met Ginny, but has a reckless disregard for her own safety,’ added Lavender, grinning and winking at Martha. ‘But whoever it was, Harry they certainly didn’t pay enough attention in Potions lessons.’

‘Did you?’ Harry asked, surprised.

Lavender grinned at her boss. ‘Really, Harry, you shouldn’t be surprised to discover that I was very interested in love potions when I was in my teens. Most of the girls were. Not Hermione, of course. She always said that if a boy wasn’t interested, then magic wasn’t the solution.’

‘Amortentia is the strongest Love Potion in the world,’ Lavender continued. ‘But, as Hector Dagworth-Granger said, “Never yet has anyone managed to create the truly unbreakable, eternal, unconditional attachment that alone can be called Love”. What you’re feeling is obsession, not affection, isn’t it?’ She sighed, clasped her hands together, and placed them over her heart. ‘True love, the “truly unbreakable, eternal, unconditional attachment which you and Ginny share, easily trumps a magically induced fascination. It must be wonderful.’

Harry looked past Lavender, unable to meet her gaze. She smiled smugly; once again she had surprised and embarrassed her boss. Harry wasn’t good at expressing his feelings, but he wasn’t good at hiding them, either.

Anne White, who was dark-haired, bespectacled, and rather sturdily built, hurried into the room behind Lavender. Anne, too, was out of uniform. She wore rather flouncy pale blue party robes. Lavender didn’t think they suited the younger woman.

‘We’re all dressed to go out for the night,’ Lavender observed, nodding a greeting at Anne. ‘You haven’t commented on my dress, Harry.’

‘There’s not very much to comment on,’ Harry told her. ‘But Ginny once told me that a party dress is like a good story. It has to be short enough to keep people interested, but long enough to cover the important bits.’ His eyes glazed over as he remembered, and Lavender wondered what Ginny had been wearing when she’d made the remark.

‘I like that,’ Lavender said, giggling. ‘What’s the name of this mysterious “true love” of yours? You haven’t reacted to the entrance of “the woman in blue”, here, so it obviously isn’t Anne.’

‘Coco Crave,’ said Harry, suddenly annoyed again. ‘Bloody stupid name for a bloody stupid woman.’

‘I’m beginning to think that I’m indispensable to you, Harry,’ Lavender told him smugly. ‘You’d never have found Santa’s beard without help from Mark and me, and I can tell you that Coco Crave is the editor of Cheat Magazine.’

‘That’s where I’ve heard the name!’ interjected Martha, sounding annoyed with herself. She looked longingly at her cloak. Harry’s attention was on Anne White, who was obviously waiting for an opportunity to speak, but Lavender spotted Martha’s glance.

‘I think Martha would like to go home now, Harry,’ said Lavender.

‘What? Oh, yes, you’re celebrating the New Year with your daughters this evening, aren’t you?’ Harry apologised to Martha, while Anne waited in patient silence. ‘I hope I haven’t made you late. Sorry, Martha. Just go, you can leave this to me.’

‘Thanks, Harry,’ she said gratefully.

‘Have a good night, Martha,’ Harry said. ‘And thanks for your help.’

As Martha left, Harry finally turned his attention to Anne. ‘Come into my office,’ he ordered. Anne nodded, and followed Harry. So did Lavender.

‘I thought you were leaving, Lavender,’ said Harry. ‘Don’t you have a party to go to?’

‘Mark is picking me up here, and taking me to Edinburgh by Floo,’ Lavender told him. ‘Until he gets here, I can give you the benefit of my experience with love potions. What are you waiting for, Anne? You’ve been bursting to say something since you arrived.’ Lavender closed Harry’s door, pulled up a seat at his meeting table, crossed her legs, and waited.

‘Gilbert Witton will have the antidote ready in quarter of an hour,’ Anne told her boss nervously. ‘I tried to make him hurry. But he told me that it was definitely Amortentia, and because of that, he’d had to choose between speed and accuracy. Given the circumstances, he chose accuracy.’

‘That’s fine; I can cope for a few more minutes,’ Harry told her. ‘What about security, Anne? Have you figured out what happened to the chocolates between Christmas Eve and today?’ He was frowning, and drumming his fingers on the table as he spoke. Lavender pulled her wand from a hidden pocket in her cleavage, and summoned a photograph from Harry’s desk.

‘Not exactly, but…’ Anne began.

‘Concentrate on that,’ said Lavender, interrupting Anne and placing the photograph of his wife and sons on the table directly in front of him.

‘Thanks, Lavender,’ Harry looked down at the photograph, and shrugged helplessly at the image of his wife. ‘Sorry, Ginny,’ he said.

‘Don’t apologise, Harry,’ Lavender told him. ‘Amortentia is the most powerful Love Potion in existence. It can be as difficult to resist as the Imperius Curse. It’s even been known to break up relationships; as you’d know if you ever read the gossip magazines. The photograph is helping, isn’t it? You’re doing amazingly well, particularly as Ginny isn’t actually here. Most blokes would have done something stupid by now.’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry. ‘Fortunately, I’m not about to seek out Coco Cave and profess my undying love for her. In fact knowing who she is has helped. Even so, it’s probably a good thing that I don’t know where she…’ His lips twisted in annoyance. ‘Damn! Actually, I do!’

Harry leaned back in his chair and flicked his wand in the direction of his desk. A card flew out from his wastepaper basket. He caught it, and slammed it onto the table. Lavender turned it around, and read it.

‘You’ve been invited to the Cheat Magazine New Year Party. It’s at seven o’clock tonight, at the Clarroy Hotel; very posh!’ Lavender observed as she read the card. ‘And it’s just for you, they haven’t invited Ginny. It must be an oversight,’ she finished sarcastically.

Harry swore.

‘Could we arrest them?’ Anne asked.

‘For what exactly?’ Lavender queried. ‘Despite the problems they can cause, Love Potions are classified as harmless joke items. They create an infatuation, not true love. Making Harry look stupid isn’t a crime. If it was there’d be a lot of people in jail.’

‘Including Ginny,’ said Harry, smiling down at the photograph. ‘You’ve given me an idea, Lavender, but first we need to figure out how the biscuits got here. I’m hoping Anne’s about to tell us.’

‘I brought the biscuits in on Christmas Eve, and left them on your desk. I didn’t know that you’d gone home early,’ Anne began. Lavender tried to hide her amusement, but obviously failed, because Anne rounded on her. ‘I’m not the only one who gives Harry a Christmas present, you know!’

‘No,’ Harry admitted. ‘Lots of people do. Polly gives me a CD every year; this year it was “The Cure”, and Philippa always makes me a Christmas cake.’

‘And it’s a good cake,’ Lavender agreed. ‘But it never gets home, does it? It gets offered around the office.’

‘Because Ginny bakes a Christmas cake, and so does Molly, and so does Kreacher,’ Harry said. ‘But stop interrupting, Lavender.’

Lavender looked into his face and decided not to remind him that he’d been the one to go off on a tangent.

‘I left the biscuits on Martha’s desk,’ Anne said. ‘According to Martha, they weren’t there when she came in after the Christmas break. And they didn’t reappear on your desk until half an hour ago, when you were getting changed to leave. I’ve checked the security log. Apart from me, there are only five people who were in the office when the biscuits vanished, and when they reappeared, and one of them isn’t an Auror.’ Anne stared out of the window and nodded towards the blue-robed witch who was busy sweeping the floor.

‘Doris!’ Lavender exclaimed, ‘It can’t be Doris, she…’ Lavender stared at the elderly witch, who had turned to face them. ‘She told me that she came into some money just before Christmas,’ said Lavender sadly. They watched as the office cleaner saw them staring at her. She pushed her cart towards them, knocked on Harry’s office door, and entered.

‘Doris,’ Harry began.

‘Tole ‘er it wouldn’t work on you, I did,’ the old witch said. ‘I said to ’er, I said “won’t work, you can tell by the way he looks at her photo. You can tell when you see ‘em together.” But she tole me to do it anyhow. Hope I ain’t in too much trouble, ’cos I’ve spent the money already. It don’t go far when you’ve got a dozen grandkids.’

‘Trouble?’ asked Ginny, who had dashed into the room seconds after the cleaner. Harry stood, slid his arms inside his wife’s dragonskin motorcycle jacket, and pulled her into a tender hug. They kissed passionately and everyone, except Doris, watched in silence.

‘Tole ‘em, I did,’ the cleaner repeated, sounding vindicated. ‘You’ve just got to look, I said.’

After about a minute, Harry and Ginny broke apart, laughing. He placed a hand on her swollen abdomen, and caressed it gently.

‘I really felt that kick,’ Harry said. ‘She’s a vicious little thing, isn’t she?’

‘She takes after her mother, as someone is about to find out,’ Ginny told him. Her eyes swept the room, ferociously scorching the other three inhabitants. ‘How are you, Harry?’

‘A lot better now that you’re here,’ he told her. ‘Now, Doris,’ he said, turning to the elderly cleaner. ‘I’d like an explanation.’

Mark Moon gave Susan Bones a friendly wave as he walked into the Auror Office. She returned the wave, but continued dictating to her quill. Lavender wasn’t at her desk, but Mark soon spotted her. She was sitting in Head Auror Potter’s private office. There were five people in the office. Mr and Mrs Potter, Lavender, a little brown-haired witch wearing blue party robes, and an elderly woman who looked like one of the office cleaners. They were all sitting around a table, and they appeared to be involved in an intense discussion.

Not wanting to disturb them, Mark sat down at the desk in the outer office where Harry’s secretary would normally be guarding her boss. He stared at his girlfriend’s bare back, and helped himself to a chocolate biscuit from the open box on the desk. As he swallowed it in two bites, he wondered what Lavender was wearing. Whatever it was, from the back view, there didn’t seem to be much of it. That didn’t surprise him. Lavender would, he knew, be at her most glamorous for the party. He wondered what his workmates would make of his girlfriend, and he wondered who on earth Coco Crave was and why he wanted to know.

Very few of his fellow Law Officers had met Lavender, and most people in the Scottish Office hadn’t believed him when he’d told them who he was bringing to the Hogmanay Party. He wondered what they would make of her when they finally met her. Would they think that she was better looking than Coco Crave?

Mark helped himself to a second biscuit, and wondered what the meeting was about. Lavender was supposed to be ready for him. She was certainly dressed for the party, but she was still stuck in a meeting. Of course, unlike the reliable Coco Crave, Lavender was almost always late. He stared off into the middle distance as the image of a thin faced woman at least ten years older than him appeared in his head. Coco would…

He shook his head, and reached for a third biscuit. Who on earth was Coco Crave?

The door to Head Auror Potter’s opened with a crash, and Mark’s girlfriend strode towards him. He wasn’t sure whether her expression was one of anger or worry. Mark hoped that there wasn’t some sort of Auror crisis going on. If Lavender cancelled, that would simply provide confirmation to many of his colleagues that he’d been lying to them about the identity of his girlfriend.

Mark gave her an apprehensive smile. ‘Hello, Lavender,’ he said. ‘Nice dress … and nice shoes, too.’ He glanced down at her feet. Her stilettos were, like her dress, leopard print, although the heels were a dangerous looking steel spike. He was momentarily distracted by the silver anklet around her left ankle, but when he looked up at her face he noticed that she was still wearing the silver key necklace which he’d bought her for Christmas. She’d worn it every day since he’d given it to her; he was certain that was a good sign.

‘How many have you had?’ Lavender asked urgently.

‘None,’ he protested. ‘I’m stone-cold sober, Lavender. What in Merlin’s name makes you think I’ve…’

‘Not booze! You idiot, Mark! Biscuits,’ she said.

He looked down at his hand. ‘This is the third, I think,’ he said. ‘But … what’s the problem? Open biscuit boxes are fair game. That’s been the rule in every Law Office I’ve ever worked in.’

Lavender placed her hands on her hips, and stared at him. For a moment, she seemed to be nonplussed, but her expression changed, and she stared at him with a tenderness he couldn’t remember ever seeing before. For some reason, she seemed to be close to tears, so he put down the uneaten third biscuit, stood, and pulled her into a hug. His fingers slid between the slender criss-cross of straps and caressed her bare back.

‘Is there something wrong, Lavender?’ he asked.

She held him tightly, and whispered, ‘Emmsy loves his Lavender,’ into his chest.

Suddenly, the smouldering volcano of her emotions erupted. He found himself being pushed over backwards, and ended up lying supine on the desk. Lavender climbed on top of him and attempted to eat his face.

‘Bloody hell!’ a woman said. Realising that they had an audience, Mark tried to struggle free.

‘Are you okay, Lavender?’ he managed to gasp.

‘You’re worried about me?’ she squealed delightedly, and she kissed him again.

‘That’s enough, Lavender,’ Harry ordered. ‘Byers is here, and he’s got the antidote. Let’s hope there’s enough for two.

Part 2: Cocktail Mixers (or: Dung and Coco)

‘Goodbye, Mr and Mrs Potter,’ Mark said, as he and Lavender followed Anne White out from the Auror Office.

‘Harry and Ginny,’ Harry told him. ‘Have a good Hogmanay party, Mark; you too, Lavender. I’ll see you next year.

‘Feeling better?’ Ginny asked, moving alongside her husband.

‘I started feeling better the moment you arrived,’ said Harry. ‘But I’m glad that the antidote worked.’

Harry slid an arm around his wife’s waist, or at least around what passed for her waist. It was her third pregnancy and, even with two months to go, Ginny seemed to be as big as she’d been when Al was born. As they watched Mark and Lavender leave the office, Harry pulled his wife closer.

Lavender was leaning into Mark and had both arms around him, ensuring that he couldn’t escape. Mark had an arm diagonally across her back, his hand rested lightly on her hip. The tall Law Office Bailiff was staggering, drunk from the power of her affection.

‘Lavender is extremely happy,’ said Ginny thoughtfully as she rested her head on Harry’s shoulder. ‘Mark is in for a good night. His reaction–or lack of it–to the Amortentia will have done them both a lot of good. Mark has jumped in to the deep end of that relationship, but Lavender’s still paddling around in the shallows. I think she’s afraid of getting out of her depth.’

‘Very profound,’ Harry told her. ‘Did you read that in a Christmas Cracker?’

‘Cheek!’ Ginny poked him in the stomach.

‘Ow,’ Harry protested. ‘That’s not very nice. I resisted an Amortentia potion for you, and all I get is a poke in the belly. I didn’t react to it either, you know.’

He released her, turned to face her, and lightly kissed her forehead. Ginny pulled him down and kissed him properly.

‘I expected you to be unaffected, Harry,’ she whispered fondly. ‘And you were, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the fact that the Amortentia didn’t really do anything. Sometimes, I think I take you for granted.’

‘I’m guilty of that, too,’ said Harry. He shook his head in annoyance. ‘I was looking forward to a quiet night at home, just you, me, and the boys. And I was hoping that there would be just the two of us at midnight, because late nights and little boys don’t really mix. Unfortunately, any hope of that has vanished.’

‘At least Mum will be happy,’ said Ginny. ‘Perhaps she’s the real mastermind behind this. She wasn’t happy when we chose to spend Christmas Day at Grimmauld Place.’

‘We saw everyone on Boxing Day,’ Harry protested.

‘Even so, it was brave of you to turn down her invitation to go to The Burrow tonight,’ said Ginny.

‘Brave, or stupid?’ Harry asked. ‘A wise man once told me that only a fool annoys his mother-in-law.’

‘That wasn’t a wise man, it was Ron,’ Ginny reminded him. Harry chuckled.

‘You know that we won’t be allowed to leave the Burrow until after midnight, Ginny.’

‘Not even then, if Mum gets her way,’ said Ginny. ‘I expect she’ll want us to stay overnight; perhaps we should.’

‘But Al was so whiny last year, and James was so excited at being up so late, then he suddenly turned miserable and crabby. Neither of us slept, remember?’

‘Al is a year older, Harry; he’s sleeping much better,’ Ginny reminded him. ‘You should have seen the boys when Granny collected them, Harry. They were so excited. They will have other kids to play with. Uncle George and Aunty ’Lina, and their two snot-monsters were already at The Burrow, and Percy, Audrey, little miss perfect, and little miss smelly, will all be there too.’

‘First, I need to decide what to do about Doris,’ Harry reminded her.

‘Nothing,’ Ginny told him. ‘She actually ate one of the biscuits to make sure that they weren’t poisoned, which is definitely “above and beyond” for an office cleaner. I believed her when she said that, once she knew it was Amortentia, she knew it wouldn’t affect you.’ Ginny smiled up at her husband, lifted a hand, and caressed his cheek. ‘And after she’d done that she resealed the box, so than no one knew it had been opened. Lets face it, Harry, you’ve got members of staff who are less capable than Doris.’

‘I really should report her,’ he said uncertainly.

‘It’s Christmas,’ Ginny told him. ‘Doris has been paid a decent Christmas bonus by this Coco Crave woman, and no harm has been done. In fact, two ladies have discovered how much they are loved.’ She squeezed him tightly. ‘Of course, one of them already knew.’

‘Let me guess; was it Lavender?’ Harry asked. Ginny lightly smacked his arm, he grinned. ‘I wonder what would happen if we took our own Amortentia?’ he continued. ‘Me for you, and you for me, I mean.’

‘George and Angelina tried it once, before they got married,’ said Ginny.

‘Did they? What happened?’

‘According to Angelina; torn clothes and, nine months later, little Fred,’ Ginny told him.

‘We don’t need Amortentia for that! So, what do we do now?’ Harry asked her. ‘Shall we go to The Burrow?’

‘Not yet. First, we take our revenge,’ said Ginny. Harry didn’t respond, so she looked up into his face. ‘You aren’t arguing, Harry. Why not?’

‘Because I agree,’ he told her. ‘Not long before you arrived, Lavender reminded me that love potions are classified as harmless joke items. There’s no reason why the Head Auror can’t indulge in the occasional joke.’

‘What’s your plan?’ Ginny asked happily. Her eyes gleamed at the opportunity to indulge in some tomfoolery.

He sat her down at his desk, and explained his idea to her.

‘Good, but it could be better,’ she told him. ‘I’ve got an idea, but we’ll need some Amortentia. Let’s go.’ She grabbed his hand, and they walked out into the corridor. Apart from a few on-duty Aurors, the Ministry was deserted.

‘Damn it!’ Ginny said, as they made their way towards the lifts. ‘Where’s the nearest loo, Harry?’

‘Just down there, on the right.’ Harry pointed down a side corridor.

‘The boys weren’t this bad,’ Ginny grumbled as she strode away from him. ‘I seem to be constantly peeing myself with this little sod.’

Harry watched her walk down the corridor. She pushed open the door, let it close again, and hurried back to him.

‘Change of plan,’ she announced. ‘Where’s the next nearest loo. From what I just heard in there, I don’t think Mark and Lavender have left for their Hogmanay Party yet.’

Harry sat in a corner of the lobby of the old stone building, tapping his foot impatiently. The building, which housed the “High Sheriff of Northumbria: Office of the Sheriff of Deira”, was in the City of York, on the medieval street known as Shambles.

The Sheriff’s Office was quiet; it was the calm before the storm. There was no doubt that, in another few hours, the place would be very busy. While Harry had been waiting, he’d seen the first drunk of the night brought in and processed.

‘It’ll be reet busy t’night,’ the grizzled old arresting Bailiff had told Harry. ‘It’s a grand thing you’re getting a remand prisoner aat. It’ll gi’ we another cell to use.’

The young Under-Bailiff in charge of the prisoners remained unconvinced. ‘Are you certain about this, Mr Potter?’ he asked, as he handed Harry the release form.

‘Positive,’ said Harry, signing the form and handing over five hundred Galleons.

‘It’s my duty to warn you, sir, that the prisoner has not been bailed because of a previous history of absconding. He has never answered a summons after being bailed. That’s why his bail was set so high. You may be throwing your money away, Sir.’

‘I’ll make certain that Mr Fletcher attends court,’ Harry told the earnest young man. ‘He knows exactly what will happen if he tries to run away from me.’

The Under-Bailiff examined the form carefully. ‘This seems to be in order, sir,’ he said reluctantly. ‘I’ll go and fetch the prisoner.’ He was back within a few minutes. The short, bandy-legged wizard with the Under-Bailiff stopped the moment he got through the door, and stared in astonishment.

‘Fort ‘e was windin’ me up, di’n’ I?’ Mundungus Fletcher said, nervously running his fingers through his thinning ginger hair and showering his shoulders with dandruff in the process. ‘You got me locked up, ‘Arry, di’n’ you? You and that little blonde Bailiff woman, the one wiff a voice what could shatter glass.’

‘You committed a robbery, Dung,’ Harry told the little man as he stood to greet him. ‘But worse, at least so far as my sons were concerned, you stole Santa’s beard. Did you have a good Christmas?’

‘Did I ‘ave a good Christmas?’ snapped Mundungus, scratching his stubbly chin. ‘Don’t be daft. Locked in a cell, weren’t I? No presents, nothing.’

‘What do you expect?’ Harry asked. ‘If you steal Santa’s beard, Dung, you’re never going to make it onto his nice list. You need to be a good boy from now on.’ Harry walked over to the little man, and wondered if Dung had bathed, or even changed his underwear, in the weeks he’d been inside. Holding his breath, and feeling a moment of pity for the other victim, Harry stepped forwards and brushed some of the dandruff from the shoulders of Dung’s rather greasy robes. ‘And you need to take a bit more care of yourself,’ he added, as he surreptitiously dropped some of the dandruff into the paper bag in his pocket.

Fletcher fixed Harry with his bloodshot brown eyes. ‘Yer up ter sumfink, aren’t yer?’

‘I have a job for you, yes,’ Harry told him. ‘But first, a few ground rules. I’ve paid your bail, Dung, so don’t expect any more favours from me. I know when you’re due in court, too. You will report to the Auror Office the day before your court date. If you don’t, I’ll come looking for you. And you know what that means.’

Fletcher shuddered, and rubbed his head on the spot where, years earlier, he’d been hit by a frying pan.

‘I’ll be there,’ the little man promised reluctantly.

‘Good,’ said Harry. ‘Now, I need to go somewhere, Dung. I can’t tell you where, it’s top secret. I want you to take this briefcase, and wait for me in the Leaky Cauldron. Guard it carefully, and I’ll meet you there in half an hour.’ He handed Mundungus the locked, black leather briefcase. ‘Once I collect the briefcase from you, you’re free to go. It’s as simple as that. That’s all you have to do. If you aren’t at the Cauldron, I’ll come looking for you. Here’s a Galleon, buy yourself a drink or two. Off you go.’

Mundungus Fletcher took the briefcase, examined the Galleon, and dashed out of the Law Office as though he expected Harry to change his mind.

‘I, er, I hope there’s nothing important in that briefcase, Mr Potter,’ the young Under-Bailiff said. ‘From what everyone tells me, Fletcher is likely to take a look inside.’

‘I’m counting on it,’ Harry told the young man. ‘It contains a few papers which he might think are important, but they aren’t. It also contains an open box of Honeyduke’s Finest Chocolate Biscuits, and a copy of Cheat Magazine with an article about their upcoming New Year’s Eve Party.’

After saying goodbye to Hannah Longbottom, Ginny left the Leaky Cauldron and entered Diagon Alley. A chill wind was blowing as she walked alone down the street. Shivering, she pulled out her mirror and made a quick call. Her breath was steaming up the mirror as she spoke.

By the time she reached Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, George was unlocking the shop. ‘That was fast,’ she said.

‘It was either; answer your urgent call, change Roxy’s nappy, or listen to a Celestina Warbeck retrospective on the wireless. Thanks for saving me,’ said George. He grinned at his sister, and nodded at the motorcycle jacket. ‘I see you came on the bike. Is the Floo, or Apparition, still making you queasy?’

Ginny nodded.

‘I didn’t think you’d be able to fasten the jacket, fatso’ George said. ‘What is that under your jumper? Did you eat a beach ball?’

‘This lump will go, once Potter number three arrives,’ Ginny told him. She poked his stomach. ‘You, on the other hand, have no excuse.’

‘I do,’ George said. ‘Angelina’s a great cook. It’s entirely her fault.’ He hugged his sister. ‘But, enough of this amiable sibling banter, sister dearest. You’ve dragged me away from my parents, my wife, and my horrible, snotty, children on a cold New Year’s Eve, so it must be important. What’s up?’

‘I want to buy some Amortentia,’ Ginny told him. ‘I need it right now, and I know that I can trust a Weasley-brand product.’

‘It’s true then?’ George asked. ‘Mum told me that you’d had to go to the Ministry because someone managed to get a love potion into Harry.’

‘It’s true,’ Ginny confirmed. ‘And now it’s payback time.’

‘What’s your plan?’ George asked as he unlocked his shop.

‘I’ll tell you later,’ she said. ‘We’ll tell everyone when we get back to The Burrow. Right now, Harry and I are working to a timetable.’

‘Where is he?’ George asked.

‘He Apparated to York,’ she said. ‘But he’ll be back soon.’

Twenty minutes later, Ginny was sheltering in the dark doorway of the re-locked shop and clutching a small vial of Amortentia. She was anxiously checking her watch for about the twentieth when Harry arrived and kissed her.

‘Sorry,’ he said when they parted. ‘It took longer than I thought. I’d forgotten how much paperwork was involved. It would probably have been easier if I’d simply broken him out.’

‘You did get him?’ Ginny asked.

‘Yes, he should be just along the road, in the Cauldron,’ Harry told her. ‘I don’t know how long we have. The lock on the briefcase isn’t very good; he’s probably opened it already.’ He pulled the paper bag out of his pocket. ‘It’s dandruff,’ he told her. ‘But that should do, shouldn’t it?’

‘It’ll be fine,’ said Ginny. ‘Although I wouldn’t want to drink Dung’s dandruff.’ She tipped the contents of the packet into the vial, watched it fizz, and restoppered it.

She took her husband’s hand and they walked down Diagon Alley, heading towards its most expensive and exclusive hotel, Clarroy’s. They were about a hundred yards from the place when she released him.

‘You’d better not get any closer,’ she said. ‘We don’t want to be spotted together. I can’t claim to be looking for you if I know where you are.’

‘Are you sure…’ Harry began.

‘I can do this,’ Harry, she told him. ‘You know that I can. You just keep Dung out until I’m finished.’ She kissed him, and strode determinedly towards the hotel.

The doorman wore immaculate, white gloves, claret-coloured robes and a matching stovepipe hat. He spotted her Muggle clothing, and she saw him discreetly signal for assistance. When she got closer, however, he recognised her and waved the security wizard away.

‘Good evening, Mrs Potter,’ he said smoothly as he opened the door for her. ‘Welcome to Clarroy’s.’

‘Is Harry here?’ she asked.

‘I haven’t seen him, Mrs Potter,’ the doorman said. ‘I suppose that he might have arrived some time ago, before I came on duty.’

‘It’s just…’ Ginny began, worriedly. ‘Well, he isn’t in his office, and I was supposed to meet him there. And I don’t know where he’s gone. I can’t use the Floo, because it makes me sick.’ She rubbed her belly by way of explanation. ‘But I found this on his desk.’ She showed the doorman the invitation. ‘My name’s not on it. I thought, perhaps, there had been two invitations and he’d picked up mine by mistake.’

‘The Cheat Magazine New Year Party is being held in the French Salon, Mrs Potter,’ the doorman told her evenly. He snapped a finger, and a bellboy in claret-coloured robes and a matching pillbox hat appeared. ‘Escort Mrs Potter to the French Salon, Jackson,’ the doorman ordered.

As she followed the young wizard through the hotel reception, Ginny shrugged off her leather motorcycle jacket and stopped. The bellboy stopped, too. She pulled off the thick wool sweater she was wearing and examined herself in one of the many mirrors in the reception area. Her hair was a little too tidy, so she tried to give it a more anxious look. Her clothing; black boots, blue jeans, and a t-shirt with the words “Baby on Board” emblazoned over her bump, were perfect for the affect she wanted to achieve.

‘Would you like me to check these in for you, Madam?’ the bellboy asked, holding up her jacket and sweater.

‘Yes please,’ she said. ‘I’ll find my own way to the French Salon. I can see the sign for the Cheat Magazine New Year Party.’ She pointed to the A-board, which was directing guests down a well-lit corridor to the left of the reception desk.

‘As you wish, madam.’ The bellboy nodded his head deferentially.

Ginny strolled along the corridor towards the sound of loud music. Lily squirmed and kicked in protest at the noise, and Ginny was glad that she’d emptied her bladder.

A second A-board directed Ginny to the right. The music blared through the double doors at the end. However, her route was blocked by two beefy, shaven-headed, security wizards. One was the size of a troll, the other merely the size of a gorilla. As she approached them, she tried to decide which of the many options for gaining entry she should use. The gorilla lumbered towards her.

‘I think you’re lost, madam,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid that this is a private party.’

‘I have an invitation,’ Ginny told him. She showed him the card; he looked her up and down, and grinned smugly.

‘You definitely aren’t Harry Potter,’ he said.

‘Well spotted,’ she said. ‘I’m his wife.’

‘I’m sorry, madam, but…’ the gorilla began as his colleague shambled slowly towards them.

‘Look,’ Ginny told him. ‘I’m Ginny Potter, I’m very pregnant, and I’ve got my husband’s invitation with me. What do you think would happen to you if I burst into tears, right now?’ She allowed her lower lip to quiver a little, and the man looked worried. The bigger man stepped alongside his companion, and Ginny saw a spark of recognition in his face.

‘What’s … Here, you’re Ginny Weasley you are. Harpies Chaser Weasley; you are, aren’t you?’ the bigger man said. Ginny immediately changed tactics, and turned to face the troll-sized man. Deciding not to confuse him with a correction, and striving to retain the look of an overly-emotional woman who was close to tears, she nodded. He immediately turned on his companion.

‘What choo said to upset ‘er Sid?’ The troll cracked his knuckles. ‘Dat’s Ginny Weasley…’ He paused. ‘No, she’s married, you plonker,’ He told himself. ‘Ginny Porter, dat is!’ he corrected himself happily. ‘Harpies ain’t been the same team wivvout ‘er. An’ she’s going to have a baby! Ain’t you noticed? You got no manners, Sid. You feelin all right, miss? You need a seat Miss, er, Mrs Porter?’

‘It’s Potter, not Porter,’ she told the man. ‘But you can call me Ginny. I’ve got an invitation.’ She flashed the card.

‘Well, dat’s all right den,’ the big man said. He glowered at his companion. Sid the gorilla opened his mouth to protest, but no words came out. The troll-sized man shook his head in disgust. ‘Sid’s a Tornadoes fan,’ he told her. ‘Right ignorant, dem Tutshill lot. No manners, not none of ‘em. This way Mrs Porter.’ He led her forwards, and opened the door for her. ‘My name’s Derek,’ he said quietly. ‘Could I, er, could I…’

‘My husband will be here soon, Derek,’ she said. ‘Give him your address, and I’ll send you an official Harpies training Quaffle, and I’ll autograph it for you.’

‘Wow, Dat’s great, ta! Still got your poster on my wall,’ he said proudly as he ushered her into the room.

The cameras flashed the moment she entered, and it took her a few seconds to get her bearings. The place was full of models, minor celebrities, journalists, and gossip columnists. It was the sort of event neither she nor Harry would attend and she was, as she’d expected, decidedly underdressed for the occasion.

Ignoring the whispered comments about her clothing, she sought out her target. It wasn’t difficult; Coco Crave seemed to be the only person who wasn’t chattering about the unexpected arrival of Ginny Potter. The Cheat editor was wearing a shimmering silver sheath dress and an expression of blind panic.

Noticing that Coco was holding a swirling multicoloured cocktail of the type currently in fashion, Ginny prised the stopper from the Amortentia and palmed the vial. Thankful for George’s lessons in Muggle “magic”, she used her thumb as a stopper.

As she closed on her prey, Ginny realised that the magazine editor was taller and older than she’d expected. The photograph used by Cheat magazine on the title page was either very old, or very much altered, and she wondered how old the woman really was. Coco’s make-up was thick, and her perfume was an overpowering miasma of sweetness. Ginny ignored the smell. Holding her breath, and feeling a moment of pity for the other victim, Ginny closed on Coco. She concentrated on looking concerned, and a little frightened.

‘Ginny Potter!’ Coco Crave squealed in either mock excitement or fear. ‘What brings you to our little soiree?’

‘Is Harry here?’ Ginny asked.

‘Harry Potter?’ Coco said, her voice now approaching a glass shattering pitch. ‘Why would he be here?’

Ginny spoke with the breathless rush of a worried wife, and lied glibly. ‘Poor little James, our eldest, has been taken ill. He’s in St. Mungo’s. I need Harry, but he’s not at his office and no one knows where he’s gone. I found this on his desk.’

Waving the invitation directly under the Coco’s nose, Ginny used her left hand to pour the potion into the cocktail while the woman was distracted. ‘I thought he might have picked up my invitation by mistake. He hasn’t, he’s not here, is he? You haven’t seen him have you? I hope he’s okay. First, James! And now Harry is missing! Oh!’ she grimaced in pain, opened her mouth wide, grabbed her bump, and groaned.

Coco whimpered, blind panic chased the colour from her face, and she took a huge gulp from her glass. Ginny watched as Coco’s eyes immediately took on a dream-like quality.

‘False alarm,’ said Ginny, affecting an instant recovery. ‘I can simply contact Harry on his mirror. Silly me! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?’ She pulled he mirror from her jeans pocket, and said, ‘Harry.’

‘Be right there,’ Harry told her.

Harry watched from the distance as the doorman escorted his wife into the hotel. He leaned against the wall, preparing for what might be a long wait. It wasn’t.

‘Harry,’ Hannah Longbottom’s voice called urgently from Harry’s pocket. He pulled out his mirror.

‘Hi, Hannah,’ he said. The mirror shimmered, and the landlady of the Leaky Cauldron looked out from it.

‘Dung has just given everyone in here a good laugh,’ Hannah told him. ‘He stood on a table, told everyone that he’s not getting any younger, and that it’s time he told the woman he loves how he feels about her. He’s on his way.’ Suddenly startled, Hannah looked past the mirror and into the pub. ‘Damn! Put those down, tepid, napper.’

Hannah looked worried. For a moment, Harry heard nothing but the sounds of a noisy and crowded pub, then he heard her bellow, ‘Right you lot, settle down, or you’re all barred!’ There was a sudden silence. ‘Okay, I’ve got the biscuits now. I’ll put them in the safe.’

‘What happened? Are you okay, Hannah?’ Harry asked.

‘I’m fine, but you’ve got a problem. Dung’s not alone.’

‘Not alone?’ asked Harry.

‘He met a couple of old friends in here. I was on my way to collect your briefcase when I called you. Before I could retrieve it, Dung’s friends helped themselves to a couple of biscuits. One of them is Napper McNulty, he’s an “Accio” expert; he’s just got out of Azkaban. Watch him; he’ll have your wallet out of your pocket from twenty yards away. The other one is called “Tepid” and that’s all I know. No one seems to know his real name. I think he lives rough.

‘Well, this is going to be interesting,’ said Harry. ‘Thanks, Hannah, bye.’

He replaced the mirror in his pocket, and stepped from the shadows just in time to see Mundungus Fletcher sprinting towards the most posh hotel in Wizarding Britain. Cursing, Harry gave chase. He was supposed to ensure that Dung didn’t get in until Ginny called.

Somehow, Dung managed to dodge past both the doorman and a second wizard at the door, who was quite obviously hotel security. As chased Dung towards the door, Harry thought that the security wizard was going to try to stop him, but the doorman said something. The security wizard stepped aside, and the doorman smoothly opened the hotel door for Harry with an urbane and unperturbed, ‘Your wife is in the French Salon, Mr Potter.’

As Harry entered the foyer, he dodged straight past the two bellboys and a second security wizard who had slowed, but not stopped, Dung’s advance. The scruffy little wizard dodged round a pillar and leapt over a sofa with a degree of agility which surprised Harry.

‘Leave him to me,’ Harry told the hotel staff.

As he followed Dung around the corner, Harry pulled out his wand. The scruffy little wizard was only a couple of yards in front of Harry, but ahead of them were two of the biggest bouncers Harry had ever seen. Dung slithered to a halt in front of them.

‘You gotta … let me past,’ Dung begged tearfully; he was panting and coughing. ‘The woman … I love’s in there … I need to tell her … how I feel.’

Harry silently hit Dung with a Leg-Locker curse, followed immediately by a Tongue-Tying curse.

Undeterred, Dung stretched put his arms and tried to drag himself towards the door, but the least enormous of the security wizards placed a foot on Dung’s legs, preventing him from going anywhere. The two burly bouncers stared at Harry.

‘Is you Barry Porter?’ the larger of them asked curiously.

‘He’s Harry Potter, Derek,’ his merely huge companion hissed.

‘Er, yeah, him,’ the larger one said. He tried again. ‘Is you Ginny Weasley’s bloke?’

‘I is, I mean, I am,’ Harry confirmed, bemusedly wondering what on earth was going on.

‘Great,’ the man named Derek said, he fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a torn scrap of paper. ‘She said you was on your way. Here’s my address. It’s for Ginny, ‘cos she promised me.’

Wondering what Ginny had promised the monster man, Harry took the flimsy fragment. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I’ll make sure she gets it.’

‘She’s in there,’ the monster said helpfully. ‘I opened the door for ‘er. Let ‘er in. I did.’ He leaned forward and tapped the side of his nose knowingly. ‘She’s going to ‘ave a baby,’ he added confidentially.

‘I’d noticed,’ Harry told the man dryly. He could hear the sounds of a scuffle coming from behind him, in the hotel foyer, and assumed that Napper and Tepid had arrived, but that they’d been less successful at avoiding the hotel security.

‘Harry,’ Ginny’s voice came from his pocket. He pulled out his mirror.

‘I’ll be right there,’ he told her. ‘Bye.’

Waving his wand, Harry removed the Tongue-Tying curse first.

‘Bloody ‘ell, Harry, why d’you stop me?’ asked Dung. ‘The love of my life’s on the other side of that door. D’you know how that feels?’

‘Yes,’ said Harry. He turned to address the security men. ‘Let us both in, please.’

‘You’ve got an invitation, I’ve seen it,’ the smaller doorman said. ‘But him…’

‘He’s with me,’ Harry said. He released Dung from the Leg-Locker curse, and nodded to the larger doorman, who opened the door.

Mundungus Fletcher wriggled out from under the foot of the smaller doorman, and was through the door in a flash. Harry followed, and was just in time to see the scruffy little wizard in patched and greasy robes and the tall witch in the silver evening gown meet in the middle of the dance floor. They embraced passionately, and kissed.

‘It’s a miracle he can get that close,’ said Ginny, as she sidled alongside Harry and grabbed his hand. ‘That perfume of hers could fell an elephant.

‘Perhaps Dung is counteracting it,’ Harry suggested. ‘His smell could’ve fell from the back end of an elephant.’

Ginny laughed and, for a minute, they silently watched the show. Then Ginny groaned. ‘Eew, tongues,’ she said. ‘Let’s go. I’ve seen enough.’

Harry nodded, took her hand, and led her towards the door. When he opened it, two elderly men barged into the room. One was tall, the other toothless. Both were wearing torn and scruffy robes, and Sid and Derek the security wizards, were hot on their heels.

‘She’s mine,’ the tall man shouted.

‘No mine,’ the toothless one cried.

‘Coco, I love you,’ they yelled simultaneously.’

‘Dung’s friends, Napper and Tepid. They nicked a couple of biscuits,’ Harry told a confused Ginny as the men ran into the centre of the dance floor and tried to part Dung and Coco.

‘Well,’ said Ginny. ‘There will be a lot of scandal for the next issue of Cheat to print. And most of it will involve their editor. Shall we leave them to fight over her?’

They looked up that Sid and Derek, who were simply standing in the doorway, and watching events unfold.

‘Did you give Harry your address, Derek?’ Ginny asked the massive security guard.

‘Yer,’ he told her.

‘Well, I hope you have a good New Year,’ she told him. ‘And if you or your friend Sid get into any trouble with your bosses tell, them to talk to the Head Auror.’

‘Why?’ Derek asked. ‘D’you know him?’

‘Yes,’ Ginny admitted. ‘He’s a Harpies fan,’

‘Smart lad, that Derek,’ Harry said as they walked hand in hand towards the foyer. ‘He told me that you’re pregnant. How did that happen?’

‘Your promotion to Head Auror and a bottle of red wine had something to do with it I believe,’ she said.
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