A/N: Thousand thanks to Sadsnail, my amazing beta.
Pansy burst into Harry's office and threw her outer robe dramatically over the nearest chair. It landed with a heavy thunk followed by a weird rattling, hinting that the flat pockets held much more than the thin fabric would suggest. She whipped out her wand, and the doors of the nearby cabinet opened, letting out a Pensieve. It flew to the opposite desk, spinning madly. Harry winced; this was an ancient Pensieve from the Black vault, rivalled only by Dumbledore's in the whole country, and he did not fancy seeing it fall victim to the witch's temper. The Pensieve was indispensable in their job, and even the DMLE did not have anything half as good as his.
Putting the wand to her temple, Pansy extracted a long silver thread and shook it off her wand with an expression of utmost disgust. She sighed dramatically and flopped down on the chair. Her hair, platinum blonde a moment ago, darkened and grew shorter and shorter into a sleek black bob.
"So…" Harry started.
"Our newly minted Mrs. Smith is indeed having an affair with her great-grandfather-in-law. Her one hundred and thirty-five-year-old great-grandfather-in-law. Getting rid of the memory wasn't nearly enough. I think I need a strong Obliviate and a whole bottle of Ogden's finest to bleach it from my brain."
Harry tried and failed to suppress a bout of laughter, making the witch glare.
"You don't pay me enough for this, Potter."
"Oh, come off it, Parkinson. I know you can't wait to show it to our good old friend Zacharias tomorrow."
"Now that will be a memory worth pensieving, I bet. A belated Christmas present, so to say." Pansy's smile was positively vicious.
"For him or for you?" Harry snickered. "Try not to gloat to his face, at least."
"You know I'm always professional. Unlike some people."
Harry snorted. He loved his job as a private detective. It allowed him to chase and investigate and help people without endless red tape and nepotism of being an Auror. He also enjoyed having new mysteries to uncover without both dark wizards and higher-ups breathing down his neck. He was often more efficient than the slow behemoth of the DMLE, too. Who busted that vampire cult kidnapping muggles last spring? Or found numerous people missing since the Second War that the DMLE had long written off as cold cases? It sure wasn't the Aurors. Not that they ever showed any gratitude. In fact, Robards had been increasingly mad every time Harry showed up in the Department.
Despite all the obstacles the DMLE threw his way, it wasn't those cases that almost made him rethink his choice of occupation sometimes. No, it was the fact that at least half of his and Pansy's jobs involved spying on unfaithful witches and wizards and then dealing with their furious other halves. It was his fifth year of being a PI, not to mention two years of Auror training, and each time Harry thought he lost the capacity of being surprised by anything, his job unfailingly found new and disturbing ways to prove him wrong.
Fortunately, Pansy, whatever she said to the contrary, revelled in this kind of cases, so Harry usually dumped them on her. She was very good with them, too. Still.
"Mocking your clients behind their back is professional?"
Pansy had a tendency to flay anyone who entered their office with her sharp tongue. While some of them did deserve that, she did not need his encouragement.
"I do my job well, and what they don't know won't keep them awake crying at night."
"And what about last week's Twilfitt and Tattings fiasco?"
"What about it?" Pansy crossed her arms over her chest.
"You turned Astoria Greengrass into a cow!" Harry reminded her accusingly. He had to pull in a favour with Dean Thomas to prevent her from being arrested, not to mention spending thirty excruciating minutes smoothing things over with Draco Malfoy.
"I just made sure her outward appearance is in perfect harmony with her inner nature for once. Besides, she is not a client," Pansy scoffed.
Harry sighed. Astoria and Malfoy's wedding was looming ahead, scheduled for June, and he could only hope Pansy would not do anything stupid. The cow incident was quite enough. But as usual, he didn't have the faintest idea of how to deal with other people's feelings. He once again wished the precarious friendship the two women shared nowadays was enough for Pansy to open up to Hermione. For his part, he just could not for the life of him understand the complicated feelings Pansy had for the ferret. Having been on the receiving end of her hexes, though, Harry was not going to bring them up unless he absolutely had to.
"Anyway, do we have anything else today?" Pansy asked, not too subtly changing the topic. "I could really do with a hot bath right now."
"There is another appointment with—" Harry consulted with his planner he had gotten from Hermione for last Christmas. He was sure he had been using it wrong somehow. It was bursting with notes and receipts, and there were cuts of shrivelfigs from the last batch of Polyjuice between the pages. "Mr. Ethelred Farley in 15 minutes. You go home, I can handle this myself."
"What?!" Pansy shrieked. "Ethelred Farley from the Hogwarts Board of Governors? Why haven't you said anything earlier? And no, you absolutely cannot handle this yourself!"
And just like that, Pansy was on her feet again, wand in hand. Their IKEA-bought chairs became plush Victorian ones; the wood of their desks and cabinets turned to dark oak; heavy brocade curtains rolled out over the blinds. Another wave of the wand, and the floors were shining. Small Christmas tree in the corner, featuring a shrunk beer bottle, a miniature Sneakoscope and a dubious snowman-shaped item from the new Weasley Wizard Wheezes' adult line, was turned to display its other side with more traditional ornaments. Harry took up a dirty mug with a picture of a funny reindeer he had on his desk, only for it to transform into a gilded figurine of a stag right in his hands.
"Oi! I've spent two hours figuring out how to finally shut it up!" Harry cried. The blasted thing wouldn't stop belching carols when he poured tea in it.
"So that's how you spend your working hours while I'm doing the grunt work? And you only had to tap its nose. Some detective you are!"
Harry had the decency to blush. "Anyway, I don't care if Her Majesty herself is going to grace us with her visit. I refuse to have these monstrosities in my office," he pointed at the chairs.
"Of course, I forgot who I'm talking to." Pansy huffed but transfigured the chairs into the sensible leather ones. "You've never understood the importance of appearances."
"Nope, not me. And get rid of those curtains, for Merlin's sake!"
Pansy complied, knowing that there were some battles she would never win. She did, however, throw expensive business robes at Harry that he kept in the office for this type of meetings, while waving her wand over her body. Her jeans and sweater changed into business attire. She donned her own robes over it and eyed Harry's hair with distaste but did not comment as it was a lost cause.
"I like it when you use your Transfiguration powers for good." Harry grinned. Transfiguration was Pansy's speciality, while he himself had never been very good at it.
"It's still a mess," Pansy said observing the office critically. "Maybe—" She lifted her wand again.
"No!" Harry leapt to his feet. "No more household spells!"
It took them weeks to put everything in its place after the last time she tried them.
"All right, all right, calm your tits." Pansy pursed her lips and cast Tempus. "We don't have time for that anyway."
Ethelred Farley turned out to be a tall elderly man with impressive moustache and sideburns. Under his forest-green winter cloak, he wore an old-fashioned frock coat and leaned heavily on a cane with an ivory hippogriff-shaped head.
"Welcome to P&P Investigative Services!" Pansy chirped. "Would you care for a cup of tea, Mr. Farley?"
Farley inclined his head with understated dignity that only pure blood and a big vault of gold could bring. Harry couldn't help his apprehension. Despite his long family tree on his father's side and his inheritance—still substantial even after all the reparations he had paid to Gringotts for the war-time heist—he could never feel at ease with this kind of people. Fortunately, Pansy was in her element.
"Mr. Potter," Farley started after a moment of silence. "I'm here today, albeit unofficially for now, in my capacity as a Hogwarts Governor, but also as a concerned member of our community and a grandfather. I have an unusual request that I feel only you would be able to fulfil."
Harry looked at him, face impassive.
"Despite being a proud alumnus of the Slytherin House, or perhaps because of it," Farley continued, "I was quite… apprehensive when my youngest grandson was sorted there the year following your defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. So much so that we even considered transferring him to Beauxbatons. A number of families whose children recently sorted into Slytherin ended up doing that, including three of our Edgar's yearmates."
"Things are that bad? After all this time?"
"The tension is still high. I don't feel that the faculty and, indeed, we as a Board of Governors have done enough to deescalate it. This has resulted in increasingly unpleasant situations that I'm afraid do not elicit an adequate response." He paused, and Harry patiently waited for him to collect his thoughts. "A week before the Christmas holidays, my grandson's friend who, according to Edgar, has suffered from vicious bullying from certain Gryffindors throughout his entire Hogwarts career, just packed his trunk and left Hogwarts with barely a note. He didn't talk to Edgar about his decision, and it seems that the boy's mother isn't aware of his whereabouts either," Farley said. "Now, if it were any other sixth-year, the faculty would insist on a search. But since the boy's last name is Rowle and he is of age, Headmistress McGonagall apparently decided that a heartfelt speech on the dangers of bullying during dinner the next day would suffice."
With a flick of her wand, Pansy summoned a tray with the china tea set. Inclining his head, Farley accepted a steaming cup and took a sip.
"The boy's mother divorced Thorfinn Rowle and took her son with her well before the return of You-Know-Who. To this day, she is suffering from the after-effects of the curse her ex-husband put her under. The boy has more reasons than any other wizard to hate his father, not that it made much difference at Hogwarts. Children can be very cruel, especially if adults all turn a blind eye."
"What about Snape? I don't believe he would let the disappearance of one of his students be swept under the rug just like that," Harry asked. Whatever his opinion about Severus Snape's teaching abilities might be, the man was devoted to his snakes and their well-being.
"Professor Snape is not a Head of Slytherin anymore. As you know, after the war, even with your passionate defence on his behalf, he was sentenced to three years of community service."
"Which were substituted with three years of him working at his old position at Hogwarts." Harry was still incensed about that sentence, especially since Lucius Malfoy got off with a house arrest.
"As a Potions Professor, yes. It was Aurora Sinistra who took over the Slytherin House," said Farley.
"So you want us to investigate Rowle's disappearance?" Harry asked.
"This is a major part of my request. I promised my grandson to look into this matter, and I confess I'm concerned myself. Alexander has visited us every summer, and I can safely say that he is a good boy. Studious, diligent, and not at all reckless. He would not just abandon everything at a drop of a hat."
"I would need to interview your grandson and get access to Hogwarts, preferably covert," Harry said thoughtfully. This would be an excellent opportunity to check if security in Hogwarts had improved in recent years as well.
"Yes, I've already considered this. And it ties to the second part of my assignment, if you agree to take it."
"The second part?"
"You can take on an identity of one of my distant nephews, and I will recommend you as a substitute teacher. This way, you will not only be able to get to the matter of Alexander's disappearance, but also assess the school situation discreetly."
Harry narrowed his eyes at him. "You want me to essentially spy on Hogwarts for you, Mr. Farley?"
Snooping to solve the case was one thing, but this was an altogether different story.
"It is not my intention to use you for my Slytherin agenda if that's what you are worried about," he said, his lips quirking wryly. "If you conclude that my concerns are unfounded, I will leave it at that. And you will not have to come out with your findings personally if you decide against it."
Harry wondered if the choice of words was intentional. He had come out as gay shortly after the war. While it caused a big and somewhat ugly stir, he wasn't going to hide who he was for the comfort of the general Prophet-reading public.
"You are an honourable and fair man, Mr. Potter," Farley continued. "You testified for Severus Snape as well as for Draco and Narcissa Malfoy, even though your dislike for the former two was well-known at the time. You work with another Slytherin graduate here," he bowed to Pansy. That attempted to give you over to Voldemort remained unspoken. "And if there is a person who can force some long-overdue changes, not only about the Slytherin House, but education standards as a whole, it is you."
Harry shifted uneasily. Maybe Farley had only the very best of intentions, and Harry was far from convinced about that, but he was never comfortable to use his name like that.
Sensing Harry's unease, Farley sighed. His gaze wandered beyond Harry's shoulder, to the Pensieve in the glass cabinet.
"I was a Head Boy when an orphan named Tom Riddle came to Hogwarts," he said.
Harry looked at him in shock. The conversation took a turn he didn't expect.
"He wore ratty robes, had second-hand books, and his Slytherin dormmates called him a mudblood. I showed him a couple of mending spells and hinted where to find some hexes should he need them. By the end of the year, Riddle had had the situation in his dorm under control. Truth to be told, I did not pay him much mind, for I had my NEWTS and my future fiancé to occupy myself with. Then I graduated and never thought about him again." Farley tightened his grip on his cane. "I learned what had become of that boy only after the war, from your interview about the history of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It was quite a shock, to say the least, although it certainly explained why all of Tom Riddle's dormmates are long dead. Aurelia Rosier, the fifth-year prefect who repeatedly insulted Riddle's background, was murdered under very mysterious circumstances."
Harry thought about the memories of the Voldemort's past Dumbledore had shared with him in his sixth year. Tom Riddle showed a propensity to evil and sociopathic behaviour since his childhood, but who knew what a different Hogwarts experience might have changed for him.
Farley appeared to be thinking along the same lines. "Perhaps Tom Riddle was always destined to become a Dark Lord. But what if some guidance in his formative years could have put him on a different, less violent path?" He closed his eyes briefly. "And here we are, so many decades since, still repeating our past mistakes."
"Alright, I'll do it," Harry interrupted. He was aware of being manipulated to some extent. Yet if there was really a cause for concern, he wanted to know. Besides, it did make the investigation of the young Rowle disappearance so much easier. "What position do you want me to fill? I'm good at Defence and even have some experience teaching it, but I suppose I can substitute a Muggle Studies Professor or a Quidditch instructor."
"Oh, no need for that," Farley waved him off. "The current Defence Professor is one of the people I want you to keep an eye on. Fortunately, my wife has a second cousin twice removed working at Hogwarts, and she has long insisted that dear Sybil should take a break to sort her... health issues."
"I can't believe I got myself talked into this!" Harry whined not for the first time this morning. He and Pansy spent the last days of the previous year and the first days of the new one crafting persona of one Polyidus Thompson, a homeschooled wizard of dubious fashion sense whose Divination abilities might or might not be on par with Trelawney's. In Harry's opinion, Pansy had entirely too much fun with it, as did Ron and Hermione after Harry told them about the new case at the New Year party.
Ron was predictably doubtful about the whole Slytherin issue, after he had stopped laughing and reminiscing about their glory days of faking dire predictions. Still, he was helpful enough to bring a pile of back issues of The Third Eye , a periodical that put The Quibbler to shame with its conspiracy theories and general madness. Apparently, Aunt Muriel was a true believer.
Despite her general dislike of the subject, Hermione volunteered to outline some lesson plans. She even produced her copy of Unfogging the Future they had bought in their third year, along with colour-coded notes questioning every other sentence in the book. Harry thought about consulting Luna who had just got back from another expedition of hers as well. He already involved more people than usual, though, so he decided to wait on that.
Today, Pansy took Harry shopping and went decidedly overboard with weirdest shirts she could find, bohemian cardigans and, to Harry's horror, a poncho. The thing came past his knees and had a hideous multicolour geometric pattern. She completed the look with an oversized beany and a couple of scarves. He was lucky they decided against going to the wizarding shops, even in disguise, or he would end up with robes worthy of Dumbledore. At least the jeans Pansy insisted on buying were serviceable.
"I don't know why I need them. I have a couple of perfectly good pairs in my closet already."
Pansy huffed. "Those jeans are so last season. And the only reason you have them at all is that I had to bodily drag you to the store."
Harry winced at the memory.
"Your wardrobe is beyond pitiful," she said. "Besides, this way we can put them on our good Mr. Farley's account."
They returned to the office, hours later, laden with bags, since Pansy also insisted on going to the lingerie section. An experience he never wished to repeat.
Pansy produced a vial of Hair-Growing Potion.
"This must be enough to give you shoulder-length hair and maybe even a beard," Pansy said. "You will be at Hogwarts for a long time, so let's try to keep your appearance as natural and magic-free as possible."
Polyjuice was out since sipping from your own flask every hour would be highly impractical, not to mention suspicious. The memory of fake Moody must have been too fresh in the older teacher's minds. Glamours were unreliable and easily dispelled. If used extensively, they also created a disturbing effect Hermione called uncanny valley . They had their use when applied sparingly, to change the colour of his eyes or hair for a short time, but Harry always tried to avoid them if possible.
For his eyes, he decided to go with his usual colour-changing contact lenses, and his scar, faint as it was nowadays, would be covered with concealer he borrowed from Pansy long ago. Curse scars couldn't be disguised with the strongest of glamours, but succumbed to the power of make-up. People expected the scar and the glasses, so even that flimsy disguise usually allowed him to go around unrecognized. And for his hair...
The potion must have worked, because Pansy gasped and burst out laughing. She tried and failed to say something a couple of times before dissolving into fits of guffaws again.
"Is everything alright?" The door to the rest of the building occupied by Weasley's Cursebreaking opened, and Dennis Creevey, Bill and Fleur's apprentice, poked his head inside. "I've just stopped by to drop these cursed necklaces and heard the voices—" Dennis trailed off. He stared at Harry in horrified fascination. "Oh my god, Harry, is that you?"
Harry scowled and marched to the mirror. He had never tried to grow out his hair before, but secretly hoped the length would tame it down a bit. Apparently, it was not the case. Very much not the case. When he called Hermione the sister he never had, he did not mean it that way.
The beard was pretty neat, though.
"Well, at least I don't think anybody at Hogwarts will recognize you now," Pansy said, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Maybe a wig instead?" Harry asked hopefully.
"None of that!" She put a beany on his head.
All too soon, the winter holidays were coming to an end. An owl from Ethelred Farley informed them that Polyidus Thompson was expected at Hogwarts a day before the start of the term for a staff meeting.
"I had Dennis put protective enchantments on your Seer robes and spell the pockets with Extendable Charms," Pansy said.
"You know that Dennis actually works for Bill and Fleur, and you cannot just order him around all the time, right?" asked Harry. Dennis had a crush on Pansy and followed her like a lost puppy, a fact that Pansy used shamelessly. "And it's not a Seer robe, it's a fucking poncho!"
Pansy waved him away. "They just hired him because Bill didn't want pregnant Fleur to deal with all those cursed necklaces herself. Creevey has entirely too much free time on his hands, so I'm just doing everyone a favour, really."
Harry snorted. There was no point arguing with Pansy on that.
"Would you prefer me to charm your pockets?" she asked.
Harry shook his head empathetically.
"Yes, I thought so."
"Did you find Rowle's mother?" Harry asked.
Pansy scowled. "Surprisingly hard woman to find. I suppose it makes sense considering who her ex-husband is," she said. "Anyway, I'm on it. I owled her already on behalf of the Board of Governors. Asked about her son and tried to arrange a meeting. She replied that she hadn't heard from him, but she's not up to any visitors and couldn't we kindly go screw ourselves."
"Maybe try St. Mungo's. According to Farley, she still suffers from some curse from that bastard," Harry said with a shudder, recalling his own encounter with Thorfinn Rowle at the beginning of his Auror training.
"Yeah, yeah, I know my job. Off you go! Unveil some mysteries of the past and future or something."
And so, with final warnings against human transfiguration to Pansy, Harry apparated to Hogwarts gates.