Author's Notes: Many thanks to queenb23more, rdprice29, and sherylyn for their super-speedy betaing skilz, and to ohginnyfan, who helped fill in some plot holes I'd left in the original draft. Special thanks to mollywheezy, who's been an amazing idea bouncer-offer while I was writing this.
This is my first attempt at something AU, although it's not all that AU, really. This was written for Itsbeenvery for the Keeping Secrets fest at the takingitinturns community at Livejournal. Itsbeenvery requested tax fraud and audits, bad disguises, and tongue twisters. Be prepared for lots of alliteration. :)
Harry Potter Publishing Rights belong to J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. 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.
Chapter 1: Perplexing Puzzle
"Bloody, buggering hell," Ginny Weasley grumbled to herself as she looked around the crowded pub, searching for her date. No, she reminded herself, 'date' wasn't the right word, no matter how much she wished it were. Maybe friend was more accurate. Or dinner partner. Or…something. She shook her head; it wasn't worth thinking about right now. The important thing was that she was looking for Harry, and what she called him at the moment was immaterial—they had a long-standing weekly dinner…meeting. Date. She huffed in disgust at her inability to find the right word. Whatever they called it, they met every Wednesday at half-seven at the Gryphon and Unicorn. Sometimes, Neville or her brothers would join them, but it was usually just her and Harry, some butterbeer or ale (if she wasn't on duty), and the best fish and chips in England.
She almost hadn't showed today. Not because she didn't want to see Harry, but because she was certain to be horrible company after the day she'd had. Her partner had been an arse (which was nothing new) but he'd been a bigger arse than normal that morning. She'd been impressed, almost. She hadn't known it was even possible for someone to be that much of an arse, even if his name was Draco Malfoy.
She brushed the rain droplets off her dark blue Auror's uniform and scanned the pub again, looking for Harry's trademark black hair. Her gaze skimmed over and then returned to stop on a redhead with a long bushy beard, and she rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. He was trying—and failing—to disguise himself. Again. She threaded her way through the tables over to him and dropped into the seat.
"Nice beard," she said, eying his so-called disguise. "Honestly, Potter, is that the best you can do?"
Harry ran his hand through his hair self-consciously. "How'd you know it was me?"
She raised her eyebrow at him and reached across the table to take some of his crisps and a swig of his butterbeer. He rolled his eyes. "Help yourself," he said dryly.
"Thanks," she said, sitting in the chair across from him. She was starving— she'd been on duty since half-six that morning, she hadn't had a chance for breakfast or lunch, and her day had been utter rubbish—so she pulled the basket and bottle of butterbeer over to her side of the table. She finished the rest of his crisps and drained the butterbeer, leaning back in her chair to give him an assessing look. "Your beard doesn't match your moustache, Harry. Wrong texture. And the colour's all wrong. It's too red—you look like you stuck your head into a vat of George's Roughish Rouge. Besides, your hair's still doing its—" she moved her hands to imitate spikes around her head—"thing, just in red instead of black. Did you even bother to look at yourself in a mirror this morning?"
He looked sheepish. "Didn't have time," he mumbled. "Collins kept us late, so I rushed it a bit."
"A bit?" Ginny asked.
"A bit. I almost didn't make it here on time."
Ginny shrugged her shoulders. "I almost didn't make it here at all."
"Rough day?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"You don't know the half of it," she said. "You know that…erm…incident with Pansy Parkinson last week? In the park?" Harry nodded. "Yeah, well, Robards wasn't too impressed by that. He assigned me to records on top of my normal duties, so I have to go in early every morning for the next two weeks."
Harry winced, and Ginny winced with him. She didn't have a reputation for being a morning person, and everyone knew it.
"So I was in the office at half-six this morning—without breakfast, I'll have you know—"
"Too bad I wasn't there. I'd've cooked for you."
She flashed him a grin. "I know you would've. Anyway, I have to file all the night reports, which wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to read and summarize them all first."
Harry blinked. "That sounds…"
"Like torture?" Ginny asked, grimacing. "It is. Did you know that between eleven and midnight, four people Splinched themselves while leaving nightclubs? Or that there were three drunks caught urinating on magical monuments, seven vandalism calls, two cases of Muggle-baiting, and five incidences of indecent exposure? The indecent exposure was all the same bloke; he was pissed and kept flashing his bits to everyone he saw. Demelza wasn't too impressed with his…endowments, if her notes in the report are correct."
Harry choked on a laugh. "She wrote that in her report?"
"Oh, yes," Ginny said, "in excruciating detail."
Harry shook his head. "Oh, the glamorous life of an Auror."
She kicked him under the table good-naturedly. "Whose turn is it to buy?" she asked, tipping her head toward the bar.
"I'll get it," Harry volunteered. "D'you want your usual or are you going to be adventurous tonight?"
She tilted her head, considering, and said, "The usual, I think. Those reports were adventure enough for me today." She watched as he went up to the bar and placed their order, coming back with two pints of ale. It was hard to miss that she wasn't the only woman watching—he was quite fit, the ridiculous disguise notwithstanding—and she tamped down on the jealousy that was bubbling up inside her. She had no claim on him, other than as his friend, she reminded herself.
"And how was your day?" she asked, once he had their food and drinks and joined her again.
He shrugged and took a bite of his fish, chasing it down with a swig of ale. "The usual. We had practice this morning and a scrimmage this afternoon."
"And you caught the Snitch, I presume?" Ginny asked, smirking.
Harry shot her an exasperated look. "Yes, and…?"
"Nothing, nothing," she said gaily. She had a bet with George as to when Harry would lose his first race to the Snitch, and if he could make it two more weeks, she'd be twenty Galleons richer…but she didn't think Harry would appreciate knowing that.
"At least we've got the next two weeks off," he said, "or mostly off. We've got to go in for team meetings in the mornings, but we're supposed to be done by ten, and we're supposed to keep doing our conditioning on our own. But other than that, they're giving us a bit of a break before the season starts in earnest."
"Yeah?" Ginny said wistfully. "Wish I could have some time off. What are you going to do with yourself? Laze about the house answering your fan mail?"
Harry made a face at her. "No, I'm not going to 'laze about the house answering my fan mail,'" he said. "I'm no Lockhart."
She patted his hand. "I know you're not, Harry," she said. "You could always work on your disguises. You know, see if you can make your beard look real and not something from one of those Muggle costume shops."
"Is it really that bad?" he asked again. She grinned and he sighed, defeated. "Yeah, it is, isn't it? Bugger. Maybe..." he looked at her, a strange sort of gleam in his eye, "maybe you could teach me how to do it right. You aced your Stealth and Disguises training, didn't you?"
She felt her face flush. "I wasn't that good."
He snorted. "From what I hear, you fooled the head of the MLES." He tilted his head and started blinking his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "Please, Ginny? I need all the help I can get. The fangirls..." His expression turned serious and he grimaced. "They're getting worse and worse. I can't even go for a walk in my own back garden without having someone outside the wards trying to spy on me."
She shook her head. "All right, all right. No need to beg." She gave him a considering look. "Yeah. I'll do it. But we've got to go see my brothers first."
"Thanks, Ginny," Harry said, "you're the best. But...why your brothers?"
"Because outside the Department, WWW's got the best selection of costuming supplies," she said, standing up and taking one last drink of her ale. "Besides, I haven't seen the plonkers in a while. I miss them." She stared at him. "Are you coming then, Potter, or you planning on sitting there all night?"
"What? Oh. Yeah, I'm coming."
She grinned. Harry was a bit adorable when he was befuddled.
"Oi, gits!" Ginny shouted when they'd stepped through the door of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. "You lot in?" She'd had to unlock the door on her own since the shop was closed for the evening. Luckily, George had condescended to letting family get through the wards mostly unscathed. She'd have to check the mirror once she got home, though. The last time she'd been to visit, she'd come home with stripes of blue flashing lights in her hair. She'd had a devil of a time explaining that to her boss.
She grinned when Percy stuck his head through the door leading to the back of the shop. "We're back here, Ginevra," he said. "Hello, Harry."
Ginny rolled her eyes. Percy had lightened up a lot since the war, but some things never changed.
She motioned to Harry as she followed Percy past the counter and into the back room, dropping a kiss on his cheek and punching Ron in the shoulder as she perched on the desk.
"Ginny," George said, sounding very happy to see her, "what are you doing here this fine, fateful evening? And who is the devilish don you're with?"
Ginny looked back at Harry to see he still hadn't removed his beard or changed his hair back to its normal colour. "Honestly, Potter, I have no idea how you expect to get by if you can't even manage to change back to normal by yourself." She withdrew her wand to get rid of Harry's disguise, but he beat her to it, cancelling the spells himself.
"O-ho. It's young Mr Potter," George said. "Ronald, Percival, look who's here. The Saviour of the Wizarding World, the star of the Appleby Arrows, the Most Eligible Bachelor in all of Great Britain…"
Harry raised his eyebrows. "You know, George," he said, "that even though I'm not an Auror like Ginny, here, I can still wield my wand quite handily." There was a beat before he hastily added, "Not that wand, this wand. I mean, the one I cast spells with. I mean…"
"Harry," Ginny said, laughing, "shut it. You're only making it worse."
He bumped her with his shoulder and she laughed. She was proud of herself—she'd actually managed to get through a conversation about Harry's…wand…without blushing—her training as an Auror was coming in handy, after all. Harry, on the other hand, hadn't been so fortunate, and George and Ron had leapt at the chance to take the mickey out of him.
"Sod off, you lot," he said. "You know what I meant."
"You two eaten?" Ron asked. "I was going to pick up some curry. Want some?"
"Nah, we ate earlier," Harry answered. "Thanks, though."
"Well, I'm starving!" Ron selected a sweet from a bowl sitting on the table and popped it into his mouth. "Sybil stupefies spiders in the cellar." Ron laughed. "Maybe that's why I didn't like Trelawney."
Harry and Ginny both looked at Ron as if he'd grown a second head, and he grinned and ate another toffee. "A box of mixed biscuits, a mixed biscuit box."
"For the love of— what are you on about, Ron?" Ginny asked.
George and Ron started laughing at Ginny's reaction. "Go on and get the food, Ron, I'll explain."
He waited until Ron had left before saying, "It's our latest product: Truth Twisters. They make you talk in tongue-twisters, with a twist." He paused to grin at them. "Whatever you say right after you chew one is the absolute truth. See, look." He popped a sweet into his mouth. "Angry Angelina is an angelic angel; what an angelic angel angry Angelina is."
Harry snorted. "What'd you do to make her angry?"
"I don't think I want to know," Ginny murmured. "Sometimes you're better off in the dark. Trust me."
"Want one?" George asked, offering them to Harry, who shook his head, looking a bit nervous.
"Oh, go on, Harry. They're perfectly safe. Look, even Percy will eat one. Won't you, Perce?"
"If I must," Percy answered.
"Of course you must," George said. "It's in your contract, clause ten, paragraph twenty-four."
Percy rolled his eyes. "Of course it is," he said, taking the sweet from his brother. Ginny laughed at his disgruntled expression.
"Perfect prefect Percy pricked pickles with pins," he said, the tips of his ears turning bright red when he finished.
"Really?" George said, drawing the word out. "And what would you be doing pricking pickles with pins, perfect Prefect Percy?"
Percy gave George a haughty look. "That," he said, "is none of your business."
"Well, la-de-da," George said. He turned to offer the toffees to Harry again. "Sure you don't want to try one?"
Harry's gaze slid to Ginny for just a second before going back to George. "I'm sure, thanks," he said. He looked around the workroom. "What else new have you got?"
Ginny let her mind wander when George started rattling off new products and what they did, although she did keep her eye on Harry. Just for the sake of making sure her brothers didn't try to trick him into testing something, of course, because she wasn't watching him. She wondered a bit at the looks she'd seen him give her that evening, at the pub and again when he refused to try the toffee (although she had to admit that showed his good sense more than anything) but eventually decided she was just imagining them.
Her attention shifted back to George and Percy who were arguing, again, about what Percy had been doing to the poor, defenceless pickles. She caught Harry's eye, and they grinned at each other. By that time, George and Percy had got so loud in their yelling that she almost missed the owl tapping on the window.
"George," she said, "you've an owl." They ignored her. "George! " Finally, she reached over and slapped him on the back of the head.
"Oi! What was that for?"
"If you two would quit arguing over perfect prefect Percy and his pickle pricking prowess for a few seconds, you'd realise you've got an owl." She grinned when Harry winked at her.
George gave her a disgruntled look. "And I was just about to figure out why Perce here was pricking pickles. Fine. Let's have it, then. There's treats and water over there," he told the owl after he'd untied the letter.
His expression first was disbelieving, then confused, and finally settled on incredulous. "What's the matter, George?" Ginny asked.
"We're being audited," he said. "Something about discrepancies in our books and owing back taxes for the past—" he checked the letter again— "two years?" He looked at Percy and raised his eyebrow.
"There's obviously been some mistake," Percy said. "We've paid every year, right on time. And as for there being discrepancies in the books?" He looked haughty again. "It's impossible. I don't mean to brag, but I'm very meticulous."
"We know you are, Percy," Harry said. "That's why George and Ron asked you to help out."
"Well, we'll just get the ledger and we'll just prove to them we're right, then," George said. "There's to be a hearing in two weeks."
"It's right here," Percy said, walking over to his desk and unlocking the drawer. "See—"
"Percy?" Ginny asked when he started rummaging franticly through the drawer, pulling things out and tossing them on the desk.
"I don't understand," he said. "It was right here yesterday. I entered in the day's proceeds and locked it back in the drawer, like I do every day. I know it was there."
"We believe you, Percy," Ginny said.
"No, you don't understand. I don't lose things." He started looking around the room, under the desk, even going so far as to look behind the portrait of Fred. "I can still tell you where to find the very first book Mum and Dad bought for me. I'm positive I locked the ledger in the drawer." He started rummaging through it again.
"Wait," Ginny said. "Has there been anyone else back here? Other than the five of us, I mean?"
"Not that I know of," Percy said, looking at George. He shook his head.
"Right," Ginny said, taking over. "Don't touch anything else. We need to wait for Ron to get back and see if he noticed anyone. There's something not right about this situation."
"Well!" Percy exclaimed, looking quite put out. "What we have here is an arcanum arcanorum."
End chapter 1
A/N part 2:
Ron's tongue twister about the biscuits came from www[dot]indianchild[dot]com/tongue_twisters[dot]htm. The rest either came from my twisted mind or from the brilliance that is mollywheezy. Arcanum arcanorum means secret of secrets or mystery of mysteries.
This is chapter 1 of 4; the story is complete, other than one last run-through of the last part by my uber-cool super-beta, ohginnyfan. I'm planning on posting another chapter every other day or so until it's done.