1. Introduction: Dogged Pursuit
Ron Weasley looked up from his desk in the Auror Office. Next to him, Harry Potter sat silently staring at the partition screen behind his own desk. He was deep in thought.
Ron looked at his own partition and smiled. A photograph of Hermione, looking tanned and relaxed in Rhodes Old Town, smiled back. The photograph had been taken two days before the end of their holiday last summer. Hermione wore shorts and a cropped vest. Ron gazed at her lean brown limbs and flat brown stomach and ruefully looked at his own pale freckled skin. Hermione and Harry had returned from that holiday well tanned. He and his sister had returned pink-skinned and rather more freckled than normal.
Ron glanced at the two other pictures pinned to his partition. First was the latest Weasley Christmas photo. It showed a dozen people: his parents; Bill and Fleur (who had been five months pregnant when the photo was taken); Charlie; Percy; George, with Fleur's cousin what's-her-name—Claudine (that relationship had lasted nine weeks, which was a record for George); himself and Hermione and Harry and Ginny. Audrey Midgen had been happy to take the snap, as she refused to appear in front of the camera. Ron had no idea what Percy saw in her.
The second picture was the 1999/2000 Chudley Cannons squad—the squad which, last month, had managed the club's first away win in five seasons. Ginny had been highly amused by Ron's celebrations, but diehard Cannons fan that he was, Ron knew how important it was to celebrate every small victory. His sister's voice echoed in his mind: "Because you know full well that you won't live long enough to see any large victories."
Ron was bored. He hadn't realised how boring Auror work was, sitting at a desk reading reports and occasionally checking out sightings of wanted men which almost invariably led nowhere. Harry seemed to enjoy it, but Ron often found that he had other things on his mind. He needed to persuade George to diversify the business again.
Looking through the stock while he'd been helping George tidy up, Ron had realised that Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had never been only a joke shop. George had not liked to hear that, but even during the year they had started the business they had sold other stuff: shield cloaks, gloves, and decoy detonators. Magical equipment and Ministry contracts, Ron realised—that was where the money was.
When Ron had found the Joke Portbook Fred and George had been working on just before the battle, he'd opened the book inside the shop and instantly found himself standing outside in the street, in his underwear. The Portkey office had been less than happy to discover that a trainee Auror had activated an unauthorised Portkey, but it had given Ron an idea; a practical use for Portkeys that were activated by an opening or closing action rather than being time or touch sensitive.
It had taken them months to perfect the spell, but the result was the Weasley Portkey Handcuffs. What was just another throwaway idea for a joke from Fred had led to a lucrative Ministry contract which had brought George's business back from the brink of bankruptcy.
Ron knew that the business had been struggling since the war, but George had refused to listen to his little brother. Just last week, after twenty months in the Auror Office, working and training, Ron had finally finished repaying Harry his Triwizard winnings. Harry didn't need the money, and he'd said so. But the money was important for another reason. Whatever Harry thought, the money that he had given to Fred and George to start up the business was a debt. Now Ron had repaid it. And that meant that George now owed not Harry, but Ron.
For months Ron had been helping his brother to keep the struggling business afloat. He had been George's unpaid advisor and assistant, but George refused to acknowledge it. 'I don't mind you helping, little Ronnie, but just remember that I am now the sole owner of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes,' George had told him months earlier, just after the Portcuffs had been launched. Ron knew then that he'd have to force George into accepting him as a partner.
'Are you ever going to repay that startup loan you got from Harry?' Ron had demanded of George the previous weekend.
'He's never asked for it,' George had said.
'He never would, you know that,' Ron told his brother scornfully. 'But don't worry; I've paid him back for you. Now you owe ime/i that money, George.'
George had seen the look in Ron's eye and realised, too late, what had happened. He'd blustered and protested, but it had done no good. Ron had rechecked the books, found what he expected, and demanded a majority share of the business. George had argued, ranted, raged, haggled, and finally even appealed to their parents. After much negotiation Ron finally accepted a fifty percent share and partnership—which was really all he had wanted.
Returning from his gloating daydreams, Ron again watched Harry. He was still staring at the partition screen behind his desk, staring into space. Ron closed his eyes and pictured Harry's partition. He knew that it was much more cluttered than his own.
At the top left was Ginny's first publicity photo for the Harpies, the one taken on the day she signed her contract. Ginny hated it; she thought that she looked nervous. Harry loved it; he thought that she looked cute. Ron would never admit it, but he knew that they were both correct. That photograph was one of the few things Harry and Ginny disagreed over.
Next to it was a large photo taken at last October's DA reunion. The DA had met in a private room upstairs at the Leaky Cauldron. Harry had somehow managed to persuade Professor McGonagall to allow their youngest member, Dennis Creevey, who was now in his sixth year, to leave the school for the day in order to attend.
Then came the Weasley Christmas photo, the only photo Harry and Ron had in common. Below it was a second Christmas photo, this one of Ginny. Ron's sister was rather drunk and proudly holding a Ginny Weasley action figure. Beneath that was a photo of Ginny in Rhodes Town. She was wearing a wide-brimmed straw sun hat, a short strappy top and a very short skirt.
Harry, Ron realised, wasn't looking at the photos; he was looking below them, at "The List". Like his friend, Ron knew "The List" by heart:
By the Auror Office
For Questioning with Regard to Events at the Battle of Hogwarts
CAUTION: Extremely Dangerous. Do Not Approach.
Contact Auror Office Immediately!
Carl Caldecott, Igor Ibbotson, Gordon Payne, Sigbert Scabior, Zachary Youen
CAUTION: dangerous, do not approach.
Contact Auror Office immediately!
Miles Bletchley, Millicent Bullstrode, Marcus Flint, Gregory Goyle
CAUTION: dangerous, do not approach.
Contact Auror Office immediately!
Nearly two years had passed since the battle, and there were still ten people to find. Harry was still staring, but now he was smiling grimly. From the look on his friend's face, Ron was certain of one thing—Harry had an idea.