A Boon for Bill
a HP fanfic by canoncansodoff
When life gives you plot lapses, turn them into fluffy, slightly-smutty plot lapse-ade. Thanks to godogma for pointing out the issue, and for godogma and alix33 for looking an earlier version of this update.
Guest appearances by Malice and The Dirk of D'oh! courtesy of "Where the Wild Things Bank." Oh, and given the need to work around my carelessness, there will be a third part to this expanded chapter. Sorry. Wanted to end up at a point of final departure, but that was looking like a long, rambling journey from where this update starts. If it's any consolation, Molly isn't going to do anything in this chapter to infuriate a reader any more than they might already be infuriated.
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who posted a review of the last chapter of this story. It's the first time that I've gotten more than a hundred responses to a single update.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no money being made, etc. , etc.
Canon Question of the day: Did she really expect us to accept the notion that every time turner in existence (or at least within the territorial limits of magical Britain) was destroyed the night that Snuffles snuffed it?
Chapter 10: Behind the Curtain (Molly's Clock, intermezzo)
While Hermione and Harry were worried, they were not nearly as concerned and uncertain as Fleur. When she realized this fact, the Muggleborn witch asked, "Is something else wrong?"
Fleur glanced towards Harry, then shook her head and replied, "No...Nuth-zing!"
Hermione frowned, then turned towards Harry and whispered something into his ear. He nodded, then asked whether he should get a head start back to the house with Ron and Ginny (once, of course, they were revived from their magical naps). His thoughtfulness was rewarded with a tender kiss on his cheek.
Once they were woken, Ron and Ginny didn't need any incentive to leave the pack-up to others and get first crack at having their Mother's shocking modesty charms removed. As soon as Harry and the two Weasleys were down the path and out of hearing range, Hermione asked Fleur if she wanted to talk about her concerns.
"Eet….eet is zat your 'Arry can no longer trust my Bill!" the older witch replied. "And so, I will looze 'im!"
Choosing to ignore the return of her roomate's thick accent, Hermione instead pulled the other witch into a sympathetic hug. "Oh, Fleur…things are going to work out."
"You think so?"
Hermione nodded. "Even if it was more than just a memory lapse, and Bill acted more in the bank's interests than Harry's…I'm certain that he had little choice in the matter. Probably some employee loyalty oaths involved."
"Eet doez not matter!" Fleur declared. "I wheel looze Bill's love, and 'Arry wheel looze your love, and…"
Hermione's eyes widened. She gave Fleur a reassuring squeeze, then pulled away and asked, "Now what's all this about us losing our loves?"
Fleur sniffed. "Eet ees very simple. Eef 'Arry can not trust Bill's word, zen he wheel not take my Bill to be his liegeman. And eef Bill ees not 'Arry's liegeman, zen 'Arry can not grant Bill a boon. And eef a boon can not be granted, zen I must still be on 'Arry's 'ook for zee life debts. And eef I must be sitting on 'Arry's 'ook, zen there ees no room for you to sit on eet as well, even eef zee bits are dragon-sized!"
Hermione chewed on her lower lip as she thought through Fleur's logic. The end of that chain was tenuous, since it discounted the possibility of Hermione's willingness to share Harry's "hook"…but it certainly wasn't the right time to point this out. So she gave Fleur a reassuring hug, and asked her to reserve judgment before hearing Bill's side of the story.
It took a few minutes for the two witches to pack everything up and get the beach back into the bag. Hermione distracted Fleur by asking if she was going to complain about Molly's shocking twist to the Praetego spell. The righteous indignation generated by this question quickly carried the two witches through the packing, and down the path that led to the Burrow's back door.
Fleur was smart enough to wait until after they had opened their dressing gowns and Molly had removed the Praetego spells from their swim costumes before she launched into a loud protest over being treated as if she was one of the witch's under-aged children. The matriarch was just as quick to loudly defend her actions, stating that if Fleur didn't like the rules of the house then she was free to leave. Fleur spat back that Molly damn well knew that Dumbledore had ordered Bill and her to spend the Summer holiday at the Burrow. This really set Molly off, as she hissed about keeping Order business secret, and ordered Hermione upstairs to change out of her swim costume.
Hermione was quick to comply once she learned that Harry was already upstairs.
The bushy-haired witch glanced down the hall from the top of the stairs and noticed that the door to Ron's room was shut. She then turned towards Harry's bedroom…and felt a wash of worry as it streamed out of the opened door.
That her boyfriend was worrying over the situation was perfectly understandable. That she could now actually feel that worry was also easily explained by the fact that Hedwig was transmitting her boyfriend's emotions as she sat on his lap. He was still dressed in his swim costume, and was sitting on the edge of his bed as he ran his fingers down the owl's feathered back.
Hermione walked up to the doorway and quietly asked, "You okay?"
The teen-aged wizard looked up and shrugged.
"You can't tell?"
"Like I said back at the beach, I just think we need to wait to hear what Bill has to say," Hermione replied. "So where's Ron and Ginny?"
"In their rooms, I imagine."
Hermione looked over her shoulder and listened to a bit more of the ongoing argument between Fleur and Molly as it drifted up the stairs from the kitchen. Then she returned her gaze towards Harry and waggled her eyebrows.
"Fancy a distraction, then?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well…can't do much until Bill gets back from work, so…I just thought that if everyone else is busy at the moment, and if your spell is removed, and if my spell is removed…then there's nothing to shock us if we…you know…"
Harry snorted. "Would I be too much of a daft git if I said that I really wasn't in the mood right now?"
"Of course not," Hermione replied. "I'm probably the insensitive one just to have suggested it."
"Not that I don't appreciate the suggestion," Harry was quick to note. "It's just that aside from…things going the way that they seem to be going… with our luck we'd be caught out."
"I suppose," said Hermione, as she slumped against the side of the doorway. She stole another glance over her shoulder, then coyly asked, "Does that mean that you'd appreciate a distraction, so long as we couldn't get caught?"
Harry arched an eyebrow. "Have something in mind?"
Hermione gave her boyfriend a sly smile as she reached into the pocket of her dressing gown and pulled out her charmed sunglasses.
A breath caught in Harry's throat as he watched his girlfriend slip the sunglasses into place and give him an obvious look up and down. She licked her lips, then seductively whispered "Oh, Mr. Potter…is that a familiar on your lap or are you just happy to see me?"
Harry pulled Hedwig a little closer to his body and stammered, "Erm…."
Hermione asked, "So do you have your sunglasses handy, Harry?"
Her boyfriend's gaze darted towards his own dressing gown, which was tossed over the back of his desk chair.
"Left them in my pocket," he replied.
"Well that's good," Hermione replied in a husky tone of voice. She then shocked her boyfriend (in a figurative manner) by reaching for the sash of her dressing gown.
"Hermione…what are you…"
"Just getting as comfortable as you are," she stated, as she worked the knot in her sash free. "Nothing inappropriate about walking around the house in just our swim costumes, is there? We both still have head-to-toe coverage."
Hermione smiled as she let go of the untied ends of her sash, and allowed the front of her dressing gown to slip open. Harry stared goggle-eyed at the four-inch wide vertical strip of swim costume fabric that was now exposed, and tried to imagine what he'd be seeing if he was wearing his sunglasses. Hermione giggled as she turned her ear towards the hallway.
"Oh, darn…sounds like Fleur and Molly are winding down," she lamented. The teen-aged witch then casually pushed the left side of her dressing gown all of the way off of her chest and slowly dragged a finger across a very perky cloth-covered nipple.
"What are you doing?" Harry hissed.
"Making sure that it was safe to touch my bits," Hermione replied matter-of-factly. "Did you check if it was safe for you touch your bits?"
"Not exactly," said Harry. He looked down towards his crotch and added, "But I don't think that Hedwig would be sitting so comfortably right now if she hadn't."
"Perhaps," Hermione replied. "Might want to check for yourself, just to be sure."
"Maybe later," said Harry.
Hedwig turned her head 180 degrees and gave Harry a rather reproachful look. Then, without warning, she launched herself off of his lap and glided across the room towards her perch.
"Traitor!" Harry gasped, as he reflexively covered his crotch with his hands.
Setting the brief flash of uncovered bits into her long-term memory, Hermione asked, "I guess that Hedwig thought it was good a time to check too?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Maybe you'd like to double-check?"
"No maybes about it, Mister," Hermione asserted, as pushed the other half of her dressing gown to the side and exposed even more of her swim costume. She nodded back over her shoulder towards the hallway and said, "We'll just have to find the right time."
"Sounds good to me."
Acting with uncharacteristically impish impulse, Hermione suddenly dashed towards Harry's desk, and plucked his charmed sunglasses out of the pocket of his dressing gown.
"Hey!" the teen-aged wizard protested, as his girlfriend scampered back towards the door. "Where are you going with those?"
"Well, if you aren't using them at the moment, then maybe somebody else would like to…"
"Don't you dare!"
"So you do want to use them, then?"
"Why yes, I think I do."
"Then, catch!" said Hermione, as she tossed the charmed sunglasses towards her boyfriend.
Without thinking, the teen-aged wizard reached up with both hands and snagged the eyewear out of the air. He held them there for a moment, before he glanced down and realized that he'd just done a magical full Monty.
"Ooh, la la!" Hermione said with a laugh, as she reached up and pretended to play with the focal point of her sunglasses.
Harry growled as he removed his normal corrective eyewear with one hand and lifted his magical sunglasses up towards his face with the other, "I'll ooh la la you, Missy!"
"Yikes!" Hermione squeaked, as she hastily pulled her dressing gown shut.
"Hey, no fair!" Harry pouted, as he pushed his normal glasses back into place, then grabbed a pillow and pulled it onto his lap.
Ron, with typically inopportune timing, chose this very moment to open his bedroom door and enter the hallway behind Hermione.
"Hey, what's not fair?" he called out.
Hermione quickly pocketed her sunglasses, then turned towards Ron and said, "Erm, nothing much…I was just telling Harry what the fuss was all about downstairs."
Ron pursed his lips as he glanced over Hermione's shoulder towards Harry.
"Is that so?" the red-head asked warily.
Harry shrugged. "Well, it's not like we need an extendable ear to eavesdrop. You think that Fleur stands a chance?"
Ron's eyes shifted from Harry to Hermione, then back again. Then he shrugged, said, "This is my mum, right?"
The power of a full bladder then overwhelmed any lingering suspicions Ron might have had, and he dashed off towards the loo.
Hermione waited until Ron closed the door behind him before she risked spinning around towards Harry. Harry had tossed the pillow to the side and now stood up from the bed, sunglasses in hand.
"So did you like what you see?" he asked.
Hermione glanced down at Harry's crotch and quipped, "It's quite obvious that you did."
"I suppose Hedwig is still broadcasting?"
"Yeah, and so is her perch," Hermione giggled.
Harry frowned. "But…you're not wearing your sunglasses."
Hermione shrugged. "Which means that Molly's spells aren't blocking my view of your dragon-sized tent."
Harry looked down, and grinned sheepishly.
"I hope that you don't blame me for the reaction."
Hermione shook her head. She once again pulled her dressing gown open, nodded towards her chest, and asked, "That would be rather hypocritical of me, don't you think?"
Harry chuckled as he stared blatantly at his girlfriend's costume-covered perky points. He looked down towards his pair of sunglasses, and asked, "Do you think that Fleur could swap corrective lenses into these things? It's really not fair that I have to choose one or the other."
His girlfriend giggled. "You wouldn't have to choose if your near-sighted eyes were close enough to focus in on your objects of interest, would you?"
Harry's eyebrows arched.
"I don't know," he said with mock caution. He took a step towards her and said, "I'd have to be really, really close…"
Hermione waggled her eyebrows and thrust her chest towards her boyfriend. "Well," she purred, "If that's what's it takes…"
Harry nodded, and swapped regular glasses for sunglasses as he took two more steps towards his girlfriend…only to freeze when they both heard the toilet flush.
"Damn," he muttered. "I was all set to confirm your touch test."
"Guess you'll just have to touch yourself," she said with a smile.
Harry let out a sigh of frustration as his girlfriend blew him a kiss then ran down the hallway before Ron emerged from the lavatory.
Once inside her bedroom, Hermione leaned back against the closed bedroom door and shook her head, amazed at how much of a tease she had just been. She wondered whether Harry had enjoyed her playful (and lust-charged) distraction.
The answer came a few moments later, when a wave of raw orgasmic release blasted across Hedwig's transmission lines.
As the cart driver pulled away, Bill looked at his watch and quietly cursed. The mid-afternoon track traffic had been lighter than he had expected, allowing him to reach the cavern that contained Chokebar's office ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting time. And with nothing on-hand to productively soak up some time, there was nothing else he could do other than steel himself for a chilly (and profane) reception as he presented himself to his supervisor's secretary.
"Good afternoon, Malice," Bill snarled, using his most guttural Gobbledegook. "I am here for my meeting with Chokebar."
The female goblin looked up from her desk and bared her teeth.
"Three minutes early, you worthless wizard shit!" she spat. "You have nothing more profitable to do with your time than wait for an appointment with your dick in your hand?"
Bill's eyes narrowed as he summoned up the courage to reply in kind.
"Actually, Malice, I'd consider shoving my dick down your throat, if I thought that you were talented enough to get me off that amount of time!"
The female goblin reached up into her hair and pulled out a knife-edged comb. She waved the blade towards Bill…then smiled.
"Not a bad retort, you ugly son of a bitch," she said. "We'll turn you into a goblin yet!"
Bill snorted. "Not if becoming a goblin means that I'd have to cut half of my todger off, just to look the part!"
"Oh, you wouldn't have to cut it, luv," the secretary said sweetly. "Plenty of girls in the steno pool would gladly volunteer to help me nibble it down to size."
The curse breaker let out a sigh. "Yes, well…I'll keep that in mind."
The smutty, yet surprisingly office-appropriate banter (which Malice had insisted was all part of Bill's on-the-job training as a Gringotts account manager) was interrupted when a crystal lit up on her desk.
"You can go in, now," said Chokebar's secretary.
Bill nodded, and kept one eye towards the female goblin as he approached the stone door.
"A little help, Malice?" he asked, as he showed the secretary his well-trimmed fingernails.
The goblin rolled her eyes as she rose from her desk and walked up to Bill.
"So is your rod just as soft as your nails, arsehole?" she whispered, as she "knocked" on the door by scratching its surface with her long, sharpened claws.
"You'll never know!" Bill whispered.
"ENTER!" a voice called from the other side of the door.
A frown formed on Bill's lips when he realized that the voice belonged to someone other than Malice's boss. That frown froze in place (along with his feet) once the curse-breaker opened the door and looked into something completely different.
"SOMETHING WRONG, WEASLEY?" a goblin bellowed.
"Oh, shite," Bill whispered. "I wasn't expecting the Board of Auditors."
"NO ONE EXPECTS THE BOARD OF AUDITORS!" a dozen goblins replied in unison.
Chokebar's secretary let out a low-pitched whistle. She patted Bill on the back and said, "Well, Weasley…been nice knowing you!"
Bill blew out a deep breath and shook his head.
"Yeah, you too."
The stone-walled cavern was five times the size of Chokebar's office. Bill was too scared to wonder whether the office had been magically expanded, or if the doorway had been charmed to open into some other place. Twelve white-haired goblins wearing regal-looking robes sat side-by-side in high-backed chairs behind a thick granite table. There was a much smaller table halfway between the goblins and the doorway…a table upon which one of the goblins gruffly instructed Bill to lay down his weapons.
Bill's mind raced as he approached the small table and complied with this demand, wondering just what he could have done to have gotten him in such deep dragon shite. The Board of Auditors was something that his co-workers only talked about in hushed whispers, for fear that they might pop up out of nowhere if they were referenced too loudly. The twelve goblins oversaw all of Gringott's operations, across all of the business units and all of their operational territory. They were not the kind of body that spent their time dispensing employee recognition awards…when they appeared, underperforming employees tended to disappear. Permanently. And those that did survive a summons rarely spoke of it, which only added to the terror that was building within Bill's gut as he stepped back from the small table and out of reach of his wand and his knife.
"Curse-breaker Weasley," the largest goblin bellowed. "You have been summoned before the Board of Auditors to explain some identified account discrepancies."
"Oh shite! Oh shite! Oh shite!" Bill thought.
"Yes, Chief Auditor," Bill said.
The goblin that sat to the Chief auditor's left opened a scroll and began to read.
"One hour and forty-two minutes ago, your one and only client expressed a loss of confidence in you, and in the services you provide him as a Gringotts employee."
Bill gasped. "You mean Harry? Why? How did you discov…"
"The means by which we obtained this intelligence are not relevant to this review," the goblin barked. "These concerns were also expressed by both his mate…and your mate.
"Is the identification of your mate a multiple-choice question, wizard?" one of the other goblins spat.
"Erm, no, Auditor."
"The basis for this loss of faith is still under investigation," the Chief auditor noted. "That said… previous events, combined with the fact that earlier this afternoon your mother gave your client yet another reason to escape her grasp, point strongly in one direction."
"Curse-breaker Weasley!" the second goblin barked. "Two days ago, you visited three of the properties within the Potter portfolio. One of these properties was in North America."
"One day ago, Account Manager Chokebar authorized you to disclose to your client the existence of the death insurance policy that was taken out on his head, and to give the client a brief tutorial on the international banking system."
"Did you complete this assigned task?"
"Yes I did, Auditor," he replied.
One of the goblins sitting to Bill's left scowled.
"You did not judge it ill-advised to provide that piece of intelligence to the client?" he barked.
"It was not for me to judge the merits of a direct order," Bill replied.
"What is your opinion now?" the Chief Auditor asked.
Bill pursed his lips, then said, "I believe that this information was upsetting, and put Gringotts in an unfavorable light. However, I also believe that it would have been worse if the client falsely believed that there wasn't a valid reason for Gringotts' neutral stance towards his health and safety prior to these past several weeks."
The Chief Auditor replied with an undecipherable grunt.
"Moving on, did you or did you not describe the limited banking options available to the witches and wizards who are citizens of the British Isles?"
Bill nodded his head and replied, "I did," even as he wondered about the efficacy of his privacy charms.
"And when the client asked for the easiest method of transferring his money to North America, you suggested that he…what exactly did he say?"
The goblin to the Chief's right looked down at some notes and said, "That he should marry a Yank witch and give her all of his money."
Bill gasped. "How…?"
The Chief auditor snorted. "Your privacy magic is adequate, curse-breaker…it's your attention to detail that's not worth a shite. Did you not imagine the possibility of a hidden observer being able to read lips?"
Bill slowly shook his head, and admitted, "No, Chief Auditor."
The head of the Board of Auditors sighed, and shook his head dismissively. "And so you made this statement, in spite of the fact that less than two days ago you informed the client that he was already eligible for Canadian and North American Confederation citizenship, based on the fact that his father was born there."
Bill's eyes widened as a deep breath got caught halfway down his throat.
"I…I have no memory of telling that fact to the client, Chief Auditor," he stated, his voice on the verge of cracking. "I also have no memory of learning that fact."
The Chief Auditor chuckled as he pulled three vials out of his vest pocket, each containing a single white, wispy strand.
"That's because you gave those two memories up, Curse-Breaker Weasley," he replied, setting each of the vials on the table before him. "You also gave up the memory of a conversation that led you to remove these three memories, and further led you to write out a statement that you willingly removed these strands from your head for the benefit of Gringotts."
"Oh," said Bill. "And I wasn't…there wasn't any coercion, involved?"
The Chief auditor's lips pulled back into a pointy-toothed grin.
"Let's just say that at the time of this skirmish you were involuntarily deprived of your common sense."
"Oh," Bill said again. He thought for a moment, then said, "If I might ask…?"
"Speak, Curse-Breaker!" once of the Board members hissed.
"Did this action actually benefit the bank?"
"It served the purposes of the one that took possession of these memories," the Chief Auditor stated. "As for whether this benefited the bank? That remains to be seen. The other party certainly thought so, but it is not uncommon for employees to find it difficult to distinguish corporate gain from personal gain."
"I understand, Chief Auditor."
"Do you?" the goblin challenged. "Then perhaps you would care to explain this understanding to us?"
Bill winced. Picking his words very carefully, he said, "I apologize, Chief Auditor. While I understand what you said, I would need more information before I could venture an opinion on the merits of removing these memories from my head."
"Like what, wizard?" one of the Auditors challenged.
Bill turned towards that goblin and straightened his shoulders.
"Did I share this information with more than just the Client?" he asked.
The goblin snorted. "You knowingly shared this information with the Client, his mate, and your immediate supervisor."
"Do any of these three retain their knowledge of this information?"
"We have no reason to believe that they have lost this knowledge."
Thoughts and numbers and ideas and percentages all flashed across Bill's brain at the same time He wondered why Harry hadn't challenged Bill on his NAC citizenship if his memories hadn't been erased, then decided that it was a question best considered at a safer point in time.
"Thank you providing me for this information," he finally stated.
The Chief Auditor nodded. He reached for the third vial and returned it to his vest pocket.
"You should return these two memories to your head," he told Bill. "The third will be returned at a time that best suits the interests of Gringotts."
"Thank you, Chief Auditor," said Bill. "Should I reunite these memories immediately, or…."
"After we are done here will be sufficient," one of the goblins barked.
"Yes, Auditor," said Bill. He took these instructions as a positive sign…putting the memory strands back inside his head after the meeting implied that he wasn't at risk of losing his head during the meeting.
"Do you believe that removing those memories was in the best interest of Gringotts, Curse-Breaker Weasley?" one of the Auditors asked.
Bill thought carefully about his response, then said, "I would not presume to know what the best interests are of Gringotts as a whole."
"What about your section of the Wizarding Bank, then?" asked a goblin.
Bill reluctantly shook his head.
"It would have made more sense, and have better served my section's interests, if the client and his…mate…had been Obliviated, and made to forget that he was eligible for NAC citizenship. That I was the only one to lose these memories is potentially disastrous."
"Because that is the most likely reason why your intelligence service has detected the client's loss of faith in my services," said Bill. "While he didn't realize it at the time, his girlfriend would certainly remember, particularly if whatever my mother did reinforced their desire to escape to Canada."
"So what do you suspect will happen now?"
"Best case scenario is that they accept the explanation about my memory loss, and hold me harmless. But they will worry about my loyalties and conflict of interests, and wonder whether anything else I might offer as advice has been co-opted…either by my employee loyalty oaths, or by those who might have their own agendas."
"And then?" asked the Chief Auditor.
Bill frowned. "Well, I suspect that he might move a large portion of his estate to a Gorechunks account in Canada, as a hedge against what might happen here in Britain."
"Even if you advised him otherwise?" a goblin asked.
"They will have grounds to suspect any banking advice I might offer, even if I am able to convince them that I was not responsible for my memory loss."
The Chief Auditor let Bill silently wallow in uncertainty and fear for a few seconds, before saying, "Your analysis of your client's reaction and near-term actions agrees with our actuarial calculations. There is, at present time, an 87% probability that he will instruct you to seek out a position within Gringotts that limits the chances for any future conflicts of interest."
Bill chewed on his lower lip for a few seconds. "Like my old job as a House of Greed curse-breaker?"
The Chief Auditor nodded his head. "Some have calculated that over the next twenty years, the profits earned from your work as a tomb raiding curse-breaker will exceed the revenue generated should you take over management of the Potter accounts."
Bill tried not to let his eyebrows drift up towards his hairline.
"What is your assessment of that calculation?" the Chief Auditor asked.
The red-haired wizard took a deep breath, and then replied, "Well, I am not an actuary, but…I suspect that those calculations must have built into them either a flattering confidence in my skills as a curse-breaker, or a pessimistic opinion on the negotiated management fees for that portion of his estate that the client keeps within our vaults."
"Some of both, actually," the Chief Auditor stated. "Of course, we are talking about a net gain to Gringotts as a whole…internally, this result would produce large profits for House of Greed, and disastrous losses for the Wizarding Bank."
"I understand, Chief Auditor," said Bill.
"There are also at least seven individuals or factions within Gringotts who hold a financial stake in your client's actions, and a half-dozen more who hold a personal grudge against either Chokebar or yourself," the goblin added. "One small group has even lined themselves up to profit handsomely if the client can be convinced to completely empty his Gringotts vaults, sell off all of his business and real estate interests in Britain, and relocate to North America."
One of the other auditors added, "Their calculations appear to be based on a faulty understanding of your client."
Bill thought for a moment, and then nodded. "Harry and Hermione might decide to complete their schooling outside of the country, but I can't see him completely writing-off Britain and leaving their friends to suffer under Voldemort's rule...especially now that he knows about the Prophecy."
The Chief Auditor nodded. "The mission of this Board of Auditors is to look out for the best interests of the bank as a whole. We normally do not intervene in the schemes and skirmishes of the different divisions and business units…over the centuries we have learned that a laissez-faire approach works best for the overall bottom line."
Bill was tiring of saying "Yes, Chief Auditor," so he mixed things up by nodding his head to convey his understanding.
"But there are situations where Gringotts is best served by a timely intervention on our part," the goblin continued. "Your presence here today indicates that we have calculated this to be one of those situations."
"More than just the Potter estate is at risk should your client wash his hands of Britain," one of the other goblins said. "And those who are calculating your worth as a Gringotts curse-breaker are neglecting to factor in your membership within Dubledore's irregular militia, and the odds that you will be killed either in open conflict or after the ascension of the false Lord Voldemort and his followers to power."
"Or the odds of something even worse taking place," the chief auditor stated. "You following your liegelord to North America and accepting a curse-breaking job with our enemies at Gorechunks."
"Yes, Chief Auditor."
"So, Gringotts profits will be maximized when you are a satisfied curse-breaking employee of Gringotts, and when Harry Potter is a satisfied client that maintains a domicile within Gringotts territory and a sizeable fraction of his wealth within our vaults. Steps have been and will be taken towards those two conditions…. Bitewing?"
The goblin that sat to the immediate right of the Chief Auditor reached under the table and pulled out a brown leather satchel. He dropped the two memory vials that sat on the table into the bag, then tossed it towards the curse-breaker (who carefully caught it with both hands).
"Your new work assignment begins immediately. The contents of that bag will support this assignment. Any questions?"
"Then you are dismissed."
Bill nodded, bowed, then walked up to the table. After retrieving his knife and wand, and tucking the leather satchel under his arm, he took three steps backwards and once again bowed deeply.
"Thank you, Auditors," he said. Bill then spun on his heels, walked quickly towards the room's only apparent exit, and opened the door.
And then he hesitated.
"Get on with it!" one of the Auditors shouted.
Bill glanced back over his shoulder towards the goblin Board, and nodded. The curse-breaker then stepped across the threshold, and stepped not back towards the goblin secretary's desk, but instead into the bright light of day.
The fact that Bill spent the last hour of his work day several hundred miles from the Diagon Alley branch of Gringotts didn't register on Molly's clock…work was work, wherever in the world that effort took place. His clock hand did hover over "Travelling" longer than normal during the commute home, but Molly was too busy yelling at Ron to get his head out of the magical refrigerator to notice.
But Fleur certainly noticed something was different when her fiancé stepped out of the Burrow's floo connection and into her tentative embrace. He was very nervous, and was carrying a leather satchel that she hadn't seen before, and had upon him the scent of fresh air.
"You come from the outside?" she whispered.
Bill pulled back from the hug and nodded. "New work assignment," he quietly replied. He acknowledged Harry and Hermione's approach and whispered, "Something to talk about after dinner…lots to discuss with Harry and Hermione as well, if we can manage it."
Fleur nodded. "Yes, zere ees much to discuss."
Harry glanced towards the sound of Molly's shouting and frowned. "We probably could slip out the back door right now, if you've got something to share."
Bill shook his head, and replied, "Have to wait at least an hour from now."
"Why's that?" asked Hermione.
The curse-breaker craned his neck for a better view of his mother's potential approach. Not thinking it was safe to voice an explation, he instead pulled a silver chain necklace out from underneath his robes.
The hourglass charm that dangled from the end of that chain caused Hermione to gasp.
Harry eyes widened, and he whispered, "Thought we broke them all that night?"
Bill shrugged as he pulled the silver chain over his head and handed it to the other wizard. "Not unless your itinerary included a side trip to the Black vaults."
As Harry slipped the time-turner over his head and hid the charm under his robes, Hermione asked, "So why can't we go back in time right now?"
"Because my clock hand has probably been hovering above Work over the past hour," Bill reasoned. "And I'm not supposed to be in two places at the same time."
Hermione pursed her lips. "Couldn't explaining why you have a time turner and what you've been doing at work be considered part of your job duties?"
Bill thought for a moment and then smiled.
"Did anyone notice my clock hand acting odd this afternoon?"
Harry shrugged. "No, but you hardly ever have a chance to see it, the way that your mum keeps it pressed against her chest."
The curse-breaker nodded. "So maybe that means that if we are able to sneak outside right now and put that necklace to work then sharing my story must have been considered part of my work."
While Bill's logic was sound, the eagerness shared by the other three to get some explanations would have likely carried the argument even if it hadn't made sense.
It took the two couples ten minutes time to slip out into the backyard without raising Molly's suspicions. Once assembled, Bill led the other three towards his father's shed. He opened the door, looked inside, and hesitated.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked.
Bill thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Nothing, I guess…let's be quick about this."
It was easy for Harry to spot what had caught the other wizard momentarily off-guard, once they were all inside the cluttered archive of Muggle artifacts. Two-thirds of the interior was blocked off from their view by a thick wool blanket that hung from floor to ceiling.
"What's hiding behind the curtain?" he asked.
Hermione smiled. "Ourselves, I imagine."
The sound of stifled laughter coming from the other side of the curtain lent support to this analysis.
Harry rolled his eyes, and asked, "Hey Hermione, can giggles cause paradoxes?"
Fleur turned towards the visual screen, and let out a small gasp as her nostrils flared.
"What?" Hermione asked.
A wide smile broke out on the French witch's lips. Her response to Hermione's question waited until after she could jump her fiancé and shoved her tongue down his throat.
"Oh, Beel, I knew zat zere was a good reason for your lying!" Fleur gushed. "I am so happy!"
"Erm…that's good to hear?" Bill replied. "But don't I have to explain that reasoning first?"
"You must already have done so, or else I would not be smelling your arousal from ze other side of ze curtain!" Fleur declared. "Let us go back in time now, so zat we can get quicker to ze make-up sex!"
Daily use of a time-turner during her third year made it far easier for Hermione to connect the dots than either Harry or Bill. Not that this knowledge made it any easier to decipher all of Fleur's comments.
"Fleur?" she asked nervously. "Is it just you and Bill on the other side of the curtain?"
The French witch gave a Gallic shrug. "It is hard for me to tell. I smell ze strong arousal of you and 'Arry as well, but this ees ze same as I have been smelling all afternoon."
Bill arched an eyebrow. "Really, now?" he asked. "I bet that is an interesting story."
Harry shook his head firmly as he pulled the hourglass charm out from underneath his robes.
"Can't be more interesting that the story you seem to be ready to tell…shall we, then?"
When Hermione asked how all four could be taken back in time all at the same time, Bill smiled and reached for the silver chain that now hung outside of Harry's robes. A good yank caused the chain to magically lengthen, far enough to encircle all four of them so long as they squeezed together tightly.
Hermione showed Harry how to activate the time turner by twisting the charm one full turn. She then confused everyone by shouting, "Jeepers, Mr. Peabody!" just before she smashed her lips against Harry's and pulled his body that much closer to her own.
The teen-aged wizard thought that he saw the surrounding air shimmer, but it could have just been the after-effects of the kiss.
"Who is Mr. Peabody?" he asked, once their lips parted.
"Muggle cartoon reference," she replied brightly. "That was just a heads-up for the folks behind the curtain."
"What curtain?" asked Fleur, glancing over her shoulder.
Hermione broke free of Harry's embrace and started sorting through Arthur's collection of mostly useless stuff.
"Exactly," she replied. "C'mon…we just gave ourselves a Molly-free hour of time. Quicker we find the curtain and hang it up, the sooner that Bill can start his explaining."
Fleur giggled. "And ze sooner we get to start ze make-up sex!"
The thought of Bill and Fleur engaging in make-up sex within that confined space, and potentially within full view, kept Harry from focusing on the task in hand. Not that this mattered all that much…Fleur wasn't in any mood to waste time searching for something that she could just as easily conjure and hang from the ceiling. Bill used that same small amount of time to erect a full set of temporary privacy wards, while Harry and Hermione cleared enough room on Arthur's work benches for the two couples to sit facing each other. The reason why Bill took the extra step of clouding up the two windows that provided natural light to the shed's interior was incorporated into his subsequent story.
As that story unfolded, the actuarial calculations that the Board of Auditors had relied upon proved themselves correct. Harry actually felt bad about putting Bill into a bad situation, but the curse-breaker was quick to assuage that guilt. He noted that he placed himself within an area of conflicted interests by asking Harry to consider taking him on as a liegeman while still working for the bank. Bill did note that he considered this more than worth the risks, given what he stood to gain, even in the face of his far-less forgiving fiancée. Fleur's anger was clearly on display as she bilingually berated Bill for his carelessness, to the point where both Hermione and Harry felt the need to rise to his defense. The French witch insisted that she needed to express her anger…if for no other reason than to justify the "make-up" part of what she expected to be a fabulous shag.
The mention of what Fleur expected to be doing towards the end of the time-turned hour brought a blush to both Harry's and Hermione's cheeks. But the fact that there was still so much to cover, even after Bill explained what had happened to his memories (and why), did help the younger couple focus their thoughts, particularly once Bill pulled goblin peace offerings out of his satchel.
The time turner had been the first bit of appeasement offered by the Board of Auditors. By rights Harry should not have had access to the Black vaults for another week, but the goblins had come up with some kind of half-baked legal justification for circumventing the Ministry's rules. Next came the passports…one British, the other Canadian, and both in Harry's name. When Hermione asked if they were real documents, Bill winced a bit and admitted that they were "real enough"…they would get him past any immigration official in the world, but the fact that Harry now possessed a Canadian passport didn't mean that he was officially a Canadian citizen. Hermione guessed that official citizenship, complete with inclusion on governmental lists and computer databases, might require a face-to-face interview with someone from the Canadian embassy. Bill wasn't sure, and also wasn't certain that he would be able to find out, given his new job assignment.
This segued into the reason why Bill had emerged from the Burrow's floo that evening carrying the fresh of scent air.
"Three weeks ago," the curse-breaker explained, "Le Banque du Gringotts foreclosed on a large agricultural estate that was used as collateral for a defaulted loan. There were some really nasty wards surrounding the property…and it was only a few days ago that my French curse-breaking colleagues brought the wards down so that the goblins could take possession. So now I've been tasked with overseeing their reconstruction."
"You'll be more of a curse-builder than curse-breaker?" Harry quipped.
Bill chuckled. "No, we've got ward crafters for the actual construction. I'll be helping with the design, and testing each layer as it's built up."
Hermione smiled. "So thieves make the best security consultants?"
"Something like that," Bill said with a smirk.
"Not that my Bill is a thief!" Fleur stated.
"Yeah, Hermione…there's a big difference between thieves and tomb-raiders," Harry quipped.
"Erm…exactly," said Bill.
Fleur tilted her head, and curiously asked, "So where is this estate?"
"Place is halfway up the mountains, and overlooks the sea."
"A leetle more specific, s'il vous plait?"
Bill nodded as he thumbed through his notes. Once he found the details, he replied, "Eastern Pyrenees. Ten miles from the Iberian border and fifteen miles east of the Mediterranean Sea. Closest city is Perpignan."
"Where is that?" asked Harry.
"In the far southwest corner of France," said Fleur.
"I've got some pictures, if you're interested," Bill noted.
While the other three shared the magical images of the French estate, Bill explained that it would take at least a week to complete the new ward scheme. Fleur thought for a few seconds before asking, "Will you still be working with Chokebar, then?"
Bill squeezed her hip from behind and shook his head. "No, the Board of Auditors believe that it would be prudent to isolate me from the competing factions, and to minimize opportunities for any more of my memories to go missing. Same for you, by the way."
Fluer twisted around so that she was facing her fiancé and asked, "How is that?"
"You've been temporarily reassigned to be my personal assistant and translator," Bill said with a grin. "Hope that you don't mind."
The French witch's response consisted of a high-pitched squeal of delight and a very tight embrace.
Hermione gave the couple a few seconds, then asked, "So she'll be traveling to and from France each day as well?"
In between his fiance's rapid-fire kisses, Bill cautioned, "Now, just wanted to be clear…this is a real hush-hush under the wardline job. You won't be able to visit your family, or go places other than the work site."
"Doesn't matter," said Fleur. "I will still be breathing the air, and touching the ground with my feet, and I will be wiz you, and you and I weel be hundredz of kilometers from your muzzer, and….."
"Your accent is slipping, Fleur," Hermione teased.
Hermione laughed when Bill's fiancée responded using impolite French.
"What was that?" Harry asked.
The French witch spun back around to face Harry and Hermione and pulled Bill's arm tight against her body. She then asked, "Yes, my English professor…how should I say zat in English?"
Hermione chuckled, and shook her head.
"Fleur wants me to talk to her arse, because I'm making her head hurt."
Harry cast a Tempus charm and sighed.
"We've only got seven more minutes before our other selves show up," he stated. "How much time will it take for you two to cook up whatever Fleur is going to smell?"
The French witch looked at her fiancé and smiled.
"No more zan thirty seconds, I zink."
"Oh, come on, I'm not that bad!" Bill protested, over the nervous laughter that erupted from both Harry's and Hermione's lips.
"Maybe I am zat good, no?" Fleur asked.
Fleur reached over and gave Bill a reassuring squeeze. "Relax, my love…I said zat I smelled your arousal…I did not say zat I smelled your release."
"Oh…well okay, then," said Bill.
"Not zat I would not enjoy making use of the rest of ze time," Fleur stated, as she ran a finger up her fiance's thigh.
The curse-breaker glanced across the narrow gap that separated the work bench that Fleur and he were sitting on from Harry and Hermione's.
"Are we good, Harry?" he asked.
The younger wizard shared eye-contact with his girlfriend shrugged. "Well…I certainly have some ideas on how to spend our remaining time, but…if you can give me at least one or two more minutes?"
"What's their end game, then?"
Bill pursed his lips. "You mean the goblins?"
"I mean whomever is pulling the strings over there right now."
The Gringotts employee shrugged. "Between what I can say and what I can guess…the Board of Auditors obviously want to keep you as a customer, and they would rather accomplish that goal without needing to waste my talents as a curse-breaker. Or lose those talents if Fleur and I followed you two and your money to North America."
"Who said anything about Hermione and I moving?" Harry asked.
Bill shrugged. "You have options, milord. And it would be foolish not to at least consider making use of those options, given what's happening internally at the bank."
"So they're not going to force me to stay here in Britain with my money?"
"No…I think that they're going with more carrot than stick."
"France is Gringotts territory, isn't it?" Hermione interjected. "Is this new job assignment part of the carrot, then?"
"Probably," Bill admitted. "I was instructed to design the ward schemes as if someone like Harry would be purchasing the estate. And they're going to offer to let you stay there in August, rent-free. Wouldn't be surprised if they also offer it for purchase at a discount."
Harry frowned. "From one guilded cage to another, then?"
"What do you mean?"
The younger wizard sagged his shoulders. "Sorry, just being cynical. If the goblins are keeping tabs on us here and now…close enough to eavesdrop on private conversations…how would I know that they aren't going to do the same if I did move into this French estate?"
Bill nodded. "Maybe you'll know that you're safe behind your wards because I'll be the one overseeing their construction?"
"But you won't be there all of the time," Fleur noted.
"True…look, Harry…they aren't going to expect you to buy something sight unseen, or even to give up plans to visit your other properties. And maybe it's not even worth the investment…I was barely there an hour, didn't even begin to have time to look the place over…"
Fleur nodded. "I zink zat zere are laws in my country to protect ze home buyers…some type of independent inspection…my father may be able to help…"
Hermione said, "It's worth a thought," then cast her own Tempus charm.
"Five minutes left…worth thinking about later?" she asked.
Fleur's eyes danced with delight. "You are anxious for a show, 'Ermione?"
The Muggleborn witch snorted. She gestured towards the small gap that divided the two work benches that they were sitting on and said, "I would rather you bring the curtain down on any show, if you don't mind."
"Which show?" Fleur teased. "Ours or yours?"
Hermione shrugged. "I'd do it myself, but conjuration is a few weeks away in my treatment regimen."
"Ah, so it eez," Fleur agreed. She pulled out her wand, and began to raise its tip towards the shed's ceiling…but then she stopped, lowered her aim towards Hermione's lap, and giggled.
"And ze contraception spell…eet ees also too early for you to cast zat as well?"
Harry blushed deeply as Hermione gave his thigh a hard squeeze.
"Thanks for the offer, Fleur…but five minutes wouldn't be nearly enough time to make use of that kind of magic."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Four minutes thirty, Fleur?"
Harry nervously bit his lip as he watched a second curtain drop down from the ceiling in between the two couples. Having Hermione's hand resting high on his upper thigh didn't help matters, particularly when she asked, "Be a dear and cast a silencing charm on our side of the curtain, would you?"
"Erm…sure," said Harry. He cast the requested spell, then turned towards his girlfriend with a question on his lips.
That question was pushed off of his lips when Hermione insistently pushed her tongue in between them.
The snogged for a few seconds, before Hermione broke their lip-lock and asked, "Harry?"
"I hope you don't mind…I know that a girl can't always choose the right place, but this place? And with so little time, and with another couple on the other side of the curtain?"
"S'okay," said Harry. "We don't need to rush into anything that you're uncomfortable doing."
"Who said I was uncomfortable with doing it?" Hermione slyly asked.
"Really?" Harry gasped.
Hermione bit down on her lower lip, and nervously nodded.
"You don't think that I am a scarlet woman for thinking that way, do you?"
"Oh hell, no!"
"Good…you do have a birthday coming up, after all," Hermione replied, placing a tender kiss on her boyfriend's lips. She then reached for his hand and guided it towards her robe-covered breast, "So in the meantime….?"
"We still have a touch-test to complete, don't we?"
Three minutes and twenty-four seconds later, the Hermione on one side of the curtain called out "Jeepers, Mr. Peabody!"
The much-more aroused Hermione on the other side of the curtain couldn't have agreed more, as she reluctantly gave her lover one last squeeze and pulled her hand out of his shorts.