3. Boring

By the middle of December, Hannah had settled into a routine. She rose early, made breakfast for herself and her father, made him sandwiches for his lunch and prepared food for their evening meal. Then she travelled by Floo to the café, arriving in time to help set up for opening time.

The pay was poor, but the tips were enough to provide a reasonable supplement. The work was easy: keep the tables clean and cleared, take the orders and get them right, and chat to the customers when they demanded it.

Hannah enjoyed the work. The elderly witches were the best; they would dispense folk wisdom, tut at the "youngsters" and often enquire about Hannah. She always told them the truth, and felt guilty about doing it. The admission that her mother had been killed and that she was working to help her father make ends meet always resulted in a good tip.

Some of the younger men and occasionally some of the older ones tried to flirt with her. It was a new experience for Hannah but her fellow waitresses, Mac Stewart and the other waitress—a brown-haired woman named Glynis Pine—coached her. By the end of her first week, Hannah knew dozens of ways to politely tell blokes that she wasn't interested in them.

'It's harmless,' Glynis had assured her. 'More than half of them would have no idea what to do if you said yes, anyway. Just be nice, make them laugh, and you'll get a good tip.' It was true. It took a few days for Hannah to get accustomed to the peaks and troughs in the day, and to learn how to deal with customers.

While she worked, Hannah tried to observe the comings and goings at Witch Weekly. She had been unable to contact Mr Radford; he was always too busy to see her and he didn't reply to her letters.

It was Wednesday when her luck changed. The café was more crowded than usual, as Christmas approached, so every day seemed to be busier than the last.

Hannah watched the two men slip out from the Witch Weekly offices. The moment they entered the café, she was ready. They sat at the only free table, a cramped alcove just behind the door. The older man was in his mid-twenties, bearded, and judging by his ring, he was married. His companion was spotty-faced and probably just out of his teens. He looked vaguely familiar, and Hannah wondered if he was in the same year as the Weasley twins.

'Would you like a menu?' asked Hannah, offering the printed cards to the two young men. 'Or do you know what you want?'

'Gabe knows what he wants, don't you, Gabe?' said the bearded man, grinning at his companion. 'He's never ever wanted to come into a café before. Something must've changed in the past few weeks.' The man he'd called Gabe blushed and glanced shyly at Hannah.

'I'll leave you to decide, shall I?' asked Hannah.

'I'll have tea and a fruit scone please, Hannah,' the spotty-faced man said, and Hannah cursed the fact that Tansy insisted that her staff all wear name badges. Hannah decided to risk using his name too, despite the fact that Tansy preferred the staff to call customers "sir" or "madam".

'Certainly, Gabe. And what will you have, sir?' Hannah asked the bearded man.

'I'll have the same,' he told her. 'I'm Dave, by the way. Gabe's been admiring you from afar ever since you started here, but he's always been too shy to come over and ask you out.'

Gabe garbled a denial, but his blush was enough to ensure that Hannah knew he was lying. She was embarrassed and a little flustered by Dave's words. She laughed nervously, uncertain what to say.

'I'll go and fetch your order,' Hannah said, leaving the two men in order to collect her thoughts. Perhaps he really did want to ask her out. She wondered what to do. As she waited on some of the other customers she came to a decision, and when the two men's order was ready, she returned to their table prepared to do whatever it took, within reason, to get into the Witch Weekly office.

'My mum did some work for Witch Weekly,' said Hannah as she placed the tea and scones in front of Dave and Gabe. She sent stuff to some guy called Toby Radford; d'you know him?'

'Yeah, he deals with the freelance writing staff,' said Gabe. 'Who is your mum?'

'Geraldine Abbott,' replied Hannah.

Gabe's face fell. 'Oh, I'm so sorry, Hannah; I didn't realise. I'm really sorry. Have the Aurors found out who did it?' he asked.

'No,' Hannah admitted. 'I think she was working on something before she died: a story about slave labour on farms. I'd really like to meet Mr Radford, to discuss Mum's work.'

'No problem,' said Gabe. 'When do you get a break? Just go across and ask at the reception desk. He'll see you when he knows who you are.'

'He won't,' Hannah said. 'I've tried. I couldn't get past reception. He was too busy to see me. I was told to write to his secretary. I did, twice, but I got no reply.'

'That's odd,' said Dave. 'Why would he avoid you?'

'I've no idea,' said Hannah. She turned back to Gabe and smiled. 'I get a twenty minute break at three o'clock; if I came over, could you get me in to see Mr Radford?'

'No problem, Hannah, said Gabe eagerly. Dave cleared his throat noisily and glanced between Gabe and Hannah. Gabe took the hint. 'What time do you finish tonight? Would you like to go out somewhere? The Leaky Cauldron?' Gabe asked. He was almost pleading.

'Hannah!' Mac hissed as she walked past. She nodded at another table.

'I've got to go; I'll think about it and let you know when you pay the bill,' Hannah said. She hurried over to the table.

When she'd taken the order, Hannah returned to the two Witch Weekly employees. She agreed to meet Gabe the following evening, and was rewarded with a generous tip of three Sickles.

At three o'clock, Hannah took off her apron and cap, left the café and hurried across the windy street to the Witch Weekly office. Gabe was standing in the foyer, waiting for her.

'I'm Gabriel Willis; I didn't tell you my full name,' he said. He held out a hand and Hannah shook it. Gabe led her past the reception witch, who was watching them curiously. Hannah followed him upstairs, through a large office and past a rather startled, brown-haired secretary. Gabe knocked on an office door and walked straight in.

'Hello, Toby, this is Hannah Abbott; she's…'

'She's Geri Abbott's daughter. I can see the resemblance. Please sit down, Hannah. What can I do for you?' asked Radford.

'I want to ask you about a story my mum was writing, Mr Radford,' Hannah began. She hesitated, uncertain whether to continue in front of Gabe.

'Please, call me Toby,' said Radford. 'Would you mind leaving us for a few minutes, Gabe?' Gabriel Willis reluctantly left the room.

'Yes, the story about a farmer who was using Imperiused Muggles as slave labour in his fields,' Radford continued. 'Do you have her research notes? Or, even better, have you come to deliver her final manuscript? If it's true, the story could be worth a lot of money.'

'I came to ask you if I could see the manuscript,' Hannah told him. 'She posted it to you on the day she died.'

'I'm afraid you're mistaken,' said Radford apologetically.

'I'm not,' Hannah said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a receipt. 'She sent it recorded delivery; it was signed for on the day she died, see?'

'I didn't sign for it,' said Radford.

Hannah passed the receipt over to Radford. He looked at it in astonishment.

'You didn't, your secretary did. C Boyle p.p. T Radford,' said Hannah triumphantly. She watched Radford's face crease in concern and immediately realised what had happened. Radford stood and strode to the door; Hannah followed closely behind.

'Where's Chelsea?' Radford asked. The room fell silent.

'She's er, gone, Toby,' said Gabe.

'Gone? Gone where?' demanded Radford.

'Dunno.' Gabe shrugged. 'She asked me who I'd taken in to see you, and when I told her, she swore, grabbed her cloak, picked up her bag and left.'

Hannah ran from the office. She hitched up her robes and took the stairs four at a time, but when she reached the street, there was no sign of Chelsea Boyle. The witch in the foyer did not try to stop her as she re-entered the building. She trudged back upstairs to Radford's office, determined not to cry.

'My dear Miss Abbott,' Radford began when she re-entered his office. 'I can only apologise. I had no idea about this. I wish that you had contacted me sooner.'

'I did,' said Hannah bitterly. 'I called in here, and I wrote to you. But…'

'...unfortunately, all messages to me are relayed through my secretary,' Radford completed the sentence for her. 'Whatever your mother wrote is now gone, along with Chelsea.'

'I can't find any of her research. There was a note in her desk saying "Must see you, urgent. Bring your papers, usual place, usual time, M.L." Have you heard of M.L.?' Hannah opened her purse and showed Radford the note she'd found.

'No, I'm sorry, Hannah, those initials mean nothing to me,' said Radford. 'I'm afraid that if you don't have the notes and you don't have the manuscript, then we have nothing.'

'Could you tell me what you know, what Mum told you about the article?'

'Not much: she told me that she was on to something, and that she'd have an exclusive for us. She said something about a farm shop and a woman from nowhere, and that's all,' Radford said.

Hannah left the office some time later. She was no further forward. She had nothing more to go on. All she could do was contact Auror Webb. It wasn't until she stepped out into Diagon Alley that she remembered that she was on a twenty minute break from work. She checked her watch. She'd been gone an hour.

She hurried across the street and into the café, where Tansy Hogg was waiting on tables. 'Your break is twenty minutes, Hannah, not an hour,' Tansy hissed. 'Here are your wages, up to yesterday. Don't bother coming back!'

'But…' Hannah began. Her protests were to no avail. Tansy refused to listen.

Hannah dejectedly returned her uniform and badge to Tansy and walked back along Diagon Alley. She'd done her best, but her mother's killer remained free. Was it Chelsea Boyle? Toby Radford thought that it was unlikely. As she walked, Hannah pondered everything she'd been told.

Her mother had written an article; Radford had been expecting it, but his secretary had intercepted it. The information was out there; it must be, because her mother had a source. All Hannah had to do was find the mysterious M.L. and work out why her mother had been in Knockturn Alley, in Knowe Place. Then Hannah remembered Radford's words: "A woman from nowhere". Perhaps Radford had misunderstood. Perhaps her mum had said "a woman from Knowe Place".

Hannah again turned into Knockturn Alley. This time, she knew where to go. Wand in hand and wary of strangers, she strode along the street and into Knowe Place. She walked straight across to Halstead Farm Supplies, pushed the door open and entered. The grubby little room was cluttered with farming implements, sacks of grain, fertilisers and animal feed. Despite its urban location, it smelled strongly of farmyards.

'Can I help you, dear?' the elderly witch behind the counter asked.

'I hope so. I need at least two sacks of good grain for my turkeys; I want them to be nice and fat for Christmas, Mrs Halstead,' said Hannah.

'Bless you,' the old lady said. 'I'm not Mrs Halstead; them boys never married, and never will, I reckon.'

'I'm sorry, Mrs…'

'Lane, Mabel Lane,' the woman said.

'And I'm Hannah Abbott,' said Hannah, astonished that her guess had been right; her mother had come here to meet M.L. 'I believe that you knew my mother.'

'I don't think so,' Mrs Lane said. Hannah stared at the woman. Mrs Lane looked confused. She seemed to be trying to remember.

'Did you write this?' Hannah asked. She showed Mabel the slip of parchment.

'Well, now, that certainly looks like my handwriting. But I don't remember writing that. Not at all,' Mabel said. 'Where did you get it?'

'I found it in my mother's desk,' Hannah told her. 'You must remember her; she was killed in the Square outside.'

Mabel Lane's face fell. 'Killed in the Square? You're her daughter? Well, I definitely didn't know her. You don't want to be asking questions, girl. Ask questions and he'll find out. And then you'll be in a boatload of trouble.' Mabel looked warily out through the dirty window towards the Parkinson Warehouse.

'Who killed her?' Hannah asked. 'Do you know?'

Mabel Lane shook her head. 'Even if I did, I would never tell,' said the elderly witch. 'You know what they say: "Never cross a Parkinson". You'll never prove anything. The Law Office has been after young Piers Parkinson for years, and they've never made anything stick. What chance do you have?'

'I'm a Hufflepuff; I can do it. Hard work and patience will get me there in the end,' Hannah said.

'You'll get no help from me. I don't want to end up like your mother. I'm sorry, girl; just leave and forget all about it.' Mabel Lane shooed Hannah from the shop.

Hannah arrived at the Leaky Cauldron two hours before she was due to meet Gabe Willis. Auror Aloysius Webb was already there. She'd gone straight from Knockturn Alley to the Ministry and had told Al Webb everything she'd discovered.

'You've done a really good job, Hannah,' Al Webb began hesitantly. Hannah could sense the "but" coming.

'I've checked up on your story, and I've found out a little more, but not much. I've had a long chat with Magical Law Enforcement, too.'

'And?' Hannah asked impatiently. Auror Webb was not the fastest of talkers.

'Chelsea Boyle has vanished. She went straight from the Witch Weekly offices to Gringotts and closed her account. It took a while, but the goblins eventually told me that she deposited two hundred Galleons into her account the day before your mother was killed. I suspect that…'

'That she was bribed to intercept the article,' said Hannah. Auror Webb nodded.

'A few people hinted that the Halstead brothers were using Muggle slaves. I've checked; if they were, they certainly aren't now. The Law Office thinks that Parkinson was behind the racket. He controls a lot of the illegal trade in Knockturn Alley, but they've never been able to prove it,' Al Webb continued.

'What about Mabel Lane?' Hannah asked.

'She has never met your mother; she's certain of that.' Al Webb looked around and lowered his voice. 'I slipped her some Veritaserum, and she's telling the truth.'

'She can't be!' Hannah protested.

'She is.' Al Webb looked grim. 'But I asked her several questions. There are gaps in her memory, some of them quite large gaps.'

'She's been Obliviated!' Hannah hissed. 'Can you undo it?'

'I've spoken to the Obliviators; one of them took a look at her for me. He said no, not without destroying the old lady's mind. So I'm sorry; you've done a great job, but we've hit another wall. Even if Parkinson was behind your mother's murder, he won't have done it himself; he'll have hired someone, probably through several intermediaries…'

'You're giving up again, aren't you?' said Hannah.

'Not giving up, no,' said Webb. 'I'm waiting for fresh leads. But I do not want you to go off playing the junior detective, Hannah. These are very dangerous people. I want you to promise me, please. Think of your father, I don't want to tell him that you've been found dead in an alley, or worse. I have a daughter a little older than you and that would be any father's nightmare, believe me.'

Hannah pursed her lips, but said nothing.

'Please?' the Auror begged.

'I won't go asking questions in Knockturn Alley, or Knowe Place,' said Hannah.

'That will have to do, I suppose,' said Webb. 'Take care of yourself, young lady, and be careful. These are dangerous times.'

Al Webb looked over to the bar. The pub was packed. There was a crowd four deep at the bar, all shouting for service. 'I'd offer to buy you a Butterbeer, but it will take old Tom about half an hour to serve me. This place is usually quiet. The only time it's busy is at Christmas, but you'd think that he'd get someone in to help him, wouldn't you?'

Hannah looked around the dingy pub. It desperately needed a clean. Webb was right; at the rate the toothless old barman was working, he'd take forever to serve everyone. But the place could be so much more. It had plenty of bedrooms, a decent kitchen, and it was the main entry into Diagon Alley. It should be a gold mine, but instead, most people simply passed through without stopping, en route to Diagon Alley.

Hannah looked again at the shouting scrum at the bar. She pushed through the crowd, ducked under the counter flap and stood behind the bar. This was just like the café, except there was a bar counter between her and the customers.

'I'm Hannah; I'm your new barmaid,' she told Tom. 'You're going to pay me twelve Sickles an hour.'

'Are you seventeen, lass?' Tom asked.

'I'm almost eighteen,' Hannah told him, hoping she sounded more confident than she was. My eighteenth birthday is only twenty months away, so I'm not lying, not exactly, she assured herself.

Tom shrugged. 'Ten Sickles an hour, if you're any good,' he told her.

'I'm worth eleven at least,' Hannah told him.

'Yeah,' someone shouted. 'Pay her eleven, you stingy old sod.' A cacophony of voices shouted their agreement.

'Huh,' Tom grunted. 'Ten sickles an hour, eleven if you're any good.'

Hannah looked along the bar. 'Right, who's next?' she asked. Dozens of hands thrust money towards her.

A week later, late in the evening, Hannah stretched and yawned. It was approaching midnight; she'd be up in six hours to make her dad his breakfast. She looked around the bar; it was a lot tidier. Hannah had chased and chivvied the only cleaning-witch in the place, and had finally—under threat of sacking—got the woman to do a decent job. The bar was finally clean and tidy. The place was still dingy, although the Christmas decorations helped.

Hannah had been working twelve hour days, and consequently, her Gringotts account was healthier than it had ever been. She'd made a few contacts, too; there were a few less-than-savoury types frequenting the pub, and she was beginning to pick up snippets of gossip about Piers Parkinson. It might take time, but she was a Hufflepuff; she was patient and hard-working.

She would get there, in the end.