A/N: A big thank you to my wonderful beta spellmugwump97! If you haven't seen her stories yet, what in Merlin's name are you still doing here? I particularly recommend her 'Back From The Grave'. After reading that, I'd also go over and see Bludger1's work, which wonderfully mixes Harry Potter with zombie Apocalypses :D
Oh, and a quick warning for this chapter: the risqué Irene Adler makes another appearance. No big issues, but a few things are 'implied'.
General Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling wouldn't have waited ten chapters to introduce Hermione: she only waited six! Far better. I don't know what I was thinking not having the bestest character in here for ages…
"There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them". From Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
"Muffliato!" Harry cried out before his wand was snatched from his hand. Luckily for their reputations, no one noticed their secluded booth in The Three Broomsticks. Or, if anyone did, they were wise enough to stay out of the way of a furious Hermione Weasley–who was currently clutching the holly wand as though she yearned to snap it in half. Harry couldn't help but wince and scramble as far away as the seat would allow him.
"Nine years after Hogwarts–" she spoke deliberately, her short curls bouncing with every punctured syllable. For no one ever said that the 'Golden Trio''s lunches together were stress-free. Quite the opposite, in fact. At least there wasn't a literal dragon in attendance to this one: just a metaphysical one.
"–nine years after Hogwarts," the brunette growled through gritted teeth, her husband grinning in vengeance beside her. Harry eyed them both in trepidation, "and you're still driving me to nervous breakdowns! Is this a game for you? Oh, it's funny to watch me worry and fret over your blasted, reckless stupidity!"
"Nope, definitely not funny." The man-who-conquered shifted guiltily under Hermione's glare. "Not at all and, err, does it help that I've never done it on purpose?"
"NO!" Hermione's voice rose, lips thinning like her old mentor. "It doesn't help! Why am I only finding out about this now?!"
"Idiots." She sighed, tightly rubbing her eyes and ignoring her husband's 'Oi!' of protest. "I doubt either of you know the meaning of 'classified'."
Harry and Ron opened their mouths to disagree but, catching sight of her expression, thought better of it and shut up.
"If you weren't caught, then fine. No harm done." She reluctantly admitted, yet her growl soon started up once more. "But since you were an idiot and did get caught, you should have immediately flooed your blasted attorney! Merlin, don't you think?"
"But you're not my–"
"Harry?" Ron said, edging away from his furious wife and, more particularly, her sparking wand. "Nod, agree, and beg forgiveness. It'll end faster that way."
"Both of you, shut it!" Hermione returned her full killing glare to a wilting Wizarding Saviour. "I've studied law intensely, am Senior Undersecretary to the Department Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and have kept you two from dying or being chucked in Azkaban for sixteen years! Yes, I'm your bloody attorney!"
"Mate, run! Her hormones have gone haywire–"
"Ron, shut up!" She shouted, dropping the wand but never looking away from Harry. Said man-who-conquered was currently trying to silently and wandlessly disillusion himself, not feeling brave enough to try and get the holly wood and phoenix feather back in hand. "Scotland Yard? What were you thinking! Oh, you weren't, were you. Because you never do! Don't you dare give me that rubbish about instincts and whatnot. I saw the report after Ron mentioned it: how obvious were you! You're just lucky I'm not telling Molly and Ginny about this debacle!"
Since he didn't want to be cursed to little bits and pieces (or have his mother-in-law let out her inner sabre toothed tiger in the near future), Harry didn't mention the hilarity that Hermione was more upset about his apparent stupidity and for keeping her out of the loop, then about him breaking into Scotland Yard. "I'll try harder next time?"
"And you'll contact me!" She blistered, though calming marginally and sitting back down. "Honestly, there were so many other options than obliviating countless muggles."
Ron couldn't keep back a snort. Hermione slowly turned to him and, once he noticed, began fidgeting uneasily. "What?" He asked in a manly squeak.
"What do you know that I don't?" Hermione narrowed her eyes. Harry breathed out a sigh of relief for finding himself out of the line of fire.
"I, uh." Ron exchanged a scared look with Harry for, no matter how good the two of them had gotten at lying as aurors, Hermione and Ginny were always able to see through their poker faces. "It's just something about Harry's new flatmates. Not a big deal."
"Holmes' brother?" Hermione paused before groaning in realisation. "Oh Harry, you haven't. Do I want to know how many times you've erased the poor man's memory?"
"Not his whole memory." Harry side-stepped the question. "You don't understand. Sherlock Holmes is far too smart for his own good. He even consults with the Yard and has been suspicious of us from the start!"
"As though you weren't suspicious of him since the start." Hermione closed her eyes, mouthed a slow count upwards to ten. This technique failed to calm her and she reluctantly reopened her eyes, a tight annoyance in her voice. "Harry James Potter, I know how you think, and you have to stop with these self-fulfilling prophecies! Your suspicions of him would have put him on edge."
"Self-fulfilling…" Harry trailed off, blinking at his friend, "…what? No, don't put this all on me! I was not suspicious of–" his sentence again dragged off until he sighed, "–he saw through my lie. All right? Happy?"
His friends stared at him in disbelief, previous justified outrage forgotten.
"Blimey." Ron exhaled. "Were you being obvious on purpose?"
"No." He leaned back with a sigh. "Way to rub it in."
"Well, sorry." The redhead replied unapologetically, startled though amused. "But someone didn't believe you? Hah! Finally. Can't remember that happening since Hogwarts. Even in first year you tricked Peeves with that–"
"So this Sherlock Holmes is a detective?" Hermione interrupted.
"Yep. Calls himself a private consulting detective and is blatantly obvious about his 'observations'." Harry rolled his eyes. "Doubt the man could resist showing off if his life depended on it."
"That doesn't remind me of anyone." Ron shifted away from Harry's annoyed look. "What? Just complimenting your auror skills, mate!"
"I'm tellin' ya." The kid stared angrily at Sherlock. Or, more precisely, at the yellow spray paint that the latter had 'confiscated'. "I don't know anything! How the bloody well am I supposed to know?"
"Judging from the half-finished graffiti and still-wet paint," Sherlock growled, "you've been here since early this evening. Now, what did you see?"
"Nothing!" He said haughtily, tugging his cap down as a passing bike's light made the covered skateboarding park in South Bank glow. "Wasn't paying attention, was I."
"You certainly noticed the two earlier." Sherlock gave a smirk, mentioning how they'd been able to sneak up on the kid without him racing away.
"Because they were birds!" The boy stared at them, incredulous. "Did you see the blonde one? Her skirt was hiked up to here–"
"Did you notice anyone else." John cut him off. "Blokes, not 'birds'. Would've seemed sinister, keeping to the shadows."
"Oh honestly." Sherlock turned his glare to his partner. "Of course they wouldn't."
John blinked, startled by the protest. "What?"
The boy was nodding, joining the consulting detective in his condescension. "You've seen too many movies, mate. 'Sinister' and 'shadows'? If there were any criminals here," the doctor gave a snort that his companions ignored, "they'd have been dressed to the nines. Business suits, probably, to seem all proper."
"Exactly." Sherlock curtly nodded. The kid looked pleased for a moment, until he realised his 'borrowed' paint wasn't going to be imminently returned. "Or else they would have been in the middle, neither formal or informal, making them easy to overlook. So: who did you see?"
"What!" The boy squawked, back to being annoyed. "You just said I'd overlook them!"
"But you've been checking over your shoulder every few minutes for a copper." Sherlock pressed on, taking a step forward. "'Constant vigilance' and all that rot. You would have noticed everyone."
"There. Was. No. One!" The kid insisted. "Just the birds and you two morons."
Sherlock gave him a piercing stare and, after a few seconds and finding whatever he had been looking for, tossed him the paint bottle and swept away. John watched the boy fumble to catch it before rushing to catch up to his friend.
"I hate Death Eaters." The muffling charm still being in place over the booth, neither Ron or Hermione were much concerned about Harry's outburst. When the press couldn't hear, all was well.
"That's nice." Hermione said, keeping her gaze locked on an article. Her temper, like always, had dwindled away after the first uproar, and now she was happy to let her best friend retake his typical, ranting position. She so loved catching up on these 'working lunches': even when the boys were being prats. Ron was equally happy to continue drinking his butterbeer, though peered around the corner every few minutes in anticipation for his meals. "Oh, Ginny's article is wonderful! An interesting take on Greece's economy; making the metaphor with their failing Quidditch league is quite brilliant. How on earth can she write like this while feeling under the weather?"
"Even with the flu, I think she's having a blast spending more time with the kids–though working from home sounds amazing right now." Harry groaned, staring at his case file morosely. His coffee had long since grown cold. "Especially with these blasted Death Eaters. I mean, I really hate them, and not for the obvious reason! Why can't they be like regular criminals and have plans which aren't horribly convoluted? Merlin, I'm almost expecting this entire thing to end with a villain monologue."
"I hear you." Ron echoed the moan, refocusing after, once again, failing to spot the food. "It's like all these different crimes almost go together, but there's nothing to tie them up. Everything's just getting worse too: first the murders and now Robards on our back?"
"That last one is your own fault." Hermione was still skimming through the Daily Prophet.
"I'm not the one who broke into Scotland Yard." Ron shot Harry a glare.
"Come on, like you wouldn't have done it." Harry sent back, but quickly changing the topic went Ron subtly nodded towards his very scary wife. "Could we talk about something real? Like the case or Lestrange?"
"Lestrange?" Hermione perked up in puzzlement. "He was captured by the French then extradited."
"Something's wrong there." Harry tapped his fingers against the files. "I've been saying it from the start. Some muggles captured an ex-Death Eater?"
"It was a French extraction force–"
"I don't care how skilled they are." Harry argued over Hermione's protest. "Do you really think they could take down an armed and dangerous wizard? I'm telling you, Lestrange wanted to be captured."
Ron let out another groan. "Now you know what I've been putting up with. Mate, why do you have to obsess over things?"
"I'm usually right about those 'things'." Harry drily pointed out. "Malfoy, the Deathly Hallows–"
"But it's still mental." Ron shook his head. "Stupid instincts. Why can't you ever just say: 'Hey Ron! Here's A, B, and C reasons why I know I'm right.'"
"Fine." Harry narrowed his eyes. "Hey Ron! Something's not right because, a, Lestrange's an ex-Death Eater; b, he couldn't have been taken down by muggles; and c, I'm sure this is exactly what he wants us to do, and I know I'm right!"
"'C' wasn't actually an argument." Hermione pointed out. "Rather circular as well."
Harry remained focussed on the discussion. "Can't you see the weirdness about this situation? After having next to no activity from this group in years, suddenly five Death Eaters are found murdered, at least another five sympathisers are missing, and a major leader 'let' himself be captured?"
Hermione began to seem a bit swayed. At least, she was nibbling her lip, which meant the same thing to her present companions. "Do you think Lestrange is trying for an alibi?"
"He was captured after three of the murders." Ron disagreed. "Look Harry, this is strange, but coincidences do happen. Aside from Lestrange being a Death Eater there's nothing to link the cases."
"Because we aren't actively searching for it." His partner gritted out.
"Whatever it is," Hermione continued, trying to get to some sort of conclusion, "we don't have enough information. Did the Yard turn over everything about Lestrange?"
"Yep." Harry said without a pause. The others decided it'd be best not to question why he was so confident. "Though–"
"–though?" She queried, folding the newspaper up.
"–this entire thing involves Mycroft Holmes." Harry resisted rubbing his oldest scar. "He was the one whose forces found Lestrange in the first place. Knowing him? He's hiding something."
"So meet with him." Hermione neatly summed up. She glanced at the clock and nodded. "It's still early enough. For all we know you'll get it squared away today."
"Want me to come?" Ron, though uncertain about Harry's suspicions, was already leaving his seat.
"No, I'll be fine." Harry smiled warily, standing and pushing his chair in. "I don't want to ruin both of your lunches on a hunch." For he was perfectly aware of how much free time his best friends lacked, and didn't want to take away a few of the hours they could be together. He was awarded with twin beams, and the couple scooting closer to each other.
"If you're sure?" Ron gave a last question but, at Harry's chuckle, relented. "All right, fine. Thanks mate. I'll send a patronus ahead to make sure an 'appointment's' free?"
"Cheers." Harry gave a last grin, threw down a few sickles, gave Hannah Abbott a wave on the way out, and heading through to the centre of Diagon Alley. Since Ron's spell wouldn't get to Mycroft for a bit, he'd have time for a quick stop at the Ministry to pick up his case file.
Harry Potter had been in many odd situations. 'Odd' typically meant 'most-likely-grievously-fatal', but today's newest event was merely strange. Of course, if Ginny ever found out he'd likely be running for his life–so perhaps it wasn't that different after all.
For most people, finding themselves in 10 Downing Street would be odd enough; a perk of being a wizarding saviour was that this did not apply to Harry. He'd accompanied Kingsley or Percy here often enough, and had taken undercover guard duty more times than he'd like to remember.
For being a centre of British politics, the Westminster area was rather boring. Or maybe that was just because he was allergic to bureaucracy–thank Merlin he was a field agent. He didn't envy Robards at all: he couldn't even imagine how stifling being the Head of the Auror Department could be.
The thought of boringness brought Harry's mind back to where he definitely did not want to be, and he swiftly averted his eyes from the woman sitting next to him.
"Summoned by Holmes as well?" Said lady examined her fingernails, making curt conversation.
"Er, no." Harry tried not to stumble. He kept his gaze determinedly ahead of him towards the shut door. "Business matter."
"How dull." The woman sighed, uncrossing her entirely bare legs. Harry crossed his own uncomfortably. "At least tell me it's about money? Espionage? Sex?"
Harry winced at the last. "Crime in general. Ah, pardon me but–alright fine, damn it, why are you dressed like that?"
"In my business suit?" She tossed her meticulously pinned-back hair; he again averted his eyes. "Holmes pulled me out of a–transaction. Dreadfully rude of him and that little assistant of his."
Harry didn't want to dwell on what this 'transaction' was. "Christ, he didn't let you get dressed? The hell?"
"Hah!" She huffed, her still bright red lips shining. "He tried to. But I wanted him to learn his lesson." She looked proud then slightly puzzled. "Odd thing was, he started muttering something about 'Not again' and 'Buckingham Palace'."
"Ah." Yes, he definitely didn't want to know.
"Irene Adler, by the way." She said breezily.
"The Woman." Harry wasn't surprised. "Yeah, I've heard about you."
"Oh you have, have you?" Irene leaned towards him. He awkwardly shied away. "Costly wedding ring, gorgeous young man–"
"I'm happily married with kids." Harry quickly corrected, scooting even further. "I meant that I've heard of you from Scotland Yard."
Her expression cleared in record time. "You're with them. That makes so much more sense. Well then, don't be rude, who are you?"
"Harry Potter." He was surprised when the woman gave a start, clear even just from his peripheral vision.
"The Harry Potter?" She licked her lips hungrily. "My my, I've been waiting to meet you for some time."
"Er, you have?" He was all but gaping at this point. She had seemed like a muggle, and definitely hadn't recognised him before he said his name. What was going on here?
"I've heard about you from quite a few of my clients." Irene edged forward. Harry climbed into the next seat. "Oh, don't play hard to get. You're already so fascinating!"
"No, no I'm not." He said too quickly.
"Yes, yes you are." She narrowed her eyes, her blood red lips still in a predatory smile. "Mr. Potter, I pride myself in being–acquainted–with every inch of Britain's elite. Your name has consistently popped up in my records but only as glimpses, snatches. A ghost."
"I did say I was with Scotland Yard." Harry spoke evasively.
"No you didn't, not explicitly." She corrected, enjoying the game. "And you aren't. But I don't particularly care about that. What I do want to know is why your name is the one my clients shout right as they're climaxing."
Harry sunk into his seat, taken aback and–let's face it–petrified. He silently cursed karma, fate, destiny, and whatever other force felt the need to screw with him today. Merlin's left toenail, and here he'd thought nothing could get worst than the numerous marriage and mistress proposals he'd used to receive–
"At first I was annoyed." Her lips pursed in a pout, not noticing or, more likely, not caring that she'd scared her companion stiff. "To think that a man was getting into my territory, and one who seemed to avoid me. But now I've meet you."
"Harry Potter is a common name–" he finally managed to say, thankful that his voice didn't squeak.
"Harry James Potter," Irene recited from memory, her back arching, "son of Lily and James Potter, deceased, raised by his aunt and uncle in Surrey. Rumour has it that you were quite a bad boy once upon a time, but official records differ and have you down as attending an elite private school near Edinburgh. No institution's name was supplied. Then, you disappeared from all databases at seventeen. Impressive. I only managed that at twenty-five."
"..." Harry gaped, still focussed on the closed door.
"And now," she continued, "now I find out that you're married and haven't even dreamt of having an affair? Don't look so startled, it's my job to read whether or not someone can be a client. But the question remains: why do you keep stealing climaxes from me?" She sounded put out at the last. "Even my royal acquaintance has been singing your praises."
"…" He weighed the pros and cons of hurtling from the building to disapparate. His face shone a bright red, matching the woman's lipstick.
"Are you James Bond?" Irene tapped her fingers against her bare thigh. "A secret agent, a ghost to all but the elite? But no, that doesn't suit you. You're a fair liar, but you get embarrassed far too easily and couldn't seduce someone to save your life."
"I like you," she continued kindly, "but you're an open book. You're also involved with Holmes and have access to the Yard's records. But not only Mycroft Holmes, is it? Sherlock mentioned over lunch about his perplexing new neighbours: two kids, godson, redheaded woman, and a dark-haired man who should/shouldn't work for the police. Now you're here with his brother for a meeting. It's Mycroft you came into contact with first, am I correct? It was he who mentioned a safe flat on Baker's Street?"
Yes, he was definitely getting Hermione back for suggesting he come here. Though, wait, then he'd never live it down.
Maybe it'd be better to take this entire interaction to his grave.
If Mary admitted it to herself, she did it for the attention. Not only the attention, of course. It was also about the art. Primarily about the art, perhaps. But still: lugging a canvas and paints onto the crowded London Underground took a certain type of determination which 'just art' failed to inspire.
For it would be far easier just to Google Image the dratted thing. So why go to a museum? Simple because there was something about strangers' noticeable envy, of little kids running up to her and gaping in amazement, of the superior anecdotes (along the lines of 'learning from the masters') that she could throw at her fellow art students and, most importantly, the mystery that thus enveloped her in a cloud of hipster avant garde.
Mary told everyone that she did it because she craved the ambiance within the National Portrait Gallery–and she did, in a sense. Either way, she had a bundle of paintings, her teachers' interest, an invisible adoring crowd, and extensive knowledge of how to elbow, knee, and otherwise get herself amble space on the Tube to show for it.
And now she had a pearl.
Shame it wasn't a real one. Goodness knows that would have been a welcome addition to her sparse funds (and would have appeased her jumpy landlord for at least a few months, whilst letting her quit her full-time job of nannying). But if she said it herself, the shading was rather well done.
So. One earring down, and the rest of the sketch to colour.
Mary let out a sigh, accidentally rubbing a smudge of silver acrylic across her cheek. A lingering couple presumed her groan was bohemian angst, and their momentary respect for her and her clumsy drawing grew. But not noticing her momentary audience, her focus shifted onto the painted girl's far-too-intrinsic eye–yet not before she glimpsed the second spotting of magic in her young thirty years of life.
The first had occurred twenty years previously on a family vacation to Sweden. She would never realise that the brush on her arm had been a friendly Crumple-Horned Snorkack rather than her teasing brother. It was a shame; she would have loved to investigate the unknown if she had even the faintest clue.
This second sighting of the impossible also only occurred for a split-second. In a not-so-strange deja vu, Mary dismissed the slight glimmering of the pearl earring as a trick of the light, and was therefore sadly oblivious to the fact that she had been the sole witness to the greatest heist (muggle or magical) of the 21st century.
John was never certain how he got into these situations. He should blame Sherlock (like always), but he couldn't pretend this one hadn't been his own fault. Though, not entirely. For it was that berk who said that the criminals they were after were likely to sneak up on them, and that he should keep an eye out for anything unusual. Which, on South Bank at this time of night, was surprisingly not a lot.
So when he saw a figure mysteriously appear in a red telephone booth, he instantly jumped to conclusions. Hardly shocking, considering that the person hadn't been there a moment before. With that, when he raced over just as the glass door hinges buckled opened, his mind was too full of trapdoors, intrinsic plots, and evil masterminds to notice his imminent impact.
"Gah!" A feminine voice shrieked out, before they both toppled over onto the concrete. With a fury of hands and remarkably grace-like pose, the woman was arching back to her feet moments after the collision. Almost as immediately, she was pointing an accusing finger and (John squinted, unable to see in the thick darkness) something sticklike at him. Too small for a gun or knife, so nothing to worry about. "What are you doing? Who are you?"
"Err, I–" John fumbled, climbing back up with a wince of embarrassment, "–I'm really very sorry. Are you hurt? I was looking for someone–"
"–so you tackled me?" At least the woman now seemed more incredulous than angry, and had lowered her hand with whatever-it-was in it. He took the moment to notice that she was of medium height, wearing a cape-like coat, and had darkish short hair. Though with the absence of light it was impossible to tell anything else.
"–yes, err, sorry again–"
"How did you appear there?" Sherlock, showing his incredible knack of timing, came up just at this point. A sarcastic note was in his voice, as though he was urging the woman to even attempt to lie.
John didn't have to be able to see to know she had raised her eyebrow. "I was making a call. Minding my own business, when this friend of yours came out of nowhere!"
"You were making a call?" Images of trapdoors fled from John's mind as he reconsidered the situation, giving another glance at the phone booth. It really was impossible to see anything. The logical conclusion? He'd been mistaken about the woman appearing out of thin air. Which, now that he thought about it, sounded completely ridiculous. He fought back a flush. "Christ, I really am sorry. I was on edge: we're searching for someone and–"
"Searching for who?" The woman's form crossed her arms, defiant even as a contour. "After assaulting me, I think I have the right to know."
Sherlock snorted. "Criminals. Who else would be here? Excepting businesswomen like yourself."
The lady sniffed, unamused. "All right then, who is it?"
"Not to be rude but, why do you care?" John paused, surprised that the woman hadn't run off by now. Though he was certainly happy she hadn't called 999 in a rush–something which would have rather awkward to explain. "Again, I'm sorry for knocking into you, but it was an accident."
"She just found out she's pregnant." Sherlock gave an uninterested sigh, going back to scanning the graffitied skateboard park. "The way she's clutching her arms to her torso in a way that's protective rather than painful? You gave her a shock." He turned back to the surprised woman. "Now that it should be abundantly clear that you and your few cells of a child are in no danger, you can go."
The lady stared at him in shock. "Are, are you in the Yard?"
"No." Sherlock replied shortly, clearly not giving a damn. "A private consulting detective."
The woman thus groaned in realisation. This was enough for the men to look over at her, different levels of surprise apparent in both their expressions. "Please, please, please, tell me you're not Holmes. Mycroft? No, wait, it would be Sherlock. Of course."
John glanced over just in time to catch the amusing sight of Sherlock gaping. Seeing that his friend was indisposed, he took up the questioning. "Yes, he is, and I'm John Watson. I would ask if you've seen the blog but–you know about Mycroft? Who are you?"
"H–" the woman paused, as though rethinking something, "–Jane. I'm an acquaintance of Mycroft Holmes for, for political matters and the like."
"Why are you here?" Sherlock finally gritted out, as on-edge as he always was when his brother was mentioned. "There is no reason for you to be with us, in a dangerous place where you know that criminals will be. You're clearly overprotective towards your unborn child: thus, why are you here?"
"I like mysteries. The blob," Jane's voice lit up with the last word, as she finally came nearer and took her hands off of her chest, "will be fine. I can take care of us. So Mr. Holmes, Mr. Watson, who are you after?"
"Criminals." Sherlock gave her a long piercing look. John was about to protest her being here when his friend abruptly nodded and pulled them all back into the shadows. "Stay here, stay quiet, and look for anything unusual."
"Holmes!" John whispered as Jane tucked her briefcase into a corner. "Are you mad? You can't let a strange pregnant woman on a stake-out!"
"She's barely pregnant." Sherlock dismissed. "She's an asset: connected to the right people, and trained in lethal arts."
It was John's turn to gape. "How could you tell–"
"Likely by me knowing Mycroft." Jane had joined the conversation, and was leaning against the blackened wall while her tone rolled with amusement. "At least, that's how he guessed I was 'connected'. As for me being useful in a fight? Probably by how I moved so quickly after you knocked me over."
Sherlock was staring at her, grudgingly impressed. "Observant. But you missed that I saw you had your foot an inch away from breaking John's neck."
Jane sighed, shaking her head. "There's always something." She groaned. "My husband and brother-in-law basically do this for a living; some of it was bound to rub off."
So here they were. Crouched in the shadows, gazing out into the deserted skatepark. John expected Jane to head off after the first hour. Instead, all she did was send a quick call to her husband–with enough strange words for him to be certain it was code.
In the second hour she offered them both 'chocolate frogs'. John half expected them to start jumping: it was that sort of night. He took one with thanks. Sherlock refused with a scoff.
The fourth hour? Jane and John had long since given up on silence and were whispering horror stories of their friends to each other. Sherlock studiously ignored the both of them. And their giggling.
"–then, if you'd believe it," John huffed, making an expressive motion with his hands, "even with three different blackmail threats it still took Harry a week to tell Claire she'd been the one who'd switched the dyes! The woman's hair was the colour of pink bubblegum for ages, and the two of them were together for five years. I kid you not."
"Hah! That's nothing." Jane leaned forward though lowered her voice conspiratorially. "It took my husband four years to notice I was a girl."
"Yes!" Jane nodded, sighing at her fate. "We'd been best friends–us and another boy–practically forever, when one year our school had a dance. This oblivious git left asking someone until the eleventh hour. And then? Then, one night in the Common Room he froze, glanced over as though he'd never seen me before, and said incredulously: 'Jane, you're a girl.'"
John groaned, patting the poor woman's shoulder in commiseration. "Did you punch or kiss the bloke?"
"Screamed at him, I believe. Then took another boy to the dance." She shook her head. "It took another three years and a camping trip from hell for he to get his head out of his arse. We did finally snog though–"
"Well, that's nice–"
"–before our mutual best friend interrupted us." Jane gave out a chuckle at John's expression. "No, I'm not joking! Oh, you don't even want to hear what my brothers-in-law did at my wedding–"
"Shhh." Sherlock shushed, lightly kicking them both for good measure before nodding out into the main area. Both the others hushed, followed the train of sight, and focussed in on the incoming splotchy figures and slight voices.
Harry, exiting the meeting with Mycroft, was relieved to find that The Woman had left to who-knows-where. His nerves were already unsettled by the strange adoring look Anthea never failed to give him (made worse by everyone else's insistence that she was stoic and aloof to them), and had no desire for further discussion of his unwanted fame in—Harry shuddered—certain positions.
Yet what was not so wonderful was that Mycroft was less than forthcoming with information concerning Lestrange. "'Exemplary protections' my arse." He muttered angrily, pacing down the gilded government building. Lestrange was a wizard, and as much as Harry admired muggles Azkaban had the best defences for criminals like him. But since the all-mighty Mycroft Holmes felt otherwise, the criminal would be kept in some random holding cell. It was, in the auror's annoyed opinion, just begging for disaster. Sure, he'd admit that the research Mycroft was doing was excellent, but at times he regretted signing off on going into 'business' with this secretive head of the British government…
Two Years Previously
There were very few beings who could inhabit a waiting room filled to the brim with goblin weapons (ceremonial crusted blood still attached, thank you very much) and stay mostly at ease. It was thus to this small group's credit that, an hour of sitting in, none of the four had yet run screaming out of Gringotts.
Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt's nonchalance was unsurprising, as he'd previously proven he could stare down a Heliopath (though however many took Luna Lovegood's word for it was uncertain). Senior Auror Harry Potter's restless waiting was also predictable, for though the man had time and again tickled sleeping dragons (metaphorically or otherwise), a goblin's wrath was nothing to laugh at. Severely annoying the entire goblin nation was a very good way to start a war. Thus it was that even after countless apologies, Ministerial bargaining, and well-placed 'donations', whenever any of the Golden Trio was forced to come to the bank they always kept a wary eye out for slashing goblin blades. Needless to say, the three had taken to withdrawing and depositing money through owl correspondence, and Harry was quite jumpy with being pulled into this escapade.
Audrey Weasley, reckless Unspeakable she was, was not sitting quietly like her companions. Instead, she was standing on her cushion, stretching out on her tip-toes to examine a rusty spear stabbed to the wall with embedded arrows. With glasses petering off her nose's edge and lips widened in a beam, she continued a flow of observations that made the wizards a tad squeamish.
"—Lance of Orion! It was a Black family heirloom for decades, but you know goblins. Their Edinburgh manor was burned down the moment the hundred years' 'lease' was up." Audrey shrugged in a 'what are you going to do?' way before adjusting her glasses. "Rumour has it that the curse on it made Robespierre go mad. Awesome, right? I mean…incredibly sad. Yes. Anywho, the Blacks, as British and Conservative as they come, weren't thrilled with the democratising French Revolution. So they sent this leader the lance as a 'gift' and—"
"The French Revolution?" Mycroft Holmes cut it, his voice unfailingly civil but with a twinge of panic at its core. This fourth member of the group was perfectly within his rights to feel a wee bit overwhelmed, having only learned of the wizarding world a few hours previously. Unlike many others, Mycroft had taken this news in relative stride and, indeed, within days would overcome any lingering hesitance at every natural law he knew having been ripped to shreds by the existence of 'magic'. "Has 'your world' influenced practically every part of our history?"
"Here and there." Kingsley answered, reassurance layered in his tone. "We are still human, Mr. Holmes, and with our small population we have always been heavily tied to the muggle world."
"For better or for worst." Harry said before jerking around with a panicked start when the doors burst open. The entering goblin sent him a brutal scowl that promised an extremely messy and painful death, before merely stepping up to the oblong desk to begin sorting paperwork. "Bloody hell, I hate coming here. Remind me why I agreed to this?"
"A mixture of Hermione's never ending lectures and my blackmail." Audrey cheerfully proclaimed, not noticing that the goblin had switched his glare to her and her unconventional position.
Mycroft, searching for any distraction from the pink elephant of 'magic exists', sent the wizards and witch a questioning look. "Why is that precisely? The 'goblin's'—ahem—behaviour, that is. I was informed that both of your species have numerous treaties."
"That's right." Audrey nodded as the bank worker further glared when she held onto a bow to climb back down to her seat. "Except that they want to lock up Harry and two of our siblings-in-law, Ron and Hermione, and torture them for eternity with sharp and painful objects."
The goblin, overhearing everything in this echo-abundant room, toothily grinned at these words. Harry paled. Mycroft's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why exactly? Also, if this is the case…pardon me Mr. Potter, but are you really the best 'candidate' for this?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Harry sighed, edging slightly away from the goblin. "Blame politics. The goblins don't trust me but the international wizarding world does and, because I grew up as a muggle, I'd be a decent contact for you. Since this would result in the best profit, the goblins reluctantly agreed."
"Ah." Mycroft remembered the earlier briefing's mention that wizards as a whole were clueless about the modern muggle world. "You understand electronics?"
"For basic computer and mobile things? Sure." Harry shrugged. Kingsley seemed slightly lost by the terms. "More importantly mate, most wizards think that wearing a kilt and poncho combination would be 'going incognito' in central London."
"I see." Mycroft glanced at the man's red button-down shirt and black jeans under an open 'cloak', and nodded. "Still, you failed to mention why the goblins dislike you."
"Harry broke into Gringotts, robbed a vault, and managed to bring down half the building and countless underground passageways when he escaped via dragon." Audrey said cheerfully while Harry head-palmed.
"…" Mycroft found himself speechless, uncertain about whether or not the woman was joking. But according to the auror's mortification and the goblin's raging glare, this was the truth.
"It was as part of the war effort. Extenuating circumstances." Kingsley quickly defended the actions. "The three in question only stole a dark magical object that was critical to destroy in order to win the Second War."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow, shelving this enlightening information. "Desperate times, desperate measures?"
"Exactly." Harry sighed before glaring at the goblin, raising his voice to address him across the room. "Oh for god's sake, would you stop it? Gringotts has been fully repaid for the damage and, because of the protective wards, no one was hurt."
The goblin puffed himself up. "You foul wand-waver! It was a massacre—"
"—only when Voldemort showed!" Harry threw his arms up, sending a peeved stare at the creature. "I'm sorry for your loss, but that wasn't us!"
"Let's postpone this discussion until another time." Kingsley cut in, standing as he did so. "Is Ragnok ready to see us?"
The goblin sneered. "He will call you when he wishes."
"I understand he's busy, but I'm sure he also respects our time." The Minister frowned before downing a put-upon expression, disappointment weighing it down. "Oh well, if he doesn't want the business that's his choice. I wanted to work with the goblins, but if that won't work…"
"The Swiss gremlins were interested." Audrey followed Kingsley's lead. "They're likewise keen on this research on what makes magic tick, and I could possibly raise them from the half million galleon initial fund Gringotts previously offered—"
"I'll see if Ragnok's ready!" The goblin interrupted, though looking anything but pleased by this. Yet he did seem alarmed by the prospect of such an extreme investment loss and, within moments, was rushing out of the room. Kingsley and Audrey smiled in the aftermath, retaking their seats.
"To be fair to Harry," Kingsley calmly explained to Mycroft once the excitement had died down, "goblins aren't fond of any of us. But they love making money and they jumped at the lucrative prospect of being the 'financial middlemen' between the Ministry and your research team."
"They had no issue with bringing 'muggles' into the operation?" Mycroft asked, curious rather than offended by either implication.
"They suggested it." Harry spoke up, clearly relaxing with the goblin's exit. "Gringotts wouldn't trust us with anything…let alone research or investments. They're barely happy with us withdrawing our gold from their vaults! But they also rightly felt that muggle science would be more valuable to trace where magic comes from than traditional wizarding studies."
"It's fascinating, really." Audrey said with a contagious excitement, all but bouncing in her seat. "Apparently magic might be in blue jeans!"
"Just 'genes'." Harry corrected with a small smile. He turned to Mycroft. "I'm probably the worst person to explain any of this, but how much have you been told?"
"That the 'Unspeakables'," Mycroft's expression being that of one of the verge of an intrinsic puzzle, "believe that magic could be a genetic mutation."
"Right, I believe." Kingsley nodded. "Hermione Weasley, who grew up with muggles, originally floated this idea down to the department out of curiosity. It seemed like a simple question at first, until our researchers realised that we had relatively little knowledge along the lines of the actual breakdown of magic. This was when Gringotts stepped in to suggest we contact muggle researchers well-versed in this, err, 'jean' thing."
"Which is where I and my contacts come in." Mycroft steepled his fingers together, gazing out thoughtfully into space. In that moment he pushed away magical revelations and the brand new world opened up to him, and focussed on the all-too-familiar sensation of having a problem waiting to be solved. Yet, this would be a rather large task. Perhaps it was about time he considered a full-time secretary to dispose of the grunt work to the minions… "To be clear, what your Ministry is interested in is information on the possible genetic formation of 'magic', while Gringotts desires to know how this knowledge could produce a profit?"
"They're tied together, actually." Harry answered. "Goblins are magical beings just as much as wizards are, so all of us wan to get any information possible. Then this could lead to other innovations…"
"There's so many possibilities!" Audrey practically squealed, questions tumbling from her lips without pause. "Could magic be 'engineered'? Can its power be multiplied or reduced? What are the actual limits and why are they there? Can magical illnesses like lycanthropy be cured? What is the correlation between magical strength and longevity? Are there different types of magic according to nationality or ethnicity? Can squibs be 'given' magic? Can muggles? Are purebloods weaker, more powerful, or the same as muggleborns or half-bloods? Oh, I could go on and on!"
"I see." Mycroft hummed, while stowing away a few of the as of yet unknown terms for further research. "So whatever I find will be reported to Mr. Potter, who will give it to your Ministry. Pardon me, but I still fail to understand how you are the best choice considering your relationship with the goblins."
"It's—complicated." Harry hesitated. "I, you see, that is—"
"I'll explain, you never do it justice." Audrey interrupted, waving away the man's protest without a care. "Harry's too humble. Now, what you have to understand is that, in addition to knowing about the muggle world, he's a massive celebrity and public figure in ours. If the 'Wizarding Saviour' supports a cause, there will be rather little criticism of it."
"Harry!" She imitated his affronted and embarrassed tone to a tea before turning back to Mycroft. "See? Far too humble and charming. Still, there's something crucial in addition to all of that. Harry, through marriage, is a member of the Weasley family."
Mycroft connected a few obvious dots in a micro-second. "The same as yourself and Hermione Weasley?"
"That's right, we're all in-laws." Her attempt to ruffle her brother-in-law's hair was batted away. "Our family is the very definition of close-knit, and we tend to have influential jobs."
Kingsley snorted at the last. To Mycroft's look he explained. "'Influential jobs' in an understatement. Solely through the Weasleys and Potters alone, the current Ministry has been falsely accused of nepotism. What people tend to forget is that, with Molly and Arthur Weasley having seven children, four daughters-in-law," he nodded at Audrey, "and a son-in-law," he pointed at Harry, "in our small community it'd be next to impossible for them to not be influential. As it is, most of them are war heroes, two are aurors, one is an Unspeakable, two work at Gringotts, two are high Ministry politicians, and the rest are likewise successful and beloved by the public. If Harry's running point on the project, his family connections alone would get rid of various obstacles, and that's solely in addition to his own fame and influence."
"Ah." Mycroft tapped his armchair. He frowned. Perhaps he ought to take a leaf from these 'wizards' and get his own baton to shift away the absolute boredom of meetings and long waits. A staff perhaps? Walking stick? The latter could give an under-exaggerated impression of him, which would surely come in handy. But, no, this was a question for later. "I assume that the Weasleys and Potters are the magical equivalent to the Kennedys? Without the patented 'curse', of course."
Harry groaned at the analogy (while Kingsley and Audrey merely looked confused) and made a comment just a the door banged open. "You just jinxed it, mate."
"POTTER!?" Ragnok, Head of Gringotts, bellowed in, pausing his stormy march in spotting the sitting auror. "GUARDS!"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake." Kingsley grumbled as Harry whipped out his wand and jumped up. "Why can't anything be simple around here?"
'No.' Harry silently sighed as he stepped through security and out of the nondescript Whitehall building. 'I should've taken the goblins and the 'curse' as the omens they bloody well were.'
He would be thrilled when the research was done, his family was moved back into Grimmauld Place, and he could finally be rid of the constant headache that was the Holmes brothers.
A/N: My thought process for the 'interesting' scene: 'Let's have Irene and Harry meet! Maybe at Mycroft's? They'll be waiting for him and talking, and Harry has to get terribly embarrassed about something. About what? Let's see, she can be in her business suit; that'd be funny and uncomfortable. What else? Irene's in the beds of everyone who's anyone in Britain, so that must include magical folk–who have all heard of Harry, so maybe they mentioned him to her. But she doesn't really talk to her clients, right? So where could they have said his … oh. Ohhhh. Right then.'
Come on, like people wouldn't be doing that.