Chapter 3 - Fresh Start
Harry and Stella pulled up to a small little restaurant only a few miles from where Stella lived. A small Italian place that served the best lasagne and pasta. Harry had been there many times with Ginny and Hermione, when she came into town to see Harry and wasn't horribly busy with her SPEW movement. Lately, Hermione had been going before the Wizengamot to try and get a House Elf Civil Rights Law passed. Oh, dear sweet Hermione, she has a good heart. And if all that wasn't pressing enough, Ron had proposed marriage not only a month ago. So, with all that, Hermione doesn't get to see Harry often. Which is sad, because she's his most accepting friend. Hermione, being a muggle-born herself, was more than accommodating.
He and Stella sat and talked for many hours about themselves, their families and friends as they shared a three course meal and dessert. Harry told her that his parents had been murdered and that he'd grown up with his aunt and uncle. And that he went to a boarding school for most of his time growing up. He conveniently neglected to tell her that his parents were murdered by a psychotic, power-hungry wizard; intent on destroying practically all mankind, except for the pure-blood wizarding families even though said power-hungry wizard was only a half-blood himself. Yes... he conveniently left that part out, along with all the rest of his magical history.
To her, he was just a simple man; another muggle. And he still let her believe that his real name was indeed Arthur, and not Harry. He felt bad about lying, but it was refreshing to be somebody else. Anonymity was a beautiful thing. And perhaps he would just keep that name. He could legally change it within muggle law. He could maybe even change his appearance. A new hair cut, and perhaps corrective laser eye surgery. That would allow him to never have to wear his trade-mark glasses again. Then he could obtain true anonymity. That would be wonderful, in Harry's case.
All was going well. She seemed very smitten with him and he was thoroughly enjoying her company. So much more than he'd ever had with Ginny. Speaking of Ginny; Harry had to remember to owl her clothes back to her. May not. He could always Incendio them... Now there's a thought! Harry mentally shrugged off all thoughts of Ginny Weasley and her obnoxious ways. Tonight was just about him and Stella. She has an adorable little way of giggling and tucking her stray hair behind her ear that seemed to fall loose with every hearty laugh. Harry especially loved her eyes; a bright blue like the sky and depths like the oceans. He could drown in them. They shared another bottle of wine and continued to chat about life and what prospects the future might bare.
Stella even told him about her childhood. How her mother was a seamstress and her father a banker. She told of her brothers and sister. Her eldest brother, who was about Harry's age, passed away a few years ago. Though she wouldn't say why or how. Harry respected her privacy in the matter. It's always hard to lose someone you love and you may not always want to talk about it. Besides he barely knows her. Why would she tell someone, who's practically a stranger, one of her most personal tragedies? Stella grew up in the country and learned to ride on horseback and even learned a bit of how to play polo, but she admitted that - although she has a great love of the sport - she is merely an amateur. Harry smiled and informed her that he likes polo as well. It was something else they had in common.
It was well into the night before Harry returned the young woman to her home, tipsier than when he'd found her. She giggled al the way up to the door and she kept falling over and Harry would have to catch her. His arms around her slim waist felt warm and pleasant. Stella wasn't complaining about it though. In fact she seemed to enjoy the proximity. Harry would hold her and steady her; causing her lovely, soft, pale face to turn crimson and flushed. When they'd finally made it to the door, Stella fished out her keys and unlocked it - or tried to anyway.
First she held the key backwards, then upside down. And when she did have it right-side up finally, she apparently was so bleary-eyed that she missed the actual key hole. It was like watching a blind-folded child try to pin a tail on the donkey. Feeling frustrated at the display, Harry gently pried the key from her elegant hands and unlocked the door for her, then returned her keys. Stella smiled her thanks, blush deepening. She stepped inside and tossed the keys on a nearby table. Harry just stood on her step, looking a bit dumbstruck. What was he to do now? Should he leave? Should he ask to come in? Before he had to make any real decision, Stella made it for him.
"Would you like to come in?" She called from the centre of the living space, glancing over her shoulder at Harry with a drunken smile on her pretty features.
Harry grinned sheepishly, "Thank you very much."
He stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him. Stella was humming a happy tune as she made her way to the kitchen.
"I have some Aqua Vitae if you like?" she called.
"Er... no thanks. I get any more sloshed and I'll start chucking my dinner." he said and smiled to himself. He was even more drunk that Stella was, at least in his estimation he was.
Stella walked back into the room holding to ceramic mugs, "I have coffee, instead."
She handed one mug to Harry, who smiled and thanked her before taking a sip. Mmm... dark roast with cream and sugar. His favourite. Stella sat on a large sofa near the fireplace and beckoned for Harry to join her. He obliged, sitting very close to her. There was no fire roaring in the hearth, but that didn't spoil the romantic mood.
"What did you say your last name was?" Stella asked.
Harry hesitated, but she didn't seem to notice. "I didn't. It's... er..." Harry thought about telling her his real last name, but that was out of the question. So he just said the first thing that came to mind. "Kipps. My last name is Kipps."
"Arthur Kipps? You wouldn't happen to be related to Deborah Kipps, the singer, would you?" Stella asked with a cute drunken smile.
"No, definitely not." Harry smiled and shook his head.
"Aw. Too bad, love." Stella said, half amused, half disappointed and pat Harry's knee affectionately.
Harry chuckled softly and glanced over at her, grinning. She leaned closer to him, also smiling a little lopsided. Her lips were parted slightly and moved toward Harry with fluttered eyes. Harry panicked slightly. Stella was going to kiss him. He turned his head at the last second, so all she got was a lip-full of his cheek instead. She pulled back and seemed a mite confused as she pouted at him... with her supple, pouty lips. No! She's too drunk. He mustn't take advantage of her while she'd in such a vulnerable state! On second thought... no, he really shouldn't. Harry smiled fondly at her and resisted every urge to snog her right then and there on her sofa; instead he just planted a sweet kiss on her forehead. Stella looked so damn gorgeous. If he were a lesser man he might have considered it, but no. He's Harry bloody Potter, whether he likes it or not. And Harry bloody Potter doesn't go around shagging drunken women he hardly knows... Besides, he's also ruddy old Gryffindor down to his soul whether he likes it or not; they're chivalrous and kind-hearted.
Harry grabbed hold of her shoulders once more, as she seemed to fall over alot in her current state, and laid her back against the soft cushions of the sofa.
"Thank you for a lovely evening, Stella, but I really must be going." Harry said as he got to his feet.
She only continued to pout and stared at him with hazy eyes.
"But, love!" she whined a bit, "You just got here."
"I know. I know, but I really should be going. I'll call you tomorrow..." he said and pecked her on the cheek. "...after you're sober." he muttered under his breath as he opened her front door.
As he walked down the drive, he was undoubtedly grateful that his resolve was strong enough to resist temptation. Harry got into his car and very carefully - and slowly - drove himself home. No good getting into an accident, plus it's not like he was that drunk.
-The Next Day-
Harry awoke to the sunlight berating his senses and tried to shut out the world. He rolled over on his stomach and clamped a pillow tight against the back of his head, making his head throb even more. Yes, he was suffering from a severe hangover the likes of which he hasn't experienced since he and Ron went binge drinking in Hogsmeade and ingested eight pints of Firewhisky. Each. Oh, how Hermione had yelled about alcohol poisoning. Yes, it's easier to cure in wizards - potions and spells and what not - but it doesn't mean that it's not still dangerous. The window that was opened a crack let in the loud sounds from the street below. Car horns and children yelling. Harry groaned and held the pillow tighter to his head.
After a while, he had long given up trying to hide from his hangover or just wish it away. He showered and went down to his store cupboard in the kitchen. A handsome vial of Hangover Potion sat in what appeared to be a spice rack. A wooden case filled with potions from the world he no longer really wanted to associate with. He popped the cork and downed all the contents on one go. The steaming blue liquid felt cool on his tongue, soon clearing up his alcohol induced headache and all his other hangover symptoms. He felt much better; ready to begin the day once more now that every noise didn't make his head throb.
As the hours passed, he remembered to send off Ginny's clothes in a parcel. he even went out to look for a job again. The local newspaper had an advertisement for an opening at a small law firm. It was anything fancy, just a paid internship for aspiring solicitors. He went there for the interview. They would only be accepting three applications - he learned as he read more of the advertisement - so his chances of actually getting a spot was slim to nothing. But he had to try.
Harry shaved, showered and dressed in a nice black suit with a dark grey waistcoat. Dress to impress. He also combed his hair, and with a little styling gel, it stayed in place; looking soft and silky and not a hair out of place. In short, he looked very handsome. Harry reached into the cabinet behind the mirror and pulled out a small plastic box. Inside contained some small round pieces of soft, squishy plastic. Contact lenses. Harry removed his glasses and picked up a lens. Leaning his head back, he carefully placed the lens on his eye and blinked. Them repeated the same process for the other eye.
Now he looked more that handsome; he looked gorgeous! And he could see clearly too. No stupid glasses for him. Taking a deep breath, Harry exited the bathroom and returned to his bedroom. He slipped his black shoes on, adjusted his tie once more as he looked himself over in the mirror and - deciding that he was indeed ready to face the great outside world - grabbed his keys and walked out the door.
The drive was fifteen minutes across town. He pulled his car into the parking lot of an old, grey brick building that he assumed was the law firm. Harry parked and got out of the car, making sure to lock the doors. Inside was neatly furnished with leather chairs. Many vases full of flowers sat on tables along the walls and on the front desk where the receptionist sat. A young woman, possibly in her late twenties, was on the phone with what sounded to be a client as she typed some information into a computer.
"All right, Mr. Hastings, we'll see you tomorrow at nine-thirty a.m. Mr. Rosenfeld will be happy to see you again. Again, my condolences for your loss," the woman said, "bye bye."
Harry felt nervous as he approached her desk. He buttoned the middle button on his suit jacket to appear more professional.
"Hello, how may I help you, sir?" the woman addressed him.
"Oh, hello. I'm..." and Harry truly wondered if he should now implement his desired name change, "I'm Arthur Kipps." he finally said.
"Nice to meet you Mr. Kipps. I'm Mary Stevens." she said and extended her hand to him.
Harry accepted it, not failing to notice a large gaudy ruby ring - which looked more pink than red - that was surrounded with a circle of diamonds. It was big and cheap and easily covered the knuckles on three of her fingers. Harry released her hand and offered a fake smile and hoped it looked sincere.
"I'm here to inquire about the internship." Harry said.
"Oh, yes. Mr. Bentley is currently with another applicant right now. Have a seat and he'll be right with you." Mary Cheap-Ring said.
Harry sighed and sat down in one of the expensive leather chairs some feet away. Minutes passed slowly and seconds even slower. Harry glanced at his watch, he'd only been waiting for ten minutes, but it easily felt like an hour. And finally at the twelfth minute, Mary Cheap-Ring spoke to him.
"Mr. Bentley will see you now. His office is at the end of the hall. It's not hard to find."
Harry stood and smiled, for real this time, "Thank you."
About an hour later, Harry shook hands with Mr. Bentley and smiled.
"Thank you, sir." Harry said.
"Not at all, Mr. Kipps. We're happy to have you." Mr. Bentley said.
Harry just kept smiling and released the man's hand. Mr. Bentley sat back down in his chair behind his desk and regarded Harry warmly.
"You start Monday. My assistant, Mrs. Norris, will be more than happy to show you around and get you all squared away."
Harry's smile faltered a bit and he looked like he might have a small fainting spell. "W-Wha- Who?"
"Jane Norris. She's my assistant." Mr. Bentley said firmly, "Mr. Kipps, are you feeling well? You look rather pale."
Harry shook his head, "And she's... a person, right?"
That was a stupid question. Harry thought.
"Of course." Mr. Bentley said dryly. "Are you sure you're fine?"
Harry closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "Yes. Just a bit tired."
"All right. Go home and get some rest. We can't have you blanking out around here." Mr. Bentley smiled in a friendly manner.
"Thank you, sir. I'll see you Monday." Harry said and walked out of Mr. Bentley's office.
thanks drarrypotter94 for beta-ing. and leave a review if you are so inclined. they make me very happy.