Secrets of the war, a murder and a fatal attraction: After his victory over Voldemort, Harry became an Auror, and realised quickly that it wasn't at all like he had imagined. In a world where the death of the Dark Lord did nothing to change the fundamental problems, he's on his own, estranged from his friends and changed by a long two-year war that has left scars. Disillusioned with the people and the Ministry, he takes on a last case, but when he starts digging deeper, his life takes a sudden turn, and he discovers a fundamental truth: Nothing is more attractive than a dangerous woman …
AUish, Post-Hogwarts. Disregards most of DH. Harry/Astoria, Harry/Daphne.
This story features Harry as an Auror, influenced by the typical antiheros of the classical period of American hardboiled fiction. The first chapter, in fact, is a nod to one of the most well-known stories from that time, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. The plot though is entirely my own.
That aside, one important reason this story came into being is because I heartily dislike the rampant implementations of Daphne as an "Ice-Queen". I have no idea what everyone's fascination with that term is, when there isn't even a good definition around; in any case, having her consist out of some 'hard shell, soft core' character (where the 'hard shell' part lasts for as long as Harry needs to lay eyes on her i.e. the first chapter) got old without ever convincing me, and so this is the real deal. Daphne's imperious, stuck-up and unfeeling. In other words, a veritable bitch. This, at last, fits my definition of an "Ice-Queen". And thus, as far as I am concerned, this is Harry/Daphne done right.
The story's more or less finished at about 100k words, so I'm shooting for regular updates twice a week (Wednesday & Saturday).
It wouldn't be here though without the help of the following persons and things: Mindless, who shared my fondness for noir, Vlad, who shared my fondness for this version of Daphne, Nuhuh, who read a very special scene; the #darklordpotter IRC-Channel and the DLP Forums incl. its inhabitants; my Beta Matt Silver, who answered all my odd questions (his penname is Matt Silver 3k, and he's got two awesome stories – Breach of Contract and Incorruptible), and BillDoor, who fished out the last spelling mistakes. Thanks to all of you guys.
Neither Rowling nor Chandler's stuff is mine. Enjoy :)
A Harry Potter Noir Story
To all the women who are beautiful and know it,
Murder with class,
And behave like a lady.
Let's have a toast. It's a dying breed.
THE HEAT of the August sun beat down on my neck. The air in the small valley didn't move at all, it weighed muggily in the depression, and it was only midmorning. I wiped my forehead with the sleeve of my robes, dark blue, Auror-standard. I'd eat a Hippogriff if there wouldn't be a thunderstorm before nightfall.
As of yet, however, the sky was still steely blue over the flat chalk hills in the south-western corner of Suffolk. The gravel path on which I was walking wound its way down through the valley and up the counter slope, to an expansive two store building, which gleamed white in the bright light. It was surrounded by well-kept, extensive gardens and enclosed by a wrought-iron fence, with an imposing gate including a coat of arms, through which the road led and where I now stood: I had reached Greengrass Hall.
The gate swung open before I'd done anything in particular. Well, I was expected. I was here to do some pretence work – that was, questioning Sterling Greengrass about his possible involvement into Death Eater or Dark activities during the war, with the strong urging to not dig up anything. Which, of course, was the problem. And my day had even started as usual – too early, with too much paperwork left over from last week that I didn't care for, with the mind numbing task of filing that crap and with me bored out of my mind. Perhaps in retrospect, I shouldn't have said that out loud while Robards, in his capacity as Head Auror, was within hearing distance; but I had, and it was the truth.
So I had gotten stuck with the Greengrass file, which no one had wanted to take on because Sterling Greengrass was a big shot in the Ministry; he'd simply slipped in Malfoy's role, after their fall from grace. Everyone feared for their own career first. Wasn't it always that way? And Greengrass senior was a choleric old coot, infamous for the grudges he held; so stepping on his toes was the last thing anyone wanted to do – and now I had to.
I took the photo from a pocket. It had been enclosed in the file, a paper clipping if the backside was any indication, showing the Greengrasses, standing right here where I now stood, in front of the manor, on a sunny day some summers past. Both Greengrass sisters looked quite similar to one another. The older, on the left side, appearing comparatively tall; with pale skin and chiselled, well-proportioned features framed by ash blonde hair and grey eyes, whereas the younger one's were blue and her hair more goldish-blonde. Otherwise, she looked like a smaller copy of her sister, both exceptionally beautiful.
They smiled at the camera-lens, an arm around their grandfather who stood in the middle, and eventually, the young girl burst into a silent fit of giggles, while her sister tried to reprimand her. I watched her stuff her fist into her mouth to stop the giggles from escaping.
It looked like a perfect happy little family. And the youngest Greengrass looked like a little angel in her white dress.
The front door opened. A small head with overly large ears and eyes peered around the doorframe, outside, at me.
"Is Mister Auror Harry Potter sir not going to be coming inside?"
I stuffed the picture back into my pocket and shrugged.
"If Greengrass is ready now."
I entered the main hall, which was as high as the building. After the sweltering heat outside, the first thing I noticed was the coldness. It swept across my face, crawled up my arms until it made me shiver. The thick stone kept the air even in the blazing summer sun as cold as in a grave.
"I is telling Master Greengrass that yous be here now."
With that the House Elf popped away, while the door closed behind me with a soft sigh. And the house was silent, which somehow seemed far louder than the loudest noise could have been. I stood in the middle of the hall, alone; my back and left arm shaded in a sea green from the light filtering though the stained glass panel that was set in the wall above the entrance doors, which really were more of a portal. Apart from the chandelier with burning candles suspended from the obscure and high-up ceiling, this was the only source of light, plunging the hall into a murky half-dark.
On my left side, a wide, sweeping staircase, tile paved, led in a small turn up to a gallery overlooking the hall on the second floor. Alongside it, on the wall, hung portraits, alive or not I couldn't tell; but every single one was staring at me, together with far too many hidden eyes from within the dark. The first one was a dark-haired man with a moustache and an especially penetrating gaze, stormy grey eyes trying to drill holes into me; the eyes of a man you'd better not cross. I thought this might be Sterling Greengrass in his prime, or perhaps his deceased son.
He was still staring at me.
I started to feel uncomfortable and turned away. On the right side was a lounge area that looked like it had been there for decades just like that; faded red plush on old-fashioned settees. Next to it stood an imposing knight's armour, complete with spear and missing shield.
I walked over, my steps on the stone floor echoing softly, sitting down on an armchair.
It was stately, certainly, but it all seemed to radiate an atmosphere of decline, as though the best years had been past years; stuffy and with the sickly sweet smell of decay in the air, imposing pieces of furniture only surface-pretence, like the apple that was rotten inside, while the surface, red and shiny, desperately tried to keep up an image of that which was no longer true.
Then again, perhaps that was just in my imagination. I ran my hand over my face. What was up with me?
Something rustled behind me, and that was definitely no imagination.
I jerked my head around, staring at the stairs. It wasn't the House Elf coming back. It was a girl.
She looked sixteen or seventeen years old; not yet fully grown, but by no means it made her look awkward like so many other teenagers. Instead, she seemed to have taken the best of either, which made for a dangerous combination of cute and beautiful. She was a little delicate, but her dark blue eyes looked out sharply, too hard. It was a strange contrast to the rest of her, like a piece that didn't fit with the rest of the puzzle. As though she had read my mind, she cast down her eyes, peering at me through her dark lashes.
She started to move, seemingly floating down the stairs, her deep-cut red robes rustling again. They looked good on her. She stopped when she reached the lounge area, smiling a little smile, which showed her perfect white teeth, for a short moment; shiny almost like porcelain; giving her a predatory look.
"You're Harry Potter," she said.
"Are you sure?" I said.
The smile grew, and she took the last step towards me, sitting down on the armrest of the chair.
"You're funny." She looked me up and down. "Cute too. But what would the handsome, heroic vanquisher of the Dark Lord be doing as an low-ranking Auror?"
"He would be earning money," I said. "I got an Order of Merlin, First Class, and a lot of handshakes, not a million Galleons. The Ministry's pretty tight on money, after Voldemort ransacked their funds."
She giggled in secret merriment, as if I just had made a joke. Then she bit her lip and lowered her head, glancing at me sideways. I wondered if this was her attempt of looking coy. It was ruined by the way she spoke.
"I bet we two could have fun. Don't you think?"
And before I could do or say anything, she let herself drop backwards, right onto me. She stretched luxuriously, her slender, young body pressed against my own. Past her crown of gold blonde hair, I had a perfect view down her robes. I gaped at her.
"Listen, Angel –"
"Angel," she interrupted. "Yes. I like that. You may call me that."
They hadn't yet thought her sarcasm. She twisted her head, which was resting on my chest, looking up at me, and the giggle was back when she realised the view I had.
"Nice, isn't it?" Her hand came up, small fingers tracing my face. "I like you too."
That was it.
I rose, unheeding that it pushed her down onto the hard floor. I wasn't in the mood to deal with girls right now, much less this girl, and I had an appointment. She laughed as she picked herself off of the floor, straightening her robes with a simple flick of her wand.
I sincerely doubted that. She turned her body slowly and lithely, without lifting her feet, a step closer, only inches away from me. Her big blue eyes looked up in mine, a little glassy, I thought, but it was hard to tell in this light. At that moment, a soft popping noise alerted me; past her shoulder, I saw the House Elf which had returned. She must have noticed the change in my look, because her head jerked around. She spotted the Elf, gasped a little, and, quick like a deer, darted across the hall and up the stairs. She had vanished around a corner upstairs before I had released the breath I had been holding.
"Master Greengrass will be seeing yous now," the Elf squeaked. It looked perturbingly composed.
I tore my eyes away from the staircase and nodded.
"Who was that?"
"Mistress Astoria Greengrass, Mister Auror Harry Potter sir." I wondered if I detected the faintest trace of reproach in its squeaky voice, but then dismissed it. What happened in the Greengrass house wasn't my problem; the old man was, and when the House Elf repeated its announcement politely, I followed it across the hall.
o ] [ o
Sterling Greengrass was in his study on the ground floor.
He was sitting in a straightbacked wooden chair, with some ornaments cut into the brown wood, which made it look fancy, but not any more comfortable; surrounded by floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books. There was a large desk, in front of two open French doors leading out into the garden, letting the muggy air inside, still with no cooling draught to speak of.
I blinked a little at the bright, daylight-filled room after walking through dim corridors, and my eyes moved over the desk, with a little meticulously arranged stacks of paperwork, on to the fireplace, which was cold and had a little paper ash lying inside it. Neither on the desk nor on the mantelpiece nor anywhere else were any photographs. I noticed this, as it seemed rather unusual – only looking at the study, no one would've thought that there were other people besides Sterling Greengrass living in this house.
In fact, there were only two personal items there as far as I could tell: On the marble mantelpiece was an old-fashioned mantelpiece clock, ticking away the seconds as the hand was slowly creeping towards eleven a.m. Over the door, the stuffed grey head of a Graphorn displayed two impressive and wickedly sharp horns. Perhaps it was a hunting trophy, from some decades ago.
The important thing being the 'decades ago' – Sterling Greengrass was old. I had to repress the urge to stare at him. I hadn't seen him in the Ministry the last two or so years, and now I knew the reason – he was looking gaunt and frail, almost dead or at least dying. His burgundy robes looked expensive enough, but on him they flagged, contrasting in their appearance with his haggard form, only serving to further highlight his bad state. His face was waxen, mask-like; the greyish skin stretched too taut over his cheekbones, and sunken right next to it; hollowed cheeks, the sharp, typical nose, and his wrinkled temple, which his claw-like fingers were now rubbing, shaking slightly.
I thought that the choice of the chair wasn't so much done for its dubious comfort than born from the need to appear in this meeting sitting straight, which the almost vertical backrest of the chair provided, and then I wondered why he wouldn't use glamour charms if he cared for appearances.
As it was, it helped him to a last rest of presence – together with his eyes, the same slate-grey his oldest granddaughter had, which, although all the fire they'd held at one time had died, still occasionally flashed sharply from under bushy eyebrows, telling of a shrewd mind that his body was slowly but surely betraying.
He opened his bloodless lips, and his voice was a dry rustle.
"Some of Ogden's finest, Tilly. How do you like it?"
The last part was directed at me. I shrugged.
"Any way, sir."
He nodded, satisfied. The Elf that had led me here popped away.
"That's the right way. Old Ogden's works in every situation. I used to refine Rosmerta's Oak Mead with it, two fingers of that and three quarters of a glass of Ogden's beneath it. Sit down, man."
He snapped the last part, and I took a seat in a second chair, similar to his. An almost full cut-glass bottle and a glass with an amber liquid appeared on the desk. He sniffed at it, like bulldog on a rabbit hole, then pushed it towards me.
"Have a drink."
I rose my eyebrows.
"Nothing for you, sir?"
"Can't. The healer said I wasn't allowed. It would be deteriorative to my health, apparently, but I only think she fears I might die sooner, which would give her less time treating me and thus less of my money. Greedy quacksalver."
He glared at me, as though I were the healer.
"As if I weren't dying anyway."
When I didn't make a move to pick up the glass immediately, he waved his bony hand impatiently.
"Go ahead. I like watching others drink. Some man you are, if you have to indulge your vices by proxy, eh?"
He wheezed out a dry chuckle, and perhaps I looked a little baffled when I sipped my drink, because he glared at me again, before he was stopped by a sudden violent coughing fit. The elf was suddenly back again, carrying a silver plate which a single vial with a clear liquid on it. He downed it in one gulp, the prominent Adam's apple in his lean grey throat moving heavily as he swallowed. I frowned.
"You are looking at a man with terminal magical burnout. I understand that answers those ridiculous and impudent questions you came to ask?"
That explained his condition, as well as the missing glamours, if he had no one to do it for him.
"You can't do magic anymore? Not even a simply Lumos?"
"I'm no better at magic than a filthy squib, Potter," he growled. "My magic slowly started to wither away approximately ten years ago, and in the last two, my body has started to follow right after, when it couldn't live without magic any longer. Nowadays, I'm as helpless as an infant, depending on the stupid elves and my damned granddaughters, whenever they feel like being helpful."
Sidetracked for a moment from the questions regarding his involvement in the war, I placed the quill and the parchment I had taken out onto the desk. I couldn't, for the life of me, imagine the girl I just had met caring tenderly for her fatally ill grandfather.
I said, "I met Astoria in the hall. She didn't particularly look the caring type. Well, at least not for anyone your age."
A cynical smile showed on his thin lips.
"She did anything to you?"
He said it as though he was expecting her to.
"She sat in my lap."
He snorted like a horse.
"Little harlot. Bet she was on some potions again, too. I wouldn't know – how the hell am I supposed to know what's in vogue today there? Eh? That's your field, man."
He stared at me as if I would tell him what potion was currently hip in the magical underworld and what his granddaughter might have downed. I stared back at him, wondering about the manner in which he spoke about his granddaughter. To a stranger, no less. There always were rumours – both sisters were said to be wild and unrestrained, but it was always on the quiet, hush-hush, with nothing substantial ever showing up in any official records. Yes, the Ministry was indeed more helpful than ever.
For those who could afford it and knew the right people.
The old man nodded slowly, as if reading my thoughts and perhaps he was, since I had never mastered Occlumency. His head moved with as little exercise as possible, as if his neck was afraid of the weight of his head.
"But you're right, most times it is only Daphne looking after me. Astoria isn't even of age yet. She's a spoilt child testing her boundaries and finding none, and otherwise delights in being cruel and shockingly superficial. You want to know something, Potter?"
I probably didn't, but he was going to tell me anyway.
"I can't stand my granddaughters. They are useless, rotten things. Especially Daphne. Oh, she's smart alright, and the right kind of smart too, calculating, ruthless, but she doesn't give a Hippogriff's arse about family. So I would naturally throw her out and dump her at a brothel, but of course …" His gaunt, almost skeletal hands rose from the desk, shaking slightly, making his point. Then he made an angry noise. "Bah, I bet even that wouldn't make her blink. Cold, stuck-up trash. Sometimes I wonder if she's even capable of anything resembling affection, the damn bitch."
I only stared at him with my mouth open. Where had that come from? His lips stretched into a nasty grin, nearly disappearing in the process.
"Shocked how I talk about my own kin, Potter? I'm just being a realist. I feel like I'm old enough and senile enough to not longer indulge into self-adulating hypocrisy and not longer care about what I say, and most importantly, about what my granddaughters do. It's not as if I could stop it. Neither has an ounce of moral that I know of, but then again, I don't either. They are picking their own roads to perdition, as has every Greengrass, so I can't say I feel the tiniest bit sorry for them."
He looked at me, seemingly satisfied with his rant, and added more choice words; and I was momentarily taken aback at the sheer plethora of filth and the torrent of abuse he poured over his granddaughters in front of me. Never mind that from what I knew, every last word of it was probably true, but he was still their only remaining family. Instead, I got the feeling that he enjoyed degrading them as much as he enjoyed throwing people off balance. There was absolutely no love lost between them. It wasn't any of my business, at all, but I couldn't deny that there was a certain horrible fascination at seeing the happy little family from the paper clipping torn to pieces in front of my very eyes, to see the ugliness that was beneath the perfect, shiny surface of that picture.
I shook my head and downed the rest of the Firewhisky. It burned in my stomach, I hadn't yet had a decent breakfast as I'd been running late like almost every Monday, but it helped me to focus back onto my task. I set the empty glass onto the desk, and picked up my quill. Self-inking, ever-sharp.
"So you weren't involved in any Death Eater or other Dark activities, then?"
It was an half-arsed attempt to catch the dour old man off guard.
The only thing it did was trigger another fit of rage. Greengrass started to breath heavily through his nose. It was a stertorous and unhealthy sound.
"Are you completely incompetent, you inane idiot? I just told you that my magic is gone, which of course you will keep confident." He fixated me with an irate glare. "When the Dark Lord was around, I was already severely weakened, unable to be of any use. Imagine a Mudblood. That weak."
I let that comment pass. "Your son was a Death Eater," I said.
The burst of temper was gone as quick as it had come. All of a sudden, he was cautious.
"I wouldn't know anything about that. I was as shocked as anyone when he turned up dead, and they later discovered he'd died involved in some unpleasant affairs."
"I'm sure," I said surlily. I was sweating again. The cooling charm had worn off. The sweltering air coming inside didn't become any cooler with the drink in me either.
A many-coloured butterfly swayed through the open doors, settling on the desk like a sparkling gem.
Naturally, he was lying. It was totally unbelievable that he hadn't known what his son was doing. I knew that, and he knew that I knew, but he also knew that if he didn't come out and flat out told me that, there was nothing I could do.
His hand came down crashing, crushing the butterfly.
Suddenly, his hand clenched around the edge of the desk. A vein throbbed and his eyes widened until there seemingly was more white than there could possibly be. He started to cough painfully again. It sounded like there was something inside him trying to get out. Abrupt spasms shook him and he fell forwards out of his chair. His legs didn't carry his weight and gave way. He crawled on the ground like a beetle, twitching uncontrollably, flailing his arms, unable to rise again by himself.
I jumped up, in order to help him, although truthfully, I had no idea what I should or could do in his fit.
"Tilly!" he croaked.
There was a popping noise at once. The eyes of the House Elf grew to impossible sizes as it noticed Greengrass' state.
"Master Greengrass," it wailed. "Oh no, oh no. Tilly will get Mrs. Steven-"
"No! Not that damn – I – argh – "
He convulsed and was coughing his lungs out, grabbing blindly into the air.
The House Elf looked at him, then snapped its fingers and another vial appeared. With trembling arms, it handed it to Sterling Greengrass. He spilled half of it, the rest he somehow got down his throat, but apparently it did the trick, as his coughing stopped.
Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp.
"Oh no," the House Elf moaned again. "Poor Master Greengrass. He will need rest. Tilly will bring him to bed."
It snapped its fingers again and floated the man out of the room.
I stared after the fatally ill man. Two-thirds dead, unable to move by himself, his body was falling apart. And yet he had preserved his nastiness. Perhaps it was all he had left.
My eyes moved from the door to the smear of the butterfly on the polished table board, and further through the study. I was alone. I quickly walked over to the fireplace. Bending down, I scooped up the flakes of ash and put them into my pocket. Just when I was straightening myself again, the elf returned.
"Master Greengrass will not be able to speak to yous more."
"That's alright," I said. "If I have more questions, I'll come back later."
It looked like that wasn't what it'd meant, but it didn't respond. Instead it said, "Mistress Daphne Bletchley would like to see yous, before yous be leaving."
"What does she want to see me about?"
The huge eyes peered up at me.
"Tilly wouldn't know, Mister Auror Harry Potter sir."
"Well, who told her anything about my visit?"
"The windows is looking out front. She saw yous go in. Tilly had to tell her who yous were."
I frowned at the House Elf.
"I don't like that."
It said nothing, only curtsying politely. I stared at it for another moment, then gave in with a sigh and followed it out of the study.
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