Chapter 24

17 August 1998

The morning dawned cloudy but with an undercurrent of anticipation and excitement in the air. In Diagon Alley, it was the opening day for the Pottery, and a line of excited witches and wizards were eagerly awaiting entry to get their hands on a Pleiades Mirror.

While a lot of the crowd was younger, with teenagers and young adults making up the majority, there were a few curious adults as well and Joshua Appleton happened to be one of those curious adults.

It had been a month since the Lily Potter Home had opened, and Josh felt like he had made a lot of progress with his charges. Last week, Aurelia had even spoken to him, though it had been brief. Antonia was still silent but she had begun smiling these days. He had spoken to Healer Lim who had assured him Belinda was looking into hiring a Mind Healer for some of the children, and Josh knew he had made the right decision when he had accepted this job.


Josh turned around and blinked when he saw a familiar man in the line two people behind him. "Kim! It's been a while," he smiled, recognising the Hit Wizard he had worked with. Josh let the two people behind him jump ahead in line and made his way to William Kim.

"Yeah, too long," grinned William. He looked older than Josh remembered, but the smile was still as bright as ever. "How have you been?"

"Very well," nodded Josh. "You?"

"Ah, can't complain," he said, and nodded toward a teenage girl next to him. "Fulfilling my obligations as a father."

Josh's eyes went wide. "Is this Trinity? She was five the last time I saw her," he said.

Trinity Kim gave him a polite smile and William laughed. "She's fourteen now, and apparently it is unthinkable to return to Hogwarts without buying a Polaris Mirror," he said.

"Pleiades Mirror, Papa," said Trinity, rolling her eyes a little. "It is amazing."

"And how do we know? It is only going on sale today," said William.

Trinity shook her head and refused to answer. William made a face at Josh, who suppressed a chuckle.

"I dunno, Kim, I think she has a point," said Josh.

"Not you too," said William.

"You have to admit, it is an incredible invention," said Josh.

"If it works," said William.

"Harry Potter has staked his name on the Institute's showroom," Josh pointed out. William shrugged but did not argue the point. "You have to admit, it will be a game changer out in the field. Communicating discreetly has always been an issue. Patronuses aren't exactly subtle, even if people learn to cast them. Being able to use these out in the field would help immensely." Josh saw the unchanged expression on William's face and smiled. "But you had already thought of that, which is why you're here. Apart from fulfilling your obligations as a father."

William chuckled ruefully. "Could never get one past you, could I?" he said. "Billington asked me for a personal favour."

"The Head of DMLE?" asked Josh.

"She wants me to check these Mirrors out to see if they will assist Hit Wizards and Aurors out in the field," he confided in a low voice. "If they do, the Ministry will likely want to commission a batch for their operatives."

Josh nodded, knowing that made sense. He checked the time and noticed it was only two minutes to nine. "Well," he said, with a smile at William. "I suppose we shall know soon enough."

When the doors opened, Josh lost track of William and his daughter. He had expected a smaller shop, but it was an extensive showroom. The walls were painted a light parchment colour, and the dark brown furniture and tapestries gave a sense of calm to the interior despite the crowd inside. The central portion of the Pottery was dedicated entirely to the Pleiades Mirrors, the uniquely ornate mirrors (made from pewter, brass, silver or gold, depending on what kind the customer wanted) arranged in neat cases.

Salespeople in brown trousers and parchment-coloured tunic tops assisted the customers, answering their queries and ringing up their purchases.

The rest of the showroom was entirely fascinating to Josh. He had only been expecting to buy the Mirror for himself, but there were other products that did not seem to be on sale, but were arranged as a sort of demonstration.

With a look of curiosity on his face, Josh spent the next forty minutes or so getting a detailed tour. He had been handed an information booklet at some point, and he explored the Pottery, noting the inventions would be perfect inside any magical home.

Josh had brief knowledge of Muggle appliances, and these seemed similar in theory though entirely magical. Ovens for cooking and heating food, refrigerators for cooling food, washing machines for washing clothes, dryers for drying clothes, blenders and mixers for cooking and baking, even something that would clean and dry the dishes.

"You can place orders for any products that interest you," he was told by one of the salespeople at one point. "At our current estimate, your order is expected to be delivered within 2-3 weeks."

Josh was quite interested in a compact wireless radio, the size of a small book. Most wizarding wireless were quite bulky and cumbersome, so something of that size which could be carried around easily was exciting. It would be perfect for the window sill in Antonia and Aurelia's room. He had noticed they grew calmer when they heard music but there was only one wireless at the orphanage in the assembly room downstairs.

It was slightly outside his budget, but he placed an order for the wireless before buying a pewter Pleiades Mirror for himself. He was given a stamped receipt as proof of purchase for the wireless radio and promised he would receive the wireless in the upcoming days.

With a sense of anticipation and glee, Josh left the Pottery to return to the orphanage.

20 August 1998

"That is Kingsley's new project?" asked Harry, sitting back in his chair in shock.

Arthur Weasley ate a bite of the penne alla vodka and gave a nod. "It may seem extreme to you, Harry, but it is not an uncommon strategy," he said. "Not in the wizarding world, but Muggles, especially around Europe have been using this as a strategy."

"And it has worked?" he asked, puzzled.

"It has, to an extent," said Arthur. "You have to admit, it is not a bad idea. Hogsmeade is the only all-wizarding village in Britain. We have Diagon Alley, but it is just a small part of London. Other cities have similar areas, but nowhere on the same scale. As for villages, most all-magical villages were abandoned or destroyed in the past two wars. All we have left are fringes of Muggle towns and villages. It is safe, hiding in plain sight, I mean, but it does restrict expansion."

"So, this Project Atlas is reviving magical villages?" asked Harry.

"In a sense, yes," nodded Arthur. "There is no shortage of magical land. We would not be encroaching on Muggle territory or trying to steal any land. The Ministry, well Kingsley in particular, wants to encourage growth in other cities beside London as well as in rural Britain."

"We are also expecting a sharp rise in population soon," agreed Harry, remembering Elias Greengrass' book about Borogoves.

"Exactly!" nodded Arthur. "We are starting to stabilise the economy, but it is still too soon to tell. At the moment, what we are doing is tending to the open wounds. It is necessary but not sustainable in the long run."

Harry must have looked puzzled, because Arthur smiled in understanding.

"Take the Celine Abbott Boarding House, for example. It's perfect at the moment while we help people get back on their feet," said Arthur. "But then what? Most people there would be unable to afford London's soaring housing prices. The wizarding settlements we have on the fringes of Muggle villages are at capacity. But if we can offer them incentives to move to magical villages, where they could afford the cost of living without having to rely on the Ministry's support, it would be ideal, wouldn't it?"

"I suppose," nodded Harry, but knew he sounded doubtful.

"It is a lofty goal, but we need a solution, Harry," said Arthur. "It is still in the very early stages, so keep this under wraps."

"Of course," agreed Harry. "Thank you for telling me."

Arthur smiled at him as they returned their attention to their meal. "No problem at all, Harry," he said.

Astoria stepped out of the fireplace in Daphne's office at Verdant and brushed off the soot from her robes. Daphne looked up from her desk and gave her a smile.

"Come in, you're right on time," said Daphne, and cast a quick spell to remove the remaining soot from Astoria's robes.

"Thanks," said Astoria. "And thank you for making the time today. I know you're busy."

"Don't worry about it," said Daphne. "Part of it is work anyway."

Astoria smiled at her and waited while she grabbed her cloak. They stepped out together and walked toward the brand new Primp and Trim Salon. The Dao sisters had worked exceptionally fast to get their shop set up, and with the GSC helping, they had opened the day before.

The salon was only a few shops down from the GSC HQ, and was immediately noticeable because of the bright pink exterior and interior. Despite the garish decoration, the interior was clean, neat and organised.

When they entered, a young woman sitting at the reception desk stood up and smiled at them. "Welcome to Primp and Trim Salon. Do you have an appointment?" she asked.

"Yes, at 2 pm. Daphne and Astoria Greengrass," said Daphne.

She checked the book in front of her and beamed at them. "Of course, this way, please," she said, and led them further inside the salon. "Ping, Sang, your 2 o'clock clients are here."

The Dao sisters were identical from the top of their dark hair to their perfectly pedicured toes. Astoria remembered Daphne telling her they were twins.

"Welcome, I'm Ping and this is my sister, Sang," said Ping Dao, with a polite smile. "Take a seat, please."

Daphne sat down in one of the chairs and Astoria took the one next to hers. There were two other customers in the salon, one of them reading Witch Weekly while she had curlers in her hair while another employee was styling the other customer's hair.

"We have you both booked in for a wash, treatment, cut and dry," said Sang, as she summoned two black smocks. At a quick flick of her wand, one of them went to Daphne while the other to Astoria.

"That is correct," said Daphne, as Sang tied the smock around her.

"Tilt your head back, please," Ping said to Astoria, as she did the same for her. "Do you mind if I remove the pins from your hair?"

"Not at all, go ahead please," said Astoria.

Ping deftly removed the pins from Astoria's hair and set them down in a glass bowl nearby. She moved the chair into a reclining position and Astoria tilted her head back so her dark hair could gather into the little wash basin behind the chair.

"For sisters, you both have very different hair," said Sang, who had already started washing Daphne's hair.

"Daph was lucky enough to get our father's hair, blonde and wavy," giggled Astoria, as Ping started washing her hair with warm water. "I got the straight, dark and boring."

"But it doesn't take as much effort to maintain," Daphne pointed out.

"True," agreed Astoria. "Your shop is new, isn't it?" she asked, after a moment.

"Yes, we only opened yesterday," said Ping, as she poured a generous amount of odourless shampoo onto her hair. "We were surprised we are already getting appointments, but there have been a few walk-ins as well."

"It's not surprising, to be fair," said Daphne. "We don't really have many salons."

"Try none," said Sang, with a chuckle. "We used to run our business out of our house before. We had a dedicated client base but that was about it."

"Daph and I would hire a freelance beautician before this," said Astoria.

"Yes, that is what most people end up doing," nodded Ping.

"Do you still have the contact for this beautician?" asked Sang.

"Sang!" admonished Ping.

"Are you short on staff?" asked Daphne.

"No, but demand is much higher than we expected," said Sang.

"Sang, I'm sure our customers don't wish to hear about this," said Ping, pointedly.

"No, no, it's fine, it's interesting," said Astoria. "I'm sure we can give Odessa's details to you, right Daph?"

"Yes, of course," said Daphne.

"That would be a big help, especially if she is a professional," said Sang.

"How did you get your staff that you have so far?" asked Astoria, knowing they'd had help from the guild and the Office of Employment.

"Cara, whom you saw at the front desk, we hired with the Ministry's help," said Ping. "Madeline, over there, is an apprentice we got from the guild. We have two more apprentices, working part-time."

"But what we need are skilled professionals," said Sang. "Right now, it's just me and Ping." She finished rinsing off the shampoo from Daphne's hair. "Do you have a preference for scent for the treatment?"

"Lavender," said Daphne.

"Rose for me, please," said Astoria.

"Of course," said Sang, and Astoria watched as she summoned two familiar glass bottles.

"Rosette's Beauty Potions?" asked Astoria.

"Yes, we have a deal with the shop," said Ping, as she uncorked the bottle for the British Rose hair conditioning potion and poured some of it onto Astoria's hair.

"Why choose anything but the best, right?" grinned Sang.

"So you need more professionals?" asked Daphne, bringing them back to the earlier conversation.

"Yes, we are booked out, and we need to teach the apprentices," said Sang. "At the moment, the apprentices charge a lower rate and while that's good for the customers who can't afford our full rates, we want to grow our business."

"It's too soon to think about that, Sang," said Ping.

"No, it's not, and you know it," said Sang.

"I assume the hope is that your apprentices will go on to become skilled professionals in time," said Astoria.

"Of course, but they will only become skilled if we have the proper opportunities to teach them and supervise them," said Sang. "At the moment, we are almost exclusively a hair salon, but we want to expand into manicures, pedicures, maybe a few other beauty treatments as time goes on."

"Yes, it makes sense to have another professional, maybe even two," said Daphne, as Sang finished applying the hair conditioner to her hair. "Someone who can teach the apprentices and tend to the clients without the need for supervision. It will leave you to focus on growing the business and building up clientele, while preparing for expansion. I'll be sure to give you Odessa's details."

"She has recently had a baby so she has taken a break from work, but you could always try contacting her to see if she is looking for an opportunity," added Astoria.

"That would be helpful," nodded Ping, as Sang just beamed gratefully. Ping checked her watch and began rinsing the conditioning potion from Astoria's hair. Once she had rinsed it out, she summoned a jar of cream with a faint pink colour to it. There was no label on the jar but Ping scooped out about two teaspoons worth into her hand and began massaging it into Astoria's scalp.

"What is that?" asked Astoria.

"Hair treatment potion," said Ping. "We usually make our own concoction but we collaborated with Rosette Frost to improve on the formula this past week."

"It's not on sale anywhere, we commissioned Rosette to make it exclusively for our shop," added Sang.

Astoria glanced at Daphne, who gave the faintest nod confirming what Astoria had already suspected; the GSC had introduced Rosette Frost and the Dao sisters. She also noticed that the treatment potion in Sang's hand was of a faint lavender colour, leading her to believe that they were also scented like Rosette's other beauty potions.

Unlike the conditioner, which they had left in for a few minutes, Ping rinsed out the treatment potion immediately. She summoned a towel and gently dried her hair before moving the chair back upright from the reclining position.

"What did you have in mind for a haircut?" asked Ping, as she began combing through Astoria's still-damp hair.

"Actually, I am thinking of cutting it a bit," said Astoria, knowing she had let it grow past her waist. "Maybe take off a few inches."

"No problem at all," smiled Ping.

Astoria closed her eyes as Ping began cutting her hair. She had a tendency to doze off a bit while getting a haircut and it seemed this time was no different. Gentle shaking awoke her and she blinked in slight confusion.

"Good morning, sleepyhead," grinned Daphne. "Ping asked you a question."

"Oh, sorry," said Astoria, sheepishly. "Yes?"

"Is the length alright or do you want to go shorter?" asked Ping, with a chuckle.

Astoria looked at the mirror and her hair was going to the middle of her back. She smiled at Ping. "That should be enough, thank you," she said.

"Alright," said Ping, as she finished up. Once she was done, she sprayed it with a hair styling potion before drying her hair with a heating charm, brushing it at the same time. Once she had finished brushing it, she put it back into the same style it had been in before, using Astoria's pins to put it back up.

As she was doing so, Astoria glanced curiously at Daphne. Daphne seemed to have had only the ends of her hair trimmed, the length staying more or less the same. She couldn't remember if Daphne had worn her poisoned pin when coming to the hair appointment, having grown used to seeing her with it.

"Should have known," murmured Astoria, as she noticed the pin held in Daphne's hand as Sang styled her hair. Astoria knew she must have taken it off once coming into the salon. She had to wonder if she had a death grip on her wand, just out of sight.

"How do you want me to style it?" asked Sang.

"Just back into a bun, please," said Daphne. "I'm going back to the office."

"You got it," nodded Sang, and finished putting it up into a neat, professional bun, securing it without having to use Daphne's pin.

"There we go, all done," said Ping, as she removed the smock from around Astoria. "Cara will ring you up."

"Thank you so much, you did a lovely job," smiled Astoria, as she stood up. Her hair looked glossy and neat, smelled amazing and the new length was perfect.

After bidding goodbye to the Dao sisters, she and Daphne headed back to the front where Daphne paid Cara, who thanked them with a bright grin.

"A bit on the pricey side, wasn't it?" asked Astoria, once they had left the salon.

"Skilled professionals charge more. It was about on par with what Odessa charges," said Daphne, with a shrug.

"Did you leave Odessa's details?" asked Astoria.

"I did, while you were taking your little catnap," chuckled Daphne.

"Shut up," said Astoria, rolling her eyes.

"It's cute, you even snored," she laughed.

"I did not!" protested Astoria, immediately.

"Sure, keep telling yourself that, dear sister," said Daphne, as they returned to Verdant.

Astoria decided against keeping up the argument because she noticed Daphne had tucked her poisoned pin inside her bun already. "Thanks for coming with me today, Daph," she said, with a small smile.

"You don't need to thank me. I told you, part of it was work," said Daphne. "And it was helpful. Clients aren't always completely upfront about what they need, which is why we are determined to keep an eye on the businesses we help."

"It must be exhausting, though," said Astoria, as Daphne took a seat at her desk.

"Of course it is," said Daphne, and then sighed. "Adrian is finding me an assistant or two. I will still oversee everything, so we are just vetting the candidates thoroughly, considering everything that comes across my desk."

"Smart plan," nodded Astoria. "It's good you are getting help as well."

"Harry talked me into it," she shrugged.

"Good," said Astoria. "How many people does that bring it to now? The employees, I mean?"

Daphne summoned a folder from the filing cabinet behind her. "The main team consists of me, Harry, Draco, Fleur, Tracey, Parvati and Adrian. All of us know everything we do within the organisation. The Overseer team, if you will."

"Makes sense," nodded Astoria. "Are you thinking of bringing more people in on that team?"

"Not yet and not unless it is necessary," said Daphne. "There are people like you and Blaise and Andromeda and Hermione who are aware of things, but none of you are employees." Astoria nodded in acknowledgment, as Daphne continued. "Then there's the next tier, the support staff. Maribeth is one of them, Julius Godwin, who is now Tracey's assistant, and whoever we hire to assist me. They know a lot about what we do but are not privy to our discussions. There are strict employment contracts in place for all of them."

"That should be it, right?" asked Astoria.

"No," chuckled Daphne. "Then we go to the next tier. People that run the major projects like Newt with the Institute, Belinda with the orphanage, now Lavinia Poitier with the hotels. The tier after that is the management staff of those organisations. Followed by regular employees."

"Fuck," swore Astoria.

"Tori!" admonished Daphne, though she looked amused. "Believe me, I had a moment like that. It's partly how Harry managed to convince me to get assistants. Because if I have too much on my plate, I am more likely to miss things."

"Smart man," grinned Astoria. "Where is he anyway?"

"He had a lunch meeting with Arthur Weasley," said Daphne. "He should now be at a meeting with Andromeda and Belinda. They're finalising candidates for a Mind Healer for the children."

"Does he get an assistant?" asked Astoria.

"The idea is for me to have two, one of whom will also manage Harry's schedule. If it gets busier, we can get someone exclusively for him," explained Daphne.

"And how's your pet project going?" asked Astoria. "You have a name yet?"

"Emerald Teacups," said Daphne. "Shop space in Platinum is being renovated, and I am meeting with Clearwater tomorrow to go over some design ideas. I could use your input."

"Mine?" asked Astoria, surprised but not displeased.

"Of course, the repertoire belongs to our family, not just to me," she said, and then gave her a searching look. "I hear you are meeting Draco for lunch tomorrow."

Astoria went red but nodded. "We don't have many more opportunities to spend time together before I go back to Hogwarts," she said.

There was a knock on Daphne's office door, and judging by the frown on her face, Astoria knew her sister was not expecting anyone.

"Go on home, Tori," said Daphne, as she stood up.

"But-" protested Tori.

"Now!" ordered Daphne.

Astoria nodded and vanished through the fire.

As Astoria disappeared, Daphne went over to the door and opened it. The person on the other side made her frown again. "Zinnia? What are you doing here?" she asked.

Zinnia Yaxley was still dressed in her Healer's robes but she also seemed a bit frantic. "Sorry to drop in unexpectedly, Daphne," she said, trying to smile but it fell flat. "But I need to discuss something with you and Harry urgently."

"Come in," said Daphne, inviting her in and nodding toward the sofa. "Harry is at a meeting, I'm afraid."

Zinnia nodded and took a seat. Daphne really wished she had Maribeth around because Zinnia looked like she needed a strong cup of something.

"This might be nothing," said Zinnia. "But Hermann Abercrombie was brought into St. Mungo's earlier today."

"Is he alright?" asked Daphne, summoning a tea set and starting to make a cup of tea for Zinnia.

"Yeah, yeah, it's a minor stroke," said Zinnia. "They are observing him overnight but he is otherwise fine."

"So, what's the problem?" asked Daphne, passing her the cup of tea.

"Thanks," said Zinnia, accepting the cup and taking a sip. She took a deep breath. "I think he's being poisoned."

Daphne's eyebrows shot up. "What makes you think that?" she asked.

"I work on the Emergency floor," said Zinnia. "When patients come in needing urgent assistance, it is my job to cast as many diagnostic spells as possible and prepare a quick profile for a more senior Healer to take over and begin treating the patient. Does that make sense?"

"It does, yes," said Daphne. "So when you cast your spells on the Chief Warlock, you saw something that made you suspect he was being poisoned?"

She nodded. "And per protocol, I noted it on his patient profile," she said. "It wasn't a detailed analysis, the spell is designed for quick judgment calls so I saw that there was something in his system. Some kind of toxin." Daphne nodded to show she was listening and Zinnia seemed encouraged by it. "Once he was stabilised, he was moved to a patient room. I went to check on him a few hours later." She shrugged sheepishly. "It's not really my job to do that but I just like to keep an eye when it's a patient I have worked on."

"That's perfectly reasonable," said Daphne.

Zinnia nodded but then frowned slowly. "My initial patient profile was still there. Any additional tests that are done are added to update the profile but my initial diagnosis is still kept there to track any changes," she said. "But when I saw Abercrombie's profile, the diagnosis for the toxin wasn't there."

"What do you mean?" asked Daphne, puzzled.

"It means, my entry was removed," said Zinnia. "But no one other than a senior Healer could have done that. The spell requires a seal to cast."

"The seal that only senior Healers know?" asked Daphne. Zinnia nodded, and Daphne frowned as well. "Could you have been mistaken about the toxin having been there in the first place?"

"No, but that's what must have happened, right?" asked Zinnia. "I must have imagined it."

Daphne gave her a searching look. "But you don't believe that," said Daphne, shrewdly.

Zinnia shifted uncomfortably but took a deep breath. "I know what I saw," said Zinnia. "There was some kind of poison in his system and I know I noted it on his profile."

"Could it have left his system between you first seeing it and then when you saw him later?" asked Daphne.

"Even if it had, it would not have erased it from my initial profile," said Zinnia.

"Did you cast the spell again when you saw him?" asked Daphne.

"I didn't think to do that," said Zinnia, looking disappointed.

"That's alright," said Daphne. "Could you ask your senior Healer if there was any reason for it to be removed?"

Zinnia looked very uncomfortable. "I am not-" she paused and looked away.

"Not what?" asked Daphne. "Zinnia?"

Zinnia chuckled bitterly. "My family name makes it difficult for me to have any right to ask anyone anything these days," she said. "Sorry," she added.

"No, no, I am sorry," said Daphne, immediately. "That was rather careless of me."

Zinnia shook her head and smiled. "There's no outright hostility as long as I do my job and do not try and stir things up," she said.

"But if you try and imply someone altered the Chief Warlock's medical information, that would change," nodded Daphne and sighed. "Do you have any idea what kind of toxin it was?"

"No, only that it was consumed orally," said Zinnia. "I'm sorry, like I said, it's only an initial diagnostic spell." She set her empty cup of tea down and looked at Daphne. "Do you think there's foul play involved?"

"I don't know," admitted Daphne. "But thank you for bringing it to my attention. There may be a perfectly rational explanation, for all we know." She smiled to reassure Zinnia. "Leave it with me to look into, alright?"

"I don't want to get you involved if it will put you and Harry at risk," said Zinnia.

Daphne smiled at her and shook her head. "We won't do anything that would place us at risk," she said. "Thank you for telling me."

"Of course," nodded Zinnia. "Thank you for believing me, I suppose."

"You have never given me a reason not to," Daphne assured her.

24 August 1998

"So these are the candidates you have narrowed it down to?" asked Harry, looking at the resumes in front of him.

"Yes, I am hiring one of them as a legal assistant. They will take over preparing the documents, doing research, all the legal aspects," explained Daphne as she drank her afternoon cup of coffee in Harry's office at the GSC HQ. "The other is more of a personal assistant. Their job will be to keep both of our schedules, assist around Verdant, basically any tasks that I can delegate instead of having to do them myself."

"I think it's a good idea," said Harry. "Do you have any idea who you will be picking?"

"Most of them interviewed well," she said. "Tristan Lee stood out for the legal assistant's position. Muggleborn, British-Chinese, three years older than me. He seems efficient, has a clean background and experience in a similar role, though in the Muggle world, of course. He seemed familiar enough with wizarding law, but will need to brush up on the titles and estates planning part."

"Sounds like a good one," said Harry, reading through Tristan's resume. "What about the other position?"

"Ayesha Shafiq," said Daphne.

"Any relation to-?" Harry began, and Daphne chuckled.

"Yeah, she's part of the Shafiq family," said Daphne. "Not the main branch. I think she's the granddaughter of Elder Shafiq's first cousin. She's the same age as us, but went to school in the United States."

"Does that side of the family reside overseas?" asked Harry.

"No, her parents sent her there to study because they were worried about her being at Hogwarts, considering the target on the family as a whole," said Daphne. "She grew up in Britain but attended school in America."

"Seems like you have a pretty good idea of who you want to pick," said Harry. "Are you having Adrian do another background check?"

"Yes," she nodded, and took a sip of her coffee. "I'll be glad once I have some help."

He grinned at her. "Now, aren't you glad I talked you into it?" he asked.

"Shut up," she said, rolling her eyes. "You do realise that this means I have more time to focus on some of the things that have taken a backseat? Like the Halloween event for one?"

"I thought we had finished planning most of it?" he asked.

"We have, but you need to enchant the invitations," she said. "They need to go out soon."

"I'll do it this weekend," he promised.

"We don't have time this weekend," she said. "We planned that lunch on Saturday, remember?"

"Right, of course," he said. He and Daphne were hosting a lunch before Blaise, Astoria and Hermione left for Hogwarts. "And then we have the going away party at the orphanage the next day," he added, knowing they were doing it for the students going to Hogwarts.

Daphne nodded, but they were interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Yes?" called Harry, and Adrian opened the door.

"Sorry to disturb you both but I have a few things to discuss," he said.

"Of course, have a seat," said Daphne. "Coffee?"

"Thank you," he nodded. He accepted the cup Daphne poured for him and took a sip before speaking. "To begin with, I have completed my checks for Tristan Lee and Ayesha Shafiq. They are both clean."

"Excellent," said Daphne. "I'll send through their letters of offer and contracts of employment this afternoon."

Adrian nodded and took another sip from his cup. "This other part is not as good," he said.

"What is it?" asked Harry, sitting up in his seat.

Adrian frowned lightly. "Remember the client Fleur and Draco had? Miria Blackwood?"

"Yes, she wanted to open a Muggle clothing store," said Daphne.

"It's her husband," said Adrian. "Kei Blackwood is much more than he appears on the surface."

"How so?" asked Harry, exchanging a glance with Daphne.

"For one, Blackwood was the name adopted by his family upon moving to the States," said Adrian. "Originally, the family name was Fleamont."

Harry's ears perked up at that, but what he didn't understand was the look of concern on Daphne's face. "What's wrong?" asked Harry.

Daphne frowned heavily as she looked at Harry. "The Fleamont family used to be very extensive and quite influential in medieval Britain. Their influence and notoriety was rivaled only by the Peverell family," she explained.

"I was under the impression the entire family became extinct, but a branch must have made its way over to the States," said Adrian.

"I am descended from the Fleamont family too," said Harry.

"You are?" asked Adrian, as Daphne looked at him in question.

Harry nodded. "Adelheid Fleamont was my great-great grandmother," he said. "My grandfather, Fleamont Potter, was named in her honour, since she was the end of the Fleamont line. Well, the Fleamont line in Britain, I guess, if the Blackwood family is an offshoot."

"The connection is unexpected but I assume there is more that has you concerned," said Daphne, turning to Adrian.

He nodded. "The Blackwood family in the States is now just down to Kei and Miria, but the influence of the family is unprecedented. The Blackwood Conglomerate owns a substantial chunk of business ventures in the States, more so than they would ever admit publicly."

"A bit like us, you mean," said Harry.

"Yes," said Adrian, bluntly. "So it doesn't make sense that Miria Blackwood came to us to open a Muggle clothing store. If one were paranoid, one would think they meant to scope out possible competition."

Daphne looked at him sharply before glancing at Harry. "It's not an unreasonable assumption," she said.

"What do we do about it?" asked Harry.

"If you want my suggestion, I say we do the sensible thing and play dumb," said Adrian. "Keep our enemies close, in a manner of speaking."

"Engage with them, you mean," said Daphne. "Think she's just another client and pretend nothing is amiss?"

"Outwardly pretend nothing is amiss," corrected Adrian. "But we keep an eye on things. See if the Blackwoods make any further moves."

"I think you're right," said Harry, thoughtfully. "If we refuse them, we can't anticipate their next move. And besides, there might not be cause to worry. Their intentions could be innocent." Both Slytherins shot him looks full of disbelief and he chuckled. "Alright, I admit we should be cautious."

"We'll bring it up at the end of the day meeting," said Daphne, and Adrian gave a nod. "Keep digging on this one."

"Of course," agreed Adrian. "I did also have an update on the Abercrombie situation."

"Has he been released from St Mungo's?" asked Harry.

"Yes, and he apparently has no lasting effects from his stroke," said Adrian. He looked between Harry and Daphne. "I know your theory is that he is being poisoned, but have you also considered it might have been voluntary?"

Harry's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, he could have a habit," said Adrian.

"Drugs," said Daphne, when Harry continued to look confused.

"Muggle drugs do not have much effect on wizarding constitution but there are plenty of magical drugs," explained Adrian.

"It does make sense," said Daphne. "A drug would register as a toxin on an initial scan, though I will verify this with Zinnia, of course. And the Chief Warlock cannot have this knowledge be made public. He could have requested that it be redacted from his record."

"If that's true, I am not sure what we can do here," said Harry.

"With respect, it is not really up to us to solve every problem that comes up," said Adrian. "Sometimes it is enough to know there is a problem."

"He's right, Harry," said Daphne. "We can monitor it."

Harry nodded, albeit reluctantly.

"I'll leave you two be," said Adrian. "I have some business to take care of this afternoon and I'll see you later."

Harry waved goodbye to Adrian as he finished his coffee and took his leave. He glanced at Daphne who was frowning a bit. "Daph?" he prompted.

She looked up and then shook her head. "I was just thinking I'll be glad when I have Tristan and Ayesha on board," she said.

Harry smiled at her. "Me too," he said, and checked the time. "I should go. I want to check on how Platinum Warders is doing. We're only one day past the launch day but I have heard they are already booked out for the next three months."

"Alright," said Daphne, clearing up the coffee tray with a wave of her wand. "I'll see you later."

Harry nodded and pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Oh, and I'm meeting Ernie for tea," he added.

"To do what we discussed?" asked Daphne.

"Yes," he said. "I'll let you know how it goes."

Harry left the HQ and walked the distance to Platinum Alley. It really was remarkable how different the place looked now. The dreary shop windows were bright and shiny, the streets were clean and there was even a bit of light peeking through.

He passed by the enormous building which housed the guild and past the Prisma Hotel to reach the premises of Platinum Warders.

The shop looked more like an office and had a wrought metal sign hanging above the door. As Harry entered, he felt an air of cool magic wash over him. Glancing up, he was unsurprised to see carved runes in the doorway. The shop reminded him of a medical clinic in the Muggle world more than anything. There was a neat waiting area with a front desk, and a frosted glass door beyond the desk that was closed.

A solitary person sat at the desk and he stood up when Harry entered.

"Welcome to Platinum Warders," greeted the young man dressed in silver robes, before he saw who it was. "Mr Potter, g-good afternoon, sir."

"Ashok, isn't it?" asked Harry, remembering his name from when Tracey had told him.

"Y-yes, sir," he said. "Shall I fetch Mr Montgomery?"

"Is he free?" asked Harry.

"Yes, his next client isn't until 3.30," he said. "I'll let him know you're here."

Harry nodded in thanks, and Ashok went through the frosted glass door, closing the door behind him. Harry smiled at the couple in the waiting room who were staring unashamedly at him, and they grinned back eagerly. Before they could approach him, Ashok returned and beckoned Harry to follow him.

Past the frosted door was a corridor with three little consulting rooms. There was a small break room and other facilities as well, but Ashok led him to one of the consulting rooms where a young man with a shaved head and impressively trimmed moustache was waiting. He was shorter than Harry but twice as muscled. Harry hadn't met him previously, but knew him to be Cillian Montgomery, Noah Desford's former apprentice and now the main warding specialist at Platinum Warders.

"Good afternoon, Mr Potter," he said. "How do you do?"

"Very well, thank you," said Harry, shaking his hand and glancing around the consulting room.

The room was painted a silvery grey and had dark wood furniture, in the form of a long desk and a bookcase along the walls. The chairs were upholstered in dark silver fabric, and Cillian offered one of them to Harry while he took a seat behind the desk.

"I wish we had known you were coming. I would have arranged a tour," said Cillian.

"No, I was just passing by," said Harry. "So, run me through how this works."

Cillian nodded. "The consulting appointments last one hour. In that time, it is our job to work out what the customers need in terms of wards around their property and what their budget is. After working that out, we will dispatch a field warder to inspect the property and ascertain a timeline. After that, the field warder will return and put up the wards as needed," he summarised.

"What have been the most popular wards?" asked Harry, with interest.

"It's actually a combination," said Cillian, handing him a neatly printed pamphlet. "It's the second tier package we offer and this is what most people have been getting."

Harry read through it quickly and nodded. It had the usual creature-repelling wards, anti-apparation wards, an anti-Death Mark ward, and a few other repelling wards. Sensible but not anything that would suggest the residents wished to hide.

"Appointments have been booked out for the next three months," continued Cillian.

"Would it help to have more people?" asked Harry.

"In a manner of speaking, but they need to be trained extensively with our methods," said Cillian. "I don't know if we can pull resources away to do that."

"How about getting them to shadow the current warders?" asked Harry.

Cillian's eyes lit up and he nodded slowly. "I will speak to Noah," he said. "Thank you, Mr Potter."

"Not at all," said Harry, standing up and holding out his hand. "Keep up the good work."

Cillian shook his hand, and Harry took his leave. He disapparated from outside Platinum Warders instead of walking back and made it to Fortescue Cafe only five minutes before his appointment.

Ernie was unsurprisingly already sitting at one of the booths in the back. Harry raised his hand in greeting and placed an order for tea and Victoria sandwiches at the counter, which Sylvia said she would bring over to the table.

"Hello there, Harry," greeted Ernie, as he stood up.

Harry shook his hand. "Nice to see you, Ernie," he said. "Thanks for meeting with me."

"Of course, I have been meaning to catch up as well," he said, as they both sat down. "How have you been?"

"Very well, and you?" asked Harry, smiling briefly as Sylvia as she placed their tea and food on the table.

Ernie smiled and shrugged, instead of answering. "I am due to commence a job at the Minister's office in September," he said. "As Junior Undersecretary."

Harry frowned a little. "I thought Percy Weasley held that position," he said.

"He's being promoted," said Ernie. "Minister Shacklebolt is expanding his office and there has been a flurry of restructuring."

Harry nodded, knowing he couldn't look too eager. The point of this meeting was to entice Ernie into their circle at the GSC, as his new position would provide them with the perfect inside man at the Ministry.

"Well, congratulations are in order for you, Ernie," said Harry. "You will be great at this job."

Ernie looked genuinely pleased. "Thank you, Harry," he said, and then sipped his tea as if stopping himself from saying something else.

Harry remembered the lessons that Daphne and Adrian had given him in anticipation of this meeting and took a deep breath. "Your father must be proud as well," said Harry.

Predictably, Ernie went red and nodded stiffly. "Yes, well," he said. "He was instrumental in me getting the position, so yes he is very pleased."

"Don't sell yourself short, Ernie," said Harry. "You will be perfect for this job."

Ernie gave him a curious look. "Why do you say that?"

"You're a leader," said Harry, without missing a beat. "At Hogwarts, everyone in our year at Hufflepuff followed your lead. You must have known that, surely?" Ernie went red again, but this time he looked rather pleased. "You are also honourable and while most people would say that is counterintuitive to a political career, I think we are due for some forthright and honourable politicians."

Ernie stared at him for a moment. "T-thank you, Harry," he said, finally. "Truly, thank you."

Harry just shrugged. "It's true," he said, and then leaned forward slightly. "Can I confide in you, Ernie?"

"Of course," said Ernie, without hesitation.

"Truth is, while I did want to catch up, I also wanted to run something past you," he said.

Ernie looked surprised but nodded at him to go ahead.

"My relationship with the Ministry has been...uh, complicated over the years, to say the least," he said. "While I believe that Kingsley is different, he is only one man and there are limits to what he can do."

Ernie nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I see what you mean," he said. "I'll confess, I have had my reservations about the Ministry over the years as well." He visibly hesitated before leaning forward. "And while my father encouraged me into this role, I admit I did not resist it too much. It sounds like I am copying you - but I want to make a difference."

Harry smiled at him. "I believe you, and I don't think you're copying me," he said. "You and I aren't the only ones who want to make a difference. I have been doing what I can and I have also been finding like-minded people."

"Like the DA?" asked Ernie.

"In a manner of speaking," he said. "The Potter Foundation, the Lily Potter Home, the James Potter Institute…all of it has been a group effort." He took a deep breath. "And there's more."

"More?" asked Ernie.

Harry nodded. "That's what I wanted to ask you, Ernie," he said. "Whether you would like to join me, join us."

"And who is 'us', exactly?" asked Ernie.

"A few people," said Harry. "Most of whom you'd know from Hogwarts."

"And what is it that you're doing? Apart from what's publicly known?" asked Ernie.

"Helping push Britain out of an economic crisis," said Harry.

Ernie's eyes went wide and he nodded thoughtfully. "And while you're on the Wizangamot, you also need to know which direction the Ministry is going in," he said, shrewdly.

Harry nodded, not bothering to deny it. "Yes," he said. "I wanted to present you with the option, Ernie," he said. "I won't take offense if it makes you uncomfortable or-"

"I'll do it," said Ernie, before he could finish. "Provided," he added. "You detail exactly what it is that you need me to do and what is it that you are doing."

Harry sipped his cooling tea and nodded, before reaching into his robes to pull out a scroll of parchment. "I can do that," he said, and handed Ernie the contract.

31 August 1998

Harry poured wine into two goblets and carried them over to Daphne, who was sitting on the squashy sofa in the arboretum. He smiled at how cosy she looked, dressed in a pair of black leggings, sky blue cashmere jumper, and matching woollen sky blue socks on her feet. She had kicked off her boots and was sitting Indian-style on the sofa, wavy blonde hair loose all the way down her back. She had even taken off her poisoned pin, and it was sitting on the end table next to the sofa.

She was biting her lip as she read through the parchment in her hand.

"How is it looking?" asked Harry, as he handed her one of the goblets.

She took it with a small smile and handed him the parchment. "I think it's looking good," she said. "I have it narrowed down to thirty blends to start with. Five each of black tea, white tea and green tea, six floral and herbal ones, four of rooibos, and five with fruit."

Harry read through the list of tea blends and nodded. "What about the shop?" he asked, kicking off his boots and sitting down next to her.

"It's almost ready to open," she said. "I'll take you once Ayesha and Tristan start, so I'll have a bit more free time."

"When do they start?" asked Harry, setting the parchment aside.

"At the start of September," said Daphne, leaning toward him.

Harry smiled as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder, so she could snuggle into his side. They sipped their wine in silence as the fire burned in the fireplace in front of them.

"I'm glad we can do this," said Daphne, after a while. "It feels like we hardly get a moment to ourselves, so it's nice when we can have time together."

Harry hummed in agreement and emptied his goblet before setting it down on the end table. He thought about his relationship with Daphne and realised that unlike his briefly-lived relationship with Cho Chang and the passion-charged relationship with Ginny, he and Daphne had been taking things very slowly. Too slowly, now that he thought about it. He glanced down at Daphne and realised that while he felt warm and content with holding her, he knew he wanted more. He wanted to kiss her. Not the polite pecks that they had been exchanging since Lammas; he wanted to kiss her properly.

"Daph," he said. "Can I ask you something?"

Daphne pulled back slightly and smiled at him. "Of course," she said.

He took her empty goblet from her and set it down. With a smile, he cupped her cheek and kissed her deeply. She made a small noise of surprise before melting into the kiss. Harry bit back a groan at the taste of wine and the cherry pudding they'd had with their dinner on her lips, as he carefully eased her back so that she was lying down on the sofa.

The need to breathe kicked in and he pulled away briefly, but began pressing kisses down her jaw and toward her neck. Her jumper had a v-neck which left her decolletage exposed, and she arched into him as he kissed the creamy skin.

Harry felt her grab his hand which was hovering around her waist, and to his surprise and delight, she pressed it against her waist. With a pleased hum, he gripped her waist as he kissed her mouth again, delighting in the feeling of her running her fingers through his hair as they made out on the sofa.

Time seemed to slow down as they touched and kissed each other, gasps and breaths escaping them, punctuated by the sound of the crackling fireplace and a building storm outside the window.

"You alright?" asked Harry, after a bit. They were both fully clothed, but he could see that Daphne's lips were pink and swollen, and there was an attractive blush covering her face and neck. Her hair looked dishevelled and there were little love bites along her neck that he hazily remembered placing.

His own lips were tingling and he knew he definitely had at least one love bite, judging by the sting on his neck.

"Yeah," answered Daphne, from where she was lying underneath him. "I would ask what brought this on, but I'm honestly surprised we held back so much before this."

He grinned down at her and placed a swift kiss on her mouth.

"What was it that you wanted to ask me?" she asked, as he kissed his way along her jaw.

He sighed and pulled away so he could look at her. "I just - I never asked you," he said. "About your - past boyfriends."

Daphne raised her eyebrows. "You want to talk about who I dated in the past while having me under you on your sofa?" she asked, amused.

"Well, now that you say it, it sounds insane," said Harry.

Daphne laughed. "Well, the answer to your questions is easy," she said. "There weren't any."

He blinked in surprise. "Are you serious?" he asked.

She nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. "There were interested people, but I just...didn't acquiesce to any of them," she said.

"Was I - am I your first?" he asked, shocked.

"Not my first kiss, if that's what you're asking," said Daphne. When he gave her a look, she shrugged. "I asked Blaise to kiss me. Just so I knew what it was like."

Harry felt a flash of jealousy, despite knowing Daphne and Blaise were just friends. "But you're…"

"A virgin?" asked Daphne. "Yes, I am." She gave him a look. "I'm guessing by that tone of surprise, that you aren't one."

He nodded sheepishly. "Ginny and I, we…" he trailed off. "It was a couple of days after the end of the war. It wasn't often, but it did happen."

Daphne nodded, and she sat up slowly, as did Harry. "I, uh, I wanted to wait," said Daphne, quietly. "The dowry would have been better if I were a virgin." She must have seen the look on his face, because she chuckled. "As much as I love the wizarding world, Harry, it is still rooted in deeply sexist traditions."

Harry nodded and then remembered what Astoria had said to him the day before when they had hosted the lunch.

"She won't say it, so I will."

Harry had been surprised to find himself being ambushed by Astoria on his way back to the dining room from the bathroom.

"Daphne deserves the world," continued Astoria. "She won't say it, but she relies on you. So don't let her down."

"I promise I won't," said Harry.

"Thanks, Harry," smiled Astoria. "And if the grandbitch or any of that side of the family tries to interfere, you give them hell."

"Daph," he said, now. "I've always been pants at Divination but I see us lasting. So, if you want to wait…"

"Harry," laughed Daphne. "I'm not particularly fussed about it. I have said it before, and I will say it again - we will do this at our own pace. I'm not saying we should jump into bed, but I'm not saying we should wait for the wedding night either."

Harry smiled at her, and she pressed a kiss to his cheek. "That's just fine with me. More wine?" he asked, as she leaned away.

Daphne gave him a flirty smile. "More wine," she agreed.

Theodore Nott pulled down the hood of his cloak as he arrived at the edge of the village of Hillsworth. It was a quiet village, but Nott knew what lay in its midst. He had his wand in his hand, though out of sight, as he began walking further into the village.

He could feel eyes on him the moment he stepped in, but he kept his gaze forward and continued toward the clocktower in the centre of the village. The village was little more than the clocktower and a few houses dotted here and there, and while it was his first time here, his father had described the village accurately enough for him to know where to go.

When he reached the clocktower, the door at the 30-foot arched entranceway was closed. Nott reached over and banged the knocker twice. Nothing happened for a moment, before the door creaked open.

Steeling himself, he walked in, squinting his eyes to see in the dark. He felt an arm grab his neck from behind and pull him into a chokehold.

"Your kind is not welcome here," hissed a female voice in his ear.

Fear gripped Nott and he struggled against the unwavering hold that the woman had on him. "I-I can explain," he said.

"We do not care about your explanation, wizard," hissed another female voice in front of him.

"I d-demand an a-audience," he gasped out. "With L-Lady Moriah."

"You do not make demands," said the woman holding him.

"And you do not come with your wand drawn," said the other woman, and Nott felt his wand being wrenched out of his grip, before he was forced onto his knees.

"Stop playing with the wizard."

The third voice was also female but more authoritative. The room around them filled with light, and Nott realised that the sconces were now lit, showing him he was in an entrance chamber of sorts inside the clocktower. There were three women in the room, all of them with dark skin. The two women who had been taunting him were dressed in plain black robes, but the one who appeared to be in charge was dressed in a flowing red gown with a high collar. She also appeared to be younger; sixteen if he had to guess an age.

"I am Karina," said the girl in red. "What business do you have with our lady, wizard?" she asked, looking down at him sharply.

Nott bristled at the treatment but maintained his cool. "My name is Theodore Nott. My father was Fredrich Nott. Lady Moriah owes him a favour. I have come to collect," he said.

The two women in black hissed at him, but Karina raised an eyebrow. "Come," she ordered.

Nott struggled to his feet and righted his robes. "I want my wand," he demanded.

"No," said Karina, and began leading the way up the stairs.

Nott glared at her back but followed her to a chamber on the next floor. The chamber was alight with amber lanterns and the floor was covered in plush dark red carpet. Various silk drapes in shades of red hung around the chamber and the air was thick with the smoke and scent of heavy incense. Nott felt a bit dizzy but he grit his teeth as Karina led him past various other women dressed in black who were lounging around the chamber on various cushions, who surveyed him with narrowed eyes.

At the very end of the chamber, a woman was lounging on a red velvet chaise lounge. She was similarly dark-skinned with dreadlocked hair and was dressed in flimsy red robes made of silk. Unlike Karina's conservative robes, Lady Moriah's robes had a plunging neckline and slits going up to her waist on both sides. She was spooning a man from behind, and Nott shuddered when he saw her fangs buried deep in the man's neck.

"Pardon me for interrupting your meal, Lady Moriah," said Karina, as she dropped to her knee and bowed her head. "But there is a wizard seeking an audience with you."

Lady Moriah raised her blood red eyes to Nott and retracted her fangs. She licked the man's neck, cleaning up the stray blood drops and then pushed the man away, and Nott was disgusted as the man kissed her feet before shuffling away. Lady Moriah sat up, and crooked her finger at Nott.

"Come closer, young wizard," she said. She had a heavy French accent when she spoke.

Nott gulped but took a few steps toward her. Lady Moriah licked her lips which still held remnants of blood from her 'meal'.

"You are Fredrich's boy," said Lady Moriah. "I can smell the blood."

"My father said you owed him a favour," said Nott. "I have come to collect."

"And what do you want?" asked Lady Moriah, looking slightly amused.

"I want you to destroy Harry Potter," he said.

He heard a sharp intake of breath from Karina, but Lady Moriah looked unfazed. "And you believe me to be capable of such a feat?" she asked.

"You are an ancient vampire, over five hundred years old," said Nott. "You are also immortal."

"If wizarding kind is to be believed, he is immortal, too," said Lady Moriah.

"He's not immortal," snapped Nott. "He got lucky."

Lady Moriah gave him another amused look. "The favour I owe your father is not enough for me to destroy Harry Potter," she said. "However, if I do this, you will owe me too."

"I have money," said Nott.

Lady Moriah laughed, and it was a cold, harsh sound. "I do not care for money," she said.

"Then what do you want?" asked Nott.

The smile Lady Moriah gave him chilled him to his bones. "Karina," she ordered. "Return the wizard's wand."

Karina got to her feet and walked up to him. As she did, Nott realised that Karina was human and not a vampire like the rest of the women in the clocktower. He accepted his wand back as Karina stepped away and looked at Lady Moriah, as if awaiting her next command.

"Now," said Lady Moriah, with a sharp smile. "Let us plan."