Birthday presents: Better late than never, or better never than late?
“Rorschach sucks,” Patricia Stoneham muttered.
“Sorry, what was that?” inquired her boss, Amelia Bones.
“I don’t believe the dog’s breakfast our records have become,” said Stoneham. “Some records are organized by year, some by crime, some by family, some by victim, and some just seem to have been thrown around randomly. I’ve been trying to make sense of them for 16 hours a day these last two weeks. Except for stumbling over those domestic violence complaints, I’m no further along than when I started, and I can’t pull this kind of schedule much longer. Damn, I miss being young.”
“Well then, perhaps it’s time to do what we always do when we come across such a knotty problem…” started Bones, and Stoneham understood her right away.
“Give it to the trainees!” they chorused.
The problem was that there were never very many trainees to give the problems to. In fact, there were only three in the Auror program at the moment, and two of them were unsuitable for different reasons. Bill Bletchley, a sometime Slytherin in the third year of the program, was clearly about to complete his work and enter the Auror force proper, but due to his house affiliation, it didn’t seem prudent to include him just yet. On the other hand, a Ravenclaw in her second year named Joanne had failed three of her courses and was clearly going to wash out, so giving her such an assignment would be pointless. Especially since she’d taken to writing, of all things. That left…
“Yes, Mrs. Bones?” asked Nym… er, Tonks. She was quickly trying to remember what she had done wrong that could justify being called into the office again and couldn’t think of anything. This week, anyway. The Stealth and Tracking class was finally going reasonably well. Maybe she’d actually get to graduate in two more years- if her career survived this meeting.
Sitting alongside the minister was Auror Stoneham, who always gave her the creeps.
“Miss Tonks,” began Stoneham, “We have called you here today because we need your help. And we believe that you’ll be eager to help us, provided that you first guarantee that nothing you hear in this office ever leaves it. If you cannot promise us this, then this meeting is over now. If we ever hear a word of this assignment from anyone else, your career as an Auror will be finished.”
Gulping a bit, Tonks nodded her head. “Yes, Ma’am. I understand and will make that promise.”
“Again, this has to do with your friend Harry.” As the Minister said this, Tonks finally began to relax. “We know that he has been mistreated as a child, and that we allowed it to be ignored. We know that there were many reports of the Dursleys mistreating him, several complaints of Mrs. Dursley being beaten by Mr. Dursley, and one of the other way around. No action was taken on any of these matters, and we want to know why.
“We recognize that this assignment will be difficult. If you choose to accept this assignment, it will have priority over all of your other classes for the remainder of the year, and any kind of successful completion will result in your automatically passing all of your remaining first year classes. Especially Stealth and Tracking.”
“When we say ‘any kind of successful completion,’” detailed Stoneham, “we mean that we want to know who stopped the complaints. If they really did ‘fall through the cracks’ without being stopped by someone, then tell us that.”
“You can take the rest of the day off, Tonks,” finished Bones. “Tomorrow, Auror Stoneham will brief you on the filing system. It’s not pretty.”
Over the next few days, Hermione gave the telephone a workout telling her fellow wives about the problems their birthday presents had encountered, about the odd gifts from Mrs. Malfoy, and about everything else that came to mind. A quick count of the pictures Harry had received showed that there would be just enough to go around while allowing Harry to keep the card. They agreed to meet at the Leaky Cauldron at ten o’clock on Saturday. Susan told her that Lockhart’s book signing would start an hour later, hopefully giving them enough time to get the necessary shopping in first. And enough time to get more necessary shopping in later. (Any witch will tell you that all shopping is necessary.)
Saturday, the eighth of August, was another warm day around London, but with cloudy skies and the occasional rumble of thunder. By 9:50, the entire group had coalesced at the Leaky Cauldron, along with three of the mothers (Mrs. Bulstrode, Li, and Brocklehurst). While they said they were there as chaperones, it did seem a bit suspicious that all arrived with copies of some of Lockhart’s past books such as Months with the Mokes and Pleasantly Pondering Plimpies. (Lockhart had apparently started small and worked his way up, and always loved alliterative titles.)
“Why is Lockhart so popular, anyway? When did he get started?” Harry asked the adults. He figured that anything he could learn about Lockhart would be useful, if he had to read seven of Lockhart’s books this year.
“Just after the war,” said Nancy Brocklehurst. She was a svelte and cheerful woman, who apparently lived out in the country, near Ipswich somewhere. “He first became known for his nature writing, but sometime back around 1984 or so, he started adventuring and going further afield. I think,” her voice dropping, “he got a lot of the attention that had been directed toward you. And that’s not all bad, is it?”
“How could anything leaving me with the Dursleys for ten years be ‘not all bad’?” Harry retorted heatedly. Nancy seemed a decent woman, but this seemed a remarkably clueless comment given what he had lived through.
“I remember Mandy telling us about how angry you were when you found out that Mrs. Figg was making money out of people watching you,” Nancy responded evenly. “Would you have wanted that to go on for another seven years?”
Harry abashedly responded, “You’re right. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“That’s all right, Harry,” Nancy replied. “You’re entitled, every once in a while. I marvel that it doesn’t happen more often, and I’m glad you’ve been so kind to Mandy over the last year.”
After a few moments of quiet, Mrs. Li asked if everyone was ready. A tall, slim woman, Harry had only seen her a couple of times before. Once it was clear that they were, she and the other mothers led the kids to the wall and tapped the bricks, allowing the group to walk through the arch.
Diagon Alley was busier than Harry remembered it being when he had been there previously. He also didn’t remember the crowd being this heavily female, and certainly not seeing all the witches carrying books. The group made its way to Flourish and Blotts to pick up the books that they needed for the second year.
Forty minutes later, they had reached the counter with their required school books, when two more customers arrived… one of whom looked very familiar to the children.
“Good morning,” Lucius uttered coldly. Narcissa, behind him and to his right, merely smiled.
“Good morning to you, Mr. Malfoy,” Susan replied. “Are you here for Mr. Lockhart’s book signing?”
“As a matter of fact,” Lucius drawled, “we have other errands that we must attend to. We did hear that Mr. Lockhart would be present, and I cannot say that we wouldn’t like to meet him. We had heard that he might be seeking a political career.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard that,” said Mrs. Bulstrode, sounding quite interested.
“Oh, yes. We wanted to ensure that he knew that we could assist him if that were his aim. We have a high regard for…heroes,” Malfoy noted, staring at Harry, “but heroism is not a career that is good for the longevity.”
Harry’s wives almost reflexively gathered a little tighter around him. “Mr. Malfoy, I believe you will find that villainy tends to be even worse,” hissed Mrs. Li.
“The Ministry knows that our actions were not our fault and that we were not liable. But, enough of this,” Malfoy said, suddenly breaking into a smile. “It is too pleasant a day for us to continue such an argument. I believe that Narcissa has some things she would like to say to you, and to Harry in particular. I wish you luck in all of your future endeavors.” With that, Lucius glided away to the right, leaving Narcissa to step up to the location that he had just vacated.
“Good morning, young man and women. I have heard that you celebrated your birthday last week, Harry. I hope that you will accept my congratulations,” Narcissa said formally.
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Malfoy. I’m glad that you remembered.” Obviously, she didn’t want to mention her previous gifts; Harry certainly wasn’t going to mention them within her husband’s earshot. That was not the only reason that Harry’s throat started going dry. Narcissa was quite a tall woman, two inches taller than Lucius and nearly even with Mrs. Bulstrode. This left two parts of her that Harry had admired almost exactly at his eye level, and Narcissa’s dress did nothing to draw his eyes away from them.
“I’m glad to have had the chance to meet you. Miss Bones, I remember you from last year’s Wizengamot Social. You struck me as a very nice little girl.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy,” she said stonily. While Narcissa spoke with a couple of the other wives, Lucius moved behind the group and was now extracting something from his robes, placing it in one of the bags.
“I have a birthday present that I would like to give you,” said Mrs. Malfoy, placing a large envelope in Harry’s hands. “I think you’ll find that my husband has also contributed to your birthday gifts. I hope that his present doesn’t displease you; it is meant to cheer you up when you feel bad.”
Not quite understanding what she meant by that, Harry and several of his wives thanked her. With that, the Malfoys left the store.
“Do they always creep people out like that?” asked Parvati.
“Generally, yes,” said Mrs. Li while Susan nodded. “They like to make people believe that they’re superior in every way. The way they carry themselves, their friends, their money.”
“Do you know them well?” asked Lisa.
“Well enough not to want to see them again for a while,” said Mrs. Li. Just then, a wizard at the other end of the store said “Sonorus,” with an amplified clearing of his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, the book signing shall commence in five minutes. Please gather in an orderly fashion.” He was speaking from a platform with tables and books, presumably of Lockhart’s latest opus.
The next five minutes were kind of a blur, as dozens of witches and a smattering of wizards ran into the store. The children gathered their bags close, while the adults did their best to protect them. Mrs. Bulstrode’s size helped, and the other two women proved surprisingly tough when fending off their fellow witches who sought to occupy their space.
The wizard at the back of the store spoke up again. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please? Thank you! And now, without further ado, direct from his most recent adventures in Eastern Europe, which you will be reading about in his books coming out during 1993, that great and swashbuckling wizard, Gilderoy Keith Lockhart! What the hell is with this…oops! Quietus.”
With that remarkable introduction, Harry Potter got his first look at Lockhart. He was a man of medium height and build, wearing a purple robe frilled with lace and decorative fringes. His long blond hair hung loose down his back, and his face and hands were darkly tanned. Every step and gesture seemed to be more elaborate and showy than necessary, designed to keep every eye upon him. Around him, Harry heard several witches sighing, including Mrs. Bulstrode and Brocklehurst.
After Lockhart made his way to the podium, he scanned the audience, then cast his eye back in Harry’s direction. “It couldn’t be,” Lockhart said quietly. “But… it must be. Harry Potter!” Although Lockhart hadn’t amplified his voice, his call was clear enough for all to hear even out into the Alley.
“What should I do?” whispered Harry.
“We should head up to the stage,” said Hermione. “We should probably stick together.”
Three minutes of squeezing and shoving later, the troupe had made its way to the edge of the stage.
“Mr. Potter,” Lockhart pronounced, “and his girls and their charming chaperone here came to this store to purchase my works, including my newest and greatest work, Magical Me.” Skillfully, Lockhart managed to be heard clearly throughout the store without bruising Harry’s ears; less skillfully, he had mistaken Millicent for an adult. He smiled at Millicent, kissed her hand and then proceeded, not noticing Millicent frantically wiping it dry and making faces. “However, today is a day for me to make an announcement that I have been sitting on for a few weeks now. I have here a letter from the great Headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledore,” he proclaimed, holding up said letter, “requesting my services. I am pleased and honored to tell him that I accept, and that starting on the first of September, Harry and his fellow students will be getting the real magical me- as Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts!”
The crowd erupted in applause and screams of delight. Harry held out his copy of Magical Me to his wives, none of whom seemed particularly interested. Before he could think of anything to say, Lockhart started again. “I promise,” he said, dropping his voice dramatically, “to do the best that I can to ensure that you and your fellow students learn what you need to know as we enter the next century. I promise,” he continued, raising it again, “to make sure that you learn the tactics and strategy that have made me the world’s premier magical adventurer, so that you’ll be ready to take on anything the world throws at you! Voldemort may be gone, but there are many other threats to wizards today- I should know, I’ve fought most of them!” The crowd laughed and applauded once more.
“I conclude this speech by saying that the children are our future,” Lockhart said gravely in yet another rapid stylistic switch, “and that it is our responsibility, to everything we can to aid them into adulthood in the knowledge that they can face the world outside. Witches and wizards, I am proud to do my bit to keep Magical Britain great! Thank you!” With that, a final round of applause ensued, as Lockhart sat down behind the table set up for him. When Harry tried to approach him to ask him a question, Lockhart didn’t look up but simply signed the book and said, “Thank you” in a curt enough tone to make it clear that he needed to get off the stage.
The group struggled back to the real chaperones.
“Well, that was… unexpected,” Harry began.
“Harry, if you don’t want that book, can I have it? Millie, didn’t you like being kissed by Lockhart?” Mrs. Bulstrode had seen her daughter’s reaction and seemed a bit surprised by it.
“Mum, I looked in his eyes and he wanted to do more than kiss me,” Millicent said flatly.
“Oh. Well, you wondered if people would notice the results of your exercise. There’s an answer for you,” Mrs. Bulstrode said, still not quite catching on.
“I could have lived without that vote of confidence, Mum.”
Meanwhile, Harry and the other wives were talking with the other chaperones. “Do you think Lockhart could help us with swords?” Harry asked.
“Well, he used a good bit of swordplay in Holidays With Hags and Wanderings With Werewolves. He’s really a jack of all trades, it seems, he keeps coming up with new tactics. He claims to be equally skilled with every weapon known to wizards,” Mrs. Brocklehurst enthused.
“Great!” said Megan. “We should definitely try to get him to teach us. Think we can ask now?”
“Not by the way he treated me after he signed the book,” said Harry. “We should probably ask him when we all get to Hogwarts.”
The rest of the necessary shopping was concluded with incident, although Harry’s patience was sorely tried by all the new robes that the girls insisted needed to be tried on, by him or by themselves.
That evening, Harry really wanted to find out what Narcissa had given him for his new birthday present. Hermione demanded to see it as well, so after the Grangers went to bed, Hermione walked into Harry’s room and they examined the envelope. It was larger than the previous one, about the size of a piece of notebook paper.
Opening it, Harry and Hermione found another big, generic-looking card. They opened it.
This time, Narcissa was dancing with Lucius as the picture began to move. They were in a large and sumptuously appointed living room. Lucius and Narcissa talked briefly, and then Lucius walked out of the picture (as it turned out, not to return). Narcissa had been wearing a formal ball gown. As she resumed her dancing, however, it was evidently to some very different and unheard music, and her dance became much more sensuous. She reached behind her to unfasten the gown, which pooled around her feet, leaving her in opera gloves, corset, brassiere, stockings, garters, panties, and heels. Every couple of minutes, she would carefully strip off one of these items until only the lacy brassiere, panties, and heels remained. The first was filled to its generous capacity, while the second looked to be roughly the size of a Galleon. In between these removals, she was dancing to some unheard beat, caressing her body. Then, just as these last items seemed about to be removed, she walked out of the shot with a wink.
As before, about a dozen pictures fell out. These were, as before, pictures of a mostly unclothed Narcissa. Some of them appeared to date to her school days, depicting her in a scandalous version of the Slytherin uniform.
“What exactly are they up to?” asked Hermione. “What are these pictures supposed to prove? And why did she say to watch Lucius’ contribution? He didn’t do anything!”
“Fine by me,” Harry muttered.
“There’s something going on here, but I don’t have enough information to say what. Give me those photos, Harry. I’ll talk to the girls and see if we can figure out anything.”
“Sure, as long as I get to keep the card.”
“Of course, dear.” With that, Hermione kissed him and went to bed.