Cara stalked between empty desks; the other aurors had gone home for the night and the bullpen was empty... with the exception of the golden retriever sitting next to Cara's desk, his tongue lolling out in a doggy grin.
Cara stopped, put her hand on her hip, and rolled her eyes. "Oh, for Merlin's sake."
There was a pop, and in place of the golden retriever there was Richard perched on the edge of Cara's desk, still with that same dopey grin on his face.
Cara sat down, dipped her quill in an inkpot, and began writing her report as though Richard wasn't there.
"Have you eaten yet?" he asked.
"You know, Richard," said Cara without looking up, "I can't wait until the school holidays are over, and you can henpeck your students about dressing warmly enough and eating right and give me some peace."
"Kahlan wants you to come for dinner."
Cara wrote another line of her report, before letting a splotch of ink drop onto the parchment in a full stop of capitulation. Richard knew that Cara had almost as much trouble saying no to Kahlan as he did.
Cara exhaled through her nose. "Fine."
"And don't forget your coat," said Richard, with a laugh in his voice. "It's chilly outside."
The made their way up to the main foyer of the Ministry, Cara pulling on her coat with a happy now flourish.
They came to the long bank of fireplaces, and just as Cara was about to step into one Richard caught her by the elbow.
"Um," he said.
"Someone else is coming to dinner, an old friend of Kahlan's," he said, very quickly. "It's just that it's been more than a year since Leo died--"
Leo Dane. He and Cara had hate flirted all the way through NEWT level Defence Against the Dark Arts, competed the whole way through auror training, and just when Cara had maybe been ready to admit that she had feelings for him - a feeling, one single solitary feeling - he'd been killed by the dark wizard Darken Rahl.
"And we, well I-" Richard sounded sheepish "-thought that maybe it was time for you to start meeting new people."
Whenever Cara found herself wanting to punch Richard in the face, she thought about his fuzzy, waggy-tailed animagus form. If that didn't work then she'd think about the round-faced eleven year old boy she'd first met on the Hogwarts Express, the one who'd held a seat open for her at the Hufflepuff table, just on the off chance they were sorted together, even though M-for-Mason was half the alphabet after C-for-Cypher.
Cara sighed heavily. "Okay."
"Okay?" Richard waited for Cara nod in confirmation before he took a pinch of floo powder and stepped into the fireplace. He dashed the powder into flames, and said "Dahlia's great, you're going to love her," before vanishing.
Cara took her own pinch of floo powder and stepped into the fireplace. She gritted her teeth and announced the name of the village where Richard and Kahlan lived. "Hartland-Upon-Tweddle."
The kitchen in Richard and Kahlan's cottage was cozy and nonthreatening, which was just how it had looked in the profile of Kahlan that had run in the Daily Prophet when she'd been appointed the youngest ever Chief Warlock of the Wizagamot.
Cara usually couldn't be bothered with the Prophet, but she'd made a point of picking it up to read Kahlan's profile. It had been a flattering enough piece, though Cara couldn't understand why Kahlan hadn't insisted that the interview take place in her office rather than her kitchen.
Cara decided that she'd tell Kahlan as much if their hostess ever got her head out the fireplace; Kahlan was conferring with one of her subordinates at the office by floo network, and Richard was quizzically prodding at a beef wellington with a muggle meat thermometer.
As soon as they'd arrived Richard had pressed a bottle of butterbeer into Cara's hand and steered her over to Dahlia. He'd quickly abandoned her in favour of the wellington with whispered instructions to: "make small talk."
"So," said Cara, flatly.
Dahlia was attractive, Cara could credit Richard and Kahlan with that much.
She was taller than Cara (who wasn't? Cara thought crossly) but not by so much as to be annoying; she wore muggle clothes, a white shirt ironed with military sharpness over red leather trousers. Kahlan in her white witch's robes was the only one present not wearing muggle clothing; Richard only wore his teaching robes at school, and Cara's work as an auror involved enough foot chases and duels to make robes impractical.
Dahlia kept her long, dark blonde hair in a tight braid, pulled back from her pretty, sharp-featured face. There was a sly, knowing smirk playing about her mouth, one that made Cara want to wipe it off.
"So," said Dahlia. Richard was bent intently over the wellington, holding the thermometer like it was a wand, with a stupefied expression on his face. "Are we going to die if we eat that?"
During their final year at Hogwarts Richard had convinced the House Elves to teach him how to cook, he'd hoped it would impress Kahlan, and Cara was sure that they'd... tried.
Cara felt the corner of her mouth twitch. "It's not out of the question."
"That smells wonderful, Richard," said Kahlan, her head reappearing from the fireplace. Cara and Dahlia met each other's eyes, and stoically smothered their laughter.
Kahlan must really love Richard, because she gamely ate an entire serving of the wellington. She'd hid tiny smiles behind her napkin, though, as she watched Cara and Dahlia silently competed to see who could perform a vanishing spell on more of the beef without Richard noticing.
Richard had gotten up to get another round of butterbeers, and when he came back Cara quickly hid her wand under the table. He handed Cara a bottle and waggled his eyebrows at her, tipping his head in Dahlia's direction.
Dahlia was seemingly no more of a dinner party conversationalist than Cara was, and had been largely silent as Richard talked about his plans for the incoming first years, and pestered Cara about coming to Hogwarts to give a talk about what it was like being an auror to his OWL and NEWT Defence Against the Dark Arts students.
"So, Dahlia," said Cara, with a significant I'm doing it, stop nagging look in Richard's direction. "Richard said you were an old friend of Kahlan's, how do you two know each other?"
"She was one of my prefects when I was a first year at Hogwarts; she kept taking house points from me."
Trust Kahlan to have been scrupulously fair when it came to house points. When the headmaster, Zedd, had taken leave of his senses and made Cara a prefect, she'd spent most of fifth year finding ingenious ways to throw points to her housemates: fifty points to Hufflepuff for Richard Cypher being an insufferable goody two shoes!
Cara raised an eyebrow. "You were a Slytherin?"
"Is that a problem?" Dahlia asked.
Kahlan had been the pride of Slytherin House, and people spouted just as much nonsense about Slytherins as they did about Hufflepuffs.
Cara leaned back in her chair. "School was a long time ago."
"I was a few years behind you and we were in different houses, so I'm not surprised you don't remember me" said Dahlia. "But I do remember you, the angriest Hufflepuff at Hogwarts."
Richard burst out laughing, and Cara glared at him and Dahlia in turn.
Dahlia completely failed to be quailed by Cara giving her the evil eye.
"I used to watch you play Quidditch." Cara had been one of the beaters on the previously hopeless Hufflepuff house team when they had won a trio of Quidditch Cups. "You had a..." Dahlia's mouth quirked, "violent streak."
Cara shrugged. "Somebody had to stop Richard from getting his skull cracked open by a bludger."
Richard smiled happily, hopelessly at Kahlan. He leaned conspiratorially towards Dahlia and said, "You know, I think watching me play Quidditch at school was the reason Kahlan fell in love with me."
Kahlan laughed brightly, and Cara scoffed. "She wouldn't have even known your name if I hadn't dragged you over by the scruff of your neck and forced you to introduce yourself after I got sick of your pining, legendary seeker."
After pumpkin pie and coffee Richard had suggested that Cara might like to walk Dahlia back towards the village to pick up the knight bus; he'd then produced his wand and sent the dirty dishes flying into the sink, which had the effect of drowning out anyone who might have been pointing out that the bus was magic and could be summoned to the end of Richard and Kahlan's garden path if they wanted.
In any case, Cara and Dahlia found themselves outside with the front door being shut politely, cheerfully, but firmly behind them.
"Richard and Kahlan are--" began Dahlia as they started to walk down the lane.
"They're your best friends."
"Yes," Cara admitted, a hint of disbelief in her voice. "I'm still not entirely sure how that happened."
"Kahlan talks about you a lot, you know. Getting her to shut up was half the reason I agreed to come tonight. Dinner parties aren't usually my idea of a good time." Cara couldn't have agreed more. "And a dinner party that doubled up as a semi blind date with an auror--"
"Hey, what's wrong with being an auror?"
"You people aren't exactly known for your sense of humour."
"I must have missed your side splitting jokes tonight, Dahlia," Cara said drily.
Dahlia slowed to a stop and waited for Cara to turn to face her. "It was interesting to see you again, Cara. I wasn't kidding when I said I remembered you from school."
"Like I said, school was a long time ago."
"Yes, it was. And out here in the real world it's much more acceptable for a Slytherin to have a crush on a Hufflepuff."
Dahlia was smirking again, but before Cara could say something scathing, probably about the word crush, Dahlia had grabbed Cara's belt and pulled her into a searing kiss.
Dahlia tugged Cara close, and Cara slid her hands over Dahlia's leather clad hips. If dinner parties weren't Dahlia's idea of a god time (thank Merlin for that; there just might be a future in this after all) then Cara could only hope that her idea of fun included leather trousers and creative uses for old school ties.
If Richard had been right about anything, other than that Dahlia was the sort of woman who would tickle Cara, then it was that a year was a long time.
Cara opened her mouth to Dahlia's tongue, and their kiss was broken by a loud crash. Cara saw that in the hand that wasn't still toying enticingly with Cara's belt, Dahlia held her wand and had summoned the knight bus.
Dahlia shoved Cara backwards with enough force to be promising, and the bus stopped next to them, its doors hissing and clanking open.
Dahlia stepped close, and nipped at Cara's bottom lip. "I wouldn't want to make your friends think you're a cheap date, but... next time, that's a promise."
"You're confident," said Cara.
Dahlia stepped onto the bus, and shot a last, knowing smirk at Cara. "Yes, I am."
When Cara opened the front door back at the cottage Richard took one look at her face and broke out in a wide, delighted grin. Cara thought he might spontaneously turn into a golden retriever out of sheer secondhand happiness.
"I knew it!"
Cara rolled her eyes at him. "Yes, okay. Don't go writing your best man speech just yet."