Harry took Dumbledore’s arm, and in a flash of contorting limbs and frenetic sounds and colors, they had left Privet Drive and appeared on another street corner.
This street looked nothing like the Dursleys’ pristine, conservative neighborhood. From the look of it, Harry would guess this was an exclusively wizarding neighborhood, judging by the off-kilter angles of the houses, the flocks of owls, the local apothecaries and robe shops, and the roads that resembled and rippled just like murky green lake water.
Harry followed the Hogwarts Headmaster as he started off up the street, glancing at him with a questioning eye. Dumbledore smiled wryly.
“Welcome to Wandsworth Green, Harry,” he said serenely. “This entire community sits on top of a small lake in the Muggle neighborhood of Wandsworth Common and is hidden by very powerful Concealment spells. Normally one can only enter it by stepping onto a certain pattern of planks on the bridge that goes over part of the lake…but I thought that Apparition would be more efficient, given the circumstances…”
Harry frowned. “Circumstances, sir?”
Dumbledore led him past the apothecary and toward the end of the street.
“We are here to try to recruit our newest professor. I anticipate, however, that he might be a bit reluctant…ah, here we are.”
They had approached a restaurant. At first Harry was alarmed at the sight of it, for it looked like it was on fire, but after a second he realized there was no danger – the ceiling was simply decorated with constantly raging, but perfectly contained magical flames, as well as a header in red neon lights.
“Gordon always did have an inherent flair for the dramatic,” Dumbledore commented serenely upon noticing Harry’s quirked eyebrow.
The two pushed open the door, to find an empty dining room. Harry could see on the door that dinner hours had ended not too long ago.
Just inside was a young man a little older than Harry with a large nose busing tables with a magic rag that moved over the wood and back into the man’s hand by itself. He looked up, immediately putting on a “customer service” mask that made it clear he’d said this exact thing a million times.
“Excuse me, but the restaurant is clo – ”
He stopped abruptly, however, when he recognized the people who had entered the restaurant.
“Good evening, Beau,” Dumbledore greeted pleasantly. “You’re looking well. I presume Gordon is just helping with kitchen clean-up?”
“Ah…yes, Professor,” said Beau anxiously. He shot a glance at Harry – he looked incredibly uncomfortable and he kept licking his lips. “Shall I…go fetch him, for you…?”
“If you would,” Dumbledore said indulgently.
The man called Beau gave a weak little nod; then, glancing over his shoulder and back at Harry again, he bustled off toward the kitchen.
Harry looked at Dumbledore confusedly. He knew the Defense Against the Dark Arts job was always very hard to fill, but from the sound of things, this teacher Dumbledore was seeking out was a cook in some restaurant. It wasn’t like Harry underestimated him because of this, but all of the other professors – excluding particularly bizarre oddities like Umbridge – usually had a background teaching about or fighting against the Dark Arts. Even Lockhart had had a (misleading) reputation of being talented in fighting Dark creatures.
A raised voice came from the kitchen, but Harry couldn’t quite make it out. A moment later, a tall man with a square face, blond hair, and very sharp blue eyes came stomping through the door of the kitchen. He wore a white chef’s uniform with the sleeves rolled up and still had a large kitchen knife in one of his strong fists.
“Dumbledore,” the chef said coldly. “So you did choose to show your monkey’s arse of a face here.”
“As always, Gordon, your language is delightfully colorful,” Dumbledore replied, clearly not offended at all.
“Don’t bullshit me,” the man called Gordon swore angrily. “If you’ve come to try to recruit me, you’ve got another thing coming. I frankly don’t know how you’ve kept the loyalty of half the people who work for you, with your fucked-up attitude toward human life! Now pick up your feet and get out of my restaurant, you blasted numpty – ”
He stopped abruptly, however, at the sight of Harry just behind Dumbledore.
“Harry…may I introduce Gordon Ramsay,” Dumbledore said calmly. “Gordon, I believe you’re already familiar with Harry Potter?”
Harry’s face had been scrunched up in shock and righteous anger, but his temper cooled when Dumbledore spoke. Ramsay’s expression likewise seemed to clear at the sight of Harry – there was something almost guilty in his face.
“…Yes,” he said lowly. “How do you do?”
He extended a hand to Harry, who took it out of obligation but refused to shake it. Ramsay’s mouthing off to Dumbledore had left a sour taste in his mouth.
“Hello,” he said stiffly.
Ramsay offered a faintly wry smile. “I must apologize for my language – although I daresay you know it all by now, I try not to swear…my hand unfortunately just gets forced by certain individuals.”
He shot a cold look at Dumbledore.
“How long is that list of individuals, Gordon?” the headmaster asked lightly with a twinkle in his eye. “Forgive my vanity, but I would much prefer to be among the elite in such a category.”
Ramsay shot him a bewildered, disgusted look. “Vanity I can forgive. It’s everything else I can’t stand.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “As I feared…you’re still as stubborn as ever. Very well, Gordon – I concede. May I use your facilities, before we go?”
Ramsay crossed his arms, still holding the knife in his fist, and glared at Dumbledore suspiciously, but curtly inclined his head in a single nod toward the restroom in the back of the dining hall.
“Thank you,” said Dumbledore, and with a swish of his lilac robes, he turned and disappeared through the red restroom door.
There was a short, palpable silence between Ramsay and Harry for a moment. Then Ramsay unfolded his arms and faced Harry with a more pleasant expression.
“…Are you hungry?”
Harry blinked. “What?”
“Are you hungry?” Ramsay repeated patiently. “We have some food leftover from our meals today – Beef Wellington, Pumpkin Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu with braised potatoes – I usually have my servers take it all home after work for dinner, so that we don’t waste anything.”
“Oh no – I’m fine,” Harry dissented firmly. Unfortunately his stomach rumbled loudly just as he said it.
“Well, at the very least, I’ve got to let you taste my Mint Chocolate Truffles. They’re my specialty.”
He pulled out a chair for Harry, before settling down in another chair on the other side of the table. With a wave of his hand, his knife dissolved away into an unusually thick and long silver-tipped wand, and Ramsay waved it at the kitchen door. In an instant, a small plate came floating out of the kitchen and landed delicately on the table in front of Harry’s chair. There were five small chocolate balls arranged neatly on the plate.
“Go on, try one,” Ramsay said gently.
Still feeling reluctant, Harry slowly settled down in the chair and took one of the chocolate truffles from the plate.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
He popped it into his mouth. All at once it felt like his taste buds were swirling in a sea of creamy chocolate and cool, refreshing mint. It was delicious!
The happy surprise must have shown on Harry’s face, for Ramsay smiled more widely.
“You like it?”
“Yeah!” said Harry. “It’s really good.”
“Well, thank you,” Ramsay replied. “I hoped you would.”
He picked up one of the truffles himself, turning it over in his hand as he studied it carefully.
“…When your parents got married, I sent them a whole box of these,” Ramsay said absently.
Harry was startled. “You knew my mum and dad?”
Ramsay put the truffle down with a sad smile. “Yes…they were both quite a bit older than me, and I was too young to join the Order during the War, but I played Quidditch against James for a year at Hogwarts. And I knew Lily through Professor Slughorn’s old ‘Slug Club’ – he was Head of Slytherin house and Potions Professor back then. Old codger loved to 'collect’ children that he could mentor and then receive favors from once they were successful…a pleasant enough chap, I suppose, but a bit materialistic for my taste.”
Harry frowned. “Well, if he was a Slytherin, I guess that’s not surprising.”
“Easy now,” Ramsay reproached gently. His tone was much less sharp – honestly, since he’d started talking to Harry, Ramsay’s tone had gained a wonderful down-to-earth, patient quality that reminded Harry of Lupin. “Don’t give into that silly old Gryffindor notion that all Slytherins are rotten. Every Slytherin, like every other student, is like a fresh tomato…full of potential, but also ripe for spoilage and bruising. That’s why we must treat them gently – keep them well-washed, partner them with others, and transform them into something amazing.”
Harry considered Ramsay carefully. “You sure didn’t treat Professor Dumbledore very gently.”
Ramsay turned a bit more solemn. “The Headmaster isn’t a student – he’s a professor and a fully trained wizard with a lot of influence. Yet he makes it a point to hire many substandard teachers – not Minerva, Filius, or Pomona, clearly, but they deserve better than the partners they’ve been forced to contend with. Dolores Umbridge? A perfect monster of a woman! She should be down at the bottom of a well, not in a classroom with children! Gilderoy Lockhart? I knew him at Hogwarts! That dim-bulb trollop is so pathetic I daresay a Cornish pixie is braver!”
Harry snorted, remembering Lockhart’s “eventful” first class where, indeed, Lockhart was taken down by a swarm of pixies.
“And that’s not even touching Severus Snape,” growled Ramsay. “How Dumbledore found it in his heart to hire him, I’ll never know…”
Harry had to nod in agreement. “I don’t know why he hired him either. I know Snape was a Death Eater, and Professor Dumbledore said he turned spy for the Order before the War was over…but I still don’t trust him.”
Ramsay raised his eyebrows. “And why is that?”
Harry didn’t know where to start. Snape’s bullying of him and his friends – his loathing of Gryffindor house overall – his blatant favoritism of Malfoy – his shady behavior – it was something that felt like it’d take forever to explain.
“It’s complicated,” Harry said at last.
Ramsay looked like he was thinking.
“…Do you like Potions, Harry?”
The question was abrupt.
“Not really,” answered Harry. “I mean, it’s kind of hard to like it when you’ve got Snape breathing down your neck while you work, taking points from Gryffindor for no reason and putting up all the Slytherins on a pedestal…”
This seemed to get Ramsay’s attention.
“He does that?” he asked, sounding both dismayed and sympathetic. The tone encouraged Harry to go on.
“Yeah…you should see how he treats us. If anyone gets one little thing wrong, he uses it to shame them and sometimes the whole class. Like one time, he was picking on Neville Longbottom – he’s a friend of mine, in Gryffindor – for his Shrinking Solution being wrong, and Snape decided he was going to feed Neville’s potion to his toad Trevor at the end of class to see if it would work.”
Ramsay looked outraged. “See if it would work? Shrinking Solution can be deathly poisonous if brewed incorrectly! To threaten to poison a student’s pet, when you’re supposed to be teaching him – unbelievable!”
Harry continued – he felt vindicated in a way he hadn’t felt in a long while, hearing Ramsay’s reaction.
“He picks on Gryffindors mostly, but he bullies Neville a lot. He doesn’t like me very much, because of my dad…so he doesn’t like my friends much either. There was this one time, my friend Hermione – she’s the brightest girl in our year – was trying to answer one of his questions, and Snape snapped at her that she was an insufferable know-it-all and made her cry.”
Ramsay looked disgusted. He’d brought his hands up to his face, covering his eyes and massaging his temples. “Good God..”
The door to the restroom abruptly opened. Harry jumped, startled, as Dumbledore strode back over to them.
“Ah, much better,” the Headmaster said smoothly. “Well, Harry, I suppose we’ve taken too much advantage of Gordon’s hospitality – time for us to move on.”
Harry immediately got to his feet. Ramsay stood as well, his face abruptly turning much harder as he faced Dumbledore again.
“Dumbledore,” he growled. “If you want me for the position, then I expect to be able to do things my way.”
Harry gaped. After all that, he was going to take the Dark Arts job?
“But of course,” Dumbledore replied pleasantly.
“And I expect that you’ll keep your stupid, broken nose out of my business while I fix the mess you’ve seen fit to make!” Ramsay added, his voice rising, and he got right up in Dumbledore’s face.
Dumbledore helped himself to one of Ramsay’s truffles with a smile.
“I look forward to seeing you when term starts, Professor Ramsay.”
With this, Harry and Dumbledore left the restaurant.
“I don’t understand,” Harry said slowly. “The entire time we were here, Ramsay acted like he hated you. And then, after I told him about Snape and his classes, he decided to take the job! Why?”
“Gordon has an incredibly strong moral compass,” Dumbledore answered simply. “It’s a trait that makes me wonder if he could’ve been an excellent Gryffindor, at school…though of course Gordon has said he’s very content as a Hufflepuff and colorfully told me where I may put my thoughts regarding his Sorting. Regardless, if there’s one thing that can convince Gordon to take on a project, it’s incompetence on someone else’s part.”
Harry blinked. “Wait, so…he took the job because I told him Snape was a bad teacher?”
“And he knows he can be a better one,” Dumbledore confirmed with a nod, his blue eyes twinkling. “Although your method is not exactly one I’d encourage, I had a feeling that you and Gordon might find enough common ground that your presence might be enough to sway him.”
Once they had walked a good couple of feet from Hell’s Kitchen, Dumbledore extended his arm again.
“Come, Harry. The night awaits.”
Still feeling faintly bewildered, Harry nonetheless took hold of Dumbledore’s arm and the two disappeared once more.