When they got to ACS it was already half-past seven. After visiting with Phil and Janet, making coffee, and reminding themselves they really needed to be working on the money for her deal, they got back to their office to get ready for Arnold Whiteside's impending arrival.
First, Harry checked his email and read Holvarth's answer to Ginny.
Harry, you're right about the pattern, it's what convinced the Old Man that the suspect has information he shouldn't have. He's chuffed as nuts that you caught it though. Says he's holding Hermione hostage, so you'll keep working.
But, for us it shows the suspect lawyering up.
Well done, hope to see you at the center sometime.
They shared a laugh about an irreverent image of Farnsworth barring the office door with his ample body; then, went back to getting ready.
Ginny logged on and began to research Whiteside and Hobart to prepare for the meeting. She spoke the significant findings aloud while Harry tided their office, starting with clearing yesterday's lunch debris from the low, round table and armchairs where they would meet.
It didn't take Ginny long to find the basics, “Whiteside and Hobart . . . law firm . . . represents many wealthy and famous people . . . specializes in estates, trusts and taxation . . .”
Harry collected four used take-away coffee cups and a tin that had once held shortbread biscuits and walked to the kitchen. He would rather be working on one of his ideas. He was doing chores to make sure he didn't slip off into something he was working on and be elsewhere when he was supposed to be representing ACS. It was safer to fill the kettle and fiddle with saucers than to get started coding something. The connection to yipi made it personal and, now that he thought about it, a ball might be fun, at least it would be exciting to see Ginny in a formal gown.
Ginny was reading her screen and didn't realize she was talking to his back, “That's weird, I wonder what 'white-shoe' means?”
When Harry returned from the kitchen, he needed to catch the conversation. “What about white shoes?”
She already had the definition, “It's an expression for firms that are old, have elite corporations and persons for clients.”
Harry arranged the arm chairs while Ginny summed her reading. “It comes from shoes popular with rich young men at elite colleges back when the expression made sense. Which it bleedn' well doesn't.” The last bit sounded just like an excited Ron.
They still hadn't gotten around to a brochure for ACS but Harry did have a copy of the manual they gave their clients. He set a fresh copy on the table from a stack at the corner of his desk.
Ginny had moved on to searching news articles. “The bloke who's coming, Arnold, is the son of the senior partner and is expected to be the fourth consecutive Whiteside to head the firm.”
Harry repositioned the arm chairs equally around the table then sat in the one most-nearly facing Ginny and folded his legs over its arm. “So we're meeting with another one from Farnsworth's class, the scion of a famous and wealthy family. I can't imagine he's looking for us to build him a web site.”
“Well, I'm pretty sure he knows Emelda. So this visit is related to yipi, somehow, I don't know. I figure we'll just be polite and let him tell us what he wants.”
“Yea, who knows? Could be nothing.” Harry caught the sound of the lift door opening in the corridor. He stood, ready to greet Arnold Whiteside.
Ginny's finish to the conversation was more an aside than a conclusion but Whiteside was here and she was talking to Harry's back again. “The bit about inviting us to a ball seemed almost like a joke, like he was teasing, but I'm not sure of that.”
Harry stopped before opening the door and raised one hand, palm up and shrugged. No sense thinking about it, Whiteside was here.
Arnold Whiteside was older than Harry or Ginny, but not very old. His clean-shaven face showed only the slightest wrinkles on his forehead and at the outer edges of his eyes. Harry and Ginny both concentrated on the details of his appearance and mannerisms. He was taller than Harry by a hand, fit, possibly athletic. He moved well and fluidly, no limp or hitch to his gait. His tailor hadn't tried to hide his waist but had cut his coat to emphasize its narrowing and thus his strong chest. He moved lightly, perhaps from a sport, or maybe he did dance. His handshake was practiced, firm, with a slight squeeze at the end, a friendly gesture coupled with what seemed a genuine smile.
He greeted Ginny just as he had greeted Harry then handed Harry his raincoat and hat; he had neither brief case nor umbrella. As Harry took them to the closet between their office and the kitchen he noticed the hat was blocked, a touch rakish for the scion of a white shoe law firm.
Since he was in the hallway, he popped into the kitchen to put the kettle on before returning to join Whiteside and Ginny, “If you've a mind for a cuppa, the waters on.”
Arnold nodded his head, somewhere between a nod and a bow. “Yes, tea would be nice. It's been a hectic morning.”
His reply was informal, unaffected, so Ginny commiserated, “They're like that sometimes aren't they!” She knew these greeting rituals were in a way negotiating the terms of their meeting. They were implicitly agreeing to a personal and friendly conversation.
“Indeed Mrs. Potter,” he was chuckling, “Mrs. Whiteside and I have two young boys, mornings are hectic more often than not.”
This was a surprisingly human thing for someone in an expensive suit to say. Since mornings with young boys weren't yet part of their experience, Harry started with different small talk, small talk to satisfy their curiosity. “How do you know Emelda Mr. Whiteside?”
“Emelda works for one of the social agencies we advise. But, I should probably explain a bit about our firm so you understand why I'm here, and thus you will also learn why I know Emelda.”
Ginny suggested tea first, the electric kettle was whistling and Harry had already started for the kitchen. He must have had everything ready because he was quickly back with a large, ceramic tea pot steeping an aromatic Chinese black tea on a platter with three cups, milk, sugar, lemon and spoons. Harry served Arnold while Ginny got two cups ready for her and Harry.
After a couple of sips and an appreciative nod, he spoke with a practiced, professional tone.“Whiteside and Hobart has both personal and corporate divisions. In both we advise our clients on matters of law, particularly tax law. It's very common for our staff to recommend the creation of a personal volunatry organization. These can fund a personal passion, a social interest, or create a sinecure for a problematic relative. For people with assets such as our clients, the technique leaves more for themselves through management of the tax codes. At the very least, the money they donate fulfills some rather more personal interest than decreasing the Exchequer's burden of debt.”
Ginny smiled. She recognized the humor, it wasn't meant to get a laugh. It was more a tease, an invitation to a little subdued irreverence “between friends.” From the occasionally-watched Muggle news they knew about the public debt issue. Muggles' reactions to it was enough to get a sense of someone's class, politics, and wealth. She though there might be something behind this little bit of humor but she left it alone. “We have a friend who's in a pupilage to become a barrister, she always says 'lawyers at work' when she hears those stories.”
Arnold Whiteside smiled too. “Yes, your friend is right; it's lawyers at work. But, please be assured, the ones we develop actually do something. Many have at least one paid staff, and no one's need for tax deductions is infinite or eternal. Some need to make their way beyond their founder's largess as they grow. They have the budget problems and needs of any small organization.”
“And that's where we come in?” Ginny intoned it as a question but her look said she understood it really wasn't. They all knew where this was going.
Indeed, Ginny had gone exactly where Arnold wanted the conversation to go. “Yes. We think your services are a proper fit for some of out clients.”
Harry did some digging, “What we do isn't that sophisticated. Your firm must have people, probably several, with more training and better skills than ours. Surely you don't lack computing power.”
Whiteside was nonplussed, “You may not fully appreciate your reputation Mr. Potter. Phil Riley and Janet Macomber are among the best. But, yes, we do indeed have an IT department and some people smart enough to command the sums we pay them. But, none of us would rather help clients who have forgotten their passwords than bill ₤400 lawyer hours.”
Ginny wanted it specific, “So, you'd like us to take on some of your voluntary organizations?”
“Exactly Mrs. Potter, exactly. You get the new business; we make our clients happy at no expense to ourselves. They tell all their friends how well Hobart and Whiteside treat them.”
Harry and Ginny didn't even need to look at each other to know they thought the same. They weren't being asked to commit to anything yet, there was no reason not to be positive. The risk was time, time wasted. That was a risk you had to take if you wanted what getting bigger allowed.
Harry gave the honest answer, “We have limits as currently configured; we've not reached them yet, so we're appreciative of new clients.” He put his hands around the tea pot to check that it was still warm and offered Arnold more tea before asking what he was most curious to know. “Why us? We're small, new, and who knows if we can meet their expectations for service.”
Arnold Whiteside sipped his just-warm tea twice before he set his cup on the table. “Emelda's organization . . .”
Ginny interrupted, “You mean Y.I.P.I, right? Youth International Peace Initiative?”
“Yes, Mrs. Potter, Y.I.P.I. is funded in part by one of our clients. He guarantees Emelda's salary regardless of organizational ability.” He continued where he left off, “That donor is very impressed with how much you both have accomplished and how well regarded you are by the other board members. You've scant education or history, your financial condition is modest and your expenses economical.” Spoken almost as an aside, “Which means you're probably not addicted to drink, drugs or gambling.” Then, another sip of tea. “You, as your company, ACS, currently have both physical and remote computer access as Crown Volunteers. Thus, we're pretty sure you're not terrorists, career criminals, or fans of sexual practices likely to interest News of the World.”
Harry and Ginny were both laughing. One the one hand, how much Arnold Whiteside knew about them was unexpected, a bit uncomfortable. It wasn't that they didn't know it was possible, that information was bought and sold in the Muggle world. Rather, it was they never really wanted anyone to look at them. They were reasonably confident that their cover story would hold but it was always a touch uneasy when someone took a close look. Neither Harry nor Ginny failed to note that here again Whiteside's humor was ironic. By his tone and cadence he was satirizing bureaucratic rigidity. Yet, he was very much a part of that rigidity – both a principal and beneficiary. He was the privileged heir of a powerful family, yet seemed anxious to be accepted as a peer.
When he continued their curiosity was even further aroused. “Harold told our donor that you are very talented ballroom dancers.”
Ginny toyed with her long pony tail, “Harold, Harold the Dance Master, our dancing teacher?”
“Yes Mrs. Potter, your dancing instructor and, actually, he thinks you may be the most talented he's ever taught. So, I thought we might cooperate in a bit of work and fun. One of our clients, Howard Jamison, is a highly successful investor, he funds the ball actually.”
They were a little embarrassed by Harold's profuse praise. Harold was a Muggle. He had no idea that music made their magic rise, giving them a light, etherial fluidity. Harry let it be. “He's rich and into ballroom dancing?”
“Right, brilliant, Mr. Potter, Jamison funds a not-for-profit to promote the Austrian Waltz, a faster, more energetic version of the Viennese. I think he's one of your potential customers. Delightfully, it will be a classical ball at one of London's last grand ballrooms. Mrs. Whiteside and I quite like to waltz, and a nice selection of those we'd like you to take off our hands will be there as well.”
As usual, Ginny got it to a few words, “Between taking appointments, we dance.”
There wasn't much doubt that he really did like to dance. He brightened, he was enjoying himself. “Exactly!”
As Harry got Whiteside's hat and coat both he and Ginny were thinking that this was nothing to complain about. It had only taken a little more than an hour, and the worst outcome now was that they'd be go to a ball in a grand ballroom and miss every waltz taking meetings.
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