Chapter 3 : Chapter 3
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The old man rolled onto his side and gazed instead at the trembling leaves of a flutterby bush clipping he’d picked especially for his wife. Neville made sure that the apartment above the Leaky Cauldron was always full of flowers, to remind his wife that even when she was alone, and even in the darkness, he would be there.
That was the thing about plants, after all. It was from the darkness that they sprouted, and from the light that they bloomed. Without one or the other, there would be no flowers. He had told it to Hannah, who had been afraid of the dark for years after the Battle of Hogwarts. He had murmured it by candlelight on their wedding night, had whispered it to her the night they bought the pub, and on the night he left to move back to teach at Hogwarts for the first time, he made sure she would never, ever forget it.
He closed his eyes. There were only two more weeks until he had to move back to Hogwarts and start his first year as Headmaster. He wouldn’t get the chance to properly sleep with his wife until Christmas break, and even that was cut short for his other duties. The old man yawned just as something warm bit him in the ear.
His eyes popped open as the glowing form of a Jack Russell Terrier tugged at his ear again, muttered the word ‘Floo’ and melted into a mist of sparkles. “Bollocks.” Neville breathed, a wrinkled hand grabbing his wand and a pair of spectacles before he tugged on a robe and shuffled into the apartment’s tiny kitchen.
Neville lit a fire and tossed some floo powder in, just as Ron Weasley’s head popped up. “Evening, Ron,” Neville said wearily, leaning back in a wicker chair. “World’s ending, I suppose? Shame it couldn’t wait til after I got a good night’s sleep.”
If possible, the green flames around Ron’s face got even bigger. “And while you were sleeping, some of us were risking our necks. Have you got any clue as to why Scorpius Malfoy would be sitting in the diner across from the Ministry entrance at this time of night?” Ron snapped.
It was the thing Neville liked most and least about Ron—he always cut straight to the point. Neville flicked his wand towards a teapot and watched as it filled with water and began to warm up. “Why don’t you come in?” He asked, as two teacups clinked together and made their way to the table. “I’ve told you once, and I’ll tell you again—leave that poor boy alone.” He was quiet as the tea kettle began to whistle. “Suppose that diner serves good tea?”
Ron snorted. “Clearly he was there for the tea. I’m telling you, Neville, he’s up to something. He’s a healer, for Merlin’s sake. If he wants tea, he can go to the tea room in Mungo’s! He’s watching the Ministry.”
Neville shut his eyes tightly before pouring himself a mug. “You’ve been saying that for years. Scorpius has always been an upstanding citizen, a strong healer, and a wonderful godfather to your granddaughter.” Not to mention, he was delightful with plants. Then again, Scorpius had a good herbology professor. “Ron, it’s time to let it go. He’s not dating Rose, Draco’s taken up collecting garden gnomes—the Malfoy family is a harmless bunch of puffskeins.” He took a sip of tea before dumping in a spoonful of sugar.
Ron’s face got that constipated look that showed he was thinking. He looked about ready to spit fire at Neville before he took a breath. “Fine. Fine. Nothing else to report. Enjoy the rest of your sleep.” The man’s face disappeared into the fire. Neville sank into his chair before starting up again as Ron’s face returned. “But you know, if Harry was here, he wouldn’t have let it go.” Ron’s face disappeared again and as the fire went out, Neville pressed a gnarled hand over his face.
Harry had been killed on an auror assignment five years ago. He’d been Head of the Auror Department, as well as secret keeper for the Order of the Phoenix. He wasn’t afraid of death, but he knew it would catch up to him someday, so every year he would update his last will and testament. The day Harry Potter went from the Boy-Who-Lived to the Man-Who-Died, his will nominated Neville to be secret keeper of the Order in his place. It was a slap in the face for Ron, but when put to vote, no one dared to question Harry’s judgment.
“Bollocks,” Neville breathed the word out into his tea cup before taking another sip. Sometimes he wondered whether or not he’d made the right choice in staying with the Order. What on earth had Harry been thinking, putting him, Neville Longbottom, in a position of power? He was just a herbology professor, for Merlin’s sake!
The man took another sip of tea. He wouldn’t tell Ron, but he was suspicious of Scorpius as well. He knew Ron though, and knew that if he told him, he’d go into a frenzy trying to prove one or the other conspiracy theory. In not telling him, Ron would keep a healthy stalker distance, and would continue to report back to Neville in case the secret keeper decided to change his mind. For now, what side Scorpius was on remained a mystery.
Neville stared glumly into the swirling steam of his tea cup. Dark times were coming, and he didn’t know if any of them would be ready for it.
Maybe Hannah had been right to fear the dark.
“Oh, thank you!” Victoire exclaimed, holding up a bundle of lace that should have been a baby sized dress. Dominique’s newly manicured nails scratched her chin in relief. It was the last gift at the baby shower, and they could finally move on to the next act of this silly show.
“Oh!” Victoire exclaimed, resting a hand on her belly. Maisie raced towards her on chubby legs and pressed the side of her face flat against Victoire.
“He’s kicking my ear!” The little girl giggled while the adults laughed. Maisie pressed her lips against Victoire’s shirt. “Hullo cousin!”
Even Dominique had to smile grudgingly. She loved her family, she’d swear it a million times, but when you were the only single female over the age of twenty five with no children and no prospective husbands in line, baby showers were the last place you wanted to be.
The witch stood, and made her way to the refreshment table as the rest of her family and sister’s friends talked among themselves. Her cousin Rose came by her, dragging Maisie along by the hand. “Merlin, Mays—hush now.” The witch said, handing her daughter a lemon puff. “Oi, Dom, I only wish I had your luck.” Rose poured a glass of pumpkin juice for Maisie and handed it to her, before loading up a plate of sandwiches.
“My luck?” Dominique asked, watching as Maisie bolted across the room to sit in Victoire’s lap.
Rose rubbed her forehead at her daughter before taking a large bite of her sandwich. “Yes, your luck. You’re free!” She exclaimed, wiping the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand. “Merlin, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in days because Rob’s been working nights now and Maisie refuses to sleep without him singing goodnight to her.” When Dominique looked closer at her cousin, she could see the dark circles beneath Rose’s makeup. “Not to mention,” She took another bite of her sandwich and patted her stomach with a secret smirk at Dominique. “I have a feeling I’ll have double the trouble in a few months.”
The smug feeling of being an unmarried wild woman had only begun to rise in Dominique when Rose added that last bit. The smug feeling quickly withered. Dominique’s eyebrows flew up her forehead. “Really? Since when? Why didn’t you—”
Rose pressed a finger to her lips. “Shh, Rob and I are trying to keep it secret a little longer. Don’t want to steal the limelight from Victoire, after all.” Rose said it with a teasing smile.
Dominique’s face darkened. It was impossible to steal the limelight from Victoire. Even as she thought it though, she felt ashamed, and the witch took a large gulp of pumpkin juice to cover it up. “Well then,” She started, avoiding Rose’s puzzled look, “I guess it’ll be our little secret.” She put on a smile for Rose’s sake, before deciding it would be best to change the subject altogether. “Why’s Rob been working late so much anyway?”
It was Rose’s turn to look away darkly. “Well, he’s putting extra time into the Daily Prophet—you know he only freelances with them, right? Well, you must’ve read how the editor-in-chief died, they had a little obituary on him a few weeks ago.” Rose’s voice lowered. “But Rob says he was murdered.” Curly red hair frizzed around Rose’s face like a static warning. “The offices are trying to keep it all hush-hush, but Rob thinks a) there could be a chance for regular employment at the Prophet, and b) that this would make a great story. It’d be his big break.” Rose’s voice was carefree and light, but Dominique could see worry lines crease the other witch’s forehead.
“Well, best of luck to him,” Dominique replied, adding a little more pumpkin juice to his cup. “Has he got any leads?”
Rose shook his head, and a wry smile slid onto her face. “I dunno. Rob keeps everything he knows under wraps. Doesn’t want someone else trying to scope out his story, though he’s been telling me almost every reporter in London is trying to do their own investigative reporting on it. It’s a big story, plus everyone liked Horace Halfpott. Rob says it’s an injustice not to write the old man into his own news story.”
Maisie came running up to her mother. “Mummy!” She cried, holding out her index finger. A thin red line drew across it in a frown. Rose bent down to look at it. “A paper cut! Oh Merlin, we can’t have that!” The older witch pressed her lips against her daughter’s finger.
Dominique watched with a twinge of jealousy as the mother and daughter hugged, their wild hair blending in together as one.
Supple dragon hide gloves gripped the wand tightly. The wand’s point pressed against the old man’s heart and the witch could feel the vibrations of its frightened beat through her wand.
“I don’t know!” The old man cried. He wished he knew. He’d say anything if only she’d back away and put the damned wand down. He didn’t want to die. He had a cat he had to feed back home.
“Yes, you do.” The witch’s voice slid over the man like silk. Her face was cloaked in shadow, and she had transfigured it to be unrecognizable. “Try and remember.”
The old man wet himself. “I…I don’t have the full incantation to access those files. We all keep a little piece. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.” He sobbed.
“Liar.” It was the only word she could muster in her rage. It had been her responsibility to get the files. After all her trips with the sod from Muggleborn Assimilation, she had assumed that there was only one password to get to the files of every muggleborn baby born within the last six months. She’d botched up the damned mission.
Even so, it wouldn’t do to show the old man her regret. The wheels in the witch’s mind turned. She was rising up as a leader—she couldn’t let everyone else know she had made a mistake. Originally, she had planned to wipe his memory, but that would prove nothing except her failure at getting all the information before diving into a mission. It was messier to kill him, but she could always blame it on someone else. There were enough loose canons running around these days that if the Assistant Director of the Department of Muggleborn Assimilation were to be found dead in the street, she could always say her only fault was that she hadn’t gotten to him first.
Her decision was made. The witch raised her wand, the words on her lips, when from a corner of the office, a man’s voice drawled, “Enough.”
She stiffened in sudden fear. A man stepped out from the shadows, his wand pointed at the witch.
“I think,” He said, “that’s sloppy work. At the very least, get his piece of the passcode before you wipe his memory.” Beneath his drawn hood, the witch could see he was wearing a mask. “Come on, old chap. Out with it. No one’s dying tonight, just as long as you give us your bit of the password.”
The Assistant Director cried. “Olina!” He gasped out. “Mercy, please, mercy.” He begged towards the other man.
“Was that so hard?” The masked man paid no more attention to the Assistant Director. “You already had him scared out of his wits—all you had to do was ask. Now, I would suggest kindly erasing his memory of us before we go our separate ways. The more I’ve observed of you, the more I find that we’re not fit to be friends after all.”
The witch looked at him incredulously. Despite the wizard’s relaxed tone, his wand still hovered threateningly over her, and she was under no illusion that if she should make a wrong move, she would die. “Obliviate” She murmured, moving her wand from the old man’s heart to his temple. The old man slumped in his chair.
“Good,” The masked man said. “Now kindly see yourself to the exit and I’ll see my way towards a different one.” The two stared at each other, one face furious and the other one a calm mask.
The woman backed her way towards the door and slipped out of it, disappearing into the dark Ministry hallways. The masked man, after checking the office one last time for anything the witch might have left behind, disappeared down another hallway.
Henrietta Podge, the man decided, as he slipped back out into the night, was unfit for recruitment. He might have been more upset that the weeks of tracking her had all been in vain, except now he knew two things. One, she was part of a different rebel group, and two, another rebel group existed.
This was getting to be a complicated game indeed.
A/N: Hey guys! I know we're off to a slow start, but I'm trying to build up the characters/back story a little more. I am curious though--is this going too slow?