From the small, dirty window, that he could see through when he climbed up on to the top of the cupboard, Hugo watched the sun shine through the clouds. He saw the shapes in the sky and the shadows on the ground and he made up little stories about each one he could make out. His favorite story was about the small, white rabbit-like cloud who was taken away from his school one day. The cloud was lost for a while, but his mummy, daddy and uncle - the three big clouds on the right - found him and brought him home.
Hugo wondered if his mummy knew about his clue yet. Had Adam found it when he'd looked through the comic? Adam always checked the comics, Hugo knew. He saw Adam do it all the time. And he always talked to his mummy. He hoped Adam wasn't too mad about him writing on the page; Adam didn't like that. But Hugo had to do it, so his mummy would know where to start.
"Hurry up, Mummy," he whispered to the clouds. Sometimes, Hugo could wait for anything, his family called him an unusually patient child all the time, but right now he was cold and hungry and scared. He wasn't feeling very patient. But the bad men shouted at him when he cried, even louder when he shouted back. So he stopped and tried to wait, listening to what they said instead.
Someone did something bad, something they didn't like, and they were waiting for him. They were waiting to punish him. Hugo didn't know who yet, or why he had to be here, but he hoped the one they wanted didn't come. He wanted Mummy to come first, in case the one they wanted was Daddy or Harry.
Because Hugo wasn't stupid; if the one they wanted came, he wouldn't leave.
The door to the room opened again and Hugo jumped down from the cupboard quickly, landing on the floor before they came in. The two bad men didn't stay for long, they threw in another and left again. This man was older than Hugo, more like his daddy's age, and his face was all red and black and blue. His eyes were closed, but he wasn't sleeping; Hugo could hear him moaning.
Hugo stepped forward, only to jump back in fright when the older man's eyes snapped open. He sat up slowly and put his hand on the back of his head. "Son of a -" He stopped suddenly, only just noticing that Hugo was standing next to him. "Ow," he said instead, like his family did when they knew they shouldn't say a bad word. "Do you know where we are, kid?"
Hugo nodded his head quickly. He'd heard them talk.
"Care to share?" the man asked.
He had less patience than Hugo did, he could tell, but he shook his head. He wasn't allowed to talk to strangers and he didn't know why the man was here. The man groaned again and got up, his legs shaky. Hugo wondered if he'd fall over. But he didn't. He went to the window, pushed the cupboard away so he could look properly. Hugo frowned; he didn't know if he could put it back.
"I have no idea where we are from this window," the man sighed. He turned back to Hugo. "Ready to share now?"
He shook his head. The man groaned. He did that a lot.
"You don't have to be scared, Hugo," he said softly, moving away from the window to kneel in front of him. He gently put a hand on Hugo's shoulder to stop him from moving away, not understanding how the stranger knew his name. "People are looking for you. My friend is looking for you and he's the best. He'll find us."
Hugo cocked his head to his left. "Who?" he asked finally, quietly. He knew this man wasn't talking about is Daddy or Harry; he'd met their friends and this stanger wasn't one of them. Was he?
The stranger sat down properly on the cold floor, crossing his legs, and Hugo did the same, so they were sat across from each other. He made sure there was a gap between them. "His name is Theodore Nott, he's a private detective."
Hugo's small, blue eyes widened in surprise and he smiled for the first time. He knew that name. "Adam's Theo?"
"Yeah," the stranger chuckled. "But he's also your Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry's friend."
"I know." Hugo remembered them talking about him. Theodore was the only friend of theirs he hadn't met. Or he had and couldn't remember. His cousin, James, could remember him a little, though. He said so when they talked about him. "Who are you?" he asked. "Are you friends with them, too?"
"No, I'm just friends with Theo, but sometimes I work with your mum," the stranger said. "My name is Blaise Zabini."
Blaise. Yes, he'd heard that name. Was he the one they wanted? No, he wasn't the one they wanted to punish, Hugo guessed. They wouldn't bring him here if he was, they said they had a special place for that person. Hugo didn't know where that special place was, but it sounded bad when they said it. "Why are you here, Blaise?"
Blaise looked around the old room nervously, then to the door. "I don't know," he whispered. "Why are you here?"
Hugo shrugged, he knew the name from his mummy; he could tell him. "I don't know yet. But I've been listening. They want someone. And they really don't like this person."
Theo made it to the school with a few minutes to spare and waved Alexei over. He watched his son grab his bag, say something to his teacher and run his way, stopping right in front of him. "Hey, Daddy," he said excitedly, wrapping his arms around his waist.
Not being able to stop himself, Theo laughed, Alexei's good mood infectious, and took the boy's bag. He put it over his own shoulder and held out his hand. "Good day at school?" he asked.
Alexei nodded. "We played football and I was captain. We won!"
Ah, explains the excitement, Theo thought.
He let Alexei talk while they walked, content in just listening to the little boy's excitement over his first time playing a Muggle sport. He let the words fill his head, giving him a moment of freedom from his case. Maybe if he came back to it with a clear head, he would know what to do next. He was walking into it blind, had no idea what going to that restaurant would bring. Theo shook his head; finding Hugo wasn't one of those strategy puzzles, but that was the only way he could describe how he was feeling. It was like chess, one had to make a move for the other player to go next. But Theo was always bad at chess.
It didn't fill him with much confidence.
"Daddy, it's Harry," Alexei said suddenly, pointing in front of them.
Theo stopped, waving once when Harry did. He was stood against the car's passenger side of the door, waiting for them, it seemed. The man's smile was tight, but once he was closer he saw that Harry's eyes looked a little brighter than before, hopeful.
"I got your message," he said once they got to the car. "This is all her idea."
"Hey," Hermione snapped, getting out of the driver's side of car. "You agreed straight away."
"I did," Harry agreed, speaking to Theo. "Until she said that she was coming and I was staying. Now I'm not so sure."
"What?" Theo finally asked, thoroughly confused by their cryptic conversation.
"I'm going to the restaurant with you," Hermione explained in a tone that told him he had no choice in the matter. "Harry will go back to the house, where Ginny and Ron have Rose, and be our messenger boy."
"I thought you were an Auror," Alexei said. He frowned when the grown ups laughed, although it wasn't a truly happy laugh.
"I need to find a babysitter for Lex before I go anywhere," Theo told them, his mind trying and failing to come up with reasons as to why Hermione couldn't come.
"Well, if Lex doesn't mind, he's welcome to back with me," Harry offered.
Alexei pulled on his dad's jacket until Theo looked down. "I want to play with Lily again," he whispered, his eyes wide and pleading, wanting him to say yes.
"Okay," he sighed in defeat.
Harry opened the car door and let Alexei inside. "Move over, Lex, I'm sitting with you." He turned to Theo and nodded to the front seat. "Since you're staying with Hermione, she says you get shotgun."
The car had been filled with chatter while Alexei retold his football story to Harry and Hermione, but once they were dropped off at the house, it was obvious Theo wasn't talking. They remained quiet until they were almost at the restaurant and Hermione could no longer take it.
"Is this about me coming with you?" she asked impatiently. The thought had been running around in her mind throughout the journey and she had to know.
"I'm not used to having people work with me, but no, that's not why," Theo muttered, his eyes on the road. He knew she was waiting for another answer, an explanation for his silence, and he almost blurted out his dream and why he seemed so nervous around her. But that would have been the worst thing to do, he knew, and he stopped himself quickly. Instead he kept it professional. "I'm going through scenarios in my head, hoping I can understand why they chose to go to Rizzo's and what I might find there."
"Is it helping?"
"No," he scoffed. "But it makes me feel like I'm actually doing something. I've never had a case like this."
"We've tracked your cases, the Auror department are still hoping you'll come back, and we trust you and your judgement. Truly," Hermione promised. "I am here for legal advice and guidance. And because I'm a terrified mother, who can't just sit at home and wait. But I won't get in your way; this is your case and I know my boundaries."
"Thanks," Theo said softly, not having the same confidence.
"So, Hugo really left a clue for you," Hermione said. She was proud of her son, Theo could tell.
Rightly so. "Yes," he nodded. "He listened to the man on the phone and he wrote down the name. He was very messy, it took all of Adam's strength to stay calm, which really shows how much he cares, and he got his Z's backwards, if you want all of the details."
"He's only six and he was scared!" Hermione defended.
Theo held up his hands in surrender. "Hey, I'm not having a go at his spelling. I was awed actually, Lex has trouble spelling his own name. Did you teach him?"
Hermione nodded. "And Ron. He's always seemed to excel at things from an early age. We took him to a doctor a few months ago, did tests; he said Hugo has a high IQ and believes he has an eidetic memory. Ron calls him our little genius. They all said he was taking after me, but I knew he was special. And that's how I know he'll be okay."
"His family took on a troll, tricked Umbridge and ended a war; even without that good memory, he'll be okay," Theo promised with a small smile, hoping that what he was saying was true. He nodded to the restaurant in front of them. "We're here."
Hermione parked outside and they stepped out, both taking in their surroundings before walking up to the restaurant. "I think now is a good time to tell me what you plan to do," she prompted at the door.
Theo opened it for her, allowing her to enter first, and lead her to the podium were a waiter was standing. "Hungry?" he asked pleasantly. He ignored Hermione's curious gaze. "Table for two?"
The young waiter nodded, smiling brightly. "Of course, sir. This way."
With one hand pointing in the direction of the waiter and another on the base of Hermione's back, Theo nudged her forwards. "Follow the young man, darling."
Despite her suspicions being raised further, Hermione played along and followed the waiter to a table, her narrowed eyes a promise that he'd tell her what he was doing. She sat down, thanking the waiter, and took a menu from his hands. Theo did the same and they nodded when he said a waitress would be here soon. "What's your game, Theodore?" she asked the moment they were alone.
"I'm hungry," he answered innocently. "And we're going to use this time so I can do what we PI's do best; snoop," Theo joked. "I'm going to ask around, see if anyone remembers Hugo, and find out what happened here. Is that okay?"
"You could have just said that," Hermione mumbled, trying not to pout.
"And miss the look on your face? Never."
Theo waited twenty minutes before he thought about excusing himself to ask his questions, ordering his meal and making small talk with Hermione about their family, friends and jobs to pass the time. When Hermione asked why, he told her honestly; that he had no idea how to start and was figuring it all out in his head. Although he missed out his selfish reasons; that he wanted to get to know her more. She accepted his answer, knew from his reminders during the few times they'd spoken that this was his first kidnapping case, and understood that he didn't want to mess anything up by diving in head first and thinking nothing through.
She only hoped the man could think fast.
"So, law?" he asked, his eye on the waitress behind the bar who kept looking their way. "What made you want to follow that line of work?"
"My campaigns and charity for House Elves," Hermione replied. "I wanted to do more to change the laws, so I spent some time there, going through legislature. There I realized there was more that needed to be changed in our world and I wanted to do something about it. I knew the only way I'd really get anything done would be if I took a lead role, so joined the department. It was one of the best decisions I ever made."
Theo nodded absentmindedly, and she had to wonder if he was really listening. "And you're acquainted with Blaise Zabini. He said you've crossed paths a few times."
"We have," Hermione agreed. "He's more criminal law, whereas I'm for human and beings' rights, but I've been called in on cases occasionally and we've worked together a few times. We rarely spoke to each other in school, as you know, but I know him well enough now and we get on well. I was surprised when he said you were friends, though."
He finally turned to face her fully, understanding her surprise. "Yeah, we weren't the best of friends in school because he was friends with Draco. I stopped being Draco's friend because I had no desire to be involved with the Dark Arts and eventually Blaise stopped running back and forth between us. He stayed friends with Draco, so he was always there when Alexei was born, he helped a lot. We started to bridge the gap, become friends again." Theo paused to take a drink of water and find the waitress again. "Have you seen him lately? He hasn't answered my floo calls these last couple of days."
Hermione thought back to the last time she'd seen Blaise Zabini, which had been the morning before Hugo had been taken. "No. He hasn't even been in work. That's not like him. I was so worried about Hugo that I hadn't noticed."
"I'll try again tonight," Theo muttered, distracted. Hermione turned discreetly to find the waitress was back. "Now it's time to ask my questions and I know where to start."
Hermione wished him luck, figuring he'd want it even if she trusted him enough to think he didn't need it, and kept her eye on them. Even if she couldn't hear them, she hoped she could pick something up from their body language.
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked nervously when Theo stopped in front of her.
He glanced down at her name tag briefly. "Yeah, Nancy. I was told that a man brought a little boy here yesterday afternoon, I'm wondering if you can confirm that. Do you recognize him?" he asked, removing the picture of Hugo from his inside pocket and showing her.
Her eyes widened slightly at the image, telling Theo that she recognized him, and she glanced at Hermione once more. "T-The guy said his name was Matthew," Nancy stuttered finally. Theo nodded, knowing from both Hermione and Harry that Hugo's middle name was Matthew; it made sense that they'd change it a little. "Is he okay?"
"I'm not sure," he replied. "That's why I have to find him. Can you remember anything about yesterday? Did you see or hear anything that could tell me where to find him?"
Nancy shook her head slowly, her eyes pleading with him. Only he had no idea what she was trying to say. "He just told me to look after Matthew, then he went into the back."
"Did Matthew tell you anything?" Theo asked desperately.
"At first, he didn't talk except to ask for a napkin and a pen, then -" Nancy shut her mouth when her name was called and food was ready to be served. "Please sit, sir. I'll bring your food to your table."
"Okay," he murmured, nodding his head. He sat back in his seat, saying nothing to Hermione except to wait a few moments.
Nancy came soon after they spoke at the bar, serving their meals and taking out her notepad and pen as though she was asking if they'd like another drink. She dropped a napkin in the middle of the table. "They called him Matthew, your little boy," she whispered to Hermione. "But he said his first name was Hugo, and he's a really smart kid. He described you, said you'd come, he really believed it, and he wrote something for you," she gestured to the napkin, "told me to give it to you. He even told me about the comic shop in case you didn't come, he really wanted you to know. I promised him if you didn't come, I'd go there."
"Why didn't you tell me this at the bar? Give it to me there?" Theo asked, his voice low.
"Because that guy is bad news," Nancy whispered. "The person he works for owns this place, and he has ears everywhere. The waiter who called my name is one of those ears." She stepped back, put away her notepad and pen. "I'll be right back with your waters," she said with a bright smile and left quickly.
They ate in silence, ignoring the napkin for as long as they could, until Theo finished his meal and picked it up as though he was wiping his mouth. "What does it say?" Hermione whispered.
He scanned the napkin quickly and screwed it up into a ball in his hands. "In the car."
Not wanting to waste time, Hermione asked for the check. They split the bill, gave Nancy a bigger tip and left, giving her a discreet nod as they did so. In the car, Hermione asked for the napkin. She hoped it was another place Hugo had heard, the location they'd take him to. She didn't hide her disappointment when she saw that she was wrong. "Daniel," she muttered, her eyes narrowed at the name. "Who the hell is Daniel?"
Theo didn't turn to her, he didn't want to see her hope leave her eyes. "I have no idea."
A/N: New chapter, longer than last time, and even more mystery. I hope you enjoyed. please let me know what you think. :)