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Chapter 1 : 11:57
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Pausing to feel the bark of one of the stoutest trees, the man thought of the decision awaiting him. As a member of the Wizengamot, the highest Wizarding Court in Britain, he would be called upon tomorrow to help decide the matter of In re Walsham. The agents of change at the Ministry these days were fighting tooth and nail to correct long-known and seldom-spoken imbalances between the fortunes of those of pure or lengthy half-blood ancestry and those newest to the wizarding community – primarily Muggleborns, but also the earliest generations of newer families created when a Muggleborn witch or wizard married into an existing magical family. The Court was to decide on whether the Minister for Magic had overstepped his bounds by ordering that bankers, businesses, and other wizarding merchants abandon use of a centuries old risk classification system that relied heavily on blood purity and the length of a witch or wizard’s magical lineage.
The goblins of Gringotts were one faction that strenuously objected to the change. Others were professional and trade groups like the Guild of Barristers and Solicitors and the Wizarding Realty Association. According to these, the decree jeopardized societal stability and risked fostering an explosion of nightmarish Muggle problems like bankruptcy and homelessness into their world. On the other hand, the Ministry was pressing strongly that the decree should be upheld. Institutionalization of prejudice they argued, even in the private sphere, allowed room for the bitterness and division that had helped plunge their society into two devastating wars to fester again. Jobs were being denied in some quarters and creditworthiness being inappropriately questioned they claimed.
Striding into another sparse patch of trees he inhaled deeply. Hughes could detect the scent of rain and he stared into the impenetrable wall of clouds above him. He would have to cut things short. As a gentle but chilly breeze blew over him, he pulled his cloak tightly around himself and cursed forgetting an umbrella. Even with midnight approaching it would be unwise to use magic in an area with such heavy Muggle surveillance. He would suffer through if necessary.
A short time later, Hughes re-entered his Muggle hotel room, drenched to the bone. The clouds had not been kind to an old man on this cool April night. Drawing his curtains, he produced his wand and quickly cast both drying and warming charms on himself. Placing his cloak in the coat closet, he entered the bathroom briefly, frowning at his own haggard appearance in the mirror. There were too many wizards far older than he with far fewer wrinkles he silently grumbled. Two wars and a life of government service had indeed taken their toll. Sleep before tomorrow’s frenzy would do him good.
As Tobias rounded the corner to find his bed, all went dark except the numbers etched in red on the face of the Muggle clock. He drew his wand out of instinct, his heart beating loudly in his chest. Seconds passed in silence and his pulse and breathing began to return to normal. Perhaps a power failure? Fumbling through the darkness for another moment, his hand found the switch that controlled the Muggle lighting. He flicked it once. Twice. A third time. Nothing. Turning back around, he lit his wand.
In an instant, a scarlet light struck him and everything went dark again. He grasped the air blindly as his only means of protection fell softly to the floor. Desperate to defend himself, he knelt down, running his hands over the thin carpet around him. Just feet away, Tobias heard a sickening crack as his hand brushed the cold leather of a boot. Out of the darkness, a gloved hand lifted him upward by his thick neck, pressing him into the door.
“Please…” he rasped as the hand increased its pressure on his throat.
Seconds passed again and as his eyes began adjusting to the darkness, he squinted to try and identify his attacker. The hand released him briefly, but only as a prelude to striking him hard in the face. Tobias tasted blood and felt its sticky warmth dripping from his nose as he was shoved roughly away from the door and into the interior of the room. The tip of a wand was pressed into his back now and he was slowly forced forward. After a few paces, pressure from the wand directed him to his knees.
“Please…” Tobias begged again, tears sliding down his face against his will. “I–”
Suddenly his plea was interrupted by the gloved hand being placed over his mouth and a searing pain in his lower back. It subsided for an instant before striking him again, this time higher. His attacker released him and Tobias fell the remaining distance to the floor in a crumpled heap. He felt cold and wet. As if only his back was once again outside in the rainstorm. He tried to move but was quickly overwhelmed by waves of pain wracking his body. He tried to suck in air, but was quickly choked by a thick liquid rising in his throat. In his last moments, Tobias lay his head down in defeat. The lights in his room were suddenly restored and he could faintly see the bottom half of a shadowy figure kneeling across the room, as if in prayer. As his vision blurred and began to darken, he fought for consciousness, trying desperately to delay what was now inevitable. He turned his head and widened his eyes, just as a familiar green light struck and enveloped him. Tobias Hughes’s eyes remained open, wide but empty.
The hotel clock read 11:57.
A/N: This story will be my first ever attempt at a mystery, let alone in the Potterverse, and as the summary noted I was driven to try it by Rumpelstiltskin’s Murder Mystery Challenge. It’s going to be dark and heavy. The ending should also be deliciously controversial. I’m not sure how many chapters it will take to do it justice, but I hope to have the entire thing done by the deadline. Enjoy!
For anyone out there reading my other WIP as well, this should have minimal impact on my making regular updates to that story. While I am planning on writing both at once, at least until this one is finished, I think the stories and characters are vastly different enough not to cause problems. So keep the faith!
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