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Chapter 3 : Paper
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A knock on the door mercifully interrupted her mundane musings. It also surprised her. Not many arrived at the Ministry this early and even fewer took the trouble to make their way through the labyrinthine corridors of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to see her outside of court. Nevertheless, she dutifully rose, smoothing her robes before crossing the room to open the door.
“Harry?” she said, puzzled to discover that her visitor was none other than her raven-haired best friend.
“Pleasure to see you too,” Harry said dryly, a thin smile crossing his lips as he walked in.
“Sorry. It is good to see you,” she said quickly, “it’s just…I thought you weren’t working until the hearing today.”
“Right. Well, that’s why I’m here really…”
“I’m not following.”
Harry poked his head outside, checking the halls for any unexpected employees. Finding none, he drew it back in and shut the door, casting a muffliato charm. “There’s not going to be a hearing, Hermione. Hughes is dead.”
Covering her hand with her mouth, Hermione remained silent for a moment. “When?”
“Can’t say yet.”
“Well are you allowed to tell me more?”
Harry produced a thin file folder from inside his robes. “It’s just the beginning,” he said, handing the file to his brown-haired friend, “but right now you’re one of the only ones I can tell.”
“You, Kingsley, Gawain, Ron, and Neville.”
“How do I fit?”
“Check the file.”
As she did so, Hermione realized that she was holding her breath. But looking down she saw it. Stamped in red ink one space away from Harry’s was her name. A satisfied smile crossed her face as she exhaled. Looking up once more she saw Harry smirking.
“Congratulations,” he said simply. “I’d stay, but I’ve got to brief Kingsley while Gawain handles the Prophet.”
Hermione waved graciously toward the door. “I understand.”
As she was about to shut the door and begin reading what little now existed in the precious file, she noticed Harry’s head pop back in for a moment. “Hermione?”
“Well,” he started, seeming to rethink his return, “you’ll read the file…but between us, we’ve got a lot of work on.”
Hermione nodded politely and watched Harry’s perpetually messy hair fly up behind him as he bolted off for his meeting. She shook her head as she walked back toward her desk, but was unable to shake her mood. Harry might not like his evidence so far, but she was confident in her best friend. As for her…well, she was Hermione Granger. She relished a difficult case and she was ready to work harder than ever to close this one.
Following his briefing with Kingsley, Harry set off to meet Neville at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Despite hundreds of meetings there throughout their time together as Aurors, he still always felt uncomfortable. There was something unsettling about simply going about the job while Neville’s parents sat, entirely unspoken of, several floors above them. It was always made worse by the waiting and Harry preferred to keep such time to a minimum. He had even taken to turning up ten minutes earlier than he had planned with Neville just to set the process in motion. Harry sighed as he saw Neville rounding the corner from the hospital’s staff entrance. Again, the cushion had not been enough.
“Hey Neville,” Harry said dully.
“Hey Harry. How’s the wait look?”
“Shouldn’t be much longer. The only good thing about this case is we’re priority number one.”
Neville took a seat in one of the molded plastic chairs across from Harry.
Harry looked around. The fresh-faced wizard responsible for security kept glancing at him. He was obviously new. Ever since Harry had signed in, the young man had followed the same pattern: swivel in his chair, scratch something down with his quill, glance. Swivel, scratch, glance. The cycle must have repeated itself at least three times in ten minutes.
“So…how’re things at home?” Neville asked.
“Good,” Harry nodded. “Quidditch wraps up next month, so that should mean more time together for me and Ginny.”
“Anything special planned?”
“Not anymore,” Harry grumbled. “I’m just lucky I hadn’t told her about the trip yet. She’s been wanting to visit Italy since the World Cup will be there in a couple years. Course I’ll have to cancel now.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, shoulders drooping. “Anyway, what about you? Ron says you’re spending lots of time at the Leaky?”
“That’s why Gawain sniffed my breath is it?” Neville grumbled
Harry gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Ron may have let something about it slip. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“He’s our boss, Harry! You know drinks aren’t–”
Neville was interrupted by the large door at the end of the hallway opening. The cold metal quickly gave way to the squat form of Chief Coroner Tilius Maithwaite. The elderly wizard wore a dismal expression on his heavily-wrinkled face, urging them to come with several quick waves from one of his stubby arms. As they approached, the door to the examination area shut loudly and he gestured for Harry and Neville to follow, striding briskly down a hallway to the right.
Halfway down the corridor the three men turned left into Maithwaite’s small office. The box-like room was only dimly lit by a small golden lamp on the old wooden desk. The back wall was covered almost entirely by two neatly organized bookcases. As they sat, the two Aurors were greeted by the gleaming gold desk placard engraved with Maithwaite’s name and title.
“Morning,” Harry began politely.
“Morning Mr. Potter, Mr. Longbottom,” the stumpy man said curtly, moving over to one of the many sturdy filing cabinets that lined the left wall of the room. “I take it you’ve come for my report.”
“It’s going to be a bit more detailed than that this time around,” Harry replied.
“Yes, yes, of course,” Maithwaite answered, waving his hand dismissively after tossing the report in Harry’s lap. “Report first. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Harry opened the thin file, shifting it to his right hand to share with Neville. Furrowing his brow he scanned the standard prefatory form for any unusual information. Male. Five feet, six and three-quarter inches tall. 72.57 kilograms. Two posterior wounds on the right side, one centered an inch to the right of the interspace between the T5 and T6 vertebrae, another lower, approximately three inches from the iliac crest between the L1 and L4 vertebrae. Both ran vertically and measured approximately one inch in length. Bruising had been noted on the right side of the face, centered on the right maxilla. The page also contained reference to barely discernible markings on the neck. The facial and neck injuries were interesting developments that had not been manifested at the scene, but nothing was particularly noteworthy.
“Done?” Harry asked Neville.
Harry flipped to the last page.
“So the curse killed him?”
“That is my determination,” Maithwaite said solemnly.
“But you haven’t opened the body.”
The coroner exhaled loudly, fixing his eyes on Harry’s and folding his hands. “Respectfully, Mr. Potter, it is my opinion that such an invasive examination is unnecessary.”
“A member of the Wizengamot was stabbed twice in his own hotel room,” Harry said hotly.
“And the location of those wounds was very precise. One to the right kidney, another to the lung. Contact with those organs was confirmed magically. Yours is far from the only profession with its own set of detection spells.”
“And we’d never question your ability,” Neville offered diplomatically. “It’s just that…I think we both want to emphasize that this was a member of the Wizengamot. There are certain–”
“Political realities,” the coroner interrupted.
Neville shifted his eyes from the coroner to Harry, who was still wearing a firm frown. “All I’m saying is maybe it would be better for all concerned if we went a bit further than required. You know once the Prophet gets the story there are going to be questions. Demands for your report…”
Maithwaite leaned back, gazing at the ceiling pensively. “Yes. A good point, Mr. Longbottom. I will remove and examine the affected organs. I will not however,” he continued, glaring at Harry, “be opening the entire body without medical necessity to do so.”
Harry shut the file and stood, handing it back to its owner. “I’ll need a copy.”
“Of a preliminary report?” Maithwaite questioned.
“Political realities,” Harry said coolly.
Producing his wand, the coroner directed it at the file. “Geminio,” he muttered, causing an exact duplicate of the file to appear on the tidy desk. “Could have done it yourself,” Maithwaite grumbled, handing the copy over.
“Everything is going to happen strictly by the book this time. That means unless it’s for detecting evidence or investigating a scene, our wands don’t touch the evidence.”
“Fine, fine,” the squat man said, again waving a hand dismissively as he filed the original away carefully.
“Come on, Harry,” Neville urged.
Throwing an irritated glance back at the prickly coroner, Harry followed Neville out the door.
Upon their return to the Ministry, Neville and Harry parted ways, Neville heading off to the archives to begin drafting a detailed workup on Hughes’s background while Harry returned to the office to begin work on their suspect list. Entering his team’s cramped cluster of cubicles, Harry found Ron staring down at the completed crime scene inventory, scratching the inside of his right ear with the tip of his wand. Sneaking up behind him, Harry slapped down their copy of Maithwaite’s preliminary report on his desk loudly. Ron immediately sprung forward, fumbling his wand and almost falling out of his chair.
“Next time you ought to keep that ear free to listen,” Harry chuckled.
“Harry!” Ron half-gasped, half-growled, recovering from the shock his best friend had given him. “Back from the hospital already?”
“Maithwaite’s not done.”
“Par for the course, mate. I told you he wouldn’t be.”
“Planned on that this time. We need a current copy of his preliminary so we can get right to work.”
“I’m sure he liked that…” Ron said.
“About as much as you’d expect.”
“The two of you get into it again?”
“Not about that. Good thing Neville was there in the end though,” Harry replied, running a hand through his hair as he pulled out his own chair to sit.
“Nothing big. He didn’t come out and say it, but the stab wounds look like they were targeted at organs. Still, he thinks the Killing Curse really did get him.”
Ron shook his head. “Haven’t seen much of that since we rounded up the last of the Death Eaters.”
“Harry–” Ron started.
“It’s possible,” Harry interrupted. “Remember how many fled to the continent? What are the chances we really got them all?”
“Okay,” Ron conceded, “but why here? Why now?”
“We were about to completely wipe out the old system. Some of the reforms are already spreading.”
“Still…where would we even start?”
“Sympathetic countries. Families with educational or family ties to the Death Eaters or Grindelwald.”
“That’s a helluva list, Harry…” Ron said doubtfully.
“We have to explore it.”
“Yeah…you can sell that to Kingsley and Giles.”
Harry sighed. “Obviously we start at home. Exhaust everything else first.”
“It’s good to hear you speak of exhaustion, Harry,” Gawain said, striding into the room.
Harry and Ron stood to acknowledge the Head Auror’s arrival.
“Sir?” Harry asked.
“You and Weasley need to get rested up. Longbottom already had the short straw of all-day duty.”
“We can’t do that now!” Harry protested.
“You can and will, Mr. Potter,” Gawain said evenly. “We need your team at its best. From what I understand, Longbottom has his orders. He can brief DMLE this afternoon and produce the supplemental.”
“But–” Ron cut in, before being quickly interrupted.
“No buts. From either of you. You burn yourselves out early on this and we’re in trouble. We’re looking at months of work under the most intense scrutiny you can imagine. I handled the press today, but you’ll have them to contend with in the future in addition to your investigative obligations. I’ve read the file. There’s nothing to act on that we can act on swiftly.”
“Sir, I’d just be more comfortable if–” Harry began.
“You’d be more comfortable if you could go without sleep,” the older wizard deadpanned. “However, as magic has yet to fully eliminate that basic human need, I have to insist. I don’t want to hear from either of you until at least six tomorrow morning. I’ll be giving Longbottom until lunchtime after his shift ends.”
Harry frowned heavily, a crease forming on his forehead.
“Take the time, Potter,” Gawain said firmly. “When you come in tomorrow morning, you have my promise that you’ll get no more interference from me. But you will give me until tomorrow morning.”
Harry’s shoulders dropped, but he begrudgingly began to gather his items from his desk.
“And Potter,” Gawain added, “don’t even think about taking any work home with you.”
Harry set down the paperwork he had grabbed and after shooting a resigned glance toward Ron, followed his best friend out the door and toward the Atrium.
As Harry opened the door and stepped inside his home he was greeted by total silence. Wearily, he locked the deadbolt and restored the enchantments, before undoing the knot of his tie. Remembering Ginny’s complaints about scuffing up their hardwood floor when he dragged his feet, he bent down and removed his shoes. His body groaned at even these simple movements. Silently, he cursed Gawain for sending him home. He had felt fine with the adrenaline of attacking a new case fueling him, but now that he had stepped away and was faced with an apparently empty apartment, the effects of pushing himself so hard were setting in. When his boss had arrived shortly after midnight, he had only been asleep for a couple of hours, having working a ten hour day before that. Today he had already worked almost fourteen. He dragged himself to the bed that he and Ginny shared, cursing the Head Auror once more. He undressed as swiftly as he could, lazily flicking his wand to send the pile of clothes into the far corner. As Harry’s head finally hit his pillow, his whirring thoughts came grinding to a halt. Alone, he was almost immediately enveloped by sleep.
Three hours later, the young Auror awakened to the soft brush of a hand stroking his hair off his forehead and the soaring sensation that still accompanied each tender kiss he received from a most familiar pair of supple lips. Keeping his eyes closed as he returned the kiss, he inhaled deeply. He was immediately struck by a delightfully unique combination of scents – a hint of dirt, the faint saltiness of sweat, and the lightest note of floral sweetness. Ginny was home. As her lips lingered, he stroked her neck and kissed her earnestly. After a few moments she broke away, triggering his eyes to open.
His wife was now standing over him in her emerald and gold training kit, brilliant red hair tied up in a ponytail. Her bright brown eyes danced with the same amusement that played out in the smile on her freckled face.
“Miss me, Harry?” she said teasingly.
“Always,” he readily answered, sitting up and shaking his head clear. “How was training?”
“Decent. We mostly worked on defensive play today, so I took more of a beating than usual. Though as you can see I’m still intact,” she answered, cocking her head to the side fetchingly and gesturing to her face.
Harry laughed. “Well, of course that’s the most important thing,” he teased.
Ginny leaned down quickly and smacked him playfully. “Watch yourself or you’ll have to listen to my stat line for the day…”
Harry shrunk back in mock fear.
“Git,” Ginny muttered, winking. “I didn’t expect you home what with my heavy training schedule and the mysterious midnight departure, so I stayed late to work with some of the reserves. When did you get here?”
“Somewhere ‘round three. Gawain sent Ron and me home.”
“Not playing well with others?”
“I played very well with others!” Harry insisted. “No, we’re up against it with this case and he doesn’t want us getting burnt out straightaway.”
“Share?” Harry finished. “Not this time. Not ‘til it breaks anyway.” He glanced at the watch he had left on his wrist. “Well, if you’ve grabbed the evening edition it probably already has.”
Ginny fixed her husband with a serious stare. “What have you got yourself into this time?”
“Influential member of the Wizengamot was murdered last night. Nasty scene. I’m lead on it, working with Ron and Neville.”
The red-haired witch stayed silent for a moment.
“It’ll be fine, love,” Harry reassured her. “Come here.”
Ginny sat down on the bed next to him, closing her eyes as Harry began to massage her shoulders.
“Mmm,” she groaned.
“I know you hate these cases…” he started.
“I only hate them when you get reckless,” Ginny said sternly.
“And if I promise I won’t be?”
“You’d better not break it.”
“Heavier enchantments?” he asked.
Ginny nodded. “I want you to charm our rings again too,” she added.
For a moment she locked her brown eyes to Harry’s green ones, searching for a sign that might give her more or less cause for concern. Finding nothing, Ginny leaned into him and smiled faintly as she was rewarded with a tight hug. After a few minutes of holding her silently, Harry released her.
“Would it help at all if I cooked for you tonight?” he asked.
Ginny rolled her eyes and snorted lightly. “That might hurt. When do you have to be back in?”
“Then take me out, Mr. Potter. I think I deserve it,” she said, crossing her arms and raising her nose snootily in the air.
“Wherever you want,” Harry answered, smiling in amusement at her pose.
Upon his return from the Ministry, Ron Weasley had also taken a lengthy nap, though with no wife to awaken him, his had lasted considerably longer. Groggily, he opened the door to grab the Evening Prophet before rummaging through his pantry for dinner ideas. It was times like this he missed living at home where he could always count on a free, delicious, and most importantly large meal. Harry was a lucky dog. He imagined right about now, his sister was probably treating his best friend to a home-cooked meal, which though it pained Ron to admit it, would be delicious in its own right. Settling on two cans of soup that Hermione had endorsed at a Muggle supermarket, he returned to the table to read how the crime was being reported.
MINISTRY MUM ON DETAILS OF WELL-RESPECTED WARLOCK’S MURDER
Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt announced this morning to a stunned wizarding public that venerated wizard and thirty-five year member of the Wizengamot, Tobias Hughes was murdered last night in his room at a Muggle hotel. Politely recounting the accomplishments of the career Ministry employee and asking all witches and wizards in Britain to observe a moment of silence in his memory, Minister Shacklebolt delegated the responsibility of answering questions regarding this tragic incident to Head Auror Gawain Robards.
Repeatedly citing the need to observe proper investigative protocol and a desire to avoid publicizing information that might assist the person or persons responsible in their attempts to avoid capture, Robards provided few facts and even fewer preliminary conclusions, though he did ultimately disclose that Hughes was the latest high-profile victim of the most infamous of Unforgiveables, the Killing Curse, having been slain between 11:30 PM yesterday and 12:30 AM this morning. Robards also dismissed concerns that the killing may have been politically-motivated as “premature and unfounded.” The Head Auror also called rumors of intense political infighting in both the Wizengamot and the Shacklebolt administration over the case of In re Walsham, which the High Court was expected to decide at a hearing today, “largely fabricated and overblown.” Nevertheless, in light of Hughes’s death, that hearing has been indefinitely delayed while a determination is made regarding his replacement.
Robards also used the press conference as an opportunity to announce that the investigation into the incident would be spearheaded by none other than the Savior of the Wizarding World, Harry Potter, whose glittering career in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has seen him enjoy a meteoric rise to his present role as Head of the Auror Department’s Major Crimes Division. Confidential Ministry sources have also confirmed that Potter will be supported for the duration of the investigation by close friends and fellow Aurors Ronald Weasley and Neville Longbottom. In an unrelated move, Head of the DMLE Trial Division, Helena Garrick has assigned Ministry Advocate Hermione Granger to present the case should it eventually proceed to trial.
While the prospects of successfully solving the case remain unclear at this incredibly early stage, rest assured that we at the Daily Prophet, will keep you fully and accurately informed of any and all developments.
Ron tossed the paper down. He was supposed to be enjoying a break. He briefly considered owling Hermione, but reconsidered. Knowing his girlfriend, she would be harassing Neville to no end, and burning the midnight oil to get up to speed on whatever she could get her hands on. If she surprised him by dropping by later, all the better, but after her reaction to being asked to take a night off for during her preparations for her keynote address at the International Conference on Creature Control, he knew better than to disturb her. He smiled. For the next twelve hours, life could stay simple. No romance. No work. No complications. Just a man and his food. The way it was meant to be.
A/N: This chapter ended up being a bear to write. Between trying to bring more characters into the story, keeping the investigation and breaking story detailed and realistic, and handling a bit of life outside of the case, I found myself typing large sections, re-writing them, and then deleting them and replacing them with something else entirely. In short, I am swiftly developing an even more immense respect for authors who can successfully tackle a mystery in their stories, especially fics where the murder involves writing a lot of canon characters, who always present a special challenge. I would love to hear any feedback you have on the story so far! Thanks for reading!
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