Chapter 4 : Intelligence
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Suddenly, her reflection was interrupted by the sound of footfalls approaching the gated entry to the Wizengamot Administration Services Vault. Wendy was reassured by the cool smoothness of her alder wand’s finish on her fingers as she gripped it tightly. Visitors to this area were quite unusual after the close of normal business hours. The young witch stole a furtive glance to her right, where she suspected the steps were coming from. In the soft lantern-light, she could down the length of the enchanted wrought-iron gate separating the secure area from the rest of the Archives. The energy of the protective magic at work hummed lightly in her ear, but she could still sense the steps drawing closer. There was the distinctive sound of a shoe pivoting on the marble floor. The person turned the corner and suddenly a face was illuminated.
“Hello there,” Hermione Granger said brightly.
“Oh. Hermione. It’s you.”
The brown-haired witch smiled tiredly. “Expecting someone else?”
“No,” Wendy answered, shaking her head. “I guess with everything going on…well you never know.”
“True,” Hermione nodded solemnly. “Always better to have your wand ready than not…though I think you’re safe for now,” she finished, fixing her gaze pointedly on the object Wendy was still gripping tightly at her hip.
Wendy pocketed it once more with a sheepish grin. “Right. So what brings you down here so late?”
“Well,” Hermione began, lowering her voice and leaning in conspiratorially, “I’ve actually been assigned to the Hughes case. I thought I’d come when it’s not busy…review the minutes from Wizengamot proceedings he attended over the last decade.”
The young sentry’s eyes widened. “The whole decade? That’s back into–”
“I don’t want to miss anything.”
“Of course not, but…I mean isn’t this more something for the Auror Office?”
“I suppose for some advocates. I prefer a more hands on approach.”
“But is it–”
Hermione shot the young witch a disapproving glare. “Honestly, Wendy…I’m equally entitled to access by Ministry Decree.”
Wendy immediately felt silly. Challenging a war hero on protocol. And the cleverest witch to come out of Hogwarts in well over a century. The fact that Hermione had put in personal effort during her seventh year to both comfort and tutor the young witch added shame to the embarrassment. “Of course,” she deferred. “I will need your wand though…”
Hermione immediately produced it, handing it over along with a newly apologetic gaze. “Sorry I was a bit abrupt. I just badly want to get to work. It’s a massive case and it’ll be my first time properly working with Ron and Harry again.”
Wendy nodded, taking the wand and placing in it the metal holding box behind her before temporarily dispelling the enchantments on the gate to her left. She watched carefully as the brown-haired witch strode confidently toward the ancient vault, the light from her lantern slowly dimming as she moved deeper into the secure portion of the Archives. With another flick of her own wand, she restored the protections around the entrance, vowing to study her already well-worn codebook more closely to avoid any future mistakes.
Meanwhile, in his cubicle in the Auror Office, Neville Longbottom yawned and rubbed his weary set of eyes. Several books and dozens of ancient copies of the Prophet and other wizarding periodicals were strewn haphazardly about the small desk where he had worked feverishly to complete a detailed background report for a victim as well-known and highly-connected as Tobias Hughes. As the clock on the wall drew ever nearer to midnight, he could finally sit back and review what six hours of research and three hours of non-stop writing had yielded.
Born to a poor family of undignified magical stock in the summer of 1924, Hughes had been sorted into Hufflepuff, going on to receive nine O.W.L.s and seven N.E.W.T.s. Embarking on a career at the Ministry immediately after graduation, he had managed to balance various small roles in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement while studying for the Comprehensive Regulation of Ordinary Wizarding examinations – the successful completion of which the Ministry required for those holding specialized legal roles. After passing his C.R.O.W.s on his first attempt, he appeared to switch focus to the international wizarding community, playing out the next twenty years of his career in roles of ascending importance in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, ultimately concluding with a meteoric rise to Head of the International Magical Office of Law by the time he was 39.
In the end however, his many accomplishments and status as a wunderkind of international law could not help him escape the nastiness of politics. Neville had unearthed articles from throughout the late 1964 through early 1965 mooting Hughes as the certain nominee for the vacant seat on the International Confederation of Wizards. However, the same issues of the Prophet also featured many articles covering riots and civil unrest connected with the Muggle-born Minister for Magic, Nobby Leach. Most of the protests seemed to center around Leach’s attempts to reform a system of law and commerce long fixated on protecting and rewarding blood purity. When the time to make appointments finally did come however, the heavily-embattled Minister instead appointed an octogenarian pureblood, Edric Selwyn. Hughes wound up named to the Wizengamot, a post he accepted graciously and without fanfare.
Still, Neville wondered if there were more to the story. His reading had shown that prior to being snubbed for his favored role, Hughes had been notoriously outspoken on policy issues at home and abroad, never shy to provide a delicious quote for any journalist, foreign or domestic, provided they were enterprising enough to ask. It was a sharp contrast to his behavior once on the bench of Britain’s Wizarding High Court. Almost immediately, the wizard’s public appearances dried up. His quotes disappeared from the press with similarly dizzying speed. Indeed, just five years later, the hordes of detailed profiles full of effusive praise had given way to only a single article of substance, published in a foreign newspaper, Kapital Mag’osnik on the first anniversary of his appointment. Glancing at the article again, the young Auror reluctantly made a note to have it sent to one of the translators in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. It was likely to be a fool’s errand, but at least no one could accuse him of taking any shortcuts.
“Unnh, I need coffee,” he groaned aloud to the empty room.
“I should think sleep would do you better, Longbottom,” said the Head Auror, chuckling as his retort caused Neville to jump in his seat. “Look sharp then! We can’t have this sort of thing getting out. Our Aurors panicking when one little thing happens out of the ordinary.”
“Sir!” Neville started, recovering his breath as he stood up quickly.
Robards waved his hand dismissively. “No need for all that. The building’s practically empty after all. And of course the office is.”
“Yeah…where’re Harry and Ron? I thought for sure they’d be late tonight…”
“Goodness me, they’ve gone hours ago. This afternoon in fact. Didn’t they leave you a note?”
Scanning the desk in front of him, Robards saw a folded piece of parchment sticking out from under a large stack of reference books. Casting Neville a meaningful look, he strode forward and plucked it out.
Neville immediately recognized Harry’s scrawling of his name on the front. “Right. Forgot all about this when I set the books down…”
“Indeed. Well…I’m sure it’s all there. Get some rest, Longbottom. You’re going to need it.”
Having been officially relieved, Neville quickly grabbed his cloak from the rack in the corner and before the Head Auror had shut the door to his own office, the young wizard was on his way out the door to Floo home.
As they waited together atop Stoatshead Hill, Harry and Ron watched the horizon. The sun’s orange edge had just broken over it about half an hour earlier and now cast a pleasant glow over the area, burning off the remains of the mist still hanging about from the night before.
“Remember we were here ten years ago?” Harry ventured as their vigil continued.
“Course I do, mate! It was the bloody Quidditch World Cup!”
Harry laughed appreciatively before pausing. “Yeah…” he began, staring off into the distance. “I suppose the match itself was about the last pure thing we had before it all went pear-shaped wasn’t it?”
Ron inhaled sharply. “I reckon so. It’s odd looking back at it. Krum was brilliant – at least until he took Hermione to that awful dance. You know she still doesn’t let me forget that?”
Harry laughed again. “Sounds about right.”
Ron fired a frown back at his friend. “Hey! I’m not the only one who bollixed that up.”
“And you think your sister shows me any mercy?”
“Yeah. Mercy’s not really in Ginny’s vocabulary–”
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a soft pop. A young wizard in fine robes stepped toward them out of the woods, carefully removing a pair of leather gloves from his hands. He regarded the ground where they stood disdainfully, prodding it gently with the toe of a black boot before moving into the grassier area where they were standing.
“Potter. Weasley,” he said curtly, dragging out the red-haired Auror’s last name as if it caused him some degree of pain to say it. “You’ve drug me all the way out here. What do you want?”
Ron crossed his arms and scowled at the blonde standing across from him. “Don’t flatter yourself Malfoy. We’d both be happier if we could steer clear of you too. Case you haven’t heard though, somebody’s been murdered.”
“I’ve seen the papers,” he said dismissively.
“Sounds pretty typical of your lot,” Ron spat.
Draco stiffened. “My lot is fairly limited. Perhaps you’re confusing me with my father.”
“Right. You’ve both got the same scar last I checked. Wifey couldn’t clean that off for you could she?”
The blonde wizard’s face contorted in anger and as he reached into his pocket for his wand, Harry stepped between the two men.
“Enough! Both of you! We’ve done this dance plenty by now, haven’t we?” Harry shouted.
“I’ve told you things go better if you leave your little lap dog at home, Potter!”
“Who are you–”
“Enough, Ron!” Harry barked, pushing his friend back roughly before casting an irritated glare at Draco. “You,” he started. “I want to know what you know.”
Draco rolled his eyes theatrically. “You already know what I know. Which is nothing.”
“Forgive me if I find that a bit hard to believe given your family’s history and the subject of that hearing.”
“Consider yourself forgiven,” the blonde wizard sneered.
“You’re telling me you’ve heard nothing? Not from Zabini? Not from Parkinson?”
Draco harrumphed. “The Auror Office really is slipping. Blaise has been in France for four years now. As for Pansy…well, I hardly think your wife would be terribly pleased to find you having little rendezvouses with Cho Chang would she?”
“Neither of those are answers, Malfoy,” Harry replied tersely.
“Fine. In a word, no. To all three questions.”
“And what about your wife? Her family?”
“You think I sit around and pump them for information? I have better uses of my time.”
“And your father? I’m sure he’s just been thrilled with all the changes at the Ministry lately.”
“My father and mother have taken up safer hobbies than politics these days. Besides, the Ministry knows where my father is at all times. Just as they do me. Or have you forgotten your friend Granger’s clever little version of the Trace?”
Harry ran a hand through his hair as he paced several times between Ron and Draco. Finally, after stopping to stroke his chin for a moment, he looked down and sighed.
“You should be relieved, Potter. If they’re not here it can be someone else’s problem for once,” Malfoy grumbled.
Harry looked up, fixing his former schoolmate with a hard glare. “You can go for now. But you will keep your ear to the ground. If you hear anything that even sounds like it might have something to do with this, I’ll expect to hear from you.”
“Naturally, you’ll be my first owl,” Draco said glibly, rolling his eyes as he turned around theatrically and disapparated.
“Damnit!” Harry yelled.
“You believe him?” Ron asked skeptically.
“We don’t have any evidence he’s lying,” Harry said resignedly. “What choice do we really have? There’s a limited pool of suspects he would have direct contact with. All the darkest wizards left alive after the War are still locked up tight in Azkaban.”
“I still don’t trust him. He has to know something about this. I mean, it’s Malfoy.”
“Well, if he does we’re going to have to find the first pieces ourselves because he’s not coming out with it. Which means, if he does know something he probably knows they’re not British.”
“I hate when your complicated theories end up right,” Ron groaned.
“We don’t know yet,” Harry conceded. “We have to check with Neville. See if there’s anything we’ve missed as far as motives. And of course we have to check our side of things. But if not…”
“Our investigation just got a whole lot bigger,” Ron finished, glancing over at Harry with a weak smile.
A/N: First off, sorry it has taken so long to get another update out for this story. I had planned on getting a lot done early this week, but I had something of a medical catastrophe that put me out of commission Sunday through most of Wednesday and then I really wrestled with laying out the necessary information, advancing the plot, and refining the characterizations over very limited time the rest of the week. I’m very hopeful that the next update will come much sooner than this one did.
That said, I am completely inexperienced in writing this genre so I’m kind of feeling my way around a bit. I do have a really clear idea of my endgame and some of the steps along the way, but some of the mechanics of getting there are giving me fits and I’m trying to keep things interesting while still moving through what I think a realistic investigation might look like from all the relevant angles and introducing important folks. The questions/thoughts bouncing around in my head right now are mainly, how’s the overall tone feel? Does it feel like I’m plodding? If so, I think things will pick up VERY soon. What do you think of mixing in some of the personal stuff with the mystery? Is there anything major you think I’m missing? How about this chapter? Were the snapshots and/or conversations too short? How did you feel about the background on the victim?
Thanks as always for reading! I would love to hear any thoughts that any of you has to offer!
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