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Chapter 5 : Frenzy
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“You think I like it?” Harry barked back.
“I think you set it up…” the blonde Auror muttered.
“Excuse me?” Harry said.
“Keep it down a bit? Some of us are trying to work…” Ron grumbled, leaning around the wall of his cubicle to shoot his friends a dark glare.
Harry eyed Neville carefully, his brow furrowed in irritation.
“I can’t do it!” Neville repeated. “Sixteen hours a day. Midnight to four in the afternoon for the past two weeks!”
“Yeah, yeah…we’ve all been working sixteen,” Ron muttered again, crumpling up the notes he had been taking and tossing the wad of parchment into his overflowing trash can. “Noon to four in the morning’s no picnic either.”
“Harry’s at least got reasonable hours. Six in the morning ‘til ten at night…gets to have a bit of a life,” Neville groused bitterly, casting a glance toward Ron in an effort to win him over.
“The only reason I have the middle of the day is because I’m Lead,” Harry fought back. “And it’s hardly the posh gig you make it out to be. I have to deal with all the planning, other Departments…That’s not to mention days like today with the papers–”
“Still mate,” Ron interrupted. “It is a bit much don’t you think? The extra coverage late and overnight’s not really getting us anywhere…”
Harry sighed, resting his rear on his desk and running a hand through his hair. “I just feel like we’ve got to keep at it. Everybody’s expecting information…”
“But we’re borderline useless by the end of our shifts anyway,” Neville pressed. “The potions only go so far…and I think we’re well on our way to draining the stores dry.”
“I just feel like we’re on the cusp of a breakthrough,” insisted Harry, waving his hands animatedly as he stood erect once again. “You say we’re not getting anywhere and maybe we’re not with new evidence, but we’re ruling loads out.”
Ron waggled his head back and forth with a shrug.
“We’re down to few families here and then some connections abroad, Harry,” Neville ventured.
“That’s just more reason to keep at it!”
“Well, we’re hardly going to be making house calls from dinner ‘til breakfast are we? Let alone in other countries…” asked Ron with a tentative chuckle.
Harry yawned, rubbing his bloodshot eyes.
“I’ll bet Ginny’d like having you home a bit more…end of the season coming up and all,” Neville coaxed, changing tactics.
Ron quickly caught on. “Yeah. Sparing extra time during such a big case. Bet she’d love that…”
Harry rolled his eyes, but couldn’t avoid letting a small smile creep onto his face. “Let’s see where we are before I decide.”
“Brilliant!” Neville exclaimed, wheeling over the large chart he had drawn up on the office bulletin board.
“What’s all this?” questioned Ron, gesturing to the myriad columns, lines, and names next to an oddly highlighted map.
“This,” the blonde wizard started, “is my summary of possible suspects.”
Harry reviewed the chart and map before him. The chart contained two columns with names of magical families or individual witches and wizards in Britain, while the third, located between the other two, listed connections to foreign countries, in some cases including specific people or families. The names in the left-hand column came as no surprise. There Harry found several prominent pureblood families – the Malfoys, the Flints, and the Parkinsons – along with the names of the only known and unpardoned Death Eaters who remained at large, Travers and Thorfinn Rowle. Lines connected Travers and Rowle to countries in Eastern Europe, though Harry knew better than to trust the information unless Neville had unearthed something new. Barring that those lines were almost as old as their Auror badges.
The right-hand column was far more intriguing. Here Neville had taken some real liberties.
“Oi!” Ron shouted suddenly.
“I thought we’d get to that,” Neville started, casting a glance at Harry.
“You thought we’d get to that?! Cho Chang, Dennis Creevey, Justin Finch-Fletchley…and bloody hell–” the red-haired wizard continued.
“Are you mental?!” the red-haired wizard shouted, staring at the lengthy list of names.
“I just think we have to investigate anyone with a vested interest,” Neville defended. “Cho’s married to a Muggle…Dennis and Justin are Muggle-born…it’s in their interest the decree get upheld just as much as it is to a family like the Malfoys that it fail…since nobody knew which way Hughes was going to go we have to consider it…”
“That’s rubbish,” Ron fired back angrily. “There’s a reason it’s the one side that uses dark magic–”
“Still, he has a point, Ron,” Harry interrupted. “We can’t appear as if we’re favoring one side over another. It’s dangerous. We’ve made too much progress. If it got out we never even explored the possibility…”
“Politics!” shouted Ron to the rafters. “I thought all that was about to finally be over.”
Harry harrumphed. “Come on mate. It’ll never be over.”
As the three lapsed into an awkward silence, Harry returned to studying the board. The final column reflected most of his own research, which Neville had incorporated into his chart. Most of it was embarrassingly obvious he had to admit, and it would be difficult to know where to begin should it be necessary. It was mostly populated with countries – Albania, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, and Sweden – to which a connection to noteworthy pure-blood families or dark wizards could be found. In some cases, it was tenuous at best. Albania for example had merely been a hiding place for Voldemort between wars. France was only the country to which the once-prominent Shafiq family had fled, along with Blaise Zabini. The map merely highlighted the foreign countries Harry had honed in on, featuring glowing dots.
“What’s with the dots?” Ron asked.
“Oh. Simple charm I worked up, it’s just a placeholder really–”
“You worked up a charm, Neville?” the red-haired Auror asked, incredulous.
“Well it was simple really. I mean, it’s just a dot. And then you tap it,” he continued, producing his wand and completing the motion, “and you get a face and a name. Harry came up with all the information behind it for the foreign ones. I just thought it might help organize things a bit.”
“It’s great,” Harry said quickly.
“Yeah, it’s all brilliant,” Ron added, waving a hand dismissively, “but who do we actually have to start taking a look at?”
“Well,” Harry began, reasserting his authority as Lead Auror, “I think our best bet is to start with anything we have on home soil connected to any of these leads. So right off the bat our old schoolmates. We should probably divide those up, see if we can’t handle them tomorrow.”
Ron and Neville looked on expectantly.
“Right,” Harry continued. “Neville should probably take Malfoy since we just got nowhere with him recently. Ron, why don’t you take Pansy and I’ll deal with Flint?”
“Sounds good to me,” Ron answered, nodding. “What about the other side of the board?”
“Well, I think Cho and Dean are out for me,” Harry chuckled.
“Yeah, goes without saying mate,” Ron agreed. “I’ll take those two then. And I guess Seamus as well.”
“Alright. Justin and Hannah Abbott for me then,” Harry added. “That leaves Neville with the honor of Dennis, Michael Corner, and our assigned Advocate.”
“Leave me with the dicey one…” Neville grumbled, scowling at the other two.
“Well we can hardly do it can we?” said Ron matter-of-factly. “We’ve been best friends since first year and she’s my girlfriend!”
“I suppose,” Neville muttered.
“Since I’m the only one who’s really done any of the research, I’ll start getting as much background as I can on some of our target countries and families abroad. France I figure I may as well start with Fleur and then I’ll see if I can’t get ahold of Krum about Bulgaria and Sweden. Albania and Hungary are last resorts,” Harry finished.
“Sounds like a splendid day tomorrow,” Ron replied, turning back to his desk to continue checking the final copy of the autopsy report they had received that morning.
“And I’m off to tackle the press,” Harry said, flashing a phony smile as he strode toward the door.
“Hey! Not so fast, Harry!” Neville called out.
Harry froze in his tracks and dropped his head in resignation.
“What’d you decide?”
Ron leaned around the end of his cubicle once more and eyed his dark-haired friend with keen interest.
“Tomorrow we’re sticking to the same schedule. We need the hours,” Harry said firmly.
Neville groaned as Ron nodded glumly in the background.
“But after that we’ll cut it back to twelve hour shifts. Neville, you can run midnight to noon. I’ll take six to six. Ron, you take the opposite of Neville. Good?”
“Good!” Ron said brightly, flashing Harry a thumbs-up.
Harry turned to Neville, who was wearing a tepid half-smile. “Good?” he repeated.
Neville nodded appreciatively. “Thanks Harry.”
Fifteen minutes later, Harry found himself at a podium in the cramped briefing room arranged by Public Information Services. After two of these press conferences he could now confidently say they were his least favorite part of being Lead on an investigation of this magnitude. His boss was a lucky man having the discretion to delegate this nightmare to someone else. As the flashbulbs pulsed throughout the room at the end of his weekly update, he did his best to make his face the picture of confident stoicism. Finally, as rapidly as they had begun, they faded. Alas, the true torture was still to come.
“Harry!” the masses all clamored.
Instinctively, he raised his hands to quiet them down. He despised the familiarity with which they addressed him. They were and always had been sharks, constantly sniffing for the tiniest misstep, ever ready to turn a hero into a villain. Yet they called him by his first name. He waved again for quiet and finally, mercifully, it came.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Harry began, mustering a half-smile to indulge them. “Over the course of the past two weeks, my team and I have worked tirelessly to identify not just persons, but places we believe may be connected to the murder of Tobias Hughes. Based on our findings to date, we will focus our future investigative efforts not only here in Britain, but in five foreign nations of interest. We fully expect the utmost cooperation from our domestic wizarding community and our friends on the continent and look forward to identifying a shortlist of confirmed suspects in the near future. I will now take questions.”
“Harry! Harry!” they tore in again.
In the next few moments, Harry quietly surveyed the crowd. It was all the same faces. Gareth Clarke and Tabitha Mason from the Prophet were seated front-and-center. Xenophilius Lovegood’s poor intern from The Quibbler was off to their right. The small boy had mousy brown hair and a rather frail physique, looking more like a fourth or fifth-year at Hogwarts than a recent graduate. In the second row were the prominent members of the foreign press – Heinrich Muller of Der Bote, Sergio Jimenez of La Revelacion, Francesca Conti of Il Sussuro Amichevole, and Amelie Dubois of Le Monde Magique. The faces in the final two rows were from further afield. Those he had not been briefed on, though the presence of one continued to surprise him. Fourth row center, for the second time in as many weeks, sat fresh-faced Gabrielle Delacour. According to Ron she apparently worked for some upstart publication called Liberte. He quickly turned away from the striking blonde witch.
“Go ahead, Gareth,” Harry started.
“Thank you. Tell us, why has it taken until now for your team to identify what seems like, and pardon me for saying so, a very preliminary list?”
Harry paused, taking a deep breath to let his irritation dissipate. “As you might imagine, when someone murders a member of the Wizengamot they’re going to be very careful. That means we do the same. Evidence is hard to come by which means we have to start with a much bigger pool. Rushing even preliminary matters could be a huge mistake. Sergio?”
“Yes. These foreign countries, can you identify them?”
“We’re looking at a number of places across Europe. I’m not willing to be more specific than that right now.”
“But surely it will be revealed when the inquiries are made…” the Spaniard pressed.
“That’s a risk we have to take,” Harry acknowledged, “but I’m not going to chance alerting a potential perpetrator in any of those countries before absolutely necessary. Even a whisper of suspicion could send them out of reach. Anyone else?”
Initially he was greeted by silence. Perhaps he would escape easily today.
“I ‘ave a question,” Gabrielle Delacour began.
Sadly, it was not to be his lucky day after all. “Go ahead, Gabrielle.”
“Well, I ‘ave been sitting ‘ere for two weeks now and I cannot ‘elp but zink, we ‘ave still not gotten an answer about ze motivation.”
“That sounds more like a comment than a question.”
Gabrielle smiled gamely at Harry’s rebuke, fluttering her eyes before looking down for a moment. “My apologies. My question is if ze Ministry ‘as determined if zis was an assassination.”
The journalists around the room exchanged glances with one another. Harry fixed his eyes on Gabrielle and set his jaw. It was a bold question. Even more boldly phrased. “At this time, we have determined that the most likely motive for the attack was political.”
Immediately, hushed conversations broke out amongst the writers and hands flew into the air to ask further questions. Harry raised his own hands once more to indicate that he had not finished his answer. “Please. Please. Now we have not reached any conclusion about what the political objective was–”
“Obviously someone wanted him replaced at the hearing!” shouted a reporter Harry didn’t recognize.
“Please! Harry! Do you believe this murder was a message from those who still believe in blood purification?” shouted Tabitha Hall
“As far as we are aware, in accordance with his long-standing practice, no one knew Tobias Hughes’s stance on the In re Walsham case, so I don’t want to speculate about that.”
“But with the Minister on the verge of eliminating the last vestige of blood discrimination–”
“And the timing of the attack–”
“I’m not going to comment further about that,” Harry said firmly.
“But ze brutality of ze attack…is it not most likely zat dark wizards are to blame?” Gabrielle pressed.
“There are many different groups with many different interests related to the case and we have not ruled out any type of interest as a possible motive.”
The reporters quickly stood, their photographers in tow and began pressing forward in an attempt to get answers from Harry one on one.
“Alright. That’s all for today. You can direct any questions you have to Public Information Services.”
Protests rose up loudly from all the assembled masses and flashbulbs went off one after the other all around the small room. Harry’s ire was rising as he made his wade out from behind the podium and toward the exit.
“One more question please!”
“The public deserves answers, Harry!”
“Do you have a message for citizens of the wizarding world abroad?”
The questions came in droves as the reporters pressed closer and closer in around him.
“I’m sorry. No more questions. If you want to speak directly to someone in the Auror Office you can submit a formal request,” Harry stated brusquely, pressing his way through the crowd toward the small side door that was the only entrance into the room.
Finally, he escaped. He strode quickly toward the lift that would take him away from the swarm and back to the comparative safety of his own office. He needed some respite before the hard day that faced him tomorrow. Harry glanced at his watch and sighed, letting his body slump against the back wall as the lift took off for his destination. He really should’ve sided with Neville. The idea of eight more hours’ work after this was positively depressing.
A/N: At this point, I’m going to move pretty quickly into the meat of the story. There should be more investigative action, intrigue, and revelations. Despite the fact that the challenge deadline is quickly approaching, I am still feeling confident in my original plan, which is that there are probably about 7 to 10 more chapters left in this story before it reaches its conclusion. Note that though I did completely invent that they fled to France, the Shafiq family is not my creation, but is referenced as one of the “Sacred Twenty-Eight” pureblood families on Pottermore.
As for translations, I'm no foreign language specialist, but if you're interested the papers are supposed to be named the following:
Der Bote - The Messenger
La Revelacion - The Revelation
Il Sussuro Amichevole - The Friendly Whisper
Le Monde Magique - The Magical World
Liberte - Liberty
Needless to say, appropriate accent marks are missing.
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