Chapter 6 : Focus
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“Neville,” a concerned voice rang out, “are you alright? You really don’t look well.”
Neville waved Hermione off weakly. “Fine. Really. I was just about to come looking for you.”
“Well, that’s a happy coincidence then,” she smiled. “Here I am.”
The young wizard offered a smile as the potions began to take effect. Pulling out a chair for his guest, he gestured for her to sit. “Right. Well, first things first…” he began, “what can I do for you?”
“I was hoping you’d all be in…I have some information I wanted to share. Some extra information on Tobias Hughes.”
“Yeah, well…afraid you’ve just missed Ron, he’s off to see Cho Chang.”
“Yeah. We’re trying to run down leads from every possible angle. Afraid things aren’t going so well at the moment.”
“Hmm,” the brown-haired witch mused. “Where’s Harry then?”
“Could be just about anywhere. Shell Cottage, the Leaky, running down Marcus Flint…he’s been out doing interviews since eight.”
“I suppose you can fill them in later then?”
“Probably tomorrow, but yeah. What’ve you got?”
“Well, while I’ve been waiting for the three of you to work up a suspect list I took the liberty of examining the minutes from all the Wizengamot hearings Hughes was ever a part of. At first I started with just the last decade, but I decided to expand it. Looking for a voting pattern, any changes or contradictions in positions, that sort of thing…”
“And I’ve found some things.”
“What kind of things?”
“Well, from virtually the day he was appointed, Hughes was incredibly active during proceedings. There were always questions from him. Questions of witnesses, barristers, even the presiding official. At least two in every single case he ever heard. He behaved himself carefully during the Thicknesse regime of course, but even then he was an active participant.”
“Seems a bit odd for a man who never discloses his position in advance,” Neville commented.
Hermione shrugged. “Not really. Since he doesn’t talk with anyone about the cases outside of the hearing a lot of his questioning was basically him debating himself in open court.”
“Okay then, so what’s interesting?”
“Well, starting about four years ago, his participation started to taper off. Criminal cases, administrative hearings, regulatory challenges, across the board.”
“Any idea why?”
“Matching it to a particular case, not really. At first I speculated it was down to distraction. His wife was injured in a fire that damaged their home up in Northumberland. Almost caught sleeping. She was lucky to be alive from what I understand, but St. Mungo’s was able to fix her up good as new since the fire was non-magical.”
“Well, around that same time is when Hughes started gaining a sort of following within the Wizengamot. Obviously a number of senior members had been lost during the war and so they had to be replaced. Over the last two years an increasing number of witches and wizards – ultimately up to about twelve now – developed an identical voting record to Hughes.”
Neville considered this for a moment. “So…you’re saying he was influencing proceedings?”
“I’m not sure,” Hermione admitted. “There’s no observable pattern to Hughes’s votes in most areas. He has some discernable preferences, but he wasn’t an ideologue.”
“Then what’s the point of all this? I mean, if it doesn’t really mean anything, how does it help us?”
“Well, the place his votes were the least predictable has been with respect to the reform movement. In the early going, things were too obviously necessary to oppose. Starting a few years ago though we re-entered some of the controversial areas…Hughes was completely unreliable. He supported House-Elf Rights fully, but voted against all but marginal reforms in Centaur Relations and Restrictions. Even with Purity Preference Policies and Statutes, it was hit or miss.”
“But even with Hughes and this little following all those reforms passed. Every single one.”
Hermione nodded. “Right. But with the exception of House-Elf Rights, support was so extensive for all those changes that even a bloc of twelve votes wasn’t going to make a difference. In re Walsham was different. You know that. We’ve all heard it everywhere, especially in these halls. Hughes and his cadre could have decided things.”
Neville threw her a skeptical glare. “That’s assuming anyone even knew about this. I mean, access to the proceedings or the minutes is incredibly limited.”
“Not to solicitors and barristers.”
“But to make the connection–”
“It only took me a couple of weeks, Neville. There are people whose livelihoods depend on this reform failing. Those people also tend to have quite a lot of money at their disposal.”
Neville waggled his head, weighing Hermione’s comments. The last remarks certainly held weight. And making the leap with her, assuming people opposed to the reform did know, well…some of them had killed before or were aligned with those who did.
“Just share it with Harry and Ron,” Hermione prodded.
Neville slowly nodded.
“Now what did you need from me?” Hermione asked.
The blonde wizard looked down for a moment before taking a deep breath and fixing his eyes on his old housemate. “I suppose I’ll just cut to it then. I want you to walk me through your day on April 8th.”
“Running down leads from every possible angle,” he said firmly.
Neville watched Hermione’s face as she stared at him for a moment. Her features were nearly blank, though her brow was creased slightly above her nose as she looked ahead. Her brown eyes seemed contain a mixture of understanding and irritation. As he thought about it, it was rather like his Gran’s when she looked down at him over the top of her reading glasses during his occasional visits. Yes, he detected a similar glint of benign condescension.
“Very well,” the brown-haired witch started. “That morning I woke at around 5:30 and had breakfast. I–”
“Sorry,” Neville interrupted, “Where was this?”
Hermione’s eyes flashed annoyance. “Home. At my flat.”
“Right. Carry on.”
“As I was saying, I had breakfast. I fried an egg and had a muffin as well along with some coffee.”
“I got dressed and Floo-ed in to work here at about 6:30.”
“Is that typical? Getting here at 6:30?”
Hermione cocked her head. “Well…that really depends.”
“Well,” she replied, looking down as she suppressed a flush of embarrassment, “sometimes I actually sleep at my desk.”
“But if you’re coming from your flat?” he prompted.
“Yes. 6:30 is relatively normal. Sometimes I make it by 6:15, but usually it’s 6:30.”
“And what did you do when you got in?”
“I went to my office and stayed there doing research on possible avenues to get around an adverse Wizengamot ruling if it came to that.”
“When is the first time someone can confirm you were in your office?”
“The first visitor I got was Ron at around nine.”
“What was that about?”
“Lunch that day. He wanted to know if I’d be free what with the hearing the next day. We were supposed to meet at a Muggle restaurant a few blocks away, but I lost track of time.”
“So you lunched alone?”
“No,” Hermione replied, a genuine smile crossing her face for the first time. “Ron actually remembered my order and brought it to my office after I was thirty minutes late.”
“When was that exactly?”
“Between one and two in the afternoon. Like I said, I lost track of time. I remember Ron left around two.”
“What did you do the rest of the day?”
“More research. Same subject.”
“Any other visitors?”
“Of course. A couple barristers for wizards facing minor charges. My assistant was in and out all afternoon needing my signature.”
“When did you last see her?”
“Probably around six. The poor thing is fresh out of Hogwarts. She thought she had to wait on me.”
“What time did you leave that night?”
“I didn’t. I fell asleep working.”
“Hell Hermione,” Neville gasped, shaking his head. “When was that?”
“Honestly, I can’t give you an exact time. It would’ve been after one the next day for sure.”
Neville ran a hand through his blonde hair before leaning forward. “Anybody who can place you here after six?”
“Well my boss, Helena Garrick, stopped by at around eight. She was going home to sleep before the hearing.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Just the hearing. What we thought the chances were that the decree would be upheld.”
“What did you think the chances were?”
“It was impossible to say. It was going to be very close. I felt quietly confident though and I said as much.”
“How long did that conversation last?”
“Oh, no more than fifteen minutes.”
Neville sighed. “So who can account for your whereabouts between 8:15 that night and 12:30 the next morning?”
Hermione cocked an eyebrow and crossed her arms confidently. “I suppose the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol will do?”
For the first time during the interview, Neville felt relieved. “The Patrol would be brilliant.”
“Well, you’ll have to get the watch log. I don’t remember the wizard’s name from that night. He was a definitely a wizard though, younger than us. He took my wand when I went in the records vault to do more research. I was there from probably nine until one the next day, so they should have it noted.”
“Right,” Neville said simply, standing and waving his hand to indicate that Hermione was free to leave. “Well, I’ve got to run and get that record so I can finish my report. I’ll let you know if we have any more questions.”
Across London, Harry Potter stepped into the Leaky Cauldron. On a Thursday afternoon, now toward the end of the lunch rush, the pub was relatively unoccupied with just some grizzled old wizards lurking in the corners and a pair of young witches who couldn’t have been much younger than him gabbing at a table in the center of the room. Harry spotted Hannah Abbott behind the bar. The blonde witch had just finished clearing the now empty bar, tucking the end of a towel back into her waistband. Sauntering up to the bar he took a seat on the far right side, away from as many prying ears as possible.
Spinning around quickly, Hannah was the first to speak. “Alright then si – err – Harry! Well isn’t this a pleasant surprise?”
“It is!” Harry replied warmly, returning her smile. “Though I’m afraid I have a confession to make.”
“A confession? To a bartender?”
“I know,” he said, feigning shame and shaking his head in mock disappointment. “It’s just that I’m afraid my running into you here is only a surprise for one of us.”
“Ooh,” Hannah replied, intrigued. “Official business? To what do I owe the intrusion?”
“Well…I know this will come as a shock to you too, but I’ve just recently figured out that when it comes to crime,” Harry said, dropping his voice to a whisper momentarily, “folks at the Leaky Cauldron tend to know more than they should.”
Hannah shook her head. “I can’t help you with that, Harry. Look around. It’s not as rough a crowd here as it used to be. We’ve got you to thank for that.”
“Come on, surely you heard something…I know that Knockturn Alley lot still filter in from time to time. It’s been a little while now…”
“I’d tell you if I knew. You know that,” she replied, fixing him with a hard stare. “Look, let me give you a drink on the house. You look like you need one.”
Harry wagged a finger. “Working.”
“Suit yourself,” Hannah shrugged. “Though from what I’m seeing you need to do a bit less work.”
“Been talking to Neville again have you?” Harry smirked, looking at his former schoolmate over the top of his glasses.
Facing away from him, Hannah allowed herself to blush lightly before looking over her shoulder and winking. “By owl only!” she grumbled. “He has this awful boss who just–”
“Shut it,” Harry barked, rolling his eyes. “I’ve got to run. More work to be done. You know where to find us if you hear anything.”
“I do,” replied Hannah as Harry hauled himself up to leave. “Oh, and Harry?”
“How’d you know about me and Neville talking?”
Harry smirked again. “Ron mentioned he’d been spending a lot of time here. Let’s just say I finally outgrew being as thick as Ron.”
Hannah chuckled lightly before raising a finger to her lips. “Neville doesn’t know you know.”
Harry shook his head. “Then you’ve got your work cut out because Ron must not be the only thick one.”
“Open the door, Parkinson!” Ron bellowed as he thumped the knocker at the entrance of the guest house three more times. “Bloody guest house is bigger than home,” Ron muttered darkly, staring up into the gray sky that was beginning to rain in earnest.
After several more minutes, the door finally opened. “What do you want, Weasley?” Pansy spat.
Ron immediately pushed past the dark-haired witch and stepped inside. “Official business,” he grunted, digging his badge out and flashing it in the young woman’s face.
Pansy slammed the door behind him. “You’ve got some nerve stomping right into my house, Weasley. Forgot your manners?”
“Same place you left yours I suppose.”
Pansy harrumphed. “I have guests tonight. They’ll want the place rid of your smell by the time they arrive.”
“See, you’re helping me out already. Who’s coming over?”
“I don’t have–”
“You do have to. Unless you want to take this little chat someplace else. I would hate the food you’ve paid your house-elf to cook to go to waste…”
Pansy scowled, extending an arm down the hallway, before heading off. Ron followed a few paces behind until they reached a sitting room off to the right. The elegantly carved dark wood paneling on the bottom half of the walls was paired with silver and green striped wallpaper and the red-haired Auror noted there was no shortage of finery on the myriad tables scattered about the room near the deep green loveseat and velvet upholstered chairs. Still looking cross, she eased herself into one of the chairs.
Ron seated himself directly across from her. “You were about to tell me who’s coming to dinner.”
“Draco and his latest, Astoria Greengrass. Blaise by portkey from France along with a friend, Adalie Shafiq. Their arrivals have all been approved by the Ministry. I don’t see what concern it is of yours.”
“That’s for me to worry about.”
Pansy rolled her eyes.
“Why are they coming over?”
“Why does anyone have company for dinner, Weasley? Though I suppose you wouldn’t have much experience…”
Ron twisted his neck to the right, feeling it crack before clenching and unclenching his fists. “Catching up then?”
Pansy merely nodded, an amused expression playing across her face.
“Fine. You don’t want to talk about dinner, let’s talk about April 8th. Where were you?”
“April 8th? No idea. Probably here. Where else can I go really thanks to your lot?”
“Yeah, well…if it’s all the same to you I’m going to need you to jog your memory.”
“April 8th…a Thursday. Well I certainly would’ve been here in the morning. I host a tea on Thursdays. I help less…aware…mothers bring up their wonderful little witches up nicely.”
Ron’s cheeks bulged as he suppressed a laugh.
The dark-haired witch glared at him from across the room. “Something amusing, Weasley? I’d love to be a fly on the wall when your precious sister tries to mingle with high society.”
“You don’t worry about my sister,” shot back Ron quickly. “Let’s just move on.”
“Hmm…well after the tea, I usually lunch with Daphne and Millicent.”
“Some days I walk the gardens. Others I’ll get out and shop a bit. It really depends. Was it a cold day?”
“Then maybe I did both. Some time in early April…or maybe it was March I spent all afternoon refilling my wardrobe, trips to Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.”
“Yeah. You’re sounding real oppressed…” Ron muttered.
“You’ve no idea what it’s like!” Pansy snapped. “I had plans for my life too you know, but that’s all gone now. They’re only too eager to have some wide-eyed little bootlicker, but not me. I wore the wrong color at school.”
“Right. Sure. Cry about it to your friends tonight.”
“Get out!” Pansy spat, her face reddening.
“Yeah, I’ll go,” Ron retorted as he stood up and backed out of the room. “Somebody’ll be back Parkinson,” he called out. “You better have some real answers when they do!”
Darkness had already fallen when Harry arrived at Shell Cottage. Immediately the smell and sound of the sea filled his ears and he paused for a moment in the very spot where he had apparated, closing his eyes to more fully join with his new environment. He inhaled deeply, sucking the salty air into his lungs and leaning his neck back slowly. Opening his eyes once more, he could see the stars spattering the cloudless sky. No matter the occasion, Harry always found these trips a sobering reminder of the type of peaceful existence he promised himself that he and Ginny would one day have.
Easing his head back down, he found the silhouette of the cottage, small lights peeking out from through the windows. Almost immediately his eyes were drawn to a particular section of the garden. Harry felt his body stiffen slightly as the familiar sense of loss invaded the space between his heart and stomach. He was drawn, inevitably to the end of the garden and the familiar sight of a lonely headstone. Shedding his cloak, he sank slowly to his knees. It was at this moment that it always took him. First the pain, followed immediately by the two-fold guilt. Guilt that another life had been sacrificed to save his. Guilt that he had been unable to rescue his own savior. Occasionally, Harry found himself wracked with a deeper conflict, but he was relieved that it didn’t choose this time to visit him. Rising, he gathered his cloak and drank in the smells and sounds once more. As it always had when Harry truly forced it, the urge to sob subsided and he pressed on toward the cottage door.
Fifteen minutes later, Fleur Weasley returned to the kitchen from upstairs.
“ ‘Arry! It is so good to see you!” the blonde-haired witch exclaimed, hugging him tightly. “Ze little ones…when zey come for you and Ginny…it is too ‘ard to leave zem to sleep sometimes.”
“It’s good to see you too,” Harry answered, pulling out of the embrace. “How are Victoire and Dominique?”
“For ze moment? Perfect,” she smiled. “Victoire will last, but our Dominique…it seems she is not ready to sleep ze ‘ole night yet.”
“I know about long nights,” Harry sighed.
Bill chuckled. “Not like these…”
The three let their smiles fill the silence for a moment before Bill spoke again.
“So…what brings you out our way so urgently? We’d love to believe it’s all for us, but…”
Harry groaned. “Well, I’m afraid it is business. We’re not in a good place in this investigation. I’m starting to look at foreign connections and I was hoping maybe Fleur could answer some questions about France.”
“It ‘as been some time now, but certainly, if I can answer I will.”
“It’s mostly related to an old pure-blood family that left Britain for France back in the 1950s.”
“Exactly. You know them?”
“I ‘ave ‘eard stories.”
“What kind of stories?” Harry pressed.
“Ze Shafiqs were…different. We lived far apart, but…zey were very focused on blood. First, people believed it was just ze British against ze French. Ze children did not speak ze language. Zey did not study at Beauxbatons. But still zey were very strong. Very rich. How could zis be? It was later people learned why zey came. Like…Voldemort…zis focus was about purity.”
“Were they ever violent?”
“Not zat I know. People would say strange theengs ‘appened near ze place zey lived, but not more. Zey would send ze children back ‘ere to marry. I theenk only a daughter is left now. She will be ze last Shafiq.”
“What kind of things are we talking about?”
“Always nature. Ze clouds, ze wind…fires. People believed it was a strange magic.”
“And this daughter…”
“I am sorry. I do not know.”
“Do you know if there are any records? A place where I could search?”
“No. No. ‘Arry? You truly theenk ze Shafiqs are behind zis murder?”
Harry sighed, running his hands through his hair. “I don’t know. It’s…we just have very little. Whoever did it…they just…I don’t know. I’m just exploring every option right now.”
A cry rang out from upstairs, immediately drawing Fleur’s attention.
“Go ahead,” Harry waved. “I’ve bothered you long enough. It’s probably a waste of time anyway…”
“Anything we can do to help Harry,” Bill said firmly as Harry stood to don his cloak once more.
“Thanks Bill. And thank Fleur again for me too. Hopefully this will all be wrapped up soon and I can see you on better terms.”
“Agreed. And stay safe Harry,” the red-haired wizard said, clapping Harry on the back with one hand.
A/N: So this was a longer chapter, but I felt strongly we needed to get through this segment so that things can continue developing. Thanks to all who are reading and especially to those of you who have left feedback. It is definitely appreciated. I would love to know what any of you out there think of this chapter in particular too. Characterizations? The background on Hughes? The mysterious Shafiqs?
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