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Smoke danced through the garish mansion, blackening the Victorian curtains and extravagant antique furniture. As her boss screeched in horror, Irina Petrov tucked her cinnamon locks behind her ear and flicked her wand towards one of the stained glass windows. The glass disappeared, and just as quietly as she had whispered the spell, she slipped out into the back garden.

 

Flaming hydrangeas and crackling embers concealed her as she cast a soft Disillusionment Charm, a spell that she had perfected over the many years she spent training under her father. A man and two women spanned across the edge of the summerhouse, two on either side of the small pond and one behind the nearby rock-bed. All three of them looked mortified.

 

"Nobody yet!" the man reported.

 

"Clear on this end too!" one of the women shouted back.

 

The Aurors were clearly unprepared, and with the mix of smoke and stealth, they would be quite easy to pass without detection. Irina stifled a chortle. Only rookies wouldn't have noticed the disappearing glass.

 

"My curtains!" Geraldine sobbed. "Oh, they'll pay for this."

 

A jet of water blasted Irina in the back of the head and it took all of her willpower not to swear. She was not sure why Geraldine was still trying to salvage the mansion, but it was hardly a shock.

 

"There are three back here," Irina heard her father's say. "Nobodies. Do not even know their names. Potter and Vox on the other side."

 

"You are better off taking our chances with whoever the other three are," Travers said. "Go through the back. Rowle and I will handle Potter."

 

Someone was coughing on the smoke—a male. "What about us?"

 

Irina did not recognize the voice, but when she braved a peek inside, her heart skipped a beat. Jeremy Preachwell was standing in the doorway, holding the prisoner by the collar. She only saw Jeremy in small doses, yet for some reason, she always felt drawn to him. It was almost like they had a history that she could not quite place.

 

She knew that there was no time to waste, but her feet were glued to the ground. As the stench of burning plants stung her nostrils, she anxiously awaited Bulstrode's answer. What was the plan for Preachwell and the prisoner? Jeremy had never been the best with a wand. Surely, he would not make it very far without help.

 

"You are staying with me," Bulstrode hissed. "Preachwell, you, on the other hand, will be going out front ahead of Travers and Rowle. Distract them. Make them think it's just you here. Since you so brilliantly led them here, you're going to surrender and tell them I went for a trip. Perhaps some time in Azkaban will teach you how to be a little bit more inconspicuous."

 

Irina covered her mouth to stifle a gasp. Just as everyone went their separate ways, the roof collapsed, and it was only a swinging gutter that urged her to start running. Her feet pounded the lush grass, and only once she reached the high hedges of the courtyard did she stop. Her father had ordered her to wait for him, and no matter how scared she was, she could not will herself to disobey orders.

 

"Hey! Hey you!" one of the intruders boomed. "Stop right there!"

 

It was Bulstrode, and she had no intentions of stopping. In the crook of her arm was a choking Theodore Nott, whose desperate pleas were being blatantly ignored as Bulstrode raised her wand to the back of his head. A coy grin was on her dark red lips. "If you try and take me in, Nott dies."

 

In between heavy breaths, Irina tried to grasp what was unfolding before her. The fire was expanding faster and faster, incinerating every inch of the garden and much of the mansion. If Bulstrode finally left her beloved summerhouse, that meant Jeremy Preachwell was already in Auror custody. A sour taste fizzled in the back of Irina's throat. Her father told her many stories of Azkaban, all of them terrible.

 

"We aren't here to negotiate!" one of the women shouted, her wand still pointed at Bulstrode. "Let him go and drop your wand!"

 

"No negotiations, eh? Well, that may not end so well for you," Bulstrode purred. "A high profile death is exactly what your department needs, surely. His face all over the Prophet, a sobbing Pansy Nott spending the rest of her days at Ministry headquarters, lamenting and barking demands. Potter would be just thrilled."

 

Then, Irina saw her father slip out the glassless window, his wand drawn and a look of hatred on his face that she was all too familiar with. Her heart pounded as she watched him stamp towards the scene, two wands pointed at him, and one still pointed at Bulstrode and Nott. She wanted to intervene. She wanted to save her father and Jeremy, and possibly even the prisoner too. Alas, she could only watch from afar.

 

"You will not harm anyone today," her father said, calmly. "We will leave, you will take no more than one of us, and you will clean up your dead. Unless you want more blood on your hands, you will agree to these terms."

 

"No one is going to die!" a man argued. "Put down your wands and we won't have to—"

 

"Avada kedavra!"

 

Irina had seen her father spit the curse many times, but never so quickly. The man dove to the ground and Bulstrode smirked, her wand still probing the back of Nott's head. She began backing up, her arm still wrapped quite tightly around the prisoner's neck.

 

"As I'm sure you can understand, we're in quite a rush to be going."

 

"Madam!" Irina's father warned.

 

"Expelliarmus!"

 

Before Bulstrode could even think about making an escape, she was disarmed. Her eyes widened and though she tried to hastily retrieve her wand, the woman had cast a Full Body-Bind Curse. Her eyes were still open, glinting in the winter sun as she collapsed to the ground, stiff as a board.

 

"Cru—"

 

Her father could not get the rest of the curse out in time. The other woman had disarmed him, and within seconds, he too was in a Full Body-Bind. With one pointing her wand at Nott, the other shouted, "WE GOT HER! WE GOT BULSTRODE!"

 

Irina did not know what to do. They had not come up with a second plan. So instead of following orders, she followed her heart, and she sprinted. Her Disillusionment Charm was likely flickering, but she did not care. She kept running through the courtyard until she circled the edge of the burning building. Only when she reached the front garden did she almost scream.

 

Jeremy Preachwell was on the ground, bound by magic just like Bulstrode and her father. Rowle lay lifeless in the grass in a pool of his own blood, and two wands were shooting curses at Travers. Irina ducked to avoid one that had missed him.

 

"Crucio!"

 

The Aurors blocked the curse. Her eyes kept darting towards Jeremy, hoping that he did not get caught in the crossfire. He was far too close.

 

"Expelliarmus!"

 

Travers cackled and countered the spell easily. "That the best you got, Potter?"

 

Potter angrily blasted a curse that Irina did not recognize, but Travers dodged it and hissed the Killing Curse. Irina glanced at Jeremy. Harry Potter had, naturally, dodged the very curse that left the scar on his head.

 

"Stupefy!" Vox boomed.

 

Travers almost seemed bored as he remedied the spell.

 

"Crucio!"

 

Irina winced. Potter was gritting his teeth in agony, and the distraction seemed to be enough to draw Vox's attention from the man that uttered the awful curse. Grinning, Travers took advantage of the opportunity.

 

"Accio Nebula Two!"

 

That seemed to get Vox's attention, as he turned around and growled, "Oh, no you don't!"

 

The large man lunged at Travers, but quickly regretted it. A second cry of "Crucio!" had him writhing in pain.

 

Potter was hastily crawling towards the both of them. Once more, he groaned the curse that Irina did not recognize. Travers, however, already had his hands on the broom; he mounted it just in time to avoid Potter's wandwork, waggling his fingers as he rose into the sky.

 

The two Aurors blasted hex after hex, but Travers was far too quick on a broom. It was not long before he was out of the range of their wands.

 

"Damn it!" Potter swore.

 

"Bloody slick, that one," Vox admitted, getting to his feet. He offered his friend a hand and pulled him up. "Can't believe he managed to get out of Azkaban."

 

"Yeah," Potter muttered. "Me either."

 

"We'll get him." Vox clapped the other man on the back. "Can't hide out long without his mates."

 

Potter did not seem convinced, but it was clear that he was all business. He checked to assure Rowle was dead while the other Auror walked around the perimeter. Irina chanced a final look at Jeremy Preachwell as the Aurors finished their rounds. Tears were prickling her eyes, but she knew she had to go. Azkaban was no place for a girl like her.

 

So she left Jeremy behind. Somehow, it did not feel like the first time.

 

 

***

 

 

Fifty-one lost brains. It was not every day that something went awry in the Brain Room, and Regina Prattle was far from excited to deliver her report regarding the dreadful incident. Her dry, cracked lips mouthed the speech she was hardly prepared to give, and with only two minutes left on the clock, she knocked on the frosted door.

 

There was no answer. According to her watch, there was still a moment before their meeting, so she lipped the report again, thankful for the extra time. She practiced again, and again, and again. Still, the door did not open.

 

"M-Madam Thomas?" she squeaked, knocking for the second time.

 

Confused, she tried to open the door herself. Her lack of success didn't surprise her, but Lenore Thomas's lateness did. The Head of the Department of Mysteries was, after all, a very prompt woman.

 

"Ahem."

 

Regina whipped around. "Leandra! You startled me!"

 

"Yes, so it would seem," the wide-nosed woman drawled. Her black irises flickered towards the door. "Surely, you've heard the news."

 

"News?" Regina had not heard any news. She had spent ninety-six consecutive hours trying to coax hundreds of brains back into their tanks. Halfway through, she had run out of Invigoration Draught, leaving her exhausted, overwhelmed, and utterly ready to go home.

 

"Madam Thomas is not here." Leandra cuffed her hands behind her back. "She has been missing for some time now. There is talk of foul play."

 

Regina gasped. "Good Merlin, that's just terrible! How long has she been gone?"

 

"Not long," Leandra purred. "A few days."

 

"Does the Auror Office have any leads?"

 

"The Auror Office," the pale witch repeated. "I'm not sure they've been notified. It is just gossip, after all."

 

"Well, she's missing, isn't she? Reason enough to file a report, I'd say!" Regina could not believe her coworker's lack of action. Someone of Lenore Thomas's stature could be a target of any number of heinous crimes. "Who all knows about this?"

 

"Most of the department. I suspect a few others." Leandra frowned. "I wouldn't act too irrationally if I were you, Prattle. She's gone missing at least three times that I can think of in the last ten years. Each time, she'd decided to take an impromptu holiday without telling anybody. Shocking she still has a job, considering her lack of responsibility."

 

"Ridiculous," Regina hissed, straightening her blouse. She turned on her heel and began marching out of the corridor.

 

"Wherever are you going?" Leandra droned.

 

"To get our boss some bloody help!"

 

 

***

 

 

The blemish was not only hideous, but it ached. To make matters worse, Eldin Primpernelle found himself all alone with a disgruntled suspect. As the redhead tried to wrench his arm away, Eldin irately locked the door. Ronald Weasley was several inches taller than he was, and without help, restraining him had proven to be quite a feat.

 

"Sit!" Primpernelle spat, holding his wand to Weasley's temple.

 

Fuming, the criminal did as he was told. He glared at his captor. "I'm not an animal."

 

"Is that so?" Eldin circled the table and licked his lips. He was hardly afraid of the wandless brute. If anything, he found the man to be nothing more than an annoyance. "Then, explain to me why exactly you had your wife under the Full Body-Bind Curse."

 

Frazzled, Weasley began sputtering the same thing he had been saying the whole time. The story was, of course, unbelievable at best. "I already tried to tell you. Malfoy has her under the Imperius—"

 

"Stop it with that Imperius Curse bullshit," Primpernelle snapped. "I'm not buying it and neither will anyone in court. If you're angry about her little tryst with Draco Malfoy, then you're going to have to admit it. Otherwise, you won't stand half a chance in front of the Wizengamot."

 

"Of course I was angry!" Weasley exclaimed, throwing his hands up. They immediately went back into his lap when Eldin trained his wand on him. "She's my wife! I thought she—I thought she wanted to be with him."

 

Eldin pursed his lips. "Maybe she does. You two were separated and she was seen in public with him. Would it make you angry if she wanted to be with Malfoy and not you?"

 

"She doesn't!"

 

"Hypothetically," Eldin said, leaning across the table. "Let's just say hypothetically that she would choose Malfoy over you. Would that make you angry?"

 

"Well—well, sure, but—"

 

"Angry enough to attack her? Hold her hostage?"

 

"Wait a minute, I never—"

 

"Weasley, I'm going to level with you," Primpernelle interrupted, sinking into the chair opposite the redhead. "This is an open and shut case and it doesn't look very good for you. Imperius Curse or not, you put a woman—your wife, to be exact—in a Full Body-Bind without being provoked. Now, it just so happens, you married the Minister for Magic. That puts you in a really bad position with the law. Treason isn't something to be messed about with."

 

Weasley wrung his hands. "Treason?"

 

"Afraid so." Eldin spun his wand between two fingers. "No matter how this conversation goes, you're not going to be going home today. Because of the nature of the crime—"

 

"I'll be going to Azkaban," the ex-Auror whispered. He looked down. "I-I was trying to help her."

 

Primpernelle sighed. "I'd like to believe you, Weasley, but it doesn't matter if I do or don't. It's not me you have to convince. It's the Wizengamot."

 

 

***

 

 

The Auror Office was strangely empty. Nelson Melman had fetched the Minister for Magic a cup of tea, but she was still, understandably, distraught. Her eyes were red and swollen and the teacup shook in her bony hands, the contents only staying inside due to the cup's permanent enchantments. With each sob she sucked in, Nelson became increasingly aware of how alone they were. Consoling victims had never been his strong point.

 

"If you'd rather, we can wait for my supervisor. She's a woman, so she may understand better."

 

"Your supervisor is Phoebe Humphries," the Minister huffed, placing the cup of tea back down onto Duncan's desk, where she was seated. "I'd rather speak to you."

 

Nelson nodded, straddling his own chair. He had pulled it close to her so she knew that he was there to help. Some part of him regretted it. "Very well. We can start whenever you're ready." It was difficult to force out the words. The last thing he wanted to do was spend his afternoon speaking to the Minister for Magic about her feelings.

 

"I'm ready now," Granger said, stiffly. "What do you want to know?"

 

"Well, erm..." If it weren't his job, he would want to know as little as possible. "Let's start with how you ended up in the house in Godric's Hollow."

 

She nodded. "I went there."

 

"Why?" For the first time since they sat down together, Nelson was genuinely curious. He adjusted himself in the chair and tapped his quill against his tongue. "You've been staying with your in-laws since last weekend, yes?"

 

The Minister grimaced. "I was. My sister-in-law kicked me out this morning."

 

"You wanted to move back in with Weasley, then?" Nelson frowned, quite confused. Powerful witches did not often return to abusive spouses, though he had heard of Muggle women doing so.

 

"Oh, Merlin no! I went there to file for divorce. I talked to my PR advisor and we agreed that it was for the best," the witch explained. She took another sip of tea. The cup no longer shook in her grasp, a clear sign that she was growing more comfortable with him. "I just needed Ron to sign some parchments."

 

Melman nodded, scribbling down several notes. Writing on Duncan's desk hardly felt natural. "A divorce makes sense. You and Malfoy are pretty serious, then?"

 

Granger glared at him. "I don't see what this has to do with my husband holding me against my will."

 

"Well," the Auror breathed, "your husband seems to think that Draco Malfoy has you under the Imperius Curse."

 

"Oh, I know!" she scoffed. "It's rubbish. Everything that happened between Draco and I—well, not that it's your business, but I wanted to do it just as much as he did. We knew the risks. I didn't plan for Ron to find out the way he did, that much I'll admit, but he was going to find out the truth eventually. Draco and I, we—we have plans for the future."

 

"It would be fair to say you're serious, then."

 

Suddenly, she seemed quite interested in her fingernails. "I suppose."

 

"Alright, then." He took down several more notes. "So how did you end up in the Full Body-Bind? What happened after you got to the house?"

 

The Minister sighed. "Ron answered the door, we exchanged some words, then I tried to get him to sign the papers and he started rattling off nonsense about the Imperius Curse. That was when he decided to cast the curse instead of listen to me."

 

"And that was in the bedroom? Any kind of fight before that?" The look of confusion on her face prompted him to clarify. "Physical, I mean."

 

"Physical? No, we just argued." Granger shuddered. "In the living room. It wasn't until he cursed me that he dragged me to the bedroom like a ruddy caveman."

 

"I see," Melman muttered, scribbling down his final notes. Once he was finished, he piled his quill and ink atop the illegible parchment and pulled a vial from his pocket. "Can I get a memory from you? We'd just like to confirm all of this."

 

"Yes, fine," the witch mumbled, retrieving her wand from her waistband. With one eye closed in focus, she removed the glowing string of memory and dropped it into the vial. "Can I go now? I'd like to get some work done before the day is over."

 

"Yes, that's fine." Melman held out his palm and she dropped the vial into it. "You're free to go."

 

Just as the Minister stood up, the door opened. With an evil glint in her eye, Phoebe Humphries stormed in and growled, "Sit back down, Granger. We need to have a little chat."

 

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