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14. The Snare: Beater Grouses

 

‘That’s it,’ Harry concluded. ‘My leg isn’t too bad, my ribs are fixed and Dacia reckons that there shouldn’t be much scarring where Lowell clawed me.’

 

‘What about Lavender?’ Hermione asked in concern.

 

‘Dacia believes that, now that she’s been bitten, the claw wounds Greyback gave her at the Battle should finally close properly; it’s something to do with the werewolf curse. Lavender will be scarred but, otherwise, she should make a full recovery. Of course, Dacia will need to keep treating us both with that poultice of hers,’ Harry replied.

 

Harry’s audience had, in the main, listened in silence. He’d tried to gloss over the curses Lowell had inflicted on him, but Ginny had seen through his obfuscation and had demanded the truth. When he’d reluctantly told them what had happened, both Ron and Ginny swore.

 

Harry looked around the meeting room. Ron and Hermione sat side by side on the table. They were holding hands, but they still exuded an intense after-argument aura. Harry had years of familiarity with it. The unresolved tension between his two best friends was like dynamite past its shelf life; the slightest knock could lead to an explosion. Anxiety made the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck prickle nervously. Neville, Fenella and Luna were sitting directly in front of Ron and Hermione and seemed to be unaware of the danger which lurked behind them.

 

Everyone in the room was facing him, silently contemplating everything he’d told them. Harry was sitting on the fourth chair, with Ginny carefully curled in his lap. She was trying to stay as close as possible, while not putting any weight on his wounds.

 

Livy Aikenhead sat at the back of the room, on a chair Harry had conjured. She looked very nervous, and Harry wondered if it had been wise to invite her into the meeting room. He hadn’t wanted to leave her outside, in case Tavistock tried to persuade her to change her story. With Livy’s reluctant agreement, he’d cast a Muffliato spell, to prevent her from hearing the details of what was still an active Auror investigation.

 

‘Poor Lavender,’ said Ginny. ‘At least she’s okay.’

 

‘Okay? She’s hardly okay! She’s a werewolf!’ said Ron. ‘Bloody hell, Lavender can be a pain, but she didn’t deserve that.’

 

‘You should go and relieve her, Harry,’ said Hermione as she squeezed Ron’s leg sympathetically, slightly easing the tension between them. ‘She can’t face Lestrange alone.’

 

‘She won’t, Hermione,’ Harry assured her. ‘It’s daylight. Dacia will have turned back now and they both know the plan; they aren’t stupid. They won’t try to capture him themselves.’

 

‘Yeah, but it’s only a couple of weeks since I was bawled out by Robards, mate,’ said Ron forcefully. ‘You know what he’ll say? He’ll tell you that you’ve left two werewolves, neither of them Aurors, in charge of an important Auror operation, an operation which you should be running! Hermione’s right, you should go back.’

 

Harry sighed; he knew from many previous occasions that it would probably be several weeks before Ron disagreed with Hermione about anything, but he firmly shook his head. ‘We’ve got a lead on the Slyth…’ he paused, glanced at Fenella and tried again: ‘…on Bletchley, Bulstrode, Flint and Goyle, too. I should be here! I can’t be in both places…’

 

‘So you might as well be in the place where my sister is!’ said Ron, shaking his head. ‘Robards will say that to you too.’

 

Harry shrugged. ‘The Fiscal wants me here, because I’m the arresting officer. And I’ve still got one prisoner to interview. It will be some time before I’m finished and the only way I can get back is the way I left; fly to the stone and go through it. If Lestrange is already on his way, he might spot me and simply run for it. If I were him, I’d be regularly checking for invisible people. If I went back, I could jeopardise the plan. Besides, Lavender is…’ Harry stopped, wondering how to describe her.

 

‘Is what?’ Ron asked. ‘Reliable? Sensible? Take it from me, she’s anything but! All she could ever do was gossip and chatter.’

 

‘She saved Harry’s life, Ron,’ said Ginny. ‘And she was in a wheelchair because she fought in the Battle and she almost died. She’s more than the ex-girlfriend you don’t like to talk about.’

 

‘You weren’t at Hogwarts when the Carrows were in charge, Ron,’ Neville added firmly. ‘If you had been, if you’d seen her hex Malfoy, you’d think differently.’

 

‘Neville’s right,’ agreed Ginny.

 

‘She surprised me, Ron,’ said Harry. ‘She was wandless and wounded, but she took down Youen using nothing but a packet of Bulbadox powder. She wants to be an Auror, and honestly, she’s already better than a few of them!’

 

‘I suppose,’ Ron admitted grudgingly.

 

‘So, you’ll do everything you can to help Harry get her into the Auror Office,’ Ginny told him.

 

‘What?’ Ron spluttered.

 

‘I will be recommending her to Robards, Ron, because I’ve made a promise. But it won’t be easy getting her in,’ said Harry.

 

‘I’ll do what I can,’ said Ron reluctantly. He stared earnestly into his friend’s face. ‘But really, Harry, a recommendation from me would probably count against her anyway. After the way Robards tore a strip off me the other week, I’d probably do more good if I told him I thought she was useless!’

 

‘I’ll help, Harry,’ said Neville. ‘And so will Susan and Terry.’

 

‘You’ll need to get Clause Twenty-Seven removed from the Ministry Employee Contract first,’ announced Hermione.

 

‘What?’ asked Harry.

 

‘Clause Twenty-Seven,’ said Hermione, rolling her eyes exasperatedly.

 

Harry glanced at Ron, whose face showed that he, too, had no idea what Hermione was talking about. She looked from Harry, to Ron, and back to Harry—her irritation was obvious.

 

‘Er…’ Harry began.

 

‘You read your employment contracts before you signed them, didn’t you?’ asked Hermione in annoyance. She folded her arms and glared. Harry and Ron exchanged a particularly worried look that they had rarely used since school.

 

‘Remind me, please?’ asked Harry.

 

‘Clause Twenty-Seven states “All Ministry employees must be human witches or wizards as defined in the Wizarding Communities Act of 1766” and you know what that says, don’t you?’ asked Hermione.

 

‘But Lavender is a witch,’ said Ron hastily.

 

‘Not according to the Ministry, Ron. Not from the moment she was bitten. The 1766 Wizarding Communities Act, and the Magical Creatures Regulations of 1814 both classify werewolves as beasts. Beasts are definitely not human. That’s why werewolves have never been allowed to work for the Ministry.’

 

‘What?’ Ron said angrily. ‘That’s bloody outrageous. We’ll have to get that law changed.’

 

Hermione smiled at him. ‘I know, Ron,’ she said. ‘It’s on my list. The legislation Umbridge put in place in the years before the Battle made it almost impossible for them to get work elsewhere. Kingsley has repealed Umbridge’s laws, of course, but he hasn’t had time to carry out the root and branch reorganisation the Ministry needs. Getting those laws repealed is going to be my next project, once I get the house-elf laws passed.’

 

‘I’ll help you, Hermione,’ Harry told her.

 

Despite his pain, and despite the fact that Rabastan Lestrange was still free, for the first time in weeks Harry felt his anxieties leave him. He looked around the room; he was with his friends, and they were working together. Solo missions really were stupid; as he’d told Dacia and her daughters, he had always had help.

 

Now that he’d finished his story, Harry decided that he could safely remove the Muffliato spell. ‘Sorry about that, Livy,’ he apologised. Livy simply nodded.

 

Ginny fidgeted on his lap. It wasn’t her usual shuffle; there was something unnatural about the way she moved. She wasn’t completely right, Harry realised. She was almost Ginny, but she was restless and squirming, there was a tension that should not be there. It was possible that it was just the after-effects of the pumpkin juice, but he needed to be certain.

 

‘Your turn, Ginny,’ he told her, looking into her eyes. ‘There’s still something wrong. What is it?’ he asked quietly.

 

Ginny shuffled again, pressed her lips to his ear and gripped his shoulder painfully tightly.

 

‘It’s the voice in my head, Harry. It’s back, and it’s telling me to finish with you. It’s been there for weeks, whispering. Sometimes it has been very difficult to ignore. It’s worse … it’s worse now … on days like today … on the morning after a game. It’s been like this on the morning after the last few games. I can ignore it, but it’s worrying me; it’s nagging away at me again. I hate it when there’s someone else in my head,’ she whispered.

 

He gently touched her chin and felt her tense. He slowly turned her head and looked deep into her eyes. Concerned, he looked questioningly at his friends.

 

‘The pumpkin juice, could it contain something like an Imperius potion?’ he asked.

 

Neville and Ron shrugged.

 

‘No,’ Hermione spoke with certainty. ‘Because…’

 

‘Yes,’ interrupted Luna, sounding equally sure of her answer.

 

Hermione glared at Luna and pursed her lips. Harry could almost hear her brain whirring. He recognised the signs. Inside Hermione’s head, a lecture was rapidly being prepared.

 

‘Fenella?’ Harry asked, hoping desperately to avoid a long and complicated argument between Hermione and Luna.

 

The tall girl slouched low in her chair when everyone turned to look at her.

 

‘Er,’ she began, ‘um, er, well … er … I don’t think so, not exactly.’

 

Hermione looked triumphant.

 

‘But…’ Fenella stared fixedly at her boots as she continued. ‘I think … er, possibly … both hate, and love potions…’

 

‘Exactly!’ Luna said, ‘hate potions and love potions both…’

 

‘Both affect the emotional state of the imbiber, true,’ Hermione interrupted. ‘But it isn’t possible to duplicate the effect of an Unforgiveable Curse with a potion…’

 

‘Poison kills people, just like a Killing Curse would, Hermione,’ Luna interrupted.

 

‘But it’s not the same. It isn’t a killing curse,’ Hermione protested.

 

‘Harry said “something like” an Imperius potion,’ Luna reminded Hermione. ‘And there are a lot of potions which could force people to do something they wouldn’t normally do, which is exactly what the Imperius Curse does.’

 

‘But it doesn’t allow complete control, Luna,’ Hermione continued to argue.

 

‘Neither does the Imperius Curse, Hermione,’ said Harry. ‘It’s possible to resist it, to break free. I resisted the fake Moody, Barty Crouch Junior resisted his father, and Ginny is resisting whatever has been done to her.’ He placed a hand on his girlfriend’s thigh and squeezed. She smiled, but was obviously uneasy.

 

Hermione’s forehead creased and she pursed her lips as she carefully considered Harry’s words.

 

‘You’re right, Harry, and you too, Luna,’ Hermione admitted reluctantly. ‘How could I have forgotten Snape’s words to us in our very first Potions lesson? He told us about “the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses”, and that’s what you’re really asking, isn’t it, Harry? It is certainly possible to “bewitch the mind” with a potion.’

 

‘And it’s possible for me to resist,’ announced Ginny grimly. ‘But it would be nice if I didn’t have to.’

 

‘But why hasn’t Byers been able to identify it?’ Harry asked.

 

‘Perhaps it’s because there are two potions, plus the pumpkin juice in one bottle,’ suggested Hermione. ‘Byers thought he was looking at an alcohol strengthening potion with a couple of odd ingredients.’

 

‘But he was actually looking at an alcohol strengthening potion plus another potion,’ Ron announced, once again happy to agree with Hermione. ‘And if the second potion had missing ingredients too, that would make it very hard to analyse.’

 

‘Missing ingredients?’ Ginny asked.

 

Luna stood and approached her friend. Motioning for silence, she stared into Ginny’s eyes for some time. Harry, who was unconsciously mimicking Luna’s unblinking stare, felt his eyes watering with the effort.

 

‘You’re almost-Ginny,’ Luna announced eventually. ‘You’re fighting the potion.’

 

‘We know that, Luna,’ said Hermione dismissively. ‘We need to know something useful, like why Byers couldn’t identify the potion.’

 

‘Because love potions require the addition of a part of the person who wants to be loved, and…’ said Luna, still staring into Ginny’s eyes.

 

‘Like Polyjuice, we know that too, Luna,’ Hermione said. ‘A hair from the object of affection is the usual final ingredient.’

 

‘That’s easy to get,’ Ron reminded her. ‘These days, even I could identify a love potion without the activator ingredient; it’s easy. And no one has any difficulty putting one of their own hairs into a love potion; it’s feeding the potion to the victim that’s the difficult bit. Simply lacing some chocolates, for instance! Anybody might eat them!’

 

‘That was years ago, Ron!’ Harry reminded his friend.

 

‘But he nearly died!’ Hermione said. She slipped her arm around Ron’s waist and hugged him. Ron reciprocated.

 

‘What I was going to say is that this isn’t a love potion, or a hate potion,’ said Luna. ‘Ginny loves Harry, and Harry loves Ginny. That’s so obvious that everyone has spotted it, even Ronald.’

 

‘Thanks, Luna,’ said Ron sarcastically. She waved him into silence.

 

‘Because of that, making her hate him is very difficult,’ continued Luna. ‘This potion is making Ginny trust, and maybe even love, Linny, and hate Harry. With hate potions, you require a part of the person to be hated. You’d need some of Harry’s hair…’

 

‘Which you could get from our flat,’ announced Livy excitedly, finally breaking her silence. ‘Harry has visited Ginny there often enough.’

 

‘And some of Linny’s hair, to make Ginny listen to her, obey her orders,’ Luna added.

 

‘Like “drink this, it’ll do you good”,’ said Ginny, suddenly understanding. ‘But that’s three potions in one; alcohol strengthening, sort-of-love, and hate.’

 

‘No, only two, a love/hate potion and an alcohol strengthening potion,’ said Ron.

 

There is no such thing as a love/hate potion, Ron,’ said Hermione severely, removing her arm from around him.

 

‘There is; F-F-Fred and George made one,’ protested Ron, stammering over his dead brother’s name. ‘I found the recipe in an old filing cabinet a couple of months ago, while I was going through the discarded stock with George. We were looking to see if we could find anything else which they had invented and rejected, but could be turned into something saleable, like the Portcuffs.

 

‘Fred and George invented the love/hate potion years ago. It was an early attempt, before they’d even opened the shop. They thought it would be better than an ordinary love potion. They made one test sample, and used it once … it worked, but the twins didn’t like the results. George said that it reduced some Hufflepuff girl to tears at the Yule Ball and that it definitely wasn’t funny, or fun. They didn’t bother to put it into production. They concentrated on making a better love potion instead.’

 

‘How did they make the switch from love to hate?’ Hermione asked.

 

‘It’s not that big a step between love and hate, Hermione,’ said Ron with feeling. He stared into her eyes. ‘It just takes a moment of stupidity and everything can fall apart.’

 

‘I meant within the potion, Ron,’ said Hermione, gently stroking his cheek with the back of her hand. ‘There must be something else to add.’

 

‘Yes. How does the potion know which is which?’ Ginny asked. ‘Do it wrong, and you end up with a potion which makes me hate Linny and love Harry. Let’s face it, that’s pretty useless.’

 

‘The potion actually seems to be making you do whatever Linny asks you to do, Ginny. An “obey Harry unquestioningly” potion might be useful sometimes,’ said Harry grinning.

 

‘This is serious, Harry,’ said Ginny through clenched teeth. ‘This really isn’t pleasant, and it’s getting worse.’

 

‘Yeah, and believe me, you really don’t want to be doing anything that would mess around with the way your girlfriend behaves,’ said Ron firmly. Hermione slid her arm back around his waist.

 

‘Sorry, Ginny,’ Harry apologised. ‘Normally…’

 

‘Normally I can take a joke,’ Ginny said. ‘But now I can’t. Now, I really want to thump you.’

 

‘The twins’ love/hate potion recipe had a note with it,’ said Ron, he paused in thought. ‘Bum glum, or something.’

 

‘Glumbumble Fluid!’ Hermione and Luna spoke simultaneously.

 

‘It’s no wonder your potions expert was having problems, Ron,’ said Hermione excitedly. ‘He was missing three vital ingredients. Add Linny’s hair, and the drinker obeys Linny! Add Glumbumble fluid and the potion reverses effect…’

 

‘And finally, add Harry’s hair to make the drinker hate Harry,’ finished Luna. ‘That’s a really interesting use of the effect-reversal properties of Glumbumble fluid. In fact, it’s extremely clever. Why did your brothers do so badly at their OWLs, Ron?’

 

‘They simply couldn’t be bothered, Luna,’ said Ron. ‘But now we need to re-analyse the pumpkin juice!’

 

‘And find an antidote,’ said Ginny anxiously.

 

‘That should be easy,’ said Luna. ‘I can start on one now. Would you like me to?’

 

‘Easy?’ Hermione asked in surprise. Luna nodded.

 

‘If you can do it, Luna, please do,’ said Ginny.

 

Harry kissed her. For a moment she was tense, but she soon relaxed into his arms.

 

‘That’s better,’ said Ginny when they parted. ‘Kissing helps. But you’ll probably need to do it again, soon.’

 

‘When’ve you two ever needed an excuse for a snog?’ Ron asked sarcastically. Ginny ignored him.

 

‘Wait! We must be wrong,’ Ginny suddenly sprang to her feet, strode across to the wall and thumped it. ‘The potion can’t work that way. After I’d talked to Hermione, weeks ago, I decided that I wouldn’t go drinking with Livy and Linny again. But I drank some pumpkin juice, and Linny persuaded me. It was easy, very easy, for me to obey her because it seemed to be such a reasonable thing for her to ask. So that’s the love, or the “obey,” part of the potion. But while we were out drinking, Linny tried to set me up with other blokes. She tried to persuade me to chuck Harry several times as well. She even tried in the pub last night. I was pretty much out of it, but Harry was there and he was forcing me to choose. I tried to hit her.’

 

‘You were so drunk that you could hardly stand, Ginny,’ said Harry, watching his increasingly agitated girlfriend in alarm.

 

‘That’s not the point, Harry. I chose you! Not her! That’s what I don’t understand. If both potions were in the same bottle, why should I feel worse about you now, the morning after I’ve taken the potion? Now, it wouldn’t take much for me to defend Linny and hit you.’ To emphasise her point she hit the wall again. ‘So yesterday, last night, why did I attack Linny, not you?’ Ginny asked. Harry looked at Hermione for an answer.

 

‘Don’t you know, Ginny?’ Luna sounded surprised. ‘The alcohol has been dampening it. Adding the alcohol strengthening potion was a big mistake. The more you sober up, the more you’ll hate Harry and the more control Linny will have. The love/hate potion will get stronger and stronger as your body gets rid of the alcohol. I think that Linny must have increased the dose. But we know, from what happened to Hermione, that the sober-up potion reacts badly with the Pumpkin juice, which means...’

 

‘Of course!’ exclaimed Hermione, her eyes lighting up in understanding. ‘You’re right, Luna, it should be easy to reverse the effects. We’ll need dog hair, butterscotch, honey-water, one of your hairs, Harry, and one of Linny’s.’

 

‘Have you really figured out an antidote?’ asked Harry.

 

Hermione and Luna looked at each other. ‘Yes,’ they said together.

 

‘So, all we need to do now is decide what we are going to do about Linny Baker?’ said Ron. ‘This is all her fault!’

 

‘And yours, and mine,’ Hermione corrected him.

 

‘We need to search Ginny’s flat for evidence. We might find more bottles to analyse, and we might find more clues,’ suggested Neville. ‘We have enough justification for a raid. The only known suppliers of alcoholic pumpkin juice are all wanted by the Auror Office.’

 

‘Let’s go,’ Ron shouted, leaping to his feet.

 

‘No. Not you, Ron—or you, Nev,’ Harry ordered. Ron stopped in his tracks, and Neville stood in his stead. ‘We’ll contact the office, tell them what we know and ask a different squad to do the search. We’re all personally involved. Tavistock would accuse us of planting evidence.’

 

‘I’ll go back to London now, and organise things,’ Neville offered.

 

‘No!’ Harry changed his mind. ‘I’ve got a better idea. Sheriff Campbell is in charge of the investigation into the Breach of the Peace at the Magpies Nest; he should take the lead. That way it’s a Magical Law Enforcement raid, not the Auror Office.’

 

‘But,’ Ginny began.

 

‘If the Auror Office raid your flat, Ginny, everyone will know. But if Law Office Bailiffs search a flat belonging to the three Quidditch players they’ve arrested for being drunk and disorderly, it might not even make the newspapers, and even if it does, Goyle and his cronies won’t realise exactly how much we know about their involvement. And if Linny thinks that all we know about is the alcohol-strengthening potion, she might try to get some more of the love/hate potion from the Bletchley and the others. They’ve scarpered, and we’ve lost them, but Linny was in touch with them somehow. Thanks to Nev, we know that Flint and his friends were providing the potion. Linny is the only link we have, so if we can make her think that we don’t suspect…’ said Harry.

 

He strode across to his girlfriend and looked into her eyes. ‘But if you want us to arrest her for use of Dark Magic, then that’s what we’ll do.’

 

‘She’s been messing with me; perhaps it’s time that I messed with her,’ said Ginny vindictively. ‘But I wish I knew why she’s been doing it. I thought that she liked me, and you.’

 

‘She has been acting oddly for the past few weeks,’ Livy said. ‘She’s been secretive and she’s been drinking more. She’s been really aggressive in training, hadn’t you noticed?’

 

‘No,’ Ginny admitted.

 

‘Well, you were worried about Harry going off on a dangerous mission, Ginny,’ Livy said. ‘You didn’t notice much in the days before he left.’

 

‘We need to search your flat, Ginny. I’ll go and bring Sheriff Campbell in here and explain,’ said Harry.

 

‘I’ll go,’ suggested Neville. ‘You stay with Ginny.’

 

Harry smiled his thanks and Neville dashed from the room.

 

‘We’ll leave too, Harry,’ said Hermione. ‘Luna and I should get started on this antidote.’

 

‘We should,’ said Luna with certainty, looking worriedly at Ginny. ‘I think that they have increased the dose. The more Ginny sobers up, the more she’ll hate Harry.’

 

Hermione gave Ron a hug and a sorrowful smile, stood, and picked up her bag. As she and Luna opened the door to leave, Neville returned with the Sheriff.

 

Harry rapidly explained the situation to Hamish Campbell.

 

‘I’d be grateful if you would contact the Auror Office and liaise with them,’ said Harry. ‘And could you hand over any pumpkin juice you find to our experts?’

 

The Sheriff nodded. ‘I’ll do that, with pleasure.’

 

‘Take the key to my flat,’ said Ginny, reaching into the pocket of her trousers. ‘You have my permission to search it, not that you need it.’

 

The Sheriff held out his left hand and took the key. Ginny looked at his missing fingers and then at his face.

 

‘You’re the man I hexed,’ she said. ‘I’m very sorry.’

 

‘Aye, well, we all do daft things with the drink inside us and, if... Harry is right, it seems you had a lot more than just the drink to deal with,’ said Campbell gruffly. ‘I’ll get on this right away. I’ll sort out a formal warrant for the flat and let ye know what we find.’ He turned and strode from the room.

 

‘Do you trust him?’ Ron asked. ‘I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before.’

 

Harry nodded. ‘You’ve seen him at the memorial ceremonies, Ron. His wife was killed at Hogwarts. He seems like a good man; the Fiscal trusts him, and I trust her.’

 

‘She’s a scary old lady,’ observed Ginny. Livy murmured her agreement.

 

‘The Fiscal won’t do you any favours, Ginny, I’m sorry. But she won’t be vindictive, either. She’ll be fair, and so will the Sheriff.’

 

‘Thanks, Harry,’ said Ginny. Her stomach rumbled.

 

‘When did you last eat?’ Harry asked, concerned.

 

‘Before the game, yesterday lunchtime,’ Ginny admitted.

 

‘You need to get some breakfast,’ he scolded. His traitorous stomach then betrayed his own irregular eating habits.

 

‘When did you last eat, Harry?’ asked Ginny, equally concerned.

 

‘Midnight,’ Harry protested.

 

‘Before that?’

 

‘I had some dry bread and cheese at noon, yesterday,’ he admitted.

 

‘We’ll go together,’ said Ginny. ‘We’ll all go. I’ll treat you all to lunch, to thank you for being here for me.’

 

‘You’ll have to go without me, I’ll be interviewing Linny soon,’ said Harry.

 

‘We’ll wait,’ Ginny told him. ‘But the effects of that potion are getting stronger, Harry. It might be as well if you left me for a while.’

 

I’ll look after her, mate,’ said Ron. ‘Don’t worry.’

 

‘Me too,’ added Neville staunchly.

 

There was a knock at her door, and Bailiff Moon peered in.

 

‘Ah, er, excuse me, Auror Potter, sir,’ the tall young man began. ‘Miss Aikenhead, Miss Weasley, the Sheriff would be grateful if ye could sign this, it’s a statement agreeing to allow the search of your residence. We’ll need to let Swyddfa Cymru, the Welsh Office, and the Gwynedd Sheriff’s Office, know what we’re doing, so we need to keep it all legal.’

 

Ginny and Livy had just signed the statement when the door opened a second time. A young woman peered into the room.

 

‘Auror Potter,’ she said. ‘The Fiscal wants you in the interview room now.’

 

‘Duty calls.’ Harry groaned.

 

Ginny watched in silence as Harry prepared to leave. His ribs were aching again and Ginny seemed to be almost enjoying his suffering. Harry hoped that Luna and Hermione would be able to quickly make an antidote. Leaving his girlfriend in the care of Ron, Neville, Fenella and Livy, he walked along the corridor while retying his tie. Two doors along from the meeting room, the Fiscal was waiting for Harry.

 

‘Mr Tavistock has just informed me that he has finished his discussions with his remaining client,’ said Edna Quarrell. ‘This is likely to be an interesting interview.’

 

‘Fiscal, before we go in…’ Harry began. He quickly told her about their recent discoveries, and that the Sheriff was about to leave to carry out the search. The Fiscal nodded approvingly.

 

‘I don’t see how Mr Tavistock could complain about the search, but it’s as well that you aren’t personally involved. Thank you, Harry,’ the Fiscal smiled grimly. ‘Now, let’s go and hear what Miss Baker has to say for herself.’

 

Gus Tavistock and Linny Baker were sitting in strained silence when Harry opened the interview room door. He ushered the Fiscal inside, then closed the door and took his seat opposite Linny.

 

‘Good morning, Miss Baker,’ the Fiscal introduced herself and Harry, before telling the Beater of the charges against her.

 

Linny Baker didn’t speak.

 

‘My client is aware of the allegations,’ Gus Tavistock said smoothly. ‘She advises me that she has no idea why her friends and flatmates should lie about what happened. She can only assume that Miss Weasley, through misguided loyalty to her boyfriend, wishes to prevent Mr Potter from making a fool of himself. Miss Baker wishes to plead not guilty to all charges. We’ll see you in court, Mrs Quarrell.’

 

‘Miss Baker,’ Edna Quarrell said politely. ‘Before I ask you to formally make a plea, I consider it my duty to give you some additional information. Officers from this Law Office are, with the agreement of both Miss Weasley and Miss Aikenhead, about to conduct a search of the flat you share with them.’

 

Linny Baker opened her mouth to object, but Tavistock spoke first.

 

‘This is outrageous,’ Gus Tavistock protested. ‘My client did not permit any such search.’

 

‘The Scottish Law Office does not require your client’s permission. Miss Baker and her flatmates have been arrested and charged. In the course of our investigations, the Sheriff has received new evidence which led him to believe that a search was required. The Law Office sought a warrant from the Justiciar, which has been granted. In addition to the warrant, we have received written permission from two of the three residents of the property. This is not outrageous, Mr Tavistock. My office has behaved correctly throughout, and if I read any newspaper reports making personal attacks on the integrity of any individual law officer involved in this case, I shall advise that individual to take action.’ Edna Quarrell paused and looked Gus Tavistock in the eyes.

 

‘I am not interested in bluff, bluster and threats, Mr Tavistock. I’m simply interested in getting to the bottom of this unsavoury episode.’ She glared contemptuously at him before turning to Linny Baker.

 

‘Now, Miss Baker, do you have anything else to say?’

 

‘It’s all his fault!’ Linny Baker shouted, pointing at Harry. ‘It isn’t fair! She should hate you, Potter! Why doesn’t she hate you?’

 

‘You know Ginny, she’s stubborn. You can’t force her to do something if she doesn’t want to,’ said Harry proudly. ‘But you live with her, Linny. Ginny liked you, trusted you, and you got her drunk, and tried to split us up. Why?’

 

‘Because I hate you, you arrogant sod,’ Linny began. ‘I think you’re a filthy, Mudblood-loving…’

 

‘Miss Baker…’ Tavistock shouted her down.

 

Linny was silenced, but she glared angrily at Harry, and he managed to catch her eyes. While he was still utterly useless at Occlumency, Harry had done reasonably well in his Auror Legilimency training.

 

As he stared into the Beater’s eyes, he briefly heard a sobbing girl and saw her staring at a happy couple. Harry vaguely recognised the tall and skinny fair-haired boy; he thought that he might have been a Ravenclaw, someone in the twins’ year, but he wasn’t sure. The girl, however, was Daphne Greengrass, and she was looking at him in triumph. She wasn’t looking at him, she was looking at Linny. Suddenly, Harry knew. Linny blinked and shook her head, breaking the connection.

 

Linny had been close to tears, he’d sensed it. Daphne had been wearing dress robes, the boy was tall and Harry thought that some girls would probably think that he was good-looking. The memory had been of the Yule Ball. Linny would have been in her final year. Harry thought quickly. Was it possible that Linny was the girl Ron had told him about? He could not re-establish the connection, as Linny lowered her head and refused to look at him.

 

‘Which house were you in at Hogwarts, Linny?’ Harry asked.

 

‘What on earth does that have to do with anything?’ Tavistock asked.

 

‘You were a Hufflepuff, weren’t you?’ Harry asked. ‘You were a Hufflepuff Beater. Do you know a girl called Daphne Greengrass? We’ll soon be able to prove that there was a potion in the pumpkin juice you were giving Ginny, you must know that.’

 

That was enough to make Linny raise her head. Harry again caught her gaze as she snarled angrily at him.

 

‘So what? You’re not going to do anything about it, Harry. You can’t, because you won’t prosecute your friends!’ She spat the last words venomously. ‘The twins used that potion on Malcolm, they split us up. It was their idea of a joke. It’s a Weasley product. You aren’t really going to arrest Ginny’s brother, are you?’

 

Harry again stared into the Beater’s eyes; he made a connection and tried Legilimency. For a moment, he saw Daphne again; she was being pinned to the wall and he recognised the threatening fist in front of Daphne’s face as Linny’s. ‘The Weasley twins gave it to me,’ Daphne squealed. ‘They said it was a joke.’ Then, confusingly, Linny and Daphne were hugging. ‘I’m sorry,’ Daphne said. ‘I’ll make it up to you, somehow.’

 

As the connection broke Harry saw something else; there was something in Linny’s eyes. It was a peculiar vacancy, an absence which he’d seen before, and very recently.

 

‘If you’ll excuse me, Fiscal, there are several questions I need answering,’ Harry announced.

 

‘See!’ Linny shouted triumphantly. ‘He’s going to try to cover things up. Tell Ginny to drop the charges if she doesn’t want her precious brother to get into trouble.’

 

‘Fiscal, please hold Miss Baker until I return,’ Harry begged. ‘She may be able to assist an ongoing Auror Office case.’ The Fiscal nodded and Harry raced from the Interview Room.

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