Stress—the word had become almost meaningless. As Harry Potter hunched over his desk and reviewed the case against Geraldine Bulstrode, he felt a vein in his forehead pop, probably much like the one he always laughed at Uncle Vernon for. However, if Uncle Vernon was in his situation, it would be no laughing matter. He was hardly bothered by neighbors illegally watering their lawn or a stain in the carpet; Harry was working on his biggest case in years, and he had absolutely nothing—not to mention the fact that there was a dangerous Death Eater on the loose.
Everyone that knew Geraldine Bulstrode refused to talk, except Jeremy Preachwell, who seemed more than pleased to reveal everything that he knew. Sadly, his testimony was only enough to charge her with a handful of small crimes. If she spent any time at all in Azkaban, it would not be long—a few years at most—and with all the public scrutiny about the woman, he knew she had to spend a lifetime behind bars. If not, his career was on the line, as well as the safety of hundreds of underage witches and wizards.
Usually, after the number of people that he questioned, he would have simply brought in a Legilimens. When he first started his career as an Auror, her alleged crimes would have been enough to justify the use of Veritaserum, but after years of legislation, the already strict limitations on the potion had only gotten stricter. He would be allowed to use it during her trial, but without permission from the Wizengamot and several other departments, he would not be able to use it before. This left him with one option: a Legilimens. To his dismay, that was no longer an option either.
"Look, I'm sick of Humphries pulling me into the office whenever she's on one of her nasty little missions," Gianna Moretti had said, her legs lazily folded and her hands laced around one knee. "I'm a Ministry-certified Legilimens—one of only two in the country—and as you know, Wiltshire doesn't practice anymore. I need more money, Potter. I'm stretched too thin for this nonsense."
"I've put her on an indefinite leave of absence," Harry said, hoping that would be enough to satisfy the Legilimens. "Your time is too valuable to entertain her wild accusations and I made sure she understood that, just in case we do bring her back."
"Leave of absence? She deserves to be fired for what she did! Making me pry into the Minister for Magic's business..." She cracked her knuckles. "It's not a good look for me, Potter—investigating innocent people all because someone went on vacation. She didn't even talk to the woman's family! Piss-poor Auror work, if you ask me. She shouldn't even be allowed to work patrol!"
The Magical Law Enforcement Patrol was only meant to be sent in for the lowliest of crimes, and when Harry thought about it, Phoebe Humphries might actually quite like it. Instead of being harassed for taking in low-level criminals, she would be praised by her team. She would even have a quota to meet.
"Maybe not," Harry conceded, though, in the back of his mind, he was highly considering the facetiously suggested demotion. "Regardless, it's been taken care of. You can get back to your important work and I'll pay you double for the two hours she wasted. Is that fair?"
"Double! Do you have any idea how much I could make as a private contractor? I'm being grossly underpaid for all the dragon shit I have to put up with from this department and you know it. I want a raise, Potter. A real raise."
Harry rubbed his temples. "Moretti, as much as I would love to give you a raise, I just can't right now. The department is already over budget this year—"
"So fire Humphries! Problem solved!"
"Well, her leave of absence is already unpaid, and still we're going to come out over budget by about thirty-six hundred Galleons... I wish I could increase your salary, I really do, but I can't. Not this year, anyway. I'll work it into the budget for next—"
"I can't afford to wait until next year," Moretti said, getting to her feet. "I'm sorry, Potter, but if you can't make this work, then I have to quit."
Harry's jaw dropped. As she said, she was one of only two Ministry-certified Legilimens, and the other was long-retired. There was no way he could stretch his budget any further than it was already stretched, but her value far exceeded that of anyone else on his team, including himself.
"Okay, fine. I can give you an eighty Galleon raise for the year," he decided. "I'll cut my own salary to make up the difference. Just please, please don't leave."
"Eighty Galleons?" Moretti snorted. "I still could make more than triple that as a private contractor. Sorry, Potter, but it just won't do." She crossed the room to the door and stopped, which gave Harry a bit of hope. His stomach sank when all she said was, "If you need any Legilimens work, send me an owl. I'll get a quote out to you."
He fiddled with his quill. The quote Moretti sent him was quite high—far outside of his budget—but it wasn't the quote that he had a problem with. It was the timeline. Apparently, after she left, he was not the only person that needed her services, so by the time she would be able to prioritize his case, Geraldine Bulstrode's trial would be over.
Without a Legilimens and without the witnesses that he needed, there was a high possibility that the Dark witch would get away with the majority of her crimes. To his dismay, many worried parents that sent him letters of concern were all of a sudden quite uninterested in testifying, and the parents of Valeria Twinn seemed to feel the same.
Harry knocked on the wide yellow door. He was familiar with the neighborhood, though he did not know many Wizarding families that chose to live in London anymore. There were too many Muggles around, and practicing magic was more of a risk than it was worth.
He rocked on his heels, impatiently, wondering what exactly was taking so long. After almost five minutes had passed, the door swung open to reveal a sad-looking witch adorned in blue jeans and a faded pink Hawaiian shirt. Her eyes were heavily lidded, almost like she was under the influence of a rather strong potion that Harry couldn't place, and her mouth was curved downward in a sullen frown. Dark, tiny ringlets framed her face lazily, while the rest of her tight curls were wrapped in an old, dirty kerchief with cartoon chickens scattered across it. Harry couldn't help but think that Dobby might have liked the pattern for a pair of socks.
She put a hand on her hip and pushed her tongue against her inner cheek. "Potter."
"Erm—hi," Harry greeted her, awkwardly, a bit put out by her rude welcome. "Sorry, I'm looking for the parents of Valeria Twinn?"
"Speaking," she grunted.
"Oh, well, I was just wondering if I could ask you a few questions..." He tried to peek behind her, but she closed the gap between herself and the door. "If I could come in—"
"You know, I'd really prefer you didn't," she said. "Whatever you need to ask, you can ask me right here."
"Er—okay. Yeah, sure." Harry cleared his throat. "Well, Mrs. Twinn—"
"Ms. McCord," she corrected him. "I divorced that bellend ten years ago and I'd rather not talk about him, if I'm being honest."
Harry frowned, as divorce was not exactly common in the magical world. It did, however, happen on occasion, more often in marriages without pure-bloods. Perhaps, it was becoming more normalized as more mixed-blood marriages took place. Hermione was trying to divorce Ron, after all. "Sorry to bring him up again, but this matter is regarding Valeria. I received some rather disturbing news regarding her and your hus—ex-husband. Do you two have shared custody?"
Ms. McCord let out a heavy, dramatic sigh, likely to make sure Harry knew he was inconveniencing her. "Seems like this might be more than just a few questions. Suppose you might as well come in, then."
She opened the door and waved him inside the small townhouse. As he stepped over the threshold, he came to realize that the hideous yellow door was probably her home's most redeeming factor. The carpet was a gaudy puke green that was riddled with stains and burn marks, and somehow the yellowed, striped wallpaper was worse. It reeked of cat urine and cigarette smoke too. Mrs. Figg's house in Little Whinging actually smelled quite a bit better, which he didn't think was possible.
The front room seemed to be both a dining room and living room area, as it was small and had a table in one corner and a moth-bitten recliner in the other. Ms. McCord had seated herself at the wooden table, which was placed thoughtfully near the kitchen, a room that was separated only by a half-wall and a green railing that met the ceiling. There were two chairs, both of them covered in frills and lace, but somehow, they didn't seem to match at all. One was a mix of bright orange and white while the other was light blue. Judging by the full ashtray in the middle, Harry assumed her smoking habit was quite serious.
Trying his best to ignore the foul aroma of ammonia, he sat across from her and steepled his fingers. "Yes, so—your ex-husband. I received a report that he and your daughter were in the company of Geraldine Bulstrode. She's a Dark witch right here in England—apprehended recently. You've probably seen her in the papers."
With a snort, the tired-looking woman reached into her breast pocket and retrieved a pack of cigarettes—a Muggle brand Harry didn't recognize. Though, when he thought about it, he only knew magical brands to sell loose tobacco.
"Valeria told me. Can't say I was shocked," she replied, putting the filter between her lips. With a snap of her fingers, the end was lit, and Harry realized that she probably mastered that spell quite long ago. "John and Bulstrode go way back. Dated her in school."
"Did Valeria tell you why she was there?"
Ms. McCord took a long drag and shook her head, "Just something about a job—for summer. I told John no bloody way and it was never mentioned again. Figured either he listened to me for once or they told her to bugger off since she was underage."
"What kind of job?" A chubby tuxedo cat wrapped around his leg and he leaned down to pat it.
She shrugged, smoke billowing from her nostrils. "You know, my ex probably knows more about this than I do. Surprised the Ministry didn't have his address..."
Harry decided it was best not to tell her he just found Valeria's listed residence and assumed both of her parents would be there.
Ms. McCord summoned a small pad of paper—also a Muggle brand—and a ballpoint pen and scribbled something down. "Doesn't surprise me, though. He's always been a sneaky bastard..." She tore off the small sheet of paper and handed it to Harry. Flakes of cigarette ash fell onto his hand and he shook them off as discreetly as possible. "This is his house. If he's not there, he works at the Leaky as a cook. Just ask for John."
Harry had hoped the lead would give him the testimony he needed. Unfortunately, John Twinn was of no help either.
After nobody answered the door at the address Ms. McCord gave him, he decided to try the Leaky Cauldron instead. It was busy as usual, with drunks telling tall tales and the waitress cursing at them for discussing her buttocks.
Harry sat down and waited for the waitress to approach him. Finally, she sauntered over, and with a rotten-toothed grin, she cooed, "And what can I get for you today, Mr. Potter?"
"Actually," he started, lowering his voice. "I was looking for John. He's a cook here, right?"
She raised a drawn-on eyebrow. "Yes. I mean, he's in back—"
"I'd like to talk to him," Harry cut her off. "Immediately."
"I guess, I'll um—I guess I'll just go get him, then," she said, confusedly, backing away.
She wheeled around and walked past the bar. Harry could just barely see her through the serving window, and judging by her face and the raised voices he heard, he assumed his request had caused quite a commotion. After a whole lot of yelling, a hulking man with a large gut and incredibly long sideburns stormed out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on the grimy apron around his waist.
The closer he got to Harry, the larger he seemed. By the time he finally stopped by his table, Harry speculated that the man might have been half-giant, as he was nearly Hagrid's height and probably just as heavy.
"What d'ye want?"
Harry cleared his throat, fully aware of the many pairs of eyes on them. "D'you think—is there someplace we could talk?"
The man grunted and jerked his head towards the hallway he came from. Harry stood and followed him through the semidarkness until they stopped in front of a broom cupboard labeled "Employees Only". John opened the door and tried his best to fit inside, which, unfortunately, left Harry with little room. The Auror lit his wand and scooted to the left a bit in order to get the door closed. It really was quite cramped.
"Out wit' it, then."
Harry tried to make himself comfortable next to a mop, but it proved quite difficult. Nevertheless, he briefly explained why he was there, nearly parroting what he had told the man's ex-wife.
By the time he was finished, John looked perplexed more than anything. "Geraldine Bulstrode? Last I saw 'er was right 'ere 'bout six years ago, I think—maybe seven. She bought a flagon o' butterbeer an' refused to eat any o' the food I made. Thought I'd slip 'er a potion, I s'pose."
"Why would she think that?" Harry asked, a little confused by John's response, but confident he could get the truth out of him, eventually.
"'er an' I 'ad a bit of a fling, y'see—back in school..."
Harry nodded, realizing that John was not the type to come right out and confess. "Does she have a reason to think you'd still be interested in her?"
The hulking wizard snorted. "Naw. Jus' full o' 'erself. Always 'as been. I'm a married man. 'ave been since 'bout eight years ago." He flashed a silver wedding ring under the wand-light.
"I thought you were divorced," Harry said with a frown. He shifted in place, trying his best not to bump into either his witness or the mop. "Did you remarry?"
"Ye been talkin' to Siobhán, 'ave ye?" John asked, narrowing his beady, black eyes.
"Briefly," Harry admitted, hoping that that wouldn't mean the interview was over. "She didn't seem all that friendly, if I'm being honest."
John chortled. "Yeah, that's Siobhán alright. Me an' 'er divorced a long time ago. She got pregnant wit' Valeria, y'see, an' didn' have much choice but to tie the knot. She always 'ated me... Not sure that woman knows 'ow to like anything maybe 'cept smokin' an' her cats."
"You don't think she likes Valeria?"
"Well, maybe Valeria she likes," he amended. "Only reason I talk to 'er is 'cause of Valeria, really. The kid an' my new wife don't get on so good, so she mostly stays wit' 'er mum... I get 'er sometimes, though. Mostly holidays..."
Harry decided this was the best opportunity to get back to the issue at hand. He gained his trust, and maybe, he could get the information he wanted now. "When you have Valeria, what do the two of you do, then? If she doesn't like your wife?"
John sighed and studied the dark ceiling, as though he were deep in thought. "Let's see... We don't do much anymore, really. Teenagers, y'know?"
"Oh, I know. I've got two myself. But really think, John. When she's with you, what do the two of you do?"
He sighed again, this time even more heavily. "I s'pose we cook together. Wife 'ates cookin', so I do it... Been teachin' Valeria so she might make a good wife, someday. Keep 'er from marryin' some low-life bloke like meself. Erm—other'n that, we watch telly-vision... Wife's a Muggle, so she's got one in the 'ouse. Love that bloody thing. No idea why more magical folk don't 'ave one, nowadays..."
Frankly, Harry believed everything that the man was telling him, but he wasn't getting where he wanted. Perhaps, he needed to take a more straightforward approach. "John, I'm going to get to the point here. Someone saw you take your daughter to Geraldine Bulstrode's house in Cornwall. Your daughter told your ex-wife that the two of you were going there. I just want to know what exactly you were doing with a wanted criminal."
Suddenly, the air in the cupboard changed. John, who had loosened up much more than Harry thought he would, went red in the face. "I already told ye, Potter. I don' know what kind o' codswallop my ex-wife's been feedin' ye but I ain' seen Bulstrode in years. Now, if ye don't believe that, yer callin' me a liar, an' nobody calls John Twinn a liar and gets away wit' it. Got it?"
Harry was used to threats. "Well, my witness had no reason to lie, John, so—"
"Like I said, Geraldine an' I 'aven't talked since she stopped in for a drink. I don't know who your witness is, but they need to get their bloody facts straight!"
And with that, John stormed out of the broom cupboard, slamming the door behind him.
Harry decided it was time to ask Valeria Twinn herself. Because she was underage, Harry wasn't allowed to question her under recent Ministry law. However, there was a loophole. He could ask Professor McGonagall to do it for him.
Asking McGonagall for favors was not something Harry liked to do, but because of the severity of the situation, he knew she would oblige. Unfortunately, even that path led to a dead end.
I hope you are well. I have spoken with Valeria Twinn and it is apparent that she has absolutely no recollection of meeting with Geraldine Bulstrode. It is my belief that she is being honest.
With that being said, Geraldine is a powerful witch, and I would not be surprised if Valeria and her father have been obliviated. I trust you will look into this possibility.
I wish you the best of luck with your investigation.
P.S. Horace paid me a little visit near the holidays and he has been so kind to have gifted me with something that I believe may be of more help to you than it will be to me. You may not want to open the package until you are alone, though. It might bring out a bit of jealousy in your coworkers.
So, with that disappointing letter, Harry was left with a skeletal case and no Legilimens. He suddenly had a great appreciation for Muggle detectives that weren't allowed to use lie detectors in court.
The package, however, he had nearly forgotten about. It had gone untouched for two whole days.
Tucked in the bottom drawer of his desk was a small parcel wrapped in an old copy of the Daily Prophet. He had stored it there when he first got the letter, as Primpernelle, perhaps the most jealous person he knew, was sitting right across from him when the owl came. Banking on Slughorn was never a great idea, but if McGonagall said he had something good, he believed her.
He tore the paper carefully from the tiny object, as though it might have contained a bomb. To be fair, a good number of Slughorn's gifts to him were explosive, so he was not necessarily wrong to be suspicious. However, once he peeled away the final layer of newspaper, he recognized the potion at once. He had seen it only a few times in his life, the first time being with Slughorn himself.
"Felix," he whispered, holding the tiny vial up to the light. The enchanted windows were cloudier than usual, but there was still enough faux sunlight to see the beautiful, golden sheen of the liquid.
With a new sense of hope, he leaned back in his chair and uncorked the bottle. After downing its contents, he planned to visit Moretti to see if she would come back, or if she could at least prioritize his case. Strangely enough, he fell asleep instead.
He had no idea how much time passed, but it was a light knock on the door of the Auror Office that brought him back to reality. Assuming it was one of his underlings, he quickly straightened his back and called, "Yes! Come in!"
To his surprise, the intruder was not Vox or Melman announcing that Pansy Nott was still lamenting on about her father. It was not Primpernelle or Durden coming to inform him that Malfoy had left his house again. Instead, it was a petite redhead with a nervous smile. Trembling, she stepped inside the otherwise empty office and waved an envelope.
She nodded and held out the envelope, which appeared to have been opened already. "I was checking the Minister's mail and I found this. It seemed important."
"Well, she can't do any Ministry business until she's out..." Harry trailed off, pulling out the letter inside. "I'll get it to her as soon as she's allowed, though. Thank you."
Madelyn furrowed her brow. "This i-isn't for the Minister, s-sir. Well, it's addressed to her, b-but if you'd just read it... I think—I think it might help you."
Frowning, Harry read the letter, even though it was probably a great invasion of Hermione's privacy. Wide-eyed, he looked up at Madelyn and asked, "Is this—is this real? This was sent to her today?"
"I-I think so. She and the Russian M-Minister are somewhat close..."
If it wouldn't have been wildly unprofessional, Harry would have hugged her. Liquid Luck, it seemed, had come through for him again.
The scent of lavender filled Neville Longbottom's nostrils. After a long evening of nursing his wife, Hannah, out of one of her drunken stupors, he was glad to be back in the greenhouse. Only a select few students had found their seats, some of them hurriedly reading the chapters that he had assigned.
While Neville was hardly the strictest professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he had gotten over his fear of being disliked. Professor Sprout, who he greatly looked up to, advised him "not to let them push the old buttons", and though most of his students seemed to like him, he took that advice to heart. He had no problem addressing their shortcomings, and he was not afraid of docking house points when needed. Slytherin House, to his disapproval, had given him the nickname "Professor Tightbottom" for this very reason.
Gryffindor students, as per usual, were all seated not long after the first bell. Neville suspected they liked him more because of his house and war hero status, as he often impressed them by simply flashing his coin from Dumbledore's Army. The Slytherins, however, would wait until the last minute; a handful of them were even likely to saunter in after the second bell. He knew Herbology was not the most fascinating subject for some, but he had a feeling that wasn't why most of Slytherin House had a problem with him.
Fortunately, he did not have much time to reflect on house rivalries, as he needed to prepare for class. To his glee, the squill bulbs he had prepared were perfectly healthy, and he only hoped they would stay that way once his less gifted students got their hands on them. Just as he poked the final, fat bulb, the second bell rang and the pre-class chatter dwindled into silence. A few stragglers, all Slytherins like usual, slunk into the greenhouse and plopped onto their stools.
Deciding it was best not to get off to a bad start, he let them get away with it. With his hands cuffed behind his back, he wheeled around and brightly sang, "Good morning! Beautiful day to do some planting, don't you think?"
Some of his Gryffindor students happily sang back, but the Slytherin side of the glass room offered only bored grumbles and silence. The reaction was expected, though usually, at least two members of Slytherin House would have been more polite. Perhaps, they were having a bad day.
"Today, we're going to be working with squill bulbs. Now, the unique thing about squill is that it's also used in the Muggle world, particularly for cough medicine. We, on the other hand, use it for what?"
A select few hands raised and Neville pointed at a freckled girl with vibrant pink hair. He was seeing more of that lately, though he didn't particularly like it; he could never remember students because their hair color was constantly changing. According to his wife, Madam Primpernelle's began stocking hair dye that changed with the wearer's mood.
"Felix Felicis," she answered.
Neville nodded. "That's right. Now, we aren't making Felix Felicis, of course, but Professor Widdle will be working on a batch, so we want happy, healthy squill for him to use. Now, not to step on Professor Widdle's toes, but if you ask me, Liquid Luck is a pretty impressive use of good herbs!"
A few murmurs suggested the class wasn't as impressed as he hoped they would be.
"Alright, well, there are only so many bulbs, so I'll need you to pair up..." Neville said, somberly. The class started moving around and he nodded. "Yes, that's right. Groups of two, everyone!"
As the bustle continued, a hand slowly went into the air.
"Yes, what is it, Potter?"
Albus Potter drew in a shaky breath, his eyes darting to a chortling girl called Romelia Goyle. "My—my partner isn't here."
Neville frowned. Sure enough, Scorpius Malfoy was not where he was meant to be. While that explained the lackluster morning greeting, it only left him with another mystery. "Does anyone know where Malfoy might be? Any news of him going to the hospital wing?"
"Nobody knows where that prat is," Romelia Goyle spat, crossing her arms. By her side was a smirking blonde girl whose name Neville could never quite remember.
"Last we saw him was in the Great Hall," the blonde girl quipped. "He put a toad in Romelia's hair then stomped off. Likely trying to avoid detention, the git."
"He doesn't even stay in the Slytherin dorms anymore," Romelia added, "or visit the common room for that matter."
"Yeah, he shares a private dorm with me..." Albus trailed off. "He never returned last night. I thought maybe he—I dunno. I thought maybe he was out late at the library or something..."
Neville drew his brows together. "He didn't make curfew?"
Albus looked uncomfortable, clearly not wanting to get his friend in any trouble. "Well, no—"
That was not a good sign. "Okay, erm—well, group of three, then—or work by yourself. It's up to you." Neville addressed the class quickly, realizing that time was of the essence. "Grab your bulbs from the north wall—they're labeled—and then plant them in some of the pots I've lain out beside them. Five to eight centimeters deep—no more, no less! I have to go have a chat with someone. If I find out that any of you have been lollygagging while I was gone, fifteen points from your houses. Understand?"
They all mumbled in agreement and started collecting their bulbs. Anxious, Neville left the greenhouse and hurried to Professor McGonagall's office.
Harry had been spending far too much time in Azkaban lately. It had been nearly twelve hours since he ingested the serving of Felix Felicis, and while it had been a wonderful twelve hours, he felt the warmth of the liquid starting to leave his veins. He quietly wished to himself that McGonagall had sent him two vials, because if he could use Liquid Luck anywhere, Azkaban was the place.
"I'm here to see Hermione Granger," Harry informed Vikram.
The guard nodded and led him down many winding corridors, all dimly lit as they always were. Apparently, Harry's luck had not quite run out, because he did not hear any screams or feel a single droplet of water in his hair as they crossed the dozens of intersecting hallways—an impressive feat that he had never managed before. Finally, they stopped. Still, he felt no drips of water.
Frazzled by the name, he gave Vikram a confused glance, but the guard did not offer an explanation. Instead, he continued to lead the way down the long, dark hall. Again, they stopped, and he gestured a nearby cell.
"You'll see you aren't her only visitor," Vikram said, grinning.
Harry was unsurprised to see a platinum blond wizard sitting cross-legged on the floor. There was a book in his lap that he seemed to be reading, though the pained expression on his face suggested that he wasn't enjoying it.
"I've got it from here."
Vikram slunk away, leaving Harry to tread towards the best friend that he had locked up. Of course, he did what he had to do, but he still felt a pang of guilt whenever he thought about it.
The sound of Harry's footsteps must have alerted Malfoy, because he looked up, fury in his notoriously grey eyes.
"What are you doing here, Potter?"
Harry noticed that Hermione was sleeping on the floor, close enough to reach out and touch Malfoy's knee. His eyes trailed towards the book in the wizard's hands, and it occurred to him that Malfoy was not enjoying the story at all—that was because it wasn't a book of his choice. The man he once found so foul was reading to his best friend, comforting her in a way that he might have comforted her if their roles were reversed. Suddenly, he felt like he was interrupting something quite intimate.
"I need to talk to Hermione," Harry said, though he knew this would not sit well with his childhood nemesis.
"About what?" It came out as a growl.
Swallowing his pride was not an easy thing to do, but Harry knew he had to tell him the truth. The last bit of Liquid Luck urged him to do so. "I-I need her help."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes, removing Hermione's hand from his leg. She stirred a bit in her sleep, but did not wake.
"You want her to help you? After you tossed her in Azkaban?" he scoffed. "You're even more of a prat than I thought, Potter. Perhaps congratulations are in order for such an impossible accomplishment."
"I'm serious, Malfoy." The Felix Felicis pushed him to tell the man everything. Hopefully, the potion knew what it was doing. "This is important. Bulstrode—the case isn't going well. Nobody is willing to testify and the only people I think would be of help seem to have been obliviated. I lost my only Legilimens and I've been backed into a corner, which isn't good considering Iadeth Travers is still at large and that needs to be my primary focus. Fortunately, I've been given a bit of a break, though. The Russian Minister for Magic had another witness return to Russia—someone that fled the scene. No idea why my only real witness didn't sell her out, but no matter the reason, she's willing to talk. She's Petrov's daughter, so she likely knows quite a lot."
"And how exactly is Hermione involved?" Malfoy asked, a tinge of curiosity in his tone.
"Well, that's the thing. The Minister will only talk to her. Apparently, they, er—have some sort of friendship? I dunno the details but he said he'll talk to no one else. I think he wants to negotiate the witness's freedom in exchange for her testimony. If that's the case, I'm willing to give her immunity."
"And what does Hermione get out of this?"
"We'll be putting away one of the most dangerous witches of the modern era—" Harry said, feeling much less warm than he had just a moment before.
"Oh, don't start with that nonsense," Malfoy said, getting to his feet. He scowled and wiped the dust from his robes. "She'd do this for the 'greater good' and what have you, but you know that's not a fair trade-off. If she's going to unravel this whole mess you've made of this case, then she better be getting something in return—of equal value."
"I think that's a conversation I need to have with Hermione," Harry replied, sternly, but not confidently. After all, he was suddenly very cold.
Malfoy glared at him. "Well, Hermione's not awake now, is she?"
"You said she could be freed until her trial if there were extenuating circumstances, yes? I would say this qualifies."
Never in his life did he think he would see Malfoy using his old schemes to negotiate Hermione Granger's freedom. He also never thought it would annoy him.
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