Most of this chapter was written and/or edited at 6AM after about 20 hours without sleep.
ON WITH THE STORY
The Warden and his friends got home to find their house trashed and all the most important guests missing. A lot of people are worried about this, so he sends some Aurors to go find them. Ed and Doe's mistakes finally catch up with them and they get fired, but even when you're unemployed there's still work to be done. Finally, Alastor Moody needs to work on his Constant Vigilance because he just got conned out of retirement, not that he minds overly much.
Croaker was beginning to regret ever taking up leadership of the Unspeakables. Sure, there was the power and knowledge associated with running a government-funded black ops R&D program, but the bureaucracy was a nightmare and a half. Faking requisition forms to cover for expenses they couldn't admit to spending, filing paperwork to try to explain why half a township had vanished, and worst of all…
"Are you even listening to me?"
Dealing with the Undersecretary.
Delores Umbridge crossed her pudgy, jewelry-clad arms as she glared in what she probably believed was a very intimidating fashion. In reality, she looked more like a bullfrog that had begun to choke on its latest meal but hadn't quite gotten around to doing anything about it. He sighed.
"As I have told you multiple times," he droned, "The employees in question were terminated immediately following their breach of protocol. We have had no contact with them since then, and I have already provided you with the paperwork involved." His hands were folded in front of him, but the left one kept twitching towards his firewhiskey drawer, the traitor. The only thing stopping him from following through on the impulse was the intense desire to get the deplorable woman out of his office first.
"Will have to wait for the Aurors to do their job," he cut her off. "This matter is out of my department's hands. The individuals in question have been fired. They are no longer fulfilling nor being assigned any tasks relating to the work of the Department. They are certainly receiving no aid from the Department. That will be all."
John Doe walked up to the café table where Edward Elric was already sitting and rifling through the massive stack of files Croaker had given them to aid in fulfilling the task they had been assigned shortly after their fake firing.
"So," John began, pulling out a chair, "What do you have?"
Elric scowled up from his seat, flipping through a sheaf of papers.
"Nothing really. Just a bunch of profiles on a bunch of criminals. Murderers, terrorists, repeated felonies. The usual set of nutjobs, but nothing that really stands out, if you don't count a common thread of obvious psychosis."
Sitting down, John took a long sip of his coffee before dragging half the stack over to his side of the table.
"Well, we can start by sorting out any known Death Eaters. If we're working off of the assumption that this was all inspired, planned, or carried out by our missing Horcrux—and given the job that came with these files I'd say it's a good bet—then any Inner Circle members would be our priority targets. After that, Death Eaters in descending order of importance, then the same for all of the non-terrorist jailbirds."
The alchemist eyed the stack John set aside dubiously.
"So, we just have to track down one of a dozen of the most infamous terrorists in the country. Who may or may not be traveling together, but probably are, because when have things ever worked out in our favor?"
John gave a helpless shrug.
"Well, we have a few things to work with. Firstly," he gestured to the large stack of files, "The vast majority of the more dangerous individuals are suffering from what years of Dementor exposure and malnutrition do to a body, so as long as we catch up to them in the next few months they'll still be recovering."
He grabbed almost all of the papers in the pile and set them aside.
"That means they have a place to be recovering at, likely the same location our Horcrux is hiding. Our second group is the ones who haven't been imprisoned long enough to need intensive care," he spread out the remaining six files. "We'll say one year to be generous. Among these are three smugglers, a septuple homicide, a curse dealer, and…" he squinted at the last dossier before sighing, "…and a street mime."
Across the table, Elric cocked a single eyebrow, taking a long sip from a concoction almost definitely potent enough to stop a man's heart, if the looks the cashier kept sending them were any indication.
"It's a serious problem," John defended, crossing his arms. "They're almost as bad as hags, only they tend to be less blatant about the child-eating. The Ministry tries to keep them confined to Knockturn but every so often one escapes into the Muggle side and it's always a mess."
His partner nearly choked on the rest of his drink. John seized the moment of near-suffocation to transition seamlessly back to strategic planning.
"Our list of hiding places is fairly short to begin with, given the kind of resources it would take to house and care for over a hundred intensive care patients, especially given their former occupations. We're talking a couple dozen. Unfortunately, we can't just go knocking on doors while we're still wanted men, so if we bring anything to Croaker it needs to have some weight behind it.
"While most of our targets are out of reach, these six are most likely running loose, and with any luck we can catch one before they grow some sense and go to ground. Hopefully we can get some names, accomplices, maybe even a line of communication. I can put out some feelers with a few of my old contacts…"
The smugglers were the easiest to find. All three had apparently teamed up to visit a warehouse containing a large number of unshipped illicit goods. None of them had taken much care to hide their tracks, and one had even boasted to his buyers about the big haul he was expecting to deliver soon. Those same dealers had been extremely cooperative when faced with a pair of Unspeakables possessing very little in the way of patience or pity. It took barely a week to follow the trio to an abandoned warehouse in Portsmouth.
John rolled through the wreckage of the front door, wand up and aiming before the splinters had even hit the ground. Elric was right behind him, for once the very picture of smooth efficiency. They both stopped cold at the scene in front of them.
"So…" his partner trailed off uncertainly. "I want to say that that one," he indicated the headless corpse sprawled in front of them, cranium splattered a good fifteen feet away, "Got backstabbed by the other two after he led them here."
John grimaced and nodded, casting a Bubblehead charm to mask the smell.
"Then the other two decided to take it to the logical conclusion and backstab each other," the alchemist continued, gesturing to the second corpse, which showed signs of severe curse damage.
"The part I'm not so sure about," he went on, "was what happened to crispy over there," he finished, pointing at the last body, which indeed appeared to have the texture and color of charcoal. It was otherwise untouched, kneeling by a pristine set of unmarked crates no doubt filled with illegal goods.
John walked closer, wand flicking through a suite of detection spells. Ten feet away from the charred remains, he got his answer.
"The cargo's all cursed," he concluded, putting some extra space between himself and the trapped boxes. "Corpse Number One must have had some insurance in place."
"For all the good that did him."
"For all the good that did him," John agreed. "I can send an unauthorized Portkey to the Ministry, and the Aurors can trace the trail back to here. We need to get moving. We're down half our targets and the others aren't going to be so easy."
John's contacts in Knockturn gave them a lead on their next target.
"All curse dealers have a style," John explained, turning a ring over in gloved hands. "This one worked with small jewelry and tended towards mental deterioration." He flipped the ring like a coin before stowing it in a warded pouch.
"She's already started to crank out new merchandise, which means all we need to do is find a fence who can put us in direct contact."
Pride strolled into the shady pawnshop like he owned the shop. The candles shivered and danced, shadows twisting unnaturally in the corners. The owner quickly appeared at the counter.
"And how may I help you today?" he asked, rubbing his hands together in the manner of a man who was about to make a good deal of money. Or one who hoped to, at least. Shadows stretched from below the counter, slamming the hapless wizard face-first onto the surface and pinning him there, arms trapped by his sides.
"I'm looking to purchase information," the shadows whispered, eyes blinking open from the many shaded corners. "A certain dealer of cursed items that I believe you know well. In exchange, money." A white-gloved hand began stacking coins inches from the man's wide eyes. Those eyes became significantly wider as the shadows tightened their hold.
"And the unique opportunity to keep all of your limbs attached to your body."
A quick trick of Alchemy silently unlocked the front door of an otherwise nondescript townhouse. Edward and John burst inside, covering the first floor in seconds. After indicating the next course of action with a few whispered words and sharp gestures, John rushed up the stairs while Elric took the basement. Just as he had finished searching the bedroom an unearthly shriek came from below. He threw himself back down the stairs, clearing the basement flight in two jumps before leveling his wand at the figure standing before him.
Elric shuffled sheepishly to one side while the former curse dealer's body twitched spasmodically. The rings, amulets, and miscellaneous jewelry from the workbench she'd been thrown into finished clattering to the floor. A coin spun to a stop by John's boot, fell to its side, and began industriously eating its way into the floor.
The alchemist raised his hands.
"Look, in my defense I didn't think that pile was cursed. Why would anybody even leave that many live weapons just lying in a pile?" He gestured to the body, which had stopped moving but was now beginning to glow, and emitting an alarming amount of smoke.
"Well, I'd tell you to ask her, but we kind of missed that opportunity, didn't we?" John was not feeling charitable. "That was lead number four. Do you know how many favors I spent getting her fence's name? Why didn't you just take her down quietly?"
Elric suddenly found the floor very interesting.
"…she called me short."
John couldn't stop the noise of disgust he made.
"Fine. This is fine, we just need to catch the next one, alive. Now let's get out of here before the building explodes." As if to emphasize his point, the body burst into cheerful magenta flames with a pop, throwing off gobbets of fire that began rapidly spreading wherever they landed.
They targeted the serial killer next. He hadn't made much of an attempt to hide, instead jumping right back into his favorite pastime. After the second corpse turned up in Knockturn wearing its own entrails as a necktie Ed suggested a strategy to track down the murderer.
"Look, he's clearly got a type," Ed explained, gesturing to the crime scene photos Doe had taken while heavily disguised. Also pinned to the wall were several poorly-drawn sketches, a map of London's subway system, and a Chinese takeout menu. "The guy goes after high-class male prostitutes, usually with the same general height, weight, hair color, and dental record. I'd say he disguises himself, lures them away from the safer streets near the end of their shifts when nobody's paying attention, then transports them to a kill site. He does the deed, sets the corpse up, then drops it somewhere else the next day."
"Putting aside your disturbingly detailed knowledge of a serial killer's MO," Doe said, "Your suggestion is that we locate and follow a potential victim until our target shows himself?"
Ed grinned as he replied.
"A little more direct than that."
"For the record," Doe muttered, tugging at his uncomfortably tight shirt, "I hate this idea."
"Too bad,", the voice in his ear said, "We're vigilantes on the run from the law, there is no record. It was my idea, so you get to be the bait."
"That's not even how that's supposed to work," he said indignantly, once again trying and failing to adjust his disguise. It had only been an hour and he already felt a deep and anxious need to take a long, long shower. "When this is all over we're going to have a conversation about what exactly seniority is supposed to mean in working partnerships."
"Holy—Doe, you might want to get off the street."
"What are you…" John trailed off as spellfire flashed from an alleyway a block down. A truly massive figure stumbled out of the opening, followed by three Aurors. The weight of Portkey and Apparition wards settled across his shoulders, and four more red-robed individuals dropped from the surrounding rooftops to join the fight. Moments later, the man—their target, now that John looked closer—was flat on his face, arms bound and hexed senseless. John might still have stuck around, if the leader of the group hadn't turned just so, providing a glimpse of the insignia on his robes in the dim streetlight. The Unspeakable took just enough time to cast a well-practiced tracking spell, then made a hasty retreat.
"Take it easy, walk away that fast from an arrest and they'll stop you on principle. What's the matter?"
"Later," he murmured. "For now, we need to get away from here."
Then the wards came down, and moments later both Unspeakables were gone without a trace.
"So," Ed clapped his hands, leaning forward in his chair. "Mind explaining why we aren't screwed right now? Because the way I see it, we've lost five leads, and the way things are going I'm not too optimistic about Number Six."
Doe shook his head. "We aren't going after the mime. I don't feel like playing charades with a psychotic clown, and we have a better lead."
"The Aurors?" Ed asked.
"The Aurors," Doe confirmed.
"I thought that Aurors were, you know…" Ed trailed off, waving his hands as he struggled to convey the concepts of 'useless', 'morons', and 'hopelessly corrupt' in a single concise phrase.
"Luckily for us, there are exceptions to the rule." Doe looked downright grim as he pulled a specific page from the set of files Fleming had given them. "Somebody let the Azkaban guard off their leash. Scrimgeour's apparently ordered them all on the island, but there's about half a squad on the loose."
"And these ones are different because…?"
"Azkaban's where the competent Aurors get sent. Malfoy and his cronies don't like it when the DMLE gets too good at their jobs, so they arrange for dead-end transfers for any up-and-comers who can't take a bribe, and any Aurors from the war who made the mistake of standing out. We're dealing with seven of the best trained wands in law enforcement."
"Well. That's… encouraging. I feel obligated to mention that we are still technically wanted fugitives. Why do we want to go anywhere near them?"
"Because they're looking for the Death Eaters too. Because they're going to get answers out of our stab-happy friend, and when they do, we are going to follow them." Doe leaned back in his seat, a satisfied smile crossing his face.
Edward's hopes rose.
"Wait, does that mean-"
"That we don't have to waste our time running around chasing dead ends and deader bodies?" Doe's smile broadened. "That would be correct. All we need to do is wait for these goons to do it for us."
Sirius Black was not having a good day. Usually, when somebody isn't having a good day, it is because they are experiencing a trouble that was outside the norm. A hardship that has stood out particularly clearly among the backdrop of the day-to-day
When one took the time to consider that he had spent the last twelve or so years in a windowless cell on a barren rock in the middle of the North Sea, surrounded by the worst magical criminals in England and literal soul-sucking demons, this statement 'not having a good day' begins to gather considerable weight.
Sirius Black was not having a good day, and it all started when he realized that: A: There were still multiple months until Hogwarts was back in session, and B: He didn't have the first clue where the Weasleys lived when not at Hogwarts. This was further compounded by the fact that C: Somebody in the Ministry had grown a pair of brain cells and involved the Muggle side in the manhunt.
He bolted out of the convenience store, the fallout of his third revelation fresh on his heels in the form of a very loud telephone call to whatever passed for law enforcement in a hamlet this small. At the nearest opportunity, he shifted back into Padfoot and began loping easily down the street, wary of cars, sheep, and cats. He hated spending so much time as a dog, given how he'd passed the last dozen years, and the Sunday paper had just blown his first opportunity for real live people food.
He hadn't intended on paying, money was a bit tight when one owned only a set of loose-fitting garments stolen off a laundry line, but the police call was supposed to come after he made a getaway, and any hypothetical phone call certainly wasn't supposed to include his name.
This was going to get back to the DMLE, and now he'd have to spend the next three weeks dodging Auror patrols. While avoiding anybody who might have looked at a paper. For the next nine weeks.
His train of thought was harshly interrupted as a small group of red-coated men and women walked past him in the opposite direction. It may have been years since he'd been on the force, but Sirius knew the standard Auror getup on sight.
It was time to disappear again. The middle of nowhere was a bad hiding place—everyone and their grandma knew each other's names. If he wanted to get properly lost, he needed to head to a city.
It was about time to see whether any of his dead drops in London had survived from the war.
Harry was cooking breakfast when somebody knocked on the door. This was unusual, primarily in that the Dursleys never received any guests this early, and certainly not without a period of panic from Aunt Petunia. Also, there was a perfectly serviceable doorbell, which all of the neighbors knew to use when they (very rarely) came calling. As Uncle Vernon monologued to himself on the declining quality of the criminal penitentiary system, Harry vaguely overheard Aunt Petunia telling Dudley to go answer the door, as everyone else was either busy or Aunt Petunia. After much whining, Dudley complied.
The last time somebody had knocked on the door unannounced, Harry had gotten a birthday cake, and Dudley a pig tail. Needless to say, this experience had indelibly imprinted unannounced door-knocking into both boys' memories, if for entirely different reasons.
It was for this reason that Dudley may have dragged his feet going to the front door. It was also why, upon finding a group of intimidatingly robed individuals on the other side, he shrieked and bolted up the stairs, presumably to hide under his sheets.
Harry had, at this point, moved the food to its serving platters and was wielding the still-hot skillet with the deft grip of a thirteen-year-old who was almost entirely sure a hot piece of heavy metal was a dangerous weapon no matter who was holding it. Aunt Petunia had jumped to her feet, presumably to find out what had startled her precious son so badly. She stopped, and went completely pale as Uncle Vernon turned puce, presumably due to the presence of a number of witches and wizards now standing in their kitchen.
The man in front, a tall, neatly-groomed wizard with a look in his eye Harry could almost place, stepped forward and extended his hand.
"Harry Potter?" he asked.
Harry nodded dumbly, lowering the still-sizzling frying pan to take the extended handshake. The man smiled grimly.
"I'm Rufus Scrimgeour, head of the Auror department. I'm afraid that you're in a bit of danger at the moment."
Aaaaand done. Now for another nine months of radio silence.
Just kidding. I hope. Seriously, I appreciate the amount of my bullshit you guys put up with, and the fact that apparently people still think this thing gets updated, given that I'm getting followers still.
Surprise! You're stuck with me forever!
Or at least til I finish this monstrosity.