A/N I: Thanks goes to LiterallyLiterary for Beta-Reading. You're awesome! HP = JKR.
Music: Recondite - Levo
"The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim." – Sun Tzu
12 Work Ethics
Hermione found herself in the middle of a class lecture at Hogwarts staring at the teacher's back who was writing on the blackboard.
"Turn to page 69," the unfamiliar professor said, to which a book that was not there before appeared in front of her.
"Miss Granger, could you tell me what the author tried to convey in paragraph seven?"
"I- a second," she answered, browsing erratically through the book without success, blinking several times at the folios in disbelief of the absent page.
"Miss Granger? Page 69, paragraph seven?"
"There is no page 69 in my book!"
Someone giggled behind her back.
"Hermione." The professor's voice was suddenly very near. He stood beside her, flipping the pages. Why was he calling her by her first name? "Here," he said and pointed his finger at paragraph seven of page 69.
"I swear it wasn't there a moment before." Tears rose in her eyes.
Embarrassed, she stared at the page, trying to read the paragraph but the letters made no sense. How could they make no sense? She could read since she was five! A tear fell down the page out of anger about her sudden incapability.
"At least describe us what is going on in this illustration."
"Sir?" she asked and looked up, now recognising the face of Lucius.
"The illustration!" Lucius repeated impatiently.
Completely bedlam, Hermione followed the professor's prompting by focusing on the illustration of - what she now realised - two naked bodies intertwined in passion, their heads buried between one another's legs, driven by their fierce lust for each other.
"Hermione," Lucius whispered into her ear, "how very, very naughty."
She broke into perspiration.
"I'm… I'd ne-"
TAP DING TAP
His finger slid along her wrist. "Could you explain why you have such filthy dreams?"
Hermione gasped for air and fell from her bed onto the hard, cold floor; the doorbell rang aggressively; Crookshanks, who had been sleeping beside her feet, hissed and jumped under the bed.
Confused and annoyed, she got up and stomped to the door.
"Oui?" she croaked into the intercom and received a beat at the door in return. Hermione opened the door a tiny crack.
"Late, again!" Lucius barked in an ear-piercing voice.
"What?" Hermione stumbled back as he pushed the door wide open to force his way in.
"What is wrong with the youth nowadays?" Lucius complained while taking off his gloves.
"I'm not late! It's not even two o'clock!" Hermione said angrily, checking the clock at the wall just to be sure. She waved her hand through her entry door to check if her security spells were still working. A man in a dark Muggle suit stood outside, looking as if he was guarding the staircase. "How did you manage to get in and who is that man outside?"
"The blood pact, my driver - didn't you receive my short messages?"
"I don't bring my phone into my home." She shut the door and murmured doubtfully, "Hah…driver."
Lucius scrutinising look roamed over her flat before landing on her, paused long enough for her to remember her dream from before. She shirked from his look, dying a little inside. Now that he was already in her home, she could hardly throw him out, but that did not mean she was fine with it.
"Get dressed into something smart, your expertise as… specialist of magical artefacts is needed," Lucius said and turned his back to her, drawing his attention to the study wall. "What did you find out?"
"Heavens, I just woke up. Give me a second. The findings are in the file on the table," Hermione murmured, grabbed some clothes from her wardrobe and went to the bathroom.
"But surely, this can't be all!" Hermione heard Lucius yell from out of the kitchen.
"Which is why I want to do an arcane analysis of the curse on the subject – which is you," she yelled back.
"Yes, you," Hermione repeated as she rushed out.
Lucius cocked his eyebrow. "I said smart."
Hermione narrowed her eyes. "You could at least tell me why you need me."
"Potential procurement of art. I want you to check if any pieces are bewitched."
"And for that you need me look smart?"
"Because I want you to look smart, not like a secretary. Are you a secretary?"
Hermione already opened her mouth for a snub, huffed instead and rushed back to her bedroom.
"Satisfied?" She asked, now wearing a blue etui dress that would have been more suitable for a vernissage.
Lucius nodded and scanned her apartment once more, pausing at the sight of the blackboard before walking out.
"The arcane analysis-" Hermione began as they were in the car.
"Just to clear out any misunderstandings," Hermione said sharply, "this examination is not negotiable. You want to get rid of the curse and the analysis will take us one step nearer to this goal."
"I find it hard to believe that you should find out more than my healers. I don't want anyone without qualifications as a healer to meddle with my body."
"You've put your faith into my hands exactly because no one else managed to help you. I'm the expert, you're the subject. Your feelings have no say in this."
The two glared at one another.
"You-" Lucius began, to which Hermione gritted her teeth. "Fine."
They spent almost the whole day in a rugged palace nestled on a hill. The place spoke of a glorious past full of sparkling parties and elegant people who thought the world would always stay the same for them. But it did not. Every single item in the palace had been carefully labelled, stacked on tables or displayed in vitrines ready to be sold off to the highest bidders.
To Hermione's mild disappointment, she could not detect any bewitched items. She would have gladly confiscated anything Lucius would have liked to buy just to peeve him. Instead, she had to endure verbose conversations about collections and collectors and the wrongfulness of inheritance tax.
Hermione got caught by the sight of a book she would have liked to read and barely noticed when Lucius came back to fetch her.
"This is an original print of The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts from 1898," Hermione explained as she opened it, wearing white gloves to protect the paper from further harm.
His arm brushed hers and her dream from this morning returned to mind, igniting a tingling in her stomach.
"What's your fascination with that esoteric Muggle mumbo-jumbo?" Lucius asked.
"It's just fascinating to study magic from a Muggle's perspective. Many legends in Muggle mythology have more than a grain of truth in them. I always wondered if some of their secret doctrines and cabalistic theories could bring us further to the origin of magic, to its essence. What if any of this stuff actually works? Just imagine, Muggles would be able to curse people like you and me."
Lucius laughed. "Let's move on; there's a faded Caravaggio in the drawing room. You're quite eccentric, you know…"
"Like you?" Hermione asked as they moved on and thought of taking some days off and find better men to spend company with.
Harry sat in the middle of vault 237 in front of a narrow, plain desk. His hands were behind in his neck, trying to remember details of the unpleasant conversation he had with Hermione before resuming typing the report.
She looked exhausted the day they visited Severus Snape's grave as she tended to the flowers and freed the tombstone from moss that grew its way up along the edges. Wanting to ask her what was on her mind, Harry had invited her to his place for a drink.
"I have to ask you for a favour. You see..." she began calmly and Harry could not shake off the feeling that she had been practising her speech.
He would have liked nothing more than to throw Lucius into Azkaban after she had finished. "And take me with him? I'm the one responsible for this mess in the first place."
It was a good point, Harry had to admit, but he did not want to give in so easily. However, he had to concede after she made a convincing case. "…. Look at the bigger picture. Don't you want to catch the remaining Death Eaters and find out who's behind the curse? Imagine if the culprit curses someone else or passes on his or her knowledge about it."
Inevitably the motto of Gellert Grindelwald "For the greater good" came to Harry's mind as he had listened to her.
The screech of a cart passing by shred the silence apart. Harry pulled the paper from the typewriter and placed it into a folder which he stamped as strictly confidential before storing it in one of the many file cabinets.
As long he remained Head of the Auror Office Hermione's secret was safe.
"Merlin, what am I doing?" He asked himself suddenly, took the folder out again and lit it on fire with his wand. Maybe that was how these cabinets got filled: in the attempt to protect the loved ones.
The first time Harry entered vault 237, he had found a full bottle of Firewhisky - presumably a gift from his predecessor. And as he went through the files, he understood why; Getting re-acquainted with the gaping abyss of politics, feeling it pulling him into it, crushing his opinions on people he respected and people he despised, was not exactly a light fare. But this was now Harry's reality and the only thing he could do in his position was to set a better example.
Harry let his fingers glide over the neatly ordered files. He pulled out the file he was searching for and began to read.
2nd November 1981
On the 1st November 1981, at 04.13 a.m. Lucius Malfoy (L.M.) handed himself in to the Auror Office. L.M. confessed being part of the illicit terrorist organisation "Death Eaters" against his will. Moreover, he claimed to have acted under the influence of the Imperius Curse of You-Know-Who, which had been lifted some hours before at his presumed death. Furthermore, L.M. claimed to have been forced to take an Unbreakable Vow by You-Know-Who, thus, precluding the usage of Veritaserum.
Priori Incantato provided limited proof of L.M. statement, since he was not in possession of his registered wand. In lieu thereof, L.M. uses Armand's Wand, 18", elm, dragon heartstring, former wand of Abraxas Malfoy (A.M.). The inspection of the Malfoy family tree has been arranged in order to determine whether a full power transition from A.M. to L.M has taken place or not.
A side note said: Possible attempt of You-Know-Who to seize their assets to fund the coup d'état?
Was it? Harry thought doubtfully.
After the initial shock of Hermione's revelation, he had asked Barty Crouch's portrait for advice. Crouch had been the one in charge of the Death Eater cases During the first Wizarding War. Apart from the information and advice he had provided, he also revealed to Harry the existence of an important piece of paper and a memory, which were both hidden in his old home.
Harry stared at the vial at the bottom of the drawer which contained the memory. This and the paper he found with were the reasons why Lucius had been declared innocent after the First Wizarding War.
As the memory swirled restlessly in the vial, the mist only held back by a cork, Harry felt tempted to watch it once more. He sighed and shut the cabinet, stared at the scar on his hand. It's not lying if I say nothing at all.
Harry packed his things together and left Gringotts. There was an official, nonofficial interrogation in his office at the Ministry in half an hour and did not want Hermione to deal with it on her own.
Harry leaned against the wall with his arms folded as Hermione placed one photo after the other upside down on the table. In front of her sat Madam Fawley who glared at Hermione but conceded to hear her out in the presence of the Head of the Auror Office.
Madam Fawley's physics reminded Harry of a posh version of Aunt Petunia, but with magical skills. He hoped that this was where the similarity ended. It was already hard enough that those Wizengamot members who only sat in the council because of their heritage had a very fine conceit on themselves. If they were suffering from any self-doubt, they would not show it.
"Dear, I believe it's time for you to disclose the nature of our meeting," the older woman said in a sickly-sweet voice that made Harry want to puke.
Hermione nodded. She turned around the first picture. "Do you know what those are?"
Madam Fawley shrugged as her eyes flicked over the photo without moving her head. "Books."
"Indeed," Hermione said calmly, not letting herself get worked up over a sarcastic response. "Do you recognise them?"
"No, I don't." She pressed her lips together.
"Are you sure?"
Hermione revealed the second photo, showing a magnification from a marginal note in, what they all knew was, Madam Fawley's very own handwriting.
"What sort of silly game is this, Miss Granger?" she said, suddenly in a sibilant voice, all trace of shammed friendliness gone. "Is this an interrogation?!"
"It depends on you, Madam Fawley, if this meeting leads to an official interrogation," Hermione replied and turned over another set of photos. One depicted a dead man lying on a marble floor. The others showed several young women and children who were evidently victims of severe physical abuse.
Madam Fawley stifled a gasp with her hands.
"My colleagues," Hermione explained, "found your books in the house of this Muggle." She pointed at the dead man. "He ran an occult satanic sect. Those women and children were victims of his abuse. They didn't just beat them. They were tortured for weeks and raped repeat–"
"I didn't sell my books to a Muggle, by Merlin's beard," Madam Fawley said indignantly.
"To whom did you sell them then?"
"Fletcher. Mundungus Fletcher." She chewed on her lips, leaving lipstick on her teeth.
"Why to him and not to some wealthy wizard?"
Madam Fawley folded her arms. "I may sell things to anyone I want without a particular reason. This isn't illegal as long as I don't break the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy."
Hermione leaned back into the chair and crossed her legs.
"You are aware of the newly installed anti-bank secrecy decree from last year? The one which gives special forces the right to search vaults if enough circumstantial evidence is provided that an individual has acquired his or her wealth by illegal means during the war?" Hermione asked.
Madam Fawley straightened her golden wristwatch. "What a silly question. Of course I know, but what does this have to do with me?"
Hermione turned the last picture.
The older witch craned her neck. Her face flushed bright red both from embarrassment and anger to have been caught with her lover in an intimate embrace.
"I wonder what we would find if we were to trace back Ludo's."
Madam Fawley turned from red to white as a sheet within a heartbeat. Hermione stayed quiet, making the whole situation as embarrassing and uncomfortable as possible.
"Alright!" Madam Fawley finally said with a trembling voice. "There's no need for that. Fletcher didn't even pay in Galleons."
"Hear, hear," Harry said.
Madam Fawley shot a venomous look at him but continued, "We were in need of Muggle money."
Hermione leaned forward. "Why?"
Madam Fawley folded her shaky hands together. "Firstly, Ludo isn't to blame. Secondly, they were my books. I sold them to Fletcher as he promised us his help in order to escape and provide us with Muggle identities. At first, I thought something must have happened as he didn't show up the evening we intended to flee. Later, I realised that…that lying, thieving scoundrel never intended to stick to his end of the bargain in the first place."
"Why would a Pure-blood like you would have wanted to leave in the first place?"
"For the same reasons others did. It was only a matter of time until they would have forced me to join their club and if I had refused, they would have gotten rid of me." Madam Fawley straightened her back again. "I want to be clear about one thing, Miss Granger and Mister Potter: Yes, I'm a Pure-blood but I've never sympathised with You-Know-Who's cause." She shook her head. "I wasn't aware that my books would end up in some Muggle's hands. Those children and women…I'd never- This wasn't my fault."
"I understand. We all had to do things during the war we aren't proud of," Hermione replied, "but we would appreciate it very much if you would cooperate with us. We all want to keep straight bats on a sticky wicket, don't we?"
Madam Fawley heaved an expressive sigh. "Go on."
"Why did you vote for Lucius Malfoy's acquittal?" Harry asked.
"Oh, Lucius?" she asked with noticeable relief in her voice. "Well, Malfoy, as guilty as he might seem, was a very avid sponsor of Ludo. Not only… ehm… money, if you know what I mean."
Hermione stared at her.
"Well," Madam Fawley continued after the silence became too uncomfortable. "Ludo has many talents that go beyond the Quidditch pitch. Malfoy introduced Ludo to the right people who recommended him for a post worthy of his abilities and with which he was able to realise his visions for the British Wizarding society. It would have been very ungrateful, no, downright appalling to ignore what Malfoy as a valuable member of this society had contributed to the overall welfare of the people."
At this point Harry tried his best to keep himself from laughing.
"I sincerely hope you don't re-evaluate Malfoy's sentence. It might give the wrong impression of the Wizengamot. Quite as if it hadn't carried out the trial properly, which might result in an unstable political environment."
"Madam, I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation but I can assure you that political stability is exactly what we have in mind," Harry replied with a reassuring smile. "Have you ever been approached to vote for his imprisonment?" he continued.
"Of course I was." She adjusted her robes to make herself more comfortable. "The Malfoys were the subject of much debate. It took us countless hours until we finally were able to reach consensus. I have to say, Mister Potter, that we all were surprised by your witness statement. Most people wouldn't have been so forgiving."
"Well, I stated the truth - what you do with it is your decision. But what about those Wizengamot members who voted guilty?"
"Oh, Brown and the lot were adamant to throw Lucius into Azkaban."
"Shatiq, Saul Croaker and Griselda Marchbanks."
"But Croaker and Marchbanks voted against imprisonment."
"Indeed. But they changed their mind as the Minister faced one particular problem. Lucius was and still continues to be the only one able and willing to provide the MLE with useful intelligence. With no crucial information – and I'm sure you have to agree on that, Mister Potter - we would still be in a state of emergency. Stability is the key to a functioning society, which is why I–"
"Yes, but back to Shatiq," Harry intervened. He refused to listen to her self-adulation. "What about him?"
Madam Fawley huffed but composed herself. "Shatiq just wanted to see Lucius behind bars, hoping he would snuff it. He lost his own son to You-Know-Who's army – but it was his own fault, encouraging his son to do well under You-Know-Who's reign."
"So, Shatiq wanted to settle a score with Malfoy?" Hermione asked.
"Who doesn't? Lucius escaped while others got convicted for lesser crimes."
"Do you think Shatiq would have tried to get his way by self-justice?"
"Self-justice? Like trying to kill Lucius after he was returned to the cell?" Madam Fawley smirked. "Good God, I don't know whose poor attempt for revenge it was but Jim is incapable of such a thing. He's a chicken. It is said that as a student he once had wet his pants from fear upon facing his opponent in a mock-duel. I've never seen Horace - you know Professor Slughorn, do you - so ashamed of any of his pupils. Naturally, he had been uninvited for any of-"
"What did you think of the turnout?" Hermione butted in.
Madam Fawley raised her chin. "Manners, my dear. But to answer your question, I had to make a choice. A choice which would affect more than the future of a single individual. So, I've chosen the lesser of two evils. However, it is my strong conviction that this wand-band was a disgraceful and ethically questionable act. One shouldn't be taken the right to do magic. It's as despicable as You-Know-Who's laws of robbing Muggle-borns of their right to do magic. I still abhor the idea that our law system continued the same practices as the regime of You-Know-Who!"
There was a long moment of dramatic silence as Madam Fawley stared at Hermione and Harry expectantly.
"Alright, if that's all you can offer, thank you." Hermione said, unimpressed, and collected the photos.
"What? I believe I answered all your questions to your satisfaction. The least you could do is to – " Madam Fawley moved her hand in a circular motion " – keep it off the record and give me back my books."
"You know better than anyone that our regulations don't allow us to keep things…off the record. And those books aren't yours anymore. They're evidence, which makes them property of the Ministry. Thank you for your cooperation, Madam Fawley. I have to ask you to leave, please."
Hermione opened the door and gestured her to leave.
Madam Fawley glared at Harry first, then at Hermione as if weighing which of her opponents would be easier to defeat. "This will have consequences, Miss Granger. No-one treats a member of the Wizengamot with such disrespect."
She rushed through the door, her cloak whirling behind her back.
"Consequences?" Hermione repeated scandalised. "She'd be stupid as a troll to complain if she doesn't want to make a fool of herself. Playing bullshit bingo with her talks about equity. Bah! That woman changes opinions like others pants."
Harry shut the door and leaned against it, hands behind his back. "So, Fawley sold her stuff to that bloody crook and doesn't seem to know about Lucius' curse."
Hermione nodded. "We need to find Fletcher."
"Yes. I bet he knows a lot of things that would interest us. I'll tell my team to keep their eyes open but in the meanwhile we should also interrogate the others. I will do Shatiq."
"And I take Brown."
A/N: Thank you all so much for your support and reviews :-) A lot of exciting things happened in the last 12 months but now I'm back on track.