I can't remember when I stopped loving my wife.
It seems an odd thought to have. Maybe I was wrong to expect a dramatic change in how I viewed the woman I promised to love for the rest of my life to be an unforgettable event. There was no huge fight that changed everything, just a thousand little arguments and disagreements. A case I worked on years prior in which a wizard murdered his business partner by casting hundreds of painful but typically non-lethal curses sprang unhelpfully to mind.
"Harry? Are you even listening to me?"
The question breaks my train of thought and I look up at Ginny who is sitting across the breakfast table from me with an annoyed expression on her face. Honestly, I have no idea what she had been talking about for the last few minutes. The last thing I can remember hearing was that her parents asked if they could keep the kids for a few days.
"That sounds fine to me," I reply, hoping my answer will make enough sense to avoid starting a fight before I have to leave for work. Thankfully, Ginny smiles and nods before continuing to talk about the plans she's made with her mother. This time I try to listen to what she is saying, but after a minute or two my thoughts drift back to what I had been thinking of earlier.
I don't blame her for the way things have turned out. She's a good person and a great mother to our children, we just don't work as a married couple. I think she knows it just as well as I do, but she tries harder to deny it. It's easy to ignore the emptiness between us when the kids are around, but soon enough they'll all be at Hogwarts for most of the year and then what are we going to do?
"I'm sure they'll have lots of fun," I say as I stand up from my seat at the table. "I better start towards the office; we've got a new class of recruits starting training today."
"Remember, Ron and Hermione are coming over for dinner tonight. You won't be late, will you?" Ginny asks with a small frown on her face. It's not out of the ordinary for me to stay at the office longer than everyone else, but that's part of the job and there's nothing I can do about it.
"I don't think so. I'll let you know if something changes."
By the time I've grabbed my cloak and gathered my things Ginny is standing by the fireplace waiting for me, just as she is almost every morning before I leave.
"Be careful." She says as I grab a pinch of Floo powder from the bowl and throw it into the fire.
"I always am."
"I love you, Harry."
I smile back at her as I step into the green fire. "Love you, too." We've had this conversation, or one incredibly like it, every morning since we got married. It's become a tradition, and besides it's just easier to say it than deal with what would happen if I didn't.
"Auror's Office, Ministry of Magic."
A split second after the words leave my mouth I feel myself being pulled into the Floo Network and onto the thankfully short ride to my office. I've never liked the Floo, which is probably due to a few mishaps the first couple of times I used it, but at least I don't stumble when I get where I'm going anymore.
The scene that greets me when I step out of the Floo is chaos, even more so than is typical for the Auror's office. For some reason the entire front room is packed with people who don't usually have any reason to even be in this part of the Ministry and they're all yelling at each other. They are mostly other Ministry officials and a group of wizards I recognize as being a part of building security. Dozens of memos folded into paper airplanes fly overhead in frantic searches for their recipients. A few people notice my arrival and start giving me some strange looks. Michael Corner, who was in my year at Hogwarts and joined the Aurors a few years after I did, looks far too relieved to see me coming in than I am comfortable with.
"Thank Merlin you're here!" Corner says as he rushes to meet me. "They've been demanding to see you since they got here almost an hour ago."
"Who has?" I demand, painfully aware that my hopes for an easy and relaxing day have just flown out the window.
"The Unspeakables. They're waiting in conference room one. Somebody broke into the Ministry last night and the Unspeakables are not happy about it." Corner looks nervous and stressed. That, coupled with the fact that I didn't even get a message that something was wrong, tells me he probably tried to deal with this little crisis himself. Corner isn't nearly as capable as he likes to think he is and I can only hope he didn't screw things up too badly before I got here.
"Obviously," I say distractedly as I try to figure out how best to deal with the situation. "While I'm talking to them I want you to ask around and find out whatever you can. You know the Unspeakables, they're never going to tell us everything."
"I'll take care of it."
I've already taken a few steps towards the conference room when I realize Corner is still looking my direction like he has something else to say. When I turn to look I see he's grinning at me like an idiot for some reason.
"Have fun in there, boss," Corner says with that stupid smirk still on his face, "We all know how much you love the Unspeakables." I feel like hexing him, but unfortunately when you grow up you apparently have to act responsibly and can't just curse people when they annoy you. I smile anyway because he still hasn't seemed to figure out that he is never going to get another promotion as long as I'm head of the Auror Office. That's how adults handle things.
He is right about one thing though, I fucking hate the Unspeakables. Every time I spend more than a minute with one of them they get this look on their face as if I'm the most interesting lab rat they've ever seen and oh what fun they could have experimenting on me. I guess that's just what happens when you've led a life as interesting as mine. They've never come out and said it but I think they figured out that the Deathly Hallows are real and I owned them all at one point. That would explain their interest in me, but hopefully I'm wrong and surviving two killing curses is reason enough to explain their obsession.
I open the door to the conference room to see four Unspeakables seated at the end of the table discussing something in low whispers that stop as soon as they realize they're not alone. I don't recognize two of them: one a heavyset witch with thinning blond hair and the other a short, dark haired wizard who looks like he has no idea why he's been brought along. Their nametags identify them as Meadows and Jensen, but I don't remember ever hearing those names before. Sitting beside him is Karl Osmont, the head of the Department of Mysteries. It's the fourth person though that catches my interest. Standing behind the others is an old, wrinkled wizard I know only as Greaves. No one I've talked to seems to know exactly what he does within the Department of Mysteries, just that he's been there practically forever and holds enormous power within the Department. His presence, more than that of the department head, indicates the severity of the break in.
"Are you aware your assistant is an idiot, Auror Potter?" Greaves asks before I can greet them. It's true of course, but that's not why Greaves said it. The old bastard is trying to put me on the defensive and assert control over the meeting, but the fact is that this is my office and they came to me because they want something.
"Mr. Osmont, what can the Auror Office do for you?" I ask, pointedly ignoring Greaves who looks unsurprised at my reaction. The fat witch beside him is apparently only here to take notes and doesn't even look up at the rest of us. I briefly wonder what I've done so far that would require making a note of it.
"Last night an unidentified individual or group was able to sneak into the Department of Mysteries without setting off any of the security enchantments designed to keep such people out." Osmont explains slowly. Osmont is above all else a politician and clearly taking his time to frame what he says in a very specific way. "There are, as you might expect, very few people with the knowledge of how this might be done."
"And they all work for you." I add, drawing a small nod from Osmont. "So that's why you don't want to investigate it internally."
I lean back in my chair for a moment to consider the situation. The Unspeakables aren't going to like the Aurors intruding on their business and asking lots of questions, but that's unavoidable. I know there are somewhere around 150 Unspeakables and a handful of others that might be able to access the Department of Mysteries security plans. That's a lot of people, and it's going to take a lot of time and manpower to question and investigate all of them. I assume the security in the Department of Mysteries is quite a bit more impressive than it was when I had my adventure there back in fifth year, but I'm going to have to see for myself what its weaknesses are.
"I can't do this if you don't give me access." I eventually say. Greaves looks annoyed by that but the others don't react negatively. "Both to the area and the people. If you're not willing to give that up you should leave now."
"We had expected that. We will, of course, fully cooperate." Osmont assures me, but everyone in the room knows that's not the end of it. "In return, we would like you to personally handle this case. However, be aware there are certain places and things within the Department of Mysteries that must be kept secret. Even from you."
"Fine." I say unhappily, I never expected him to be completely honest with me anyway. "If no security enchantments were activated how did you first learn of the break in?"
At my question the Unspeakables all turn towards Greaves. Probably because they don't know how much they're supposed to tell me, not because they don't know. But then again, Osmont is almost glaring at Greaves for some reason.
"This morning we discovered an item we had been researching was missing." Greaves answers. "We are certain the item was properly secured last night before everyone left. So far nothing else has been identified as missing, so we assume that this was the thieves' target."
"And what exactly is this 'item'?"
The silence that follows my question seems to go on for minutes as no one is willing to let me know what they were studying. Even Greaves seems to be deep in thought about how best to respond.
"That is… unimportant." Greaves finally says. "The item is not dangerous on its own, but in the wrong hands it could become a powerful weapon against the Ministry. Retrieval of our lost property is not your concern."
"It becomes my concern when whatever they took from you gets used against me and my people," I argue, knowing full well that it's pointless. If the Unspeakables decide they aren't going to tell you something it's a waste of energy to keep asking. "I've always heard the Department of Mysteries goes to a great deal of trouble to protect their secrets and ensure the loyalty of the Unspeakables. Assuming this was the work of one of your people, how could that go unnoticed?"
"Unfortunately, there is no security precaution that can't be beaten, especially by those familiar with the safeguards." Osmont glances towards Greaves as he says it, then looks back to me. "We've been fooled before and it looks as though we've been fooled again."
"And I don't suppose you have any suspects, do you?"
"Nothing solid as of now. Greaves?"
The dark haired wizard who hasn't said anything looks surprised by Osmont's answer but stays quiet. He's the weak link here, but there is no way Osmont is going to let me question him until after he's been coached on what to say.
"There is no one in the Department of Mysteries I know of who has the ability and motivation to attempt this." Greaves says after a moment of hesitation. It comes across as a very carefully worded answer, but I'm not sure exactly what he's hiding.
"What about the object that was stolen?" I ask, hoping that he'll let something slip. "If it's as powerful as you say it is then it would have to be tempting to someone. It could even be a simple case of greed. Rare and powerful items can be quite expensive. If you tell me what it is I can direct my informants to look for it in some of the less reputable markets."
"No, we are certain that will not happen." Greaves says quickly. "As I said before, you need not concern yourself over what was stolen. Focus on finding the people who broke into the Ministry and let us worry about the rest. This is a list of all the Unspeakables who worked on the project or had knowledge of its existence."
The list he slides over to me isn't nearly as long as I thought it would be. Only a dozen people knew of the project and four of them are in the room with me. We'll question everyone on the list, but somehow I doubt anything will come of it. If it were that easy the Unspeakables could have taken care of it themselves.
"There's more you aren't telling me that I need to know. If you want this solved you have to be honest with me." One of Osmont's aides, the short wizard who hasn't stopped fidgeting since I got here, looks like he wants to say something but a quick glance from Greaves persuades him otherwise.
"We'll keep in touch," Osmont says as he pushes his chair back and stands up. He offers me his hand and I politely shake it. "Good luck."
Osmont and the two others I don't know head for the door without another word, but Greaves stops at the door and turns back to face me. He stares at me the same way I've seen plenty of other Unspeakables stare at me before and I don't particularly appreciate it. Greaves looks old and weak, but there is something vibrant in his eyes making it clear his mind is still all there.
"I've heard a great many things about you, Harry Potter. I wonder how many of them are true. They say you're the best Auror since Alastor Moody, did you know that? I suppose we'll soon see if you're deserving of the praise you receive."
I know Greaves is just trying to annoy me so I don't bother responding. After a few seconds he gets the point and chuckles as he leaves the conference room. His behavior so far makes it seem like he isn't at all happy the Aurors are being brought in on the case, but I have no idea if that's because he sees it as something his people should be taking care of or if he's afraid of what I might find when I start looking.
On the bright side, I am looking forward to having my own case again. That hasn't happened very often since I was promoted to head of the Auror Office. It's Auror policy that no one goes out into the field alone, a policy I have long supported and therefore can't in good conscience ignore. This is definitely something I need to take care of before Corner hears I'm in need of a temporary partner. Fortunately, I already have someone in mind.
A few minutes and a short walk later I enter the Auror training hall. The room brings back a flood of old memories from my own crazy first years as an Auror. I can honestly say I learned more about magic in this room than I ever did at Hogwarts.
The new recruits are having a typically awful first day of training. There are ten of them, seven wizards and three witches, and they all look so young I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't just graduated from Hogwarts. The day has just begun and they're already covered in sweat while the trainers push them through a workout meant determine who showed up prepared and who isn't going to make it. A lot of people who apply are surprised that we care so much about physical conditioning, but out in the field it can mean the difference between life and death. There's usually one or two who don't even make it past the first day and from a group this size I'd expect no more than four of them to make it through the entire fifteen week training program. At that point they become Auror Trainees and things start to get really interesting.
The man I'm here to see is standing in front of the recruits with two other Aurors yelling for them to move faster. Wearing gray shorts and a t-shirt and with a clipboard in one hand and a whistle in the other, he looks more like a muggle gym teacher than a wizard, but in this case that works just fine. He's strong and athletic enough that most times the recruits are too intimidated to ask why they aren't practicing magic even if they were wondering. I can't help but chuckle at the familiar scene in front of me. Life can be pretty strange sometimes. If somebody had told me fifteen years ago that Colin Creevey's little brother would grow up to become one of the people I respected most I probably would have called them mental.
Dennis Creevey turns his head towards me and raises his hand, telling me he'll come over as soon as he's done giving instructions to the already exhausted group of recruits. From their reactions it doesn't look like Dennis has told them to take a break.
"Hey, Harry! Here to join the workout?" Dennis asks happily. "Don't want to get soft sitting behind that desk all day, do you?"
"We can't all be insane like you." A few years ago Dennis convinced me to join his morning exercises. I was proud of myself for lasting two months before deciding I didn't like depending on pain relieving and Pepper Up potions to get me through the rest of the day. "So do we have anybody good in this group?"
"Maybe. Too early to say right now." Dennis looks back at the new recruits and then back down at his clipboard. "Campbell is out of shape, I doubt he lasts to the end of the week. Shepard, the tall one over there, has potential but he's only here because his friend didn't want to try out alone. Give us a few weeks and we'll bring out the best in them."
I nod and for a few minutes we watch the group continuing through their training. It looks just as difficult as I remember it being when I joined the Aurors.
"I'm working on a case," I finally say. Dennis seems curious about that little piece of information.
"Were you just bored or is this something big?"
"I take it you didn't hear about what happened last night?" Dennis shakes his head indicating no so I explain. "Something was stolen from the Department of Mysteries. It looks like at least one of the Unspeakables was involved."
"What'd they lose?"
"They won't say." I answer with a shrug. "I'm going to need a partner on this one, Dennis. Interested?"
"And leave all this?" He gestures over to the recruits, but he's smiling and I know him well enough to know that he'll do it. "I suppose I can team up with you one more time. Someone has to keep you from doing something stupid."
"I knew I could count on you. Go get dressed, it's time to visit the Department of Mysteries."
Twenty minutes later Dennis and I walk in to the Department of Mysteries where it's even more chaotic than the Auror office. Apparently Osmont and Greaves decided the best way to help me with the investigation was to kick everyone out of their offices and have them stand around in the main entrance. To absolutely no one's surprise the Unspeakables seem a bit upset about that. Osmont's assistant, the short wizard from the meeting I remember is named Jensen, is unsuccessfully trying to calm the masses. Not a job I'd want.
Dennis and I push our way through the crowds and past a pair of Unspeakables guarding the heavy oak doors that lead deeper into the department. Despite my aversion to the place I've been here enough to know my way around and it doesn't take me long to find the research division. I expected Greaves or Osmont to meet me but the only person I see is a guard who looks like he hasn't slept in a couple of days sitting at a desk.
"I'm Auror Potter and this is Auror Creevey," I begin, "What's your name?"
"Tim Walters." Walters stands up and rubs his face in attempt to keep himself from falling asleep. "Sorry about that, I've been here for the last twenty three hours."
"Is that normal?" Dennis asks. He's got a notepad out and is writing down his observations, something I rarely do. Tonight I'll review my memory of the day's events in a pensieve that I bought with my own money. They're hellishly expensive but completely worth it in this line of work.
"Well no, not really. Shifts are typically twelve hours long and I was only supposed to have the night shift, but I had to pull Franklin's day shift yesterday because he covered for me last week."
"I see. Did anybody come through here last night?"
"No one out of the ordinary." Walters leans over the desk and pulls a roll of parchment out of a drawer before continuing. "The names are all written down automatically when someone walks through the door."
Walters hands the parchment to me and it only takes me about five seconds to realize something's not right. The last entry on the parchment is dated three days ago. I pass the list to Dennis and he quickly notices the same thing.
"Someone's tampered with your records, Mr Walters. This is useless to me."
"What? No, that's not possible." Walters grabs the list to check for himself and it's not long before his face twists into a genuine look of horror. "I don't understand how this could have happened!"
"Were you here the whole time?" I ask, hoping I can salvage something.
"Well, most of the time. I left to get some food and use the restroom, that sort of thing."
"Of course you did. And when you were here did you manage to stay awake?"
"I might have taken a little nap early this morning" Walters admits. He at least has the decency to look ashamed of himself for it. "I didn't mean to but this job is always so boring. Nothing like this has ever happened."
"Stay here, we might have some more questions for you later," I tell him before walking through another set of doors and into the back offices of the research division. If the worthless security guard is any indication of how seriously security is taken within the Department of Mysteries then this case is going to be a lot more difficult than I had thought. Dennis, apparently seeing my scowl and guessing my thoughts, shakes his head and laughs at my attitude. Dennis views the world with a lot more optimism than I do, he probably thinks we'll have this one solved by dinner time despite the ineptitude of the people who are supposed to be helping us. I like Dennis though, so I don't attempt to rob him of his delusions.
The hallway leads us to a large circular room with a fountain in the center filled with a strange orange liquid I don't recognize. Eight identical doors line the perimeter of the room at even intervals, but besides the one we came in through only one is open. Out of curiosity I check the other doors only to find that they're locked. I take out my wand and cast a couple unlocking charms but none of them have any effect, a good sign all things considered. I am familiar with the type of spell work on the door though and recognize that it will only open if a specific phrase is spoken in front of it.
"I guess we go this way." Dennis says, pointing at the open door.
The door leads to a hallway perfectly identical to the one that led from the front office to the circular room. Surprisingly, Greaves is waiting for us at the end of the hallway. Alone. He is standing in front of a door that looks just like all of the others, this one is open but not far enough for me to see inside.
"Will Mr Osmont be joining us?" I ask.
"Unfortunately, no. He is quite busy explaining the situation to his superiors. I assure you he wishes he could be here instead."
That's an understatement. I've got a feeling that the last thing Osmont wants is Greaves directing the investigation.
"The item was kept in here," Greaves begins, motioning to the door behind him. "At approximately 5:30 this morning an Unspeakable by the name of Sarah Allen discovered the door was open and alerted security. She is a part of a research team based further down the hall and we do not believe had any knowledge of this project."
"We'll still need to talk to her."
"How is this door secured?"
"Only a person on the approved list could open this door. If someone who is not an Unspeakable attempts to open it security is immediately notified. Additionally, whenever the door is opened the time and who unlocked it is recorded."
"And last night?" I ask. While I talk to Greaves Dennis begins inspecting the door, casting a variety of detection spells on it.
"According to the logs this door was opened at 1:47 AM. That is the last event recorded and the only one out of the ordinary."
"Who does the record say opened the door?"
I should probably be more surprised by that, but in some ways it makes a lot sense. The Unspeakables have investigated members of their own organization plenty of times without asking for help from the Aurors, something had to make this one different. Osmont didn't want Greaves to be a part of the investigation because he suspects Greaves was behind the theft in the first place. Osmont also has a reputation for being politically ambitious and a bit paranoid, it wouldn't surprise me if he thought this was all part of a plot against him.
"Dennis, what do you think?"
Dennis casts a few more spells before turning towards me and answering. I can tell from the look on his face it's not good news.
"What they basically have set up here is a Babkin locking charm keyed in to Morelli detection array, plus the charms for the alarm and record keeping. Sorry, Harry."
"You're using outdated security spells," I tell Greaves, but I suspect he already knows that. "My office has investigated five cases in the last six months of thefts involving property secured by systems using those particular detection spells."
"Until today I was unaware of that oversight," Greaves replies. "We will be updating the spells on all of the doors in the next few days."
Fat lot of good that'll do now. What I didn't tell him was that the Aurors suspect all of the thefts I mentioned were committed by the same people. Or that even now none of my staff could figure out exactly how the spells were fooled. Somewhere out there is a very smart thief, so why steal from the Ministry? It doesn't add up. Of course if anyone had figured out how the thief was getting past the detection spells it would be the Unspeakables. Which leaves me right back where I started: a lot of questions and no good answers.
"Where were you last night, Greaves?" I ask.
"Home. I spoke to several people on my way out, it should be simple enough to verify."
"Fine," I reply, knowing that even if he did leave there was nothing stopping him from coming back. And I would bet my last knut that Greaves knows how to get in and out of this building without being seen. I do, and he's worked here decades longer than I have. "Show us the room."
Greaves nods and pushes the door open revealing a square room with sides about ten feet long. It is also completely empty. No furniture, no equipment, not even any lights on the wall. It's suspiciously empty for a room where the Unspeakables were researching an object whose disappearance has caused this much of an uproar.
"You cleaned the room out, didn't you?" I say, turning towards Greaves who is standing in the doorway. To say I'm upset with this doesn't even begin to describe how angry I am. Greaves has destroyed any evidence that could have helped me in my investigation.
"The secrets of the Department of Mysteries must be preserved," Greaves answers, showing no remorse. "My staff is examining the contents of the room and will share any information that could help you."
"Running your own investigation, are you?"
"Osmont should never have brought you into this. I will assist you exactly as much as I am required to, but the Unspeakables will recover our stolen property with or without your help."
"Really? Because from where I'm standing it looks like you're trying to hinder my investigation and cover for whoever broke in. Why wouldn't Osmont suspect you?"
Greaves snorts in amusement at my accusation. "He's a fool convinced I want his job, as if he possesses more power within the Department of Mysteries than I do. He is a political appointee and will be replaced in time just like his predecessors. When he is gone I will remain, as always."
"Whatever it is you're hiding, I'm going to find it. You might have power in here, but what we're both looking for isn't in the Department of Mysteries anymore. It's beyond these walls and out there I'm not just the highest ranking Auror, I'm Harry Potter. Get in my way again and I swear I will crush you."
Greaves takes a moment to glare at me, apparently I've managed to get under his skin. Good.
"We'll see, Potter."
With that Greaves turns leaves the room, leaving Dennis and I alone to continue our investigation. A few seconds after he's gone I hear Dennis laughing behind me.
"That went well, didn't it?" he asks, grinning at me.
"Could have been worse, I suppose." My eyes scan the empty room hoping to find some shred of evidence that the Unspeakables have left behind and find nothing. Dennis is waving his wand and quietly chanting a variety of incantations on the other side of the room, but he comes up with no more than I did. "What do you think, Dennis?"
"They're not giving us much to work with, are they?" he says, and I hear a hint of annoyance in his tone. "I just wish we knew what was in here."
"I got the impression that Osmont thought whatever it was could be used against him. Or maybe whatever they were working on here would make him look bad if word got out. Damn, I hate politics."
"Yeah. And thanks again for pulling me in to this mess, boss. Greatly appreciated."
"You're welcome, as always," I reply with a laugh. "Let's split up and start talking to people. Maybe we'll get lucky and find something useful."
Dennis nods in agreement and together we head out the way we came. The Department of Mysteries is still largely empty, much like it would have been last night when the break in occurred. The security here isn't anything special, but it still would have taken a lot of planning and inside information to be successful. Greaves, of course, could have pulled it off much easier.
When people come into my office and tell me they want to become an Auror they are almost always under the impression that an Auror's days are packed with excitement, spent trading spells with criminals and dramatic rescues of those who need our help. They are, of course, wrong. Most of what we do is actually boring and tedious, both of which would accurately describe the process of verifying stories and taking statements that Dennis and I spent our day doing. After almost seven hours of interviews I had not turned up any valuable information that I didn't have before. Unfortunately, a lot of cases start the same way. But I was saving the interview I thought had the most potential for last.
I find Jensen, the short wizard from the meeting who had acted strangely, still in the entrance way to the Department of Mysteries where I had last seen him. From his haggard appearance it seems as though he's had a rough day, not surprising since Osmont had dumped the task of keeping things running in the department on him.
"Mr. Jensen, I'm going to need a few minutes of your time," I say as I approach him. He doesn't say anything but nods tiredly. "Were you here last night?"
"No. I was supposed to be on vacation this week. I've been in Paris with my family for the last three days and took an international portkey back about an hour before we met with you."
Portkey travel, especially the international kind, is closely monitored by the Ministry of Magic and so that part of his story will be easy to verify. But Jensen's actions so far didn't strike me as those of someone who was a part of the crime.
"In the meeting you wanted to tell me something, but you didn't. What was it?"
"My boss was there, and I didn't want to get into any trouble," he starts, still clearly uncomfortable. "A few months ago I was at a bar in Diagon Alley and I blacked out. I wasn't even drinking much, but I can't remember what happened. Unspeakable rules require us to report something like that, so I did. They found evidence I had been Obliviated, but nothing was ever done about it."
"I take it you know all of the security protocols protecting the item that was stolen and how to get past them?"
"Of course I do, and a lot more about what goes on around here besides that. I expected security to do something about it, at least change the passwords, but they never did."
"Who could have authorized a change in the passwords?" I ask. "Greaves? Osmont?"
"Either of them could have," Jensen answers, "And they both knew about my report. I suppose I could have pressed them to make changes, but the whole thing made me look bad and I was happy when it seemed to blow over."
I let out an exasperated sigh at his explanation. This many screw ups from top to bottom couldn't just be a coincidence, could it? Although, I had once heard a piece of wisdom that has proven to be shockingly accurate: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I don't know who said it, but they were on to something.
"I'm going to need a copy of the report you filed," I tell him. "What can you tell me about the project you were working on?"
"Nothing. Sorry, but my bosses explicitly said you weren't cleared for any of that."
"Listen, I'm just trying to help you out here. The more you tell me, the quicker this can all be over."
Jensen hesitates and I know he's thinking about saying something. His eyes dart from side to side, making sure we can't be overheard, and he leans towards me. "I can give you a name. Nicolas Pearce."
"Who is he? An Unspeakable?"
"No, not that. I'm not saying he was involved in the break in, but if you want to know what we were doing he'd be a good place to start."
"I need more than that, Jensen."
"I can't," he says, "I've probably already said too much. Sorry."
I've interviewed enough people to recognize when one's not going to give me anything else, and Jensen is solidly in that category. The only way I could get him to keep going is to make him more afraid of what's going to happen if he doesn't talk than if he keeps quiet, and I don't have the leverage to do that. I'm lucky to have gotten as much as I did.
"I'll keep your name out of my reports as much as possible," I assure him. "Come see me if you think of anything else."
Jensen nods and walk off quickly, apparently not wanting to be seen with me more than he has to. I don't blame him for his paranoia, if I had his bosses I'd probably do the same thing. Jensen took a risk I didn't expect him to in giving me a name to follow up on. The question is why. Why risk his job to give me information his boss didn't want me to have? The only thing that makes sense to me is that it has to do with what was taken. Greaves and Osmont claimed it wasn't dangerous, but what if they were lying? That could have motivated Jensen to talk when he normally wouldn't have. The simple truth is I don't know why he did it. Furthermore, if his tip doesn't pan out I'll have very little else to go on.
I walk out of the Department of Mysteries into the atrium of the Ministry of Magic and see the usual end of day crowd heading for the exits and Floos on their way home. Unfortunately for me, my day isn't over yet. I make my way past the masses towards an elevator that can take me back to the Auror's Office only to find Dennis waiting for me.
"I think I've had enough of the Ministry for one day," he says. "We can go over the case somewhere else."
"You have somewhere in mind?"
"Actually I do. Come on."
Dennis leads the way towards one of the designated apparition points scattered throughout the Ministry of Magic's entrance. We have to wait in line for a few minutes before it's finally our turn. I put my hand on Dennis's shoulder so he can side along apparate us to wherever we're headed. A moment later the familiar feeling of being squeezed through an impossibly small tunnel hits me, but it's quickly over.
We arrive in a narrow alley nestled between two brick buildings packed with garbage cans and dumpsters that smell faintly of rotten eggs. The only one to see our appearance is a small grey rat that immediately dives into a pile of trash to hide.
"What a lovely place you've brought us to," I say.
"Quiet, it's as nice as you deserve." Dennis walks out of the alley and I follow close behind him. He turns the corner and opens a door, gesturing for me to go inside. The place is apparently a muggle pub. At the moment the pub is mostly empty, with a few of the tables are occupied by young people who look like they've just gotten out of class. Several of them have backpacks slung over their chairs or resting at their feet. The man behind the bar recognizes Dennis and greets him with a smile and a nod of his head. While Dennis gets us a couple of drinks I claim a booth towards the back, away from the other customers.
"A muggle pub?" I ask Dennis when he returns.
"I am muggleborn, Harry. Besides, I like this place and the owner won't ask any questions if he sees something out of the ordinary."
"He's a squib," Dennis says, turning back to look at the man behind the bar. "He won't tell me who his family is, but apparently they were rich purebloods ashamed of the fact their son was a squib. They paid his way through some muggle boarding school and gave him enough money to open this place when he was done, but they don't want anything else to do with him."
"There are families out there who wouldn't have even done that much."
"It's still a cruel thing to do to a kid."
I nod in agreement and take a drink of the beer Dennis set in front of me. It's good, better than what you can find at the Hogshead or Leaky Cauldron. Dennis's fondness for this place makes a little more sense. Across the table Dennis takes a long drink and lets out a contented sigh.
"Good drinks, beautiful women, what's not to like about this place?" Dennis asks.
"You mean beautiful muggle women. And aren't you still with, uh… Jennifer?"
"You mean Jessica?" Dennis asks, laughing. "God no, we broke up ages ago. And there's nothing wrong with muggle women. Think about it this way, do you know how many unmarried witches in my acceptable age range that would be willing to date a muggleborn like me are in this country?"
"Well, neither do I. But it's not that many. I love magic and all the things the muggle world has to offer, there's no reason not to enjoy both."
It's a familiar discussion, one we've had countless times in the past. Despite the fact that I didn't even know magic existed until I was eleven I've never felt the urge to live more like a muggle. I suppose the Dursley's are to blame for that. Dennis, on the other hand, seems determined not to forget where he came from. At his apartment he has an enormous television, a mobile phone, and even a computer. Add to that his tastes in clothes and music and Dennis can easily pass for a muggle when he wants to.
"It justs seems easier to date witches," I say. "When you meet a muggle girl you can't tell them what you do or where you went to school or a load of other things. And then when you finally do decide to tell them you're a wizard you have to worry about how they're going to react."
"Well, we can't all fall in love with our best mate's little sister and get the fairy tale ending, can we?"
I managed to choke back what would surely have been a bitter laugh, covering my reaction with a simple shrug. We're venturing dangerously close to a subject I'd rather not talk about, so I decide to change the subject.
"Find out anything interesting today?" I ask.
"Not really," he says. Dennis reaches into his cloak and pulls out a large folder from what must be a pocket with a space expanding charm on it. "Plenty of people did see Greaves leave last night, just like he said. If he came back later no one noticed it. You think he was involved?"
"I don't know. It almost seems too obvious, if he was going to take something you'd think he would cover his tracks better than this."
"No one would tell me what the Unspeakables were keeping in that room either," Dennis says. "They were threatened not to talk to us about it."
"I know," I say. "I managed to get something out of one of the Unspeakables named Jensen though. Just a name: Nicolas Pearce."
"Wait a second, I've seen that name before." Dennis starts flipping through the pages in his folder before finally finding the one he's looking for and handing it to me. "We got this from the company that put up the security spells in the Department of Mysteries and the other places that got robbed. It's a list of everyone who purchased that specific set of spells. Look there, Nicolas Pearce."
"Alright, so Pearce gets them to put up the spells so he can learn how they work," I say. "He figures out a way to beat them and starts breaking in to places that use them."
"Doesn't fit, Harry," Dennis replies. "Pearce had the spells put up in a warehouse owned by his company, Markos & Pearce Trading, two months ago. That's four months after the first break in."
"So he's probably not our thief. Jensen never said he was, just that he was involved with whatever they were researching. This robbery and the others have to be connected somehow. Solve one and we solve the other."
"We can go back over the case files and see what we can find," Dennis says. "Maybe they missed something the first time around."
Together we begin going through the files Dennis brought with him. Two hours and two or three beers apiece later we haven't managed to find anything that jumps out at us as important. In the previous break-ins the thief managed to leave no incriminating evidence behind, suggesting to me that he's probably been doing this kind of thing much longer than just six months.
"This guy is good," I say. "There can't be that many talented thieves out there we don't at least know about, even if we can't pin any specific crimes on them."
"I'll go through our records tomorrow, we can at least come up with some possibilities. I think I'm about done for the day, though."
"Oh damn, what time is it?" I ask, belatedly remembering the plans Ginny and I had made for tonight.
"A little after seven, why?"
"Ron and Hermione are coming over for dinner. At six." I get up and begin gathering up my things. "I have to go. See you tomorrow, ok?"
"No problem, Harry. Say hi to everyone for me."
I nod and quickly make my way out of the pub and back into the alley where Dennis and I arrived. After a quick glance around to make sure no one can see me, I apparate back home. My family and I live in a quiet neighborhood in Godric's Hollow on a piece of land I found out my grandparents had owned but never built anything on. It's a peaceful place, and I like it here. I appear at the end of a stone walkway that leads to our front door and hurry in.
Lily, who at six is our youngest, rushes to greet me with a hug. I scoop her up into my arms, kiss the top of her head and carry her into the living room where my children and their cousins are laughing over a game of exploding snap.
"Hi, Uncle Harry," my nephew says with a enthusiastic wave. Hugo has bright red hair and looks like a younger version of his father, except with curly hair that he must have inherited from his mother.
"Hi, Hugo. Are you kids having fun?"
"Well, good. I'm going to go talk to your parents. Try not to blow anything up, ok?"
The kids laugh as if I've said something really funny. What can I say, they're easy to please. When I get to the dining room I see Ron and Hermione seated at one side of the table talking quietly. Dinner has already been cleared off the table and Ginny notably absent.
"Hey guys, sorry I'm late."
They look up from their conversation and smile warmly at me, apparently not too upset with me for missing dinner.
"Don't worry about it," Ron says. "I was an Auror once, too."
Ron had joined the Aurors with me a year or so after the war ended. He was a good Auror, but never enjoyed it like I did. I wasn't surprised when he quit to go work with his brother a few years ago. It had the added benefit of making Hermione, who worried constantly about his safety, happy as well.
"What's this I hear about you moving over to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?" I ask Hermione. She frowns slightly at my question.
"Nothing is official yet, and how did you hear about it? It wasn't supposed to be common knowledge."
"It's not, but I hear things," I say. "So it's true?"
"Hermione thinks it's the best way to change things for the better," Ron answers for her. "I expect she'll want to be Minister of Magic some day."
"I think Minister Shacklebolt is doing a fine job," Hermione says. "Besides, I'm not sure our society is ready for a muggleborn witch to be Minister of Magic."
"That wasn't a denial she wants to be Minister, was it Harry?"
"I'll let you two argue over that one," I say. "Where's Ginny?
Ron points at the door leading to the kitchen and I nod in thanks. Ginny is not going to be happy with me, that's a given, but hopefully I can apologize and calm things down enough so that we can all have a normal night. I walk into the kitchen and see Ginny cutting pieces of cheesecake and putting them onto plates for dessert. When she turns towards me the look of annoyance is clear on her face.
"Ginny, I'm sorry."
"You said you'd tell me if you were going to be late."
"I know, you're right. Dennis and I were discussing a case and I lost track of time." I walk over to her and grasp her hands in what I hope is a comforting manner. "I already apologized to Ron and Hermione. It's still early, there's no reason we can't have a nice evening."
"Fine," she says, although it's clearly not fine. Ginny rests her head on my shoulder for a moment before suddenly pulling back with a strange expression on her face. "Have you been drinking?"
"You say it like you think I'm an alcoholic," I answer. She must have smelled the beer on my breath, but I didn't have that much to drink tonight and I don't drink very often to begin with. "Dennis and I had a few drinks while we were talking about the case, that's all. I don't see what the problem is."
"Nevermind, Harry," Ginny says. "It doesn't matter. Let's just go back to the dining room, I'm sure Ron and Hermione are wondering what's taking us so long."
I decide not argue with her and instead pick up a couple of plates to carry out to the dining room. The rest of the night goes smoothly, laughing and talking with old friends. By the time our guests leave I've almost forgotten the little argument between Ginny and I, but she doesn't say much more than good-night to me before going to bed and leaving me in my office to go over the day's events.