The Prodigal Returns
"I can't believe she didn't tell us she was coming back!"
Penelope was taking the steps two at a time, the hem of her skirt swishing wildly around her knees as she turned to climb the next flight of stairs.
"Slow down before you trip, mama."
Morgan reached for her elbow to steady her, as her hands were occupied holding a plate of cookies.
"I can't slow down!"
Laughing at her enthusiasm, he followed her up the remaining two flights of stairs to Hermione's floor. As they entered the fourth floor hallway, her door was opening. She stepped into the hall, but didn't notice them standing at the end of the passageway.
"Hermione!" Penelope exclaimed.
With a start, the witch turned just in time to open her arms for the bear hug Penelope sprung on her.
"We missed you so much! I brought cookies, they're double chocolate chip!"
"Thank you," Hermione said, embracing the analyst and smiling at Morgan over her shoulder.
He couldn't move. Since seeing her he'd hardly breathed. Penelope was rambling about how much she'd missed having her favorite girlfriend around. Derek was grateful the conversation had Hermione preoccupied because his head was swimming. Seeing her again was like a gut punch. Relief, joy, and anxiety tangled in his chest. His eyes soaked in the sight of her. She wore a pink sweater, ripped jeans, and a scarred brown leather jacket. Her hair was in a messy knot on top of her head and she wore no makeup but she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. After she'd consoled a crying Penelope, she turned to him. Letting a smile spread over his face, he stepped forward to hug her.
"Hey there, princess."
"It's good to see you, Morgan."
He hoped he wasn't imagining the earnestness in her tone. The tightening of her arms around his waist was enough to make his heart settle.
"Where were you going?" Penelope asked.
"I just got my things settled. I was about to go stock the fridge."
Without being asked to join, they ended up piling into Morgan's truck for an impromptu trip to the grocery store. Penelope added items like ice cream and cherries to the list in purple pen. He didn't have the chance to get a word in edge wise as she plunged into a story about trying to take Sergio for a walk. In the store Penelope commandeered a cart before ordering them off to the dry goods section for cereal and snack food.
"When's the last time you slept?" Morgan asked as they walked down the fluorescently lit aisle.
Hermione groaned and rubbed a hand over her face. "Do I really look that bad? I can never sleep on planes."
She smiled at him. "Right. I slept yesterday, but I was anxious about the trip so it wasn't restful."
He reached over and linked her elbow through his. "Let's make this a speed shopping trip so we can get you tucked in for the night."
Hermione's heart turned over in her chest and she squeezed her fingers on his bicep.
Reid was the first one to spot her when she walked into the bullpen.
Hermione dropped her bag on the floor when he approached and reciprocated his hug with force. JJ approached from behind.
"Can I get in on this?" she teased as Spencer didn't release the Captain.
Reid let her go and she turned to JJ with a smile, before exchanging hugs.
"Are you back for real?"
"According to my superiors and the director, I am."
"Penelope said you were back," Reid said, "but she's been scheming up ways to get you resigned to the BAU for the past two months. We weren't sure what to believe."
"It was supposed to be a surprise," Hermione said.
JJ snorted. "Sorry, have you met Garcia? Nothing is a surprise when you have a Garcia."
"Thank you, that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me."
The trio turned to see Garcia walking in on Morgan's arm. She carried a furry pink purse and wore purple platform heels to offset a turquoise dress.
"I told you!" she said, waving her finger at Reid and JJ. "Didn't I tell them, Morgan?" she turned to Hermione. "I told them but they didn't listen."
"She's been planning to abduct you," Reid informed her. "You're lucky she didn't fly to London and show up on your doorstep."
"There were serious concerns she might commit a felony," JJ said.
"Was there a team meeting I didn't get invited to?" Prentiss asked as she, Rossi and a third man stepped through the doors.
Hermione took a moment to assess the newcomer. He was a little over six feet, muscular, wearing a cream-colored henley tucked into blue jeans. Raven's wing hair, broad shoulders and sparking brown eyes that were enough to give Morgan a run for his money completed the package.
"Captain Hermione Granger, meet Special Agent Luke Alvez. He transferred to us from the Fugitive Task Force."
They exchanged greetings, then shook hands. He had a firm grip and his skin warm.
"As much as I hate to break up this party," Emily said, "we have a case."
"What? How do I not know about this?" Garcia demanded.
"Maybe you did a bit too much snooping into whether Hermione was coming back and missed a memo," Reid suggested.
"I just found out myself," Prentiss said. "We're headed to Palm Springs, California. I hope you all brought your go bags because we leave in thirty minutes."
It was good to be on the jet again. She had always loved take off. When they reached cruising altitude Emily established an uplink to Quantico and Penelope appeared on the screen to fill them in. The routine was comfortable to return to, Hermione mused as she flipped open her notepad.
"Hello my angels…. and Alvez, who is also present… So, our unsub has been going around Palm Springs killing families. I'm putting the photos up now. Anyone who wants to avert their eyes, you were warned."
"All the families have two children, a boy and a girl. The boy is always younger and the girls are all older. There are differences in the boys but so far the physical parameters of the girls are steady. Tall, dark hair, athletic. Our first victim, Tiffany Shultz, started on the varsity volleyball team for her high school. Amelia Westenroe ran cross-country, and Melanie Peters was captain of the rowing team," Garcia said.
Reid flipped over a map of Monterey, studying some markings he'd already made. "There's no overlap in geographical location."
"Local law enforcement doesn't have much to go on. The last victim's home had a security system. We have a visual of a man walking towards the house but he pauses and then the video goes out. The shot isn't clear enough to make out anything in the dark," Emily said.
"We're looking for a family annihilator," Rossi said.
Derek nodded. "The profile is male, probably in his thirties. Usually they're motivated by stressors like financial problems, a breakup with their significant other, or suffering from paranoid delusions."
"Most likely the unsub won't be known to police or mental facilities," Prentiss said.
"Then where do we start?" Hermione asked.
"We go to the crime scene and work up a profile," Rossi said.
"Cause of death was blunt force trauma with an unknown object," the Medical Examiner said.
Hermione breathed shallowly, inhaling the chemically scented air as the doctor pulled back the sheet to reveal the crushed skull of Jamie Shultz.
"I'd postulate a hammer, mallet or some other heavy object. There are no clear impressions, partly due to the overkill of repeated blows."
"Ligature marks? Any sign the unsub restrained them?" JJ asked.
"Not a single mark. All the victims are the same - there's no sign of other trauma."
"Do you think he used the same object in all the murders? Or is it a household item, something he found lying around?" Luke Alvez asked.
The Medical Examiner lifted his shoulder. "I wish I had more answers. It's impossible to tell."
The group asked a few more questions, then studied the other victims
. After securing copies of all the autopsies, the group piled in the SUV and headed for the Westenroe crime scene. Hermione sat in the back with Alvez riding shotgun and JJ in the driver's seat.
"Does anyone else think it's weird that none of the victims have defensive wounds? Not even the fathers?"
"Yes," Hermione said.
"He could be using the other family members to control them," JJ said. "We know next to nothing about his tactics in the hostage phase."
Alvez propped his arm on the console and looked back at Hermione. "But one of the adults would have done something, right? Fought back. It's a father's instinct and a mother seeing her children threatened would be hell on wheels."
"I would be," JJ said.
"Maybe they froze."
JJ's eyes lifted in the mirror to catch Hermione's as they glided to a stop for a red light.
"Why do you think so?" she asked.
"A normal person, faced with extreme violence has a range of reactions - fight, flight, or freeze. A lot of soldiers freeze during their first firefight. Their training kicks in, but the response is part of our neurobiology."
Luke grunted. "I've seen it."
"It's interesting that the unsub doesn't appear to have spent much time at any of the crime scenes," Hermione said. "Estimated time of death is close to when the security camera caught him breaking into the Peters' home."
"What do you mean?" Alvez asked.
"Serial killers are after enjoyment. The rush of the crime, an emotional or sexual release that comes with their behavior. This unsub isn't showing any of those qualities."
JJ frowned. "You're right."
"Try not to sound so surprised," Hermione said.
The blonde agent laughed, shifting the car into park along the curb outside of a mid-century modern home with a large weeping willow that dominated the front yard. Hermione's phone rang. She glanced at the caller ID and saw the alias for Kingsely.
"I have to take this," she said.
Alvez and JJ walked up the sidewalk and Hermione made her way along the fence to a more private area to pick up the call.
"Granger. I have some news. Are you alone?"
Her heart skipped a beat.
"What is it? Is Harry okay?"
"Yes. He's fine."
Her body went numb with relief. "Alright."
"The prisoner exchange didn't go well. Lucius has escaped."
She cursed and vented, but what had happened was done. Lucius had gone missing and no one could find him. They'd searched all morning and would continue to search, but there was no sign of him. The feeling of dread curling in her stomach was an unpleasant reminder of how good Malfoy was at staying off the grid when he wanted to. How long would it take to find him this time? Who would get hurt before then?
"I've contacted the magical law enforcement office in Phoenix and we have the Hotchner family in protective custody."
"Thank you, sir," Hermione said. "I have to go, I'm at a crime scene. But let me know if there are any updates."
She put her phone away and headed inside. While Rossi and Prentiss picked apart the crime scene, Hermione hung back. Hotch and Jack had just gotten settled and now Lucius was ripping their lives apart again. The prisoner exchange had been stupid and selfish. She should have stayed in London and accepted the consequences instead of coming back. Lucius would still be in a cell if she hadn't. Jack would be safe. Hotch would be safe. She'd screwed up.
"Are you okay?" Derek asked her as they walked to the SUV to return to the station.
"I saw you talking on the phone from the window. You looked pretty upset."
One sharp eyebrow lifted. "That didn't come off defensive at all."
Hermione pursed her lips. "It isn't a big deal. We don't need to talk about it."
When Morgan crossed his arms she knew she'd said the wrong thing. Trying to back track before he pushed father, she interjected, cutting him off before he started.
"Look, I can't talk about it. So let's drop the subject."
"No. You're upset. Tell me what happened."
She shook her head.
"Come on, princess."
Morgan's eyes narrowed. "I've done this before. Emily wasn't straight with the team about Ian Doyle and we couldn't help her. But I know something is going on with you. Let us help you. Whatever it is, you don't have to go it alone."
Before she could pull away, he'd taken possession of her wrist and pushed back the leather cuff she wore to cover the scar. The ugly mark left by Lucius' spell was revealed. Running his thumb over the burn mark, his face darkened. Something dangerous glinting in his eyes that made her heart jump to her throat.
"What happened? Did someone hurt you? Talk to me, I won't take no for an answer."
Hermione summoned the most remote expression she could manage.
"You're going to have to. Because it's the only answer you'll get."
That night she called Harry and learned that Hotch and Jack were settled in at Ilvermorny, where they were staying while the students were on summer break. Hotch was angry. A wave of guilt engulfed her at the knowledge and held her under for the next few days.
Morgan talked to her when he had to but other than the necessary, he ignored her.
On the phone Garcia was equally cold to her. Emily pulled her aside and attempted to have a candid conversation but she maneuvered her way around the prying questions. On Tuesday there was another murder six miles north of the last crime scene. The other scenes had been pristine but in this house, the unsub had destroyed everything he could lay his hands on. Hermione stepped over the toppled remains of a potted tree, with its dirt staining the white carpet, to enter the living room.
"Watch out for the glass on the stairs," Emily said.
"This is a change in behavior," Reid said as he studied the room.
JJ nodded. "Talk about overkill. How long do you think this took him?"
"Depends how angry he was," Luke said.
"Was this after the murders?" Derek wondered aloud. "Because he's never spent much time at the crime scenes before."
Rossi studied the broken remains of the items that had decorated the mantle. "This is the first ritualized behavior he's displayed."
"What if it isn't?" Hermione asked. "What if he was just looking for something?"
Emily turned to a uniform. "Was anything taken?"
"Not that we can tell. But we haven't gone through the house completely and there isn't anyone around to identify missing objects."
They walked through the house and visited the master bedroom where the parents' bodies had been discovered. All that was left to mark their death was the blood stains.
"He uses a knife," JJ said. "That's odd for someone who needs to control multiple people."
"The unsub is confident in his physical ability," Reid said.
JJ studied a bent poker stabbed into the middle couch cushion. "He's physically imposing or has training. It's possible these aren't his first crimes."
"The coroner said he'd cut their arteries, right? He probably knows what to aim for, considering that he's left none of his victims alive," Alvez said.
After visiting the children's respective bedrooms they split up into groups to search the premises. Hermione partnered with Rossi to search outside and told him what had happened. He was the only person she could tell, so she didn't spare him any details. She told him about capturing Lucius, the trade Kingsley had proposed, and her fulfillment of the bargain by offering Lucius.
"I've taken measures to ensure that Jack and Hotch are safe," she said.
Rossi studied her with concern. "Honestly? I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about you."
"Who messed up his master plan to kill Jack and return to his former life? You did. I'm sure he has other enemies but recent events must have pushed you to the top of his hit list."
Hermione considered him. "I hadn't thought of it like that."
"You should watch your back," Rossi advised.
The statement hung over her for the next few days. Even though she didn't entirely believe she was important enough to bring Lucius to the U.S., she called Seamus Finnegan. Within the hour he was in Palm Beach with Lee Jordan, Terry Boot, and Anthony Goldstine. Having them around made her feel marginally better. Lucius weighed heavy on her mind as the team worked to build a complete profile. Since she was useless for most of the work, they were doing she set to work going over the physical evidence from the recent crime scene. In the evidence lock up room she was alone to think and deliberate over the Lucius situation, which suited her mood.
In the chilly basement that served as a store room, she sat in a metal folding chair going through tables of victim belongings. Uniforms had collected as many items as they could from the scenes. Because no one was alive to tell what was missing, it fell to the police to figure it out. Hermione had volunteered to assist them while the others worked on the profile.
The rest of the team was on lunch but she'd gotten a package of pop tarts from the vending machine to tide her over. As she double checked the boxes of legal documents, she heard the door swing open. A glance over her shoulder confirmed the familiar tap of heels was Emily Prentiss. In her hands was a white paper bag.
"I brought you a sandwich. Ham and Swiss panini, extra pickles."
Surprised by the gesture, and that she'd known what to order, Hermione accepted with a word of thanks.
"Have you found anything useful?"
"Maybe," Hermione said. She picked up the manifest of items she'd been cataloging. "The fathers all had new passports. The birth certificates were also recently reapplied for and when I asked Garcia to look into their histories, she wasn't able to find anything going back farther than five years for any of them."
"Ties to witness protection?"
"None. It makes little sense. As far as I can tell, the documents are all authentic and were obtained through legal channels. They're not on the radar of any American law enforcement organization."
"Huh. Come with me. We need to have a team meeting."
In the conference room that was serving as their offices Hermione related what she'd found.
"The fathers were all European," Spencer said when she'd finished.
"They were? How didn't we know about this?" Emily asked.
From the computer monitor, Garcia spoke. "You didn't know because we didn't know."
"I only found out by talking to the neighbors," Spencer said.
Garcia was clicking away on her keyboard. "As far as their documentation goes, someone covered the digital tracks with great effort. Even your royal highness the queen of digging up dirt had to work to find their immigration papers. Unless you ask the right questions and hack the right databases - excuse me, access the right databases - they're all Americans. When I went looking for their real birth certificates things got really weird."
The screen shifted to show four birth certificates. Hermione stepped closer to read them.
"Jim Shultz was born in Oberhausen, Germany. Ethan Westenroe is from Bern, Switzerland. Warren Peters is from Silven, Bulgaria and Pablo Cavalli was from Milan, Italy. There are still birth certificates on file, but get this. They're from orphanages. Their parents abandoned them as babies."
"They're the same age," Hermione said.
Spencer stepped forward to look at the certificates with her. "They were all born in the same month."
"That's not all," Garcia said. "Around the age of ten and eleven, they disappear out of the system. Nothing, nada, no radio signals. Social media, government records, school files, medical info, there's not a drop of data to guess where they went. As far as a paper trail goes they reappear when they immigrate to the U.S five years ago."
The team stared at each other.
"Does anyone have any theories?" JJ asked.
Luke shook his head. Rossi shrugged. No one offered a reply.
Hermione stared at the birth certificates and rocked back on her heels. Rather than confusion, her feelings ran towards dread. Because she had a theory, or perhaps it was still half of a theory, but even partly formed her ideas had entered a dark territory. When she could slip away Hermione retreated to evidence lock up, took out her pocket compact and used the mirror to contact Seamus. When he answered, she didn't mince words.
"We need to meet with the Agency of Criminal Magic. Tonight."
Thank you for reading. Please Review, I always appreciate feedback. It's like an electronic double-chocolate chip cookie for this author.