Chapter 29

Holding Cells,

Wednesday, 7th January 2004

"Your dinner," Neville said sullenly as he dumped the meagre tray on the small table in the corner of the cell that housed the two Bulgarian captives; the young man looked every inch a Pureblood prince begrudging the fact that someone of his standing had been reduced to delivering food to prisoners. It was a mannerism that they seemed to empathise with, though it did nothing to derail their focus on their own situation.

"Ven vil ve be able to speak to our Embassy?" the older of the two demanded.

"Soon," the Senior Auror responded tersely; without another word he turned on his heel and joined his colleague outside the door, which was locked again behind him. As he left the cell he watched out of the corner of his eye as the two prisoners ate their meal; he smiled to himself as they each drained a goblet laced with the truth serum.

Five minutes later each was taken to a separate interview room.

Minister's Office

Thursday, 8th January 2004

"And this was obtained under Veritaserum?" James sought confirmation.

"Yes, sir," Amelia confirmed. "Aurors Longbottom," she nodded to the Deputy Minister, who was also present, "and Tonks led the interrogations and the Bulgarians, very reluctantly, divulged the information to us. They were screaming throughout that there would be hell to pay when their country found out, but we got the information from them – about the plot, about Regulus Black's involvement, everything."

James drummed his fingers against his desk; the implications were troubling – both the Bulgarians' plans and the way in which the DMLE had discovered them; conceivably it could bring down his Ministry if the wrong people found out and kicked up a stink about it, even though they weren't acting on his orders. "All inadmissible of course, given how it was obtained, even though it is the truth. So what can we do? Can we bring Black in? He no longer has Wizengamot protection so we can get him to answer all our questions about this."

Bones frowned. "His home is known to be unplottable so it won't be easy to get hold of him but if you want him brought in then we'll get him eventually."

"In the meantime," the Minister sat back in his chair, "I trust the interrogation has been obliviated from their minds?"

"Do you really want to know?" Bones asked him; James hesitated. Maintaining a little plausible deniability was always a useful thing for a Minister to possess after all.

"Perhaps you and I should discuss this on the way back to your department?" Frank Longbottom suggested. With a small nod from the Minister he steered Bones out of the office.

"It was done as soon as they were returned to their cell; we stunned and obliviated them," Bones informed him. "Best as they know, it appears, they simply had dinner yesterday and spent a tedious evening in their cells. We interrogated them again this morning but without the serum they refused to talk and continued to demand to speak to their country's representative. Since they don't have their wands, hopefully they won't suspect that anything happened to them at all."

"When will you let them speak to their Embassy?"

"We're going to contact them this afternoon, advise them that two wizards claiming to be Bulgarian were arrested and are demanding representation. Officially we still don't have names for them so it will be interesting to see if they can identify them."

"You didn't get their names under Veritaserum?" Frank asked in surprise.

"Of course we did," Bones replied with a small grin, "but we want to see if they'll admit to knowing these two are here."

Friday 9th January 2004

"You wanted to see me, Prongs?" Sirius sauntered into the office; Lily hovered in the doorway until, with a small nod, her husband invited her into the room. She closed the door behind them, triggering the soundproofing charm.

"Padfoot, can you get in touch with your brother? Maybe pay him a visit?"

The Wizengamot member shook his head. "Sorry, Prongs, but when my parents named Regulus as their chosen heir instead of me it meant that I could be excluded from the protections around… the family home – see, I can't even say the address. I can remember it but I can't say it or write it down."

"Is there any way that you can make contact? Anything at all?" Lily asked.

"What about the family elf?" James enquired suddenly. "Would he be willing to come to speak to you?"

"It would be his – or rather Regulus's choice," he explained. "Assuming Kreacher is still alive; he was old when I left home. The Elf is tied to the family so he might respond to my call but Regulus is clearly his master so he could easily overrule me."

"Even though you control the family's Wizengamot seat?" Lily asked curiously.

"There's a big difference between being Head of House and representing it in the government," Sirius explained patiently, appreciating that the first-generation witch still knew only a small portion of the intricate world of Pureblood family politics. "While the Head of House normally is also the representative the two aren't one and the same; I didn't replace him as Head of House when he was forced to resign – remember he was intending to name his own successor. I will try calling Kreacher though, see if Regulus is willing to meet you. When should I arrange it for?"

"As soon as possible," James answered. "Get a time and I'll ensure I'm available."

Padfoot nodded, appreciating that the matter must be an urgent one. "I won't tell him that though; we don't want him thinking he's too important," he added with a smile. "Kreacher?" he called as he left the office.

The three waited in silence to see if the elf would respond to Sirius's summons. A few tense moments later a loud crack rent the air and the old elf appeared in the ante room, muttering under its breath.

"Nasty blood traitor had the nerve to call Kreacher. Minister's Office occupied by blood traitors and mudbloods. Oh, mistress would be ashamed to see the world like this."

Sirius bit his tongue as he stopped by Lily's desk; much as he'd like to berate Kreacher for insulting them, he knew he had to deliver a message.

"Kreacher, the Minister wishes to speak to Regulus. Ask him to come to the Ministry as soon as possible."

The elf shot him a loathing look before disappearing again.

"Do you think he will pass the message on?" Lily asked; she and her husband had been watching from the doorway to the Minister's Office.

"He responded to my summons, however unwillingly. That means Regulus either approved of his doing so or will want to know where he went. He will get the message."

Another crack heralded the old elf's return. "Master Regulus asks Minister Blood Traitor for certain assurances before he visits."

"What does he want?" James asked sharply, not at all happy at the way he was described.

"Master Regulus wants a written promise that he will be allowed to come and go freely and his information will not be used against him. If Minister agrees, Kreacher will bring the document for him to sign."

James frowned and traded glances with his wife and his best friend; surely Black's request proved that he was in on whatever was being planned but getting the information about what Bulgaria had planned was too important so he felt the price needed to be paid. "He has my word," he sighed in resignation.

Kreacher snapped his fingers and disappeared again; ten minutes later he returned with a scroll of parchment. James read through it, Lily peering over his shoulder. The couple nodded to one another once they'd finished, casting their eyes over Black's flourished signature.

"This is acceptable," he told Kreacher as he signed underneath Regulus's. "Bring Regulus over as soon as possible," he handed it back to the elf, who disappeared with a nod.

Department of Magical Research,

Ministry of Magic,

"Hermione," Luna called her boss as she read the memo she'd just opened." The older witch looked up from her desk. "There's a visitor for you in the Atrium."

Hermione looked at her deputy with surprise; visitors to their department were a rarity and she also knew that visitors to most heads of department were shown where to go or even led there – clearly her fiefdom, or more likely her blood status, still wasn't considered important enough by the Ministry staff.

"Can they send them up?" she retorted, grumpily; it was getting towards mid-afternoon and neither woman had eaten due to the amount of work they were trying to get done before the weekend.

"I'll ask," Luna offered happily, scribbling on the parchment before, with a tap of her wand, it folded itself back into an aeroplane shape and flew out of their office, leading to Hermione returning to her paperwork.

"Do you know who it was?" Hermione asked a minute or so later.

"Oh yes," Luna confirmed with a smile, "an old friend of yours," she added knowingly.

"Who?" Hermione persisted before being answered by a gruff, masculine voice.

"Hello, Herm-oh-ninny," her head snapped towards the door at the sound.

"Viktor?" she asked in shock; sure, she'd hear about the big match taking place the next day – nobody in magical Britain was talking about anything else – and she knew Viktor was one of Bulgaria's top players but she hadn't expected him to visit her. She stood as the tall Bulgarian strode over to her desk and found herself swept into a hug by him. "How are you? It's good to see you," she gabbled, a small part of her brain realising it was the truth, not just words.

"I haf been keeping vell," he confirmed. "You look as lovely as ever." A blush crept into the brunette's cheeks. "Vould you haf time for a meal?"

Hermione's face broke into a wide smile. "Luna, I'm out to lunch," she declared, looping an arm through Krum's and exiting the office at high speed.

"Strange," the blonde commented dreamily as she looked at the closed door, "that's usually what people say about me." She smiled widely. "Have a good weekend, boss," she stated before, seeing that her own tray was almost cleared, summoning a sheet of paper from her manager's in tray (recognising it was paper rather than parchment meant she had a good idea where it had originated from) and poring over the invention it detailed. "Ooh, a magical battery…"

Minister's Office

"Mr Black, come in," Lily greeted the arrival; in an effort to underline his own importance Black had left them waiting an hour before he arrived, wearing formal dress robes and looking every inch the head of an old Pureblood house. He shot her a contemptuous look and strode past her into the Minister's Office without speaking.

"You wanted to see me, Minister?" he prompted brusquely as he sat down uninvited.

"First you can reply to my wife. I don't know how things are done in the House of Black but in the Ministry we treat everyone with dignity and respect," James stated icily.

Black barked out a laugh. "Only if you're in earshot I assure you," he snarled back before turning to the redhead and muttering a sullen "Thank you for showing me in," and turning back to James. "So, what did you wish to speak to me about?"

"Your role in Bulgaria's attempts to overthrow our Ministry," James replied bluntly; Black was rocked out of his confident look a little.

"What do you mean?" he asked, a moment too late.

"You know perfectly well what I mean," Potter replied. "We arrested two of your house guests in London a couple of nights ago. They confessed to the plan – and your part in it."

"They are not house guests of mine," Black countered angrily. "I threw them out when they abused my hospitality and attacked Kreacher."

"But you are involved in a plot," James challenged; Black shrugged, taking a few seconds to get his temper back under control before he blurted anything out.

"You've given me assurances of immunity."

"And as part of the deal, one you agreed to, I want to know everything you do about it," James reminded him.

Black sighed; he really had no choice but to admit everything, not least as he was now a lot more eager to see the incursion fail. "After the stunt you pulled getting me kicked out of the chamber and replaced by my dear brother, I was angry; I will admit it. I was especially angry with my 'friends' in our faction, how quick they were to cut Macnair and me adrift. It's no secret that I want your job, Minister, but the price the Empire is demanding is too high. I can tell you one thing though… not all of my guests seek conquest. At least one, I'm sure, would consider defection."

This news was of interest to James. "Perhaps you should bring this potential defector in for a visit, Mr Black," he suggested.

"I'll do that on Monday," Black offered, getting up to leave.

"Not so fast," Potter cautioned him. "I'd like a lot more information before you leave," he added in an overly pleasant voice.

The Clarence,

53 Whitehall

Krum held the door open for his date; she thanked him for his action and approached the maitre d's station. Due to the early hour things were fairly quiet; Hermione's hasty transfiguration of their clothes into moderately formal non-magical workwear meant they did not look out of place, especially as some of the few patrons were dressed fairly casually on a Friday.

They were led to a small table for two in a quiet, dimly lit corner of the restaurant; a waiter appeared and lit the sole candle in the centre of the table before handing them a menu each and taking their drink orders. Viktor knew that wine was the expected order in an establishment such as this; he was happy to let Hermione order for them both.

"So how have you been?" she asked once the waiter had brought the ordered bottle, poured them a glass apiece and dissolved back into the darkness. Hermione's mind wandered during Krum's monologue, back to their first meeting in her 4th year of Hogwarts, when Krum had been a part of the Durmstrang contingent that came to Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament. She'd initially rolled her eyes at the way girls swooned over him and many of the Purebloods and half-bloods eyed him with something akin to reverence due to his burgeoning reputation as a Quidditch superstar. She recalled his inviting her to the Yule Ball (she'd really wanted Harry to ask her but he'd opted to ask Lavender Big-Boobs instead; Hermione was surprised to discover that she still harboured a trace of bitterness in her musings about it after all this time). She was drawn from her reverie as she caught the tail end of a question from him, thankfully she was able to piece together enough of it to give an answer.

"Oh I've been doing well," her smile widened (Krum had been suitably convinced of her interest in his answer by the fact that she'd been looking at him even as her mind wandered), "I run my own department in the Ministry now, youngest Department Head in history actually," she added with a smile before chuckling. "It's hardly International Quidditch Star but it's something."

"It's very impressive," he commended, "especially with how powerful people across the vorld treat people of your background". Any awkwardness from the bluntness of his observation was overcome as their waiter returned and asked to take their orders; Hermione ordered then for herself before, nodding to her date, she asked for a minute; she took the time to continue her silent reminisces as Viktor studied the menu some more.

The Yule Ball had been an enjoyable evening; as a champion's date she'd opened the dancing and had plenty of eyes on her as she flowed across the floor of the Great Hall. She'd kept a close eye on Harry as the evening had gone on; he and the busty Miss Brown had matched each other butterbeer for butterbeer all evening before they disappeared early, unnoticed by anyone other than the sharp-eyed Miss Granger, who even heard Brown's giggles as they left the Hall; it was very obvious to her how their evening was going to end.

Viktor was talking again now; the waiter had retreated again with their dinner orders and she reflected on how much of a gentleman her date had been throughout the evening – even to the point of kissing her hand as they reached the Entrance Hall and he expected them to go their separate ways. In what she could now freely admit was a childish impulse to 'show Harry' she told Viktor she would walk him back to the Durmstrang ship; before long they were in his cabin and she knew how she wanted her night to end. It had been her first time (with her second happening the following morning) and Krum had made it as pleasant as it could be, leading to them spending another night together after the final task of the tournament, just before the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons parties went their separate ways. She'd thought back then that she'd never see him again; letters between them had dwindled in frequency and finally stopped after a year or so – this was the first time they'd seen each other in more than seven years.

Her reminiscing complete, Hermione made sure that the conversation became more two-way, lapsing easily into friendly chatter between them. At age fifteen-to-sixteen she'd known that the bookworm and the Quidditch star didn't have too much in common but sitting here now he seemed genuinely interested in her job at the Ministry, understanding that she couldn't talk too much about what she was working on (particularly as, in his own words, he was part of 'the enemy'). They touched on Harry Potter, someone Viktor had come to know reasonably well over the year given they both played Seeker and had taken to flying together when weather and schedules allowed it (though Viktor sometimes thought back to their discussions about Hermione; Harry had come across as threatening in a protective brother way, though their conversations had never made it back to the witch herself). By the time dessert had been consumed, both diners were happy to have reconnected and felt that the years had melted away; the only bone of contention was when the bill arrived.

"I'll get it," Hermione reached for her purse.

"No, I insist," the Bulgarian covered her hand with his own and used his other to pull the bill towards himself.

"You have British money with you?" she asked, somewhat sceptical.

"Of course," he shrugged. "Ve are staying in one of London's finest hotels, not the Leaky Cauldron," he added with a confident smile. To prove it he produced a wallet crammed with red fifty-pound notes.

"In that case, Mr Krum," she grinned, "thank you for dinner."

"So," the Bulgarian asked with a confident smile as they left the restaurant, "your place or mine?"

His inference wasn't hard to read; it did pose a question for Hermione though. "I thought you had a fiancée," she observed inquisitively, recalling what she'd read, and heard via gossiping witches in the Ministry whenever his name made the Daily Prophet; he just shrugged.

"She is in Bulgaria; vat she doesn't know vill not hurt her."

Hermione could think of a million reasons, not least the Bulgarian girl waiting at home, why she should slap the man for that and just leave him standing in the middle of non-magical London but sometimes even she got, and succumbed to, baser urges. Besides, she told herself by way of convincing herself that it wasn't such a bad idea, he has the game tomorrow, maybe I can wear him out. A smile played on her face as she thought Time to take one for the team, Granger. While the idea of a night in a plush hotel was appealing, she also felt that a little more privacy might just help this evening. "Mine," she said simply, dragging him into an empty alcove between two parades of shops, away from prying eyes, and then locking lips with him as she apparated them away.

Department of International Magical Co-operation,

Ministry of Magic

"Ah, Deputy Minister," Lestrange got to his feet as Frank Longbottom entered the room. "Good of you to join us, though I suspect this means Minister Potter..?"

"He won't be joining us," Frank shook his head. "Even on a Friday afternoon the Minister has many demands on his time." Particularly when a Deputy Minister has been sent from abroad he thought as he eyed the foreign delegation.

"This is… disappointing," the Bulgarian Ambassador commented irritably.

"Now, now," the Bulgarian Deputy Minister counselled, "Minister Oblansk has at least as many calls on his own time; after all," he smiled, "that is why I'm here instead."

"Really?" Frank asked with quiet scepticism. The Bulgarians shifted a little in their seats but kept the discomfort from their faces as the official complaint has yet to be made.

"Perhaps, Deputy Minister," Lestrange sought to quell the tension, "you could explain why our guests have been invited here this afternoon."

"Of course," he nodded before turning to them. "Early on Tuesday morning we apprehended two Magicals in a non-magical area of London; they had used magic against a number of non-magical people, including members of their Law Enforcement agency. Given the severity of this risk to the Statute of Secrecy – a statute, I should remind you, that is enforced by the ICW – they have been in our custody since then. They claimed to be Bulgarian and demanded to speak with you, but, lacking any identification, it took us a little while to confirm this – and, as we still have no official ID of them we're still not certain. So, Mr Deputy Minister, Mr Ambassador, I'm hoping that you can advise us as to whether you know of any of your magicals who are currently in Britain but unaccounted for, along with reasons as to why your people, if of course they are, would be jeopardising our entire world through their flagrant violation of the Statute of Secrecy."

"I see," the Ambassador frowned, trading a dark look with his Deputy Minister. He, of course, knew of the planned invasion but was not eager to have this investigated too thoroughly. "May I begin by saying that I'm disappointed that you didn't contact us earlier, when they first identified themselves as Bulgarian."

"We did not see fit to waste your time without reasonable grounds that they were being truthful about their nationality," Frank returned. His opposite number nodded.

"A fair argument," he conceded. "Now that you believe you have identified them, may we speak to them?"

"You may, in the presence of one of our Aurors. That is British law and they are still our prisoners."

The Bulgarians traded dark looks, though it was clear that this policy would not be waived.

"Very well," the Ambassador sighed. "Take us to them. Oh, in answer to your question, we know of no Bulgarians, other than our diplomatic staff, of course, who have travelled directly to your country though with the new rules regarding travel in the muggle world, it is possible some have travelled by means that we have not detected. Our Magical Passport list would have updated itself had they come here by magical means."

"Very well," Frank nodded, not expecting to get an admission that they were here on governmental orders.

"Before we go," the Bulgarian Deputy withdrew a scroll from his robes; he handed it to Lestrange, "my government formally protests against Britain's continued refusal to hand over the criminal Harry Potter to us for trial. We reiterate our demand that he be surrendered into our custody immediately."

"I shall see that the Minister gets it," Lestrange worked hard to keep the glee from his voice and features; Frank looked away, unable to keep the anger from his face at the demand. "Now, Deputy Minister Longbottom will take you to the Law Enforcement Department so you can meet your countrymen."

Interview Room 2

Tonks brought the two prisoners to the room; she remained stood with her back leaning against the door while the Bulgarian officials conversed with their countrymen. The Auror had secreted a special dictaquill on her person; it was charmed to take notes with a quick-drying ink and also super-sensitive to the hushed talks between lawyers and clients. Of course, the notes it took would all be in Bulgarian, the others in the room opting to use their native tongue both for convenience and privacy, but there would be somebody who could translate it, even if it meant buying a non-magical dictionary and doing so by hand. What she could tell was that this was quite a heated conversation.

"Did you get everything?" Bones asked as Tonks left the room; the metamorphmagus shrugged.

"I set the Dictaquill going, I got what was said – I think – I didn't understand a word of it," she admitted. "I'll find some way of getting this translated and take it from there."

"Good," Bones nodded. "Oh, and Tonks," she called as her underling prepared to walk off, "don't forget this is strictly off the record."

Tonks nodded. They were gathering plenty of intel on what the Empire may or may not be planning, aided by the information the Minister had obtained from Regulus, but the methods were certainly somewhat questionable and definitely not something they wanted to have to admit to in front of the Wizengamot. It would have to stay well away from the Minister until they had sufficient information obtained by "acceptable" methods.

"You can rely on me," she assured her boss; Bones' response was a curt nod as she left.