Draco found a reason to go into work with Hermione. He didn't have one. Not really. What he had was a real fear that when that body was found, she'd end up cornered. He'd go mad with fear of that at home. Better to be in the corner of her office, feet tucked under him, Potions magazine in his hand.
"This is from 1974," he said. "I've heard about doctor's offices having old magazines, but never extrapolated that to politicians."
"Take it up with my secretary," Hermione suggested. She'd barely sat down before she started getting inundated with flying memos. Draco was tempted to drag the whole lot of the things into the bin and take care of them with a quick Incendio, but maybe today wasn't the day for that. Play it calm. And he wasn't going to take anything up with that gorgon who sat outside Hermione's office. That woman terrified him and she'd never said more to him than perfectly correct greetings.
"I think I'll just learn more about what was considered cutting edge before I was born."
He didn't get much time to study the radical proposal, made by one Sagium Velder-Oakes, that British potioneers consider some non-native plants to have one or two aphrodisiac properties worth investigating. He barely skimmed the first paragraph before the door exploded open, banging into the cabinet behind it, and Neville pushed his way in. Theo came behind him, shutting the door with almost fussy tidiness.
"Have a fun night?" Hermione inquired dryly, her face still down over bureaucracy.
"Spent most of it fucking like rabbits in heat," Theo said. "Since you asked."
She looked up at that. "How nice," she said. "I meant the murder part."
"That's what we're here about," Neville said. "You have an in with Skeeter at that place. Use it."
"To do what?"
"Get her on our side."
Hermione nodded, threw a handful of powder in the floo, and connected right to Rita Skeeter. Direct line. Draco wasn't sure whether he should be impressed or worried by that.
Skeeter's face wasn't improved by the dancing flames. Nor was her cooing delight. "Hermione, darling. You are the talk of the newsroom this morning."
"Haven't you heard?" Skeeter leaned forward, the classic pose of the false confidant. "Someone killed poor Frank."
"Frank?" Hermione's ability to feign confusion had improved.
"Franky Goffswallow. Wrote that little article about you yesterday? I tried to stop him. I said, Frank, she's a lovely girl, and you aren't the expert on her you think you are, but he didn't listen, and now look at him. Dead."
"Oh yes," Hermione said. "That article."
"Not a fan, were you?" Rita Skeeter clucked. "Dreadful, really. Completely one-sided, and I'm sure that girl he talked to had a grudge. It's as if he'd Never heard of journalistic integrity, and, between you me and the wall, he had certain delusions of grandeur."
Draco was going to choke on not responding to that.
"I was wondering if you and I could meet. I'd wanted to do a a little counterpoint to that, but now, maybe it's not the best idea."
Rita almost slavered in her eagerness. "No, sweetheart, it's the best idea. You don't know how the press works, darling. You're still so young, for all you're brilliant. If you don't say anything, people will assume you're hiding, especially since that article about you was stuck to his chest with a knife."
"It was?" Hermione flicked a glance away from the floor at Neville, who shrugged. "How gruesome."
"It was," Rita said. "Poor Agatha — bit of a dullard, works down in the life section — found him this morning and she's still shaking."
"Maybe you could come here?" Hermione said. "I'm getting the feeling I shouldn't head over there."
"Crawling with aurors," Rita said cheerfully. "Not that they seem to be able to figure out a thing other than the poor man's dead, which I could have told them. I'll be over in a trice, don't worry your pretty little head about it."
The floo clicked off, and Draco stared into the empty fireplace grate. Neville pulled the magazine out of his hands and made a 'mmm-ing' sound.
"What?" Theo asked.
"This one," Neville said, pointing to an illustration of a flower in the article Draco hadn't been reading. "Turned out to be useful in a few potions that treat fevers, but it's not going to do anything for your sex life."
"I was unaware our sex life needed livening up," Theo said.
"Oh god," Hermione muttered. "Please no. No details."
"But, if you think so, after this little meeting with Rita is over, we could stop by a little shop I know and get a — "
"Please, stop," Hermione said. "I'm begging you."
"It's not my fault you're boring in bed," Theo said. "Maybe if you took a little time off to buy a few toys — "
"She's not — " Draco started to say, then stopped as Hermione swung her head around to glare at him and Theo began to laugh. "How long do you think it will take Rita to get here?" he settled on instead.
. . . . . . . . . .
The answer turns out to be, 'not long.' Rita Skeeter must have apparated from her desk to the Ministry without stopping to do so much as take a piss because she knocks on Hermione's door within minutes of pulling her head out of the floo.
You've forgotten how much you dislike her since you saw her last. The aggressive scent of her perfume reminds you.
"How are you holding up?" she asks, flinging herself right past you and Theo to pat Hermione on the cheek. "You poor dear. Absolutely everyone thinks it's a deliberate attempt to put a chill on journalism. It was one of He Who Must Not be Named's favorite little games, you know. Threaten and kill and keep the press from running anything too uncomplimentary."
You close the door. Theo moves to stand in front of it.
"Actually, Miss Skeeter, that's why I wanted to speak to you today."
She spins around when she hears the words and sees you there. Unprepossessing. Rumpled. Something in your demeanor must have changed in the last year, however, because she doesn't dismiss you out of hand. Her eyes don't glide over you in quite the same way they did the last time you met with her. Then she only cared about Hermione, and you might as well have been a book she'd brought along with her. Mildly interesting at best. Now her eyes narrow and her lips purse.
"Neville Longbottom," she says. "Still gay, I see."
"Thoroughly," Theo says.
"Did you kill poor Frank?" She pulls her quill half out, then seems to think better of it and tucks it away. That's good. She's not as foolish as she wants people to think.
"Yes," you say.
"So, Rita," Hermione says so quickly you know she's nervous. "What we really want to know — "
"We," she says flatly. She glances around the room, her eyes measuring all four of you. Her hand is still on that quill, and you wonder how much magic she's tucked away into it. More than just dictation, you suspect. "Are there more?"
"No," Hermione says. Her smile is a newly hatched political one;insincere but so, so warm. "When you want to get a thing done, small groups work better than large ones."
The door opens again, this time to admit a very flustered Harry Potter followed by a downright furious secretary. "I'm sorry, Madam Minister," the secretary says. "He simply wouldn't stop and I didn't want to hurt him."
"No, it's not a problem," Hermione says. "Thank you, but if you could stop anyone else, I would appreciate it."
"With whatever force is necessary?"
You notice Draco edging very slightly away from the door.
"Yes," Hermione says. "I'll sign the paperwork if things get out of hand."
"Very good." A brisk nod of her head, a slight moment where she eyes Harry Potter and lets him consider that next time she will hurt him, and Hermione's secretary lets herself out.
"There's paperwork?" Theo asks. He actually sounds incredulous, which might be a first.
"There's paperwork for everything," Hermione mutters.
You're too busy watching Harry Potter stumble to a halt and try to figure out what's going on. "Why is she here?" he asks, waving a hand at Rita Skeeter, who bristles. You're hardly the first murderers she's ever interviewed, but she doesn't like the way Harry isn't happy to see her.
"I'm doing a story," she says. "It's what I do for a living, darling. Perhaps you remember."
He glowers at her before turning to Hermione. "Did you see that article?"
"Oh lord." Theo casually transfigures a pile of law books into a soft armchair and throws himself down into it. The fabric has taken on the text of whichever book was on top, and gold letters offer instructions on filing the proper forms for stimulant imports. Your eyes trace along the polysyllabic verbiage until it disappears under Theo's arse. "Are you always this far behind, Potter?" he asks.
"Rita," you say. "How do you feel about being the press support for a little — "
"Coup?" she asks. She flicks a glance at Theo. "Can you make me one of those chairs, you darling boy? There's no comfortable place to sit in here."
Theo obliges, and she sits. She tucks one ankle behind the other and dimples at you. "So, tell me," she asks. "Is our Harry Potter part of your little group."
"No," Draco says, right as Hermione says, "Yes."
"Still the old rivalry," she says. She clucks her tongue. "You should include him, Mr. Malfoy. He gives you — "
"Nothing," Draco said with more bitterness than you'd expect from him. "Cleaning up his messes is what he gives us. Killed anyone today, Potter?"
"No," Harry snaps. "How about you?"
"That was yesterday," Theo says. "Why? Feel left out?"
"I — "
"There's always room for one more," Theo says. He crosses and uncrosses his legs, then sticks the tip of his thumb in his mouth. Harry Potter blushes as red as Ginny Weasley's hair.
"Would you stop?" Hermione asks.
"Let me have my fun, Minister."
"We're concerned," Hermione says, pushing down both Theo's laughter and Harry's fumbling nerves with the sort of prim but determined tone she used to use when she was a prefect, doing her best to keep the Weasley twins in line. It almost worked on them. It absolutely works on Harry.
Theo, well, he closes his mouth, but his amused smirk doesn't go away.
"We are concerned," Hermione says again, "about the increased radicalization of some of the population in the wake of the war. Wizarding Britain has a history of ignoring the rise of Dark Lords until it's too late. Grindelwald might have been merely bad luck, but Grindelwald and Voldemort in such a short span of time suggests there are structural flaws innate to the culture that we — "
"Want to root out?" Rita Skeeter suggests.
"Things like the Squib Protection Act are a step in that direction," Hermione says. "But laws only go so far, and sometimes you have to be willing to go above and beyond."
"To take on responsibility as a burden," Harry says. He sits on the edge of Hermione's desk.
"To stand in the way of some young man who might take inspiration from the past," Hermione says. "To prevent the third war."
Rita Skeeter pulls out her quill. "You'll give me full access," she says. It's barely a question. Hermione glances up at you, you nod, and Skeeter follows that whole thing. She smiles. You wonder if, like a shark, new teeth are constantly growing behind the ones she has. You wouldn't be surprised. "Then let's get started," she says. "Talk to me about squibs, darling."
. . . . . . . . . .
Excerpt from a Daily Prophet article by Rita Skeeter
… lovely things about the fresh blood waking up our staid, old Ministry are the insights they bring to age old problems. Who, for example, doesn't have a squib cousin or uncle no one talks about? How many of us have had a younger sibling who suddenly went to live with extended family instead of going to Hogwarts? It has always been a thing of indelicacy. But now, with the Squib Protection Act, we finally see some legal safeguards being put in place around vulnerable members of our society.
Some of the tender young shoots growing up out of the ashes of the Second Wizarding War come from our oldest families. The Notts, the Longbottoms, and the Malfoys have long been established players in wizarding politics, and Neville Longbottom's parents in particular are tragic heroes of the First Wizarding War, doomed to live on at St. Mungo's, never to know the role their own son has taken in this post-war rebuilding. And it is indeed quite a role, as, this reporter is happy to whisper in your ear, that young Neville Longbottom, hero of the Battle of Hogwarts, is no bit player these days, but is a close confidant of our young Muggle-born Minister, offering counsel she's not too proud to…
. . . . . . . . . .
Corban Yaxley folded The Daily Prophet and set it neatly on the cot next to himself. His blanket — such as it was — was pulled tight. His face was washed. He had little patience for people who let themselves go in prison. Perhaps there had been an excuse for that when the Dementors had been here, but now it was just a rather dull place to live with a rather uncomfortable mattress. Anyone who let standards slip with provocations as petty as those deserved the sort of fate the Carrows had met.
Nothing flies as fast as gossip in a prison.
He rose, stretched his arms out, and picked up his breakfast tray to pass it out the door to the waiting warden. A new one, this, and afraid of men with Marks on their arms. To keep that fear in the front of the man's mind, Yaxley kept his sleeves rolled despite the disgustingly vulgar casualness of it.
The man didn't meet his eyes as he took the tray. He summoned a sneer that barely touched his lips, and said, "One of these days you'll meet the same fate the rest of yous did."
"Rest?" Yaxley asked. "Has there been another unfortunate incident?"
"No." It wasn't a stammer, but it was near enough. Yaxley smiled. Fear had a taste to it. The Dark Arts had a feel and fear had a taste, and once you got used to the one on your tongue, the other was never far behind.
The new warden moved away, gathering trays from lesser inmates. People who'd murdered their wives. People who'd gone on rampages in Muggle neighborhoods. Petty criminals, all of them, their taste for darkness easily sated by a quick rush.
True Death Eaters understood there was a delicacy to this. They were fastidious. They learned to savor cruelty the way a connoisseur savored good whiskey. He missed Dolohov's slight smile as his victims realized he had no intention of granting them a quick death. He missed the way the Lestrange brothers would link arms and laugh.
Not that he needed them. The old guard was just that — old — and Rita Skeeter's article highlighted who the new vanguard was. Not the ones he would have expected. Longbottom. A mudblood. But, times changed, and leadership took on new faces. New names. But underneath the mask, it was always the same.
He looked forward to meeting this generation's leaders in person.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N – Thank you to OlivieBlake for continuing to beta read this monstrosity.