Chapter Twelve – A Kiss of Polyjuice
A month passed after Harry suffered through The Grinder in which he took to his assignment from Kingsley with fervour. His job was to tail Dawlish and find out as much about him and his dealings for Crackshot as he could. The theory was that as Minister, Crackshot was virtually inaccessible from internal investigations. So they chose to focus on every single person that Crackshot spoke to, visited, or had correspondence with. Dawlish was at the top of that list.
The former Auror proved to be an elusive target, having been trained in the art of stealth and counter-detection, and Harry found himself working overtime to trail him. Harry's tracking troubles were due, in part, because Harry was still a novice Auror. As part of Kingsley's assignment, Harry had been assigned a more senior Auror to oversee the operation and to get Harry up to speed on proper pursuit techniques. The problem was that his senior Auror was almost never available, having three other assignments of her own.
Harry scrubbed his hair in frustration as he sat under his Invisibility Cloak in a secluded corner of the Leaky Cauldron. Dawlish was sitting at a table with two men Harry didn't recognize but that wouldn't look out of place in a line-up of former Death Eaters. He couldn't hear what they were saying no matter which of the dozen standard Auror listening spells he tried. They might as well have been using Muffliato for all the good his eavesdropping was doing.
So Harry watched their lips. He wasn't very skilled at lip reading yet, but he had taken a page out of Hermione's book and bought a Muggle book on the subject. He caught every other word, but it was enough to figure out that he had been duped. The man in front of him wasn't Dawlish, but a double in Polyjuice. The real Dawlish was somewhere in Knockturn Alley.
Swearing under his breath, Harry carefully stepped out of the bar and Apparated to Diagon Alley.
Hermione hated her job in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. It wasn't only because she was working for the very people she wanted to organize a coup against, or because the very name of her department disgraced her every time she had to write it on one of the dozen daily memos she sent. It was mostly because she was no closer to discovering how Stanley Crackshot was still in power. Everyone in her department, no matter their view on Muggles or blood status, were universal in their dislike for the new minister and as far as she could tell, things were no better for Crackshot in the Wizarding world at large.
So why was he still able to keep his office?
Shaking her head in frustration for the tenth time that morning, Hermione stacked ten sorted file folders in her out box and watched them disappear. The clock on her desk said Time for Tea, so she pulled her purse from the lower-right drawer and stood.
"Headed to lunch, dear?" asked the nearly retired witch in the cubicle next to her. She was old, but sharp-eyed and had an equally sharp mind to match. Hermione hadn't been able to take nearly the amount of notes with her co-worker hovering next to and sometimes on top of Hermione's desk.
"Yes, Mildred," Hermione replied. "Did you want me to get something from the canteen for you?"
The elderly witch slowly stood and began to rifle around in her purse. "One of those croissant sandwiches would hit the spot." She extended her hand and dropped two sickles and a knut into Hermione's palm. "Ham, not turkey."
Hermione smiled and put the money in the hip pocket of her dress. "See you in a bit."
The cubicles of her department were spread across the Ministry's fourth floor. Intermingled with the cubicles were offices occupied by the various Office heads. Hermione passed Cuthbert Mockridge's office, her boss in the Goblin Liaison Office, on her way to the lift. Luckily, he was already out, which saved Hermione the pain of having to detail every memo and every file she'd worked on that day. Mockridge was the worst micro-manager she'd every seen and it gave her even more motivation to be shod of the place.
The canteen was on level one, directly off the lift so employees didn't have an opportunity to wander to the back where the Minister's offices were located. Hermione queued in the sandwich line with a dozen other witches twice her age and a warlock whose robes were smoking heavily. With a quick wave of her wand, the smoke stopped and the witch closest to her muttered a 'thank you'.
Hermione selected a chicken salad croissant for herself and bagged Mildred's ham one. After she paid, she walked to the most secluded corner of the canteen and sat in one of the stiff wooden chairs leftover from the last renovation to this level back in 1846. She didn't even have the wherewithal to transfigure it into a more comfortable one.
Picking at her sandwich, Hermione watched the witches and wizards flow in and out of the canteen, and wondered what Ron was doing just then. He was working at the shop with George, getting it ready for the rush of students that were sure to descend on Diagon Alley in less than a week. Thinking about Ron led her to think about their engagement and all the things they had to sort out before the wedding. There were lists and even a list of lists in her notebook at home.
Things were changing again. Her home and her parents once again would face the brunt of the changes. She thought of how much she loved her mum and dad and how awful she'd felt when she saw them in Australia for the first time. They'd been so scared and when they didn't recognize her, she thought the world had ended. It was foolish at the time, but Hermione had a very good reason for not thinking straight.
When Hermione modified her parents' memories, she'd done it to keep them safe. She made them think that their life long ambition was to move to Australia. She'd been careful to make it reversible but only by her, and she placed a Tracking Charm on them just in case they were difficult to find. That turned out to be a very good idea because when the war was over, she realized that impressing them to move to Australia was too vague of an option for people as intelligent as her parents. She should have given them a city, or even a specific home as a prompting because getting to Melbourne was long and difficult even with magic.
Apparating across a thousand miles of open country was not for the faint of heart but that was the choice that Hermione and Ron found themselves faced with as they made their way through customs. They left Harry and Ginny's wedding as soon as the newly-married couple's Portkey activated and Crackshot departed with his entourage of wedding-crashers. Ron insisted once again on coming with Hermione and they soon found themselves with their own Portkey to Perth, the only International Portkey Entry Port in Australia.
"What's the problem with Apparating to Melbourne again?" asked Ron for the tenth time.
Hermione muttered to herself and grabbed a map of Western and South Australia. Floo powder was banned in Australia and Portkeys were almost impossible to get because of local ministry regulations, which left Apparating, or brooms.
Shuddering at the thought of travelling a thousand miles on broomstick, Hermione scanned the maps she'd acquired as they walked out of the entry port and onto the streets of Perth. Luckily, the maps were enchanted with submaps of all the towns in the area. The problem with using maps for Apparating was that if you'd never been to a place you could easily appear inside a building, or tree, or street light. Add to that the problem that the further you Apparated, the greater the risk of splinching. Hermione was rapidly wondering if simply buying a plane ticket would be the best bet.
Ignoring Ron's whinging hunger pains, she decided on a simple plan. They would take small hops, less than two hundred miles each, and plan on appearing in open fields or parks to avoid buildings.
"Come on," she said to Ron, who was drooling in front of a vending machine filled with snack cakes and crisps. "We can eat when we get to our hotel."
"But Hermione," he said, deliberately dragging his feet so that she had to pull very hard to get him to move at all. "You can't expect a bloke to pop around the countryside with a light head. Who knows where I'll end up? My nose might catch a whiff of fish and chips and it'd end up in a pub while the rest of me splinches into a fountain."
Hermione rolled her eyes and stamped her foot. "You can't smell while you're Apparating and your moaning is keeping me from my parents." Hot tears inexplicably sprang into her eyes and she scrubbed at them with the heels of her palm. "This is exactly why I didn't want you to come with me."
Ron's demeanor changed instantly. "Hermione,' he said soothingly, reaching out a hand that she swatted away. "I'm sorry. I know this is hard for you, I guess I just don't know what to say."
The tears stopped and she searched Ron's face. He was always so impossible to read, even though he generally only had two emotions – randy or hungry. It was his eyes that always did it. "It's all right, Ron," she said, relenting. "I'm just so anxious to see them. What if they're upset with me for erasing their memories? What if they like it in Australia and don't want to come back home? They could react badly to the counter charm and lose all their memories." She wanted to say more; she had so many unexpressed fears they were literally bursting out of her, but Ron was hugging her and as always, her brain seized when he did things like that.
"Oh, Ron," she said and held on tightly as if the world was about to fall out from under their feet.
"Shh," he said softly. "We won't know until we get there, right? And we won't get there if we're splinched because we're thinking of all the bad things that could go wrong."
It was ironic that Ron would use logic to calm Hermione, and she had to chuckle a little to herself at the thought. "I love you," she said and gave him another fierce hug and then a small kiss on the lips.
"Are you all right, then?" he asked.
She nodded and began to look at her map of Western Australia, summoning her indomitable will to succeed. "We'll go to Kalgoorlie first, and then to Eucla..." She looked up and Ron was trying to force a knut into the coin slot of the vending machine. "Ron!" she said, scandalized. "You can't use wizard money to pay for Muggle things!"
He pounded a little on the glass in frustration and a crisp bag that was dangling precariously from a previous misvend fell to the slot at the bottom. "Excellent," Ron said and shoved his hand through the metal door, looking exultant as he began to demolish the crisps.
Hermione looked around to make sure no one was watching. "I can't believe you," she said, but the boyish grin on his face wiped away her anger. "Let's just get out of here."
They hopped from town to town for the next hour, only avoiding being splinched by a tree in Adelaide because Ron had accidentally bumped Hermione as she Apparated them. They finally arrived at their hotel in Melbourne, exhausted and nursing matching headaches. Ron immediately surveyed the attached restaurant while Hermione checked them in. They were simply too tired to look for Hermione's parents immediately and resolved to take up the search first thing in the morning.
Back in the Ministry canteen, Hermione frowned at the memory. Perhaps she should have soldiered on and began her search then. Maybe it would have prevented what happened when they did finally meet up with them. Then again, she would have been in an even worse state and Merlin knew what would have happened then.
The morning after Hermione and Ron arrived in Melbourne, they set off on foot to find her parents. The Tracking Charm showed Wendell and Monica Wilkins were currently in their dental practice three miles southeast of the hotel. Having spent an hour the evening before pouring over the city's bus system while eating dinner, Hermione was able to get them to within two blocks of 'Wilkins' Dentistry'.
As they approached, Hermione led Ron through a maze of cars before crossing the street. Having impatiently skipped breakfast, she wasn't surprised that Ron began enthralled with a café that abutted the dental practice, its marquee merrily advertising eggs, sausage, black pudding, fried potatoes, and grilled tomatoes. It was no wonder Ron didn't see the speeding bus approach them.
"RON!" Hermione yelled, and careful to conceal her wand between her purse and her hip, Summoned him out of the way.
He flew three feet before crashing to the pavement between two parked cars. "Blimey," he said, rubbing his shoulder where he'd hit the curb. "Sodding crazy Aussies."
Hermione tutted as she tended his bruised shoulder. "We'll have plenty of time for food when we restore my parent's memories, now come on."
She trotted off at a brisk pace, weaving through the morning's pedestrians. The clinic was part of a brick-front four story building. As they approached, something flashed in Hermione's peripheral vision and she stopped, causing Ron to crash into her. "Watch it," she scolded, but turned her attention to where she saw the flash.
"Barking," muttered Ron.
"Did you see that?" she asked, ignoring Ron's complaints.
"I saw the back of your head when you stopped walking," he said snarkily.
"No," she replied impatiently. "Something flashed." She waved her hand vaguely toward a small park. "Over there."
As she looked more closely, she noticed two strangely dressed men sitting on one of the park benches. The park was packed with women pushing prams, and children giggling excitedly in the chilly winter sunlight, but the two men sat stonily, staring across the street at the very building they were about to enter.
Hermione sucked in a breath. "Keep walking," she said. "Act naturally."
"Easy for you to say," said Ron with a sardonic grin. "I'm not the one sprinting down the walk one minute and then stopping in the middle of it the next."
"Hush," she said sourly. "There's something fishy about those two men – No, don't look! Anyway, I think they're wizards by their dress."
They walked past the brick building and Hermione kept tabs on the men while continued down the walk. One of them took out his wand and twirled it in a semi-circle, producing another flash of light. The Muggles around them didn't seem to notice. As soon as an alley opened to their right they ducked in.
"They're definitely wizards," she said mostly to herself. "I wonder what they're doing here, though. That spell looked exactly like the one I've been using to track my parents..." She trailed off as a horrible thought crossed her mind. "Oh, no," she said with dread.
Ron, who had been patient up to this point, but increasingly frustrated with his fiancée, folded his arms across his chest. "What in the name of Merlin's saggy Y fronts are you talking about?"
"Those men are wizards from the Australian Ministry and they've detected my Tracking Charm."
There was a small stretch of silence and then Ron opened his mouth. "So what do we do about it? Why can't we just walk in, cancel the Memory Charms on your parents and then Apparate them back to the hotel?"
"Because," said Hermione, with a gleam in her eye, "they'll be monitoring the building for magic already. As soon as we walk in, they'll swoop in and... My parents don't need any more drama in their lives."
Ron huffed and leaned his back against the dirty cinder block wall. "So what's your plan?"
She was shuffling inside her newly renovated purse, wondering if Ginny was enjoying her old beaded bag. A flask of murky green potion was extracted. "You're taking this and distracting them while I fetch Mum and Dad."
Ron's face turned serious. He took the flask.
"We promised Harry that he'd be seen abroad, and this is abroad as it gets," she explained.
"All right," agreed Ron. "I'll meet you back at the hotel in an hour." He downed a mouthful of the nauseating potion and handed the flask back to Hermione.
She watched as he shrank three inches, his hair turned jet black and grew to an unmanageable length, and his eyes turned bright green. With her wand, she shrank his clothes so that they fit properly and then, in a fit of compulsion, she grabbed his head and latched on to his lips.
Ron reacted as she'd expected and after a minute, she broke away.
"What was that for?" Ron asked in Harry's voice. It sent a strange thrill through her.
She hesitated, a blush creeping along her cheeks. "I just... I just wanted to see what kissing Harry was like."
Ron as Harry's face contorted into a comically ugly picture of revulsion and surprise. "Why?" he said hotly.
Hermione's discomfort was extreme. She didn't know how to describe her school-girl fantasy that almost every female at Hogwarts had entertained at one moment or another – at least not in a way that was easily explainable to Ron – so she went with the simple answer. "Why does it matter as long as it was you that I was kissing?"
Ron stared at her inscrutably until he pinched his lips together. "We'll talk about this later. Right now, I've got some wizards to ruffle."
With that, he strode out onto the street and sprinted across it, heading straight for the park.
Hermione watched as the wizards' eyes popped out of their heads. Ron waved and jogged past. It took a full thirty seconds before the stakeout of her parents broke up in a flurry of robes and hurried conversation. One of them called out to Ron, who turned his head to look, and then sprinted between two buses and disappeared down another alley with the wizards in pursuit.
Not wanting to waste a second, Hermione darted back onto the sidewalk and into her parents' dental office.
There were three people waiting in the lobby. A young, heavyset man was cradling his jaw as he sat in both halves of a small loveseat under the window. Two women were chatting idly on a pair of straight-backed chairs as they perused a tatty-looking magazine stack.
"Do you have an appointment?" asked the middle-aged receptionist. "The Wilkins' are booked for the entire morning, but we have an opening this afternoon if you're in an emergency."
This part was easy. Ignoring the glances from the three patients, she approached the desk. "Um, I just need to use the loo. Would that be possible?"
The woman seemed a bit put out, but she pointed Hermione in the right direction. Once inside, she Disillusioned herself and counted to thirty before she flushed the toilet. Slowly cracking open the door, she tip-toed out, careful to make a little noise as possible. She dithered for just a second on the best way to get through the door without being noticed before the man holding his jaw was summoned in by the hygienist. Using the opening, she rushed in behind them, barely avoiding the swinging door.
She followed the sound of the drill. Two rooms from the lobby on the left her mother was drilling a young woman's tooth. She looked to be about Hermione's age, but Hermione's thoughts and eyes went immediately to her mother. She hadn't changed a bit. The determined glint in her eye that Hermione had inherited; the soft lines of her cheeks and nose that were mostly hidden behind the surgeon's mask... It was all she could do to wait for her mother to finish with this patient. Then, kicking herself mentally, Hermione realised that her father must be the one scheduled for the portly bloke and would be in his office getting ready.
She was down the hall in a flash and found her father sitting behind a computer, laboriously typing patient notes with his index fingers. Slowly, Hermione closed the door and when it clicked shut her father's eyes came up. Hermione cancelled her Disillusionment Charm at the same time.
Her father jumped. "Who are you and how did you get in here?"
"Da... er... Dr. Wilkins? My name is Hermione Granger."
As she said this, her father seemed to slump in his chair. It was one of the key words that Hermione was to give to his parents to unlock their memories. "Say my name, please."
"Hermione Granger?" he asked, but his face tightened and the rest of his question was lost.
"I'm here to take you home. I'm your daughter."
"No," he said in protest, but didn't get out of his chair. "I don't have a daughter. We tried for years, but couldn't..."
"It's all right, daddy," she said softly. "You just can't remember. I can help you, if you'd like."
He looked at her strangely, as if his memories were fighting to surface. "Remember?"
She nodded. "You need to repeat what I'm going to say and it'll all come back to you."
He seemed to fight with the idea before his head nodded a fraction. "Okay."
"Say, 'My name is Daniel Thompson Granger'."
"My name is Daniel Thompson Granger." His face tensed again, but this time a flicker of recognition flashed in his eyes.
"I live in London, England with my wife Elizabeth Margret Granger."
He hesitated for a second, but with a thicker, stronger voice, said, "I live in London, England with my wife Elizabeth Margret Granger."
"We have a daughter named, Hermione Jane Granger, a witch."
"We have a daughter named, Hermione Jane Granger, a witch." A tear fell down his cheek as his eyes went wide. "Oh, Hermione!" He leapt from his chair and crushed her to him. "You're back and I remember!"
She hugged him fiercely and cried. "Yes, daddy, I'm back."
"You won? Is he... Is he gone?"
"Yes, Harry did it and Voldemort is dead."
He gave a whoop and punched the air in a way that made Hermione giggle despite her still leaking eyes. "We need to tell your mother. She doesn't know yet, does she?"
Hermione shook her head. "She still thinks she's Monica Wilkins and she's taking care of a root canal if I read her face right."
"Ah," her dad said. "We'll have to do something about these patients." He picked up the phone. "Let me ring up one of our friends while you take care of your mother. It seems the weather in Melbourne doesn't suit us a bit and someone will have to take over our surgery."
With a large smile, Hermione stepped back into the hallway and strode confidently toward her mother's surgery room.
The filtered light of the canteen changed, announcing that lunch was over. Hermione joined the straggling witches and wizards as they flocked to the lifts, pouring over the details of her relived memory. It wasn't often that she allowed herself to visit the past like that. Between her impending marriage with Ron, her new job, and her undercover surveillance of Crackshot she had so few opportunities to simply relax that she attributed the whole episode to a defensive reaction from her brain.
Back on the fourth floor, Hermione noticed that her boss was back and that there was a large stack of papers waiting for her in her 'in' box. She handed the ham croissant sandwich to Mildred and sat heavily in her chair. It was going to be another boring afternoon.
Obnoxiously loud voices carried down the floor from her boss' office. There were two wizards from the Administrative section of the Minister's office and a witch she didn't recognize. Curious about their visit, she made it a point to move quietly in order to hear what they were saying. It was too bad Mildred was humming as she ate her sandwich.
Not wanting to waste time, Hermione efficiently loaded her quill with ink, hovered it over a pad of note parchment, and placed the new stack of unbound papers to the side. She dutifully outlined the topic and purpose of the report. The title was Daily Departmental Outlays Versus Incomes.
Ugh. She hated finances.
It wasn't long, however, before she realized that this was no ordinary finance report. Normally, she would receive a heavily redacted version, with only the bottom line and little intervening commentary. This particular report showed every single thing her department spent money on for the past quarter and it even had a comparison sheet that tallied all departments with a grand total. This was obviously not meant for an entry-level file clerk to see.
Making a hasty decision, Hermione used her wand to create a quick duplicate of the entire report and shrunk the copy so that it fit in her purse. As she poured over the figures from the original more closely, she quickly became aware of something else – the numbers didn't add up.
She flipped back to the first page, which she had only skimmed before and gave it another read. Sure enough, at the bottom of the first paragraph, the person who drafted the report had seen it as well.
The Ministry Auditing Department should make these discrepancies their top priority.
Then there was another bit in the closing paragraph.
No Department should be allowed to practice such shoddy accounting and still receive such huge sums.
Hermione flipped the page and was about to dive in to the supporting charts when she heard her boss' loud voice boom across the cubicles. Very quickly, she placed the report back in her inbox, smoothing out the top page, and then pulled out an older memo that she'd finished revising and placed it on her desk.
"Miss Granger," said Mockridge with a sniff of disdain. "I've come to understand that a report managed to make it to your desk by mistake." His eyes wandered across the papers, quills, and parchment on her desk until they froze on her inbox. "Ah, there it is." He reached a stubby hand over her shoulder and snatched up the report. "There's a good girl," he said condescendingly and proceeded to ignore her.
Hermione watched him return to his office and loudly proclaim that the report had been found.
"Git," muttered Hermione under her breath.
Hours later, when the clock on her desk began to buzz and read You're late for dinner, Hermione grabbed her purse and raced to the exit, ignoring the curious glance of her co-worker. She had to find Harry immediately.
In the spacious but slightly untidy office that housed the Head of the Auror Department, Harry sat across Kingsley Shacklebolt in a small, stiff chair, and explained how he had lost Dawlish yet again. Because he was one of only a handful of people that knew about the Auror's investigation into the Minister, Kingsley allowed Harry free access to him as long as it was mission related.
"I can't believe he rolled you," said Kingsley with a half-smile on his face. "Dawlish isn't exactly known for his brains. He's more the type of guy we'd call in when we needed some muscle. Planning and counter intelligence just wasn't his forte."
"Yeah, well," said Harry dejectedly. "By the time I got to Knockturn Alley, he was gone and there was a wall of goons waiting for me." He rubbed his shoulder subconsciously. "I barely made it in one piece. I don't think they were expecting me."
Kingsley smirked as a light flashed above their heads. "Now that he knows he's being trailed, he'll be more predictable, if not more insidious." He mashed a button on his desk with the pad of his thumb. "Send her in, Grizelda."
The door opened and Harry's trainer stepped in, closing the door behind her.
Tabitha Shanks was a slender, middle-aged witch about his parent's age. She'd seen enough of Voldemort's first reign of terror to know she wanted to do something about it and ended up apprenticing with Mad-Eye just before he retired. Now, she was training the wizard who'd stopped Voldemort twice.
"Sorry," she said immediately, even before taking her seat. "I was off with Knight taking care of another junior Death Eater in Brighton."
Kingsley waved her off. "With all the budget problems we've been having and the resistance Crackshot has to adding more Aurors, I'm afraid we're just going to have to scrape by." He gestured to Harry. "Potter was just telling me Dawlish is wise to our operation. I want you to train Potter on some more advanced tracking techniques. Stick with the non-magical stuff – it's something Dawlish'll be expecting."
Shanks nodded her head and winked at Harry.
"That reminds me," Kingsley said, turning to Harry, "you wanted to tell me something else?"
"Yeah," said Harry and pulled out a stack of papers. "Hermione stumbled onto this and thought it would be beneficial to the investigation." He slapped it onto Kingsley's desk. "Apparently, there's a hole in the Ministry where a whole ton of Galleons is going and nothing's coming out."
Kingsley flipped through the top few pages of the report and the two pages of notes Hermione penned in summary. "Interesting," he said with a broad grin. "I think we just found out where our new Auror budget's been going." He looked up, pinning them with his dark, serious eyes. "Now it's up to you two to find out what secret project our esteemed Minister has been cooking up."