DISCLAIMER: I don't own Harry Potter or any related characters or ideas. No profit is earned in writing this.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is set in the Summer after Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts. The wizards and witches in the Harry Potter books rely heavily on memory altering spells to keep themselves secret from the rest of the world. Eventually, that's going to have to come back and bite them.
He was screaming. She couldn't hear it, but she knew he was screaming. The way his body shook as he tried to roll away from his tormentors could not have been faked, nor could she think of a reason for him to do so.
This had not been what she expected to find when she had spotted her little brother sneaking off. Joanna had merely thought her teenage brother was ditching her for some fun with his friends. That was nothing unusual. She had expected to find him at an arcade or playing ball in the park.
On a quiet side-street, however, an oddly dressed man that Joanna had never seen before had stopped Alan. All the stranger did was gesture, and Alan had followed without a word. That had been enough to worry her, but she had never expected something like this!
She wasn't even sure what was happening. Alan was in trouble, that was enough, and Joanna began searching frantically for some way of getting him away from the bizarrely dressed people who seemed to be poking him with sticks.
The warehouse she had followed them to was relatively isolated. The buildings were widely spaced, surrounded by huge lots that allowed for the movement of big trucks. Getting across it unseen had been made possible by a series of ramps, a couple of huge rubbish bins and several empty trailers. The place was not so isolated that screams like that would have gone unnoticed, and again, she wondered why she couldn't hear anything from inside, Alan's screams or the laughter of those torturing him.
Figure it out later, she told herself. Get him out now!
There was one possibility. About 10 meters away was a door that led to another part of the warehouse. The bay where they were working him over featured a huge rollup door for trucks and a regular door for people. That door featured a window through which she had been watching them. The door she was now considering led to a small office that, fortunately, was unlocked and gave access to a separate part of the building.
Joanna went in. She found herself in a section divided by a metal wall that didn't reach all the way to the high ceiling. The racks along the walls and stacks of crates provided the access she needed, and she scaled one of the heavy shelving units as quickly and quietly as she could. Getting Alan out was urgent, but she couldn't help him by getting caught herself.
The situation became increasingly bizarre, however, when she realized she still couldn't hear her brother's cries. Fearing the worst, she risked poking her head over the wall. The sound of his screaming instantly assailed her ears and she jerked back.
The sound vanished as soon as she cleared the wall. What the hell?
Joanna risked another look. Again, she couldn't hear anything until her head was in the other room. That made no sense to her, but it also didn't matter. Alan had stopped screaming. She would have panicked, but the words of the men around him reached her before she could react.
"Passed out again," one was saying, his tone exasperated. "Try to get a stronger one next time, Bufort."
"You pick one, Arnold," the other grumbled. "He looked young and healthy. Can't tell a bloody wimp by looking, can you?" The two bickered for a few moments while Joanna took the time to think.
There was a truck in the bay where they were working him over. That, she decided, would give her the best chance. I just need to get them out of the room. The question was, how. A diversion would be best, but she was stuck for what kind of diversion. The fire alarm would probably make them leave the building, but they'd most likely kill her brother before leaving. Something less drastic, then.
A noise elsewhere in the building might draw them off, but she wasn't sure what kind would be best, or how to create it. Again, she decided to figure it out later. Quickly climbing down from her perch, she began to examine her surroundings. It had to be at the far end of the warehouse and delayed somehow so she could get back in time to hide and slip in behind them. She found what she needed in the office she had snuck in through.
Whoever worked there kept a clock radio at his desk, the kind that featured an alarm. Unplugging it, she made her way as quickly and quietly as she could to the far end of the building. She plugged it in, turned up the volume, and set the alarm to go off in three minutes. That gave her enough time to return to her previous perch and watch their reactions.
It was a near thing, but she managed to get back into place without making enough noise to alert them before the sound of distant music reached her. The torture had resumed by then, and Joanna nearly drew blood digging her fingernails into her palms. The three strange men jerked and looked around, puzzled but not alarmed by the sudden noise. She had turned up the volume all the way to be sure they would hear it, and was gratified to see the three exchanging confused looks.
They conferred silently for a moment. Joanna still couldn't hear what was going on inside the room but breathed a sigh of relief that they could hear what was going on outside. Two of them left the room, passing within a few feet of her position. She held her breath as they passed. Once they were two aisles away, she risked a look into the room and then left her hiding place. The remaining stranger had resumed torturing her brother and was so intent on his entertainment that he didn't hear her coming, or see the two-by-four she carried before it connected with the back of his head.
Joanna kept herself in reasonably good shape, and Alan wasn't the heaviest person in the world, but it still seemed to take forever to get him to the truck. He tried to help, but his muscles didn't seem to want to respond properly. Eventually, she managed to quietly get him into the passenger's seat; saying his name and begging him to hurry, but his only responses were groans and occasional whimpers. What the hell did they do to him?
They got lucky when she found the keys in the glove compartment. Fortunately, the driver hadn't bothered to take them, as the truck was safely stored inside the warehouse. After another frantic search, she located a remote control for the rollup door. It took forever for it to work, but soon there was enough of an opening for the truck. She had just begun to pull out when there was a flash of green light and the truck rocked on its wheels.
A glance at the side mirror showed her that the other two had returned and were waving their sticks at her. She stomped on the accelerator, and the truck lurched ahead, slowly gaining speed. The truck took two more hits, from what she didn't know, before it cleared the door and raced out into the mid-afternoon sunlight. It didn't corner well at high speeds, and she took out a trash can and a street sign turning into the road.
The truck rocked one last time, and she risked a look in the mirror. She caught a glimpse of one of the men holding another's wrist and forcing it down. They appeared to be yelling at each other. It didn't matter to her why they had stopped shooting green light at her, she was just grateful that they had. Two sharp turns at near full speed got them out of the line of sight and clear of them. She didn't slow down though.
They were still in a relatively quiet area, so she aimed for more crowded streets where they wouldn't dare attack her. Joanna was just beginning to relax, that goal nearly in sight, when she made another turn and found one of the men who had tortured Alan standing in the road before them. He raised his stick and pointed it at her.
As she didn't want to find out first-hand what those flashes of light did, she made a quick decision. Instead of trying to dodge, Joanna stomped on the accelerator while aiming for the man.
His eyes widened as he realized her intention, and then, he vanished. He didn't dodge to the right or left. He didn't 'disappear' under her tires. He simply vanished right before her eyes. She stared at the spot in disbelief for a few seconds before turning frantically left and right, trying to find him. The truck's speed had continued to increase while she looked, and she had just managed to catch a glimpse of the man in her side-mirror pointing his stick at her when the rear-tire exploded, violently sending the vehicle into an uncontrollable spin.
Joanna screamed as the truck nearly sheared off the lamppost it struck. They would have both been thrown out had they not been buckled in. Working quickly, Joanna helped her still shaky brother out of the truck and half-supported, half-carried him away from the wreckage. He was beginning to come around, helping more, as he regained his faculties, but the pace was still frustratingly slow. Another green flash caused her to stumble, taking all of Allan's weight as she dragged him into an alley, hoping for some kind of cover or a weapon she could use.
She lost her grip on Alan and he fell in a heap. Kneeling beside him, Joanna rolled him over, shaking him and trying to get him on his feet again.
His eyes were open, but his face was slack and pale. She checked for a pulse and for breath, but she already knew he was dead. The sound of footsteps and a mocking voice drew her attention to the head of the alley she had ducked into.
"Come out little Muggle! You can't hide from us, especially not with that dead weight you're dragging." Her heart froze. They knew! They had somehow deliberately killed him with that light. None of this made any sense, but she got a grip on herself. Survive first, sort out the rest later.
The alley was narrow and dirty and didn't offer many hiding places. There was a large bin, but it was an obvious hiding place. Two doors within easy reach opened off the alley, no doubt leading to the back rooms of various businesses that faced the streets. She dove for the nearest one, but found it locked. Dodging back across the alley to reach the other nearly got her killed, but the man who had followed her into the alley was just playing.
To everyone's surprise, the second door was unlocked. When Joanna pulled it open to duck inside, the man swore and began pounding up the alley after her. One of the flashes of green light struck the door as she searched frantically for a lock. There was one, but it seemed to be broken.
It was a small storeroom. There was a door leading to the rest of the building, an office building of some sort, she thought. That one, it turned out, was locked. "Oh, come on!" she hissed. "Who locks a supply cupboard from the inside?" Darting back to the outer door, she grabbed the handle and held on tight to keep it from being opened.
No one tried, though. Barely a second after she had thrown her weight back in an effort to keep the door motionless, as if it were locked, there was a flash of red light from outside. An answering green flash was followed by some angry shouts and then… silence.
For what seemed like an eternity, she didn't move, too frightened to look, too ashamed of the way she had left Alan lying in the street to stay hidden. After another seeming eternity of hearing nothing but her heart pounding against her ribs as if seeking an exit, an eternity that couldn't have lasted more than 30 seconds, she risked a peek outside.
Opening the door just a crack, she saw two more strangely dressed men. They weren't the same ones that had tortured and killed Alan, but they were dressed enough like them that Joanna wasn't about to show herself. They stood close enough for her to make out their words without being noticed, and their conversation didn't encourage her to change her mind.
"Another one." A thin man with a pencil mustache and thinning blonde hair sighed in irritation. "Damn Death Eaters!"
"It's getting almost routine," his colleague, a short, solid looking man nodded sadly. He waved the odd stick over the body and nodded. "Killing curse. I'll do the forensic sweep and get the pictures."
"I'll take care of the body," the other nodded.
"What's the cover this time?" He had thick brown hair that looked to desperately need trimming by the way he kept pushing it out of his eyes. He moved about, waving his stick and muttering under his breath occasionally.
"Lone body in an alley? No visible cause of death? We provide one so the Muggles don't get too upset." The thin man reached into one of the many pockets on the bizarre fashion statement he was sporting and produced a bag full of white powder. "This ought to do it." He pulled out his own stick and waved it over Alan's body. Most of the contents of the large plastic bag vanished. He then tapped Alan's arms several times with the point of his stick, causing Joanna to think, almost hysterically, of a carrion bird beginning a meal. The taps left what looked like needle marks on Alan's arms.
"What's that, then?" the other asked, curious over the mutilation of her brother's corpse.
"Muggles like to inject this stuff into their bodies with hollow needles. This bloke's got no marks, so I'm giving him some." He then waved his stick at the bag and it seemed to break down into a number of smaller bags. "I think this is a normal dosage." The other frowned suddenly.
"Hey, isn't that stuff poisonous?"
"Sure is," the man, now stuffing Alan's pockets with small bags, replied. The other just shook his head, baffled.
"Barmy, the lot of them."
Joanna was finally getting over her shock at this very strange turn of events and was almost ready to confront the two. What they intended was finally registering with her, and anger started to overwhelm her fear. Before she could step out, though, the sound of sirens grabbed everyone's attention.
"Company," the man in need of a haircut noted. "I'm done with the sweep. May have something, few stray hairs here."
"Bring 'em. We'll let the Muggles take it from here," his colleague nodded. Both raised their sticks and moved them in an odd pattern before vanishing with two loud cracks.
She gaped at the spot where they had just stood, unable to react. She had almost convinced herself that when the other man had disappeared from in front of the truck, she had simply lost track of him, and that he hadn't actually vanished into thin air. This time, however, she didn't have that luxury. It was not the first unexplainable thing that had happened that day, but it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. She couldn't write it off as some strange bit of technology, or sleight of hand, or the work of some overly theatrical killer. This was something that couldn't be ignored or explained away.
When the police car pulled into the alley only a moment later, Joanna was still standing in the same spot, staring out at the alley where the two men had stood, trying to come to terms with what she had seen. The arrival of the officers got her moving again.
She called out to them, and stepped out slowly so as not to startle them. She assured them that she had seen exactly what had happened and could give them descriptions of those responsible. The officers were pleased to have a witness so willing and ready to speak up…at least until she told them what happened.
They left the crime scene in the hands of other officers, and an inspector met her at the station to listen to her story. He then made her tell it again.
"You realize," he said patiently, "that what you're telling me sounds...improbable?"
Joanna snorted. "It sounds bloody mad is how it sounds, but it's still true!"
"The victim was your brother, correct?" Inspector Monroe asked, deciding to change the subject for the moment. When she nodded, he flipped a page in the notebook he'd been given. "How long has he been dealing PCP?"
Joanna stared at him, speechless. "What are you talking about?"
"He was found with packets of PCP in his pockets, estimated street value of nearly £10,000.00. That goes well beyond casual use."
Joanna shook her head in denial. "He doesn't deal or use. I told you about that sack the men had."
"Ah yes. Two strangely dressed men waved their wands and planted thousands of pounds worth of drugs on and in your brother's corpse just to frame him." His tone went beyond sarcasm. "I think, Miss Stillwell, that it might be a good idea if you took a test or two yourself."
Before she could decide how to respond to that, she heard the door behind her open. Monroe looked up, startled and annoyed.
Monroe didn't recognize the uniform that walked into the room uninvited, but clearly he cared nothing for his career. "I am in the middle of an interrogation here, you know?" he demanded.
"Sorry, inspector," the man didn't sound the least bit apologetic, "but this meeting just became irrelevant." Miss Stillwell looked around at the sound of the officer's voice.
Her eyes widened and she began to back away. Monroe frowned in confusion and was about to order her to take her seat when he noticed her focus was not on the officer, but on what he was holding in his right hand. The uniform, a short man with close-cropped dark hair that Monroe was certain he'd never seen around the station before, ignored them both and raised the stick he was holding. Miss Stillwell went pale and started to shout, but the stranger simply waved his stick…
Monroe frowned and looked toward the door. Wasn't someone just standing there? As there was obviously no one there, he turned his attention back to the shell-shocked woman sitting across from him. "You have our deepest condolences, Miss Stillwell, and I am sorry to add to your burden, but there are some questions we have to ask about your brother."
Joanna Stillwell nodded, still not quite believing her little brother was dead. They were children of a prominent family, and Monroe knew what came next would be hard on all of them. "When was the last time you saw your brother?"
Auror-in-training Everett Manning stared at the Obliviator, Martin Allsdale, in consternation.
"That could have gotten messy." Allsdale seemed oblivious to the Aurors' displeasure. Manning and his partner had arrived at the stationhouse just as he was leaving. The last of the people who had seen the Muggle woman brought in had been Obliviated, and the paper records erased.
"Are you the two responsible for this breach of secrecy? A screw up like that goes on your record you know."
"You just obliviated our best lead," Manning complained, "and you're talking to us about screw ups?" Stanley Flaherty, his partner, didn't say anything, but he didn't look any more pleased.
"When a Muggle comes into a police station with tales of magic and mayhem, I can't just sit around waiting for you." Allsdale explained as if addressing dimwitted children. "This could have spread beyond anyone's ability to contain. If she was so important, you should have hung on to her. Then I wouldn't have had to clean up your mess."
Manning opened his mouth to retort, but Flaherty put a hand on his shoulder. "Spilt milk, mate. Nothing we can do about it now." Manning fumed for a few more seconds before nodding curtly and turning with his partner to leave.
"Is there anything we can do with our 'witness' at this point?" Manning asked. Flaherty shook his head, frowning.
"Why aren't you more upset about this? Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"Mix-ups you mean?" Flaherty asked, cocking a near-nonexistent eyebrow at his trainee. "Missing a witness and such? Not often, but it does happen. That's why the Obliviators keep a close eye on police stations and certain government offices. Media, too. Last year they barely stopped a broadcast about a troll that was wandering around in the Queen's Forest."
"Not what I meant," Manning began. "Aren't you upset over the loss of a witness?"
"It's not like we could have brought her in to testify. A Muggle? We'd have been laughed out of court. Even if she saw something useful; I don't even know if you can pull a memory out of a Muggle for pensieve viewing."
Deciding that the argument with his partner was a lost cause, he decided to drop it. He took a breath and tried a different subject. "If you don't mind my saying, you're being kind of casual about it. What if it hadn't been caught?"
Flaherty shrugged. "Not too much. No one would have believed her. There was no physical evidence to support her claim. Worst case scenario, they would have thought her mad and locked her up." He shook his head. "The mistake does worry me. I should have thought to check the area, but I can't exactly go back and do it now. I can only let it serve me as a reminder to be more careful in the future."
The younger man nodded thoughtfully. "I 'spose." They reached a safely concealed spot and Apparated back to the Ministry. "It's nice to know there are procedures in place for that sort of thing. Hate to think what would happen if there was a really big breach of the Secrecy Statute." His partner nodded absently, his mind already on other matters.
"I just wish I'd been able to catch that Death Eater. You sure you didn't get a good look at him?"
Manning paused, closing his eyes to concentrate. All he could clearly call up was that the man had thick, dirty blonde hair. He shook his head. "Sorry, didn't get a proper view of his face. We could try a pensieve?"
"We will, but a pensieve can't reveal details you didn't take in. Those hairs you found are our best bet, but we don't even know if they're related to the case."
"It would be nice to catch a break," the younger man sighed. "Death Eater attacks on Muggles have been up, and we're run ragged just trying to cover up the mess, never mind finding the ones doing it."
"We'll find them," Flaherty assured him. "Some of them, at least, are pretty damn sloppy as we saw today. If we can catch just one, we'll have the break we need."
"What about that Muggle woman?" Manning asked.
"What about her?"
"She may have seen something useful."
Flaherty shook his head. "Memory modification can't be reversed. Anyway, she's just a Muggle. They're pretty much useless in these matters. Even if she could identify them, we couldn't bring her forward as a witness."
Manning nodded reluctantly, still irritated.
"Cheer up," Flaherty slapped his back, smiling. "It was a good thought. That's why I've always said bringing in new blood is a good idea. You Muggle-borns sometimes see things in a way those of us raised in magic don't. It can be useful on occasion!"
Manning regarded the man incredulously for a moment, but decided to let it pass. Sadly, his partner was what passed for a progressive in the department of Magical Law Enforcement. There were very few Muggle-born Aurors, and a number of the purebloods were stubbornly opposed the idea of trusting such important work to one so low-born. "I can't help but think this is going to come back to bite us."
"Maybe," his partner allowed, "but its policy. Nothing to do about it." The notion of going against policy, Manning knew, was unthinkable to Flaherty, and the opinion of a Muggle-born trainee counted for next to nothing. He headed for his office, putting an end to the conversation.
Swallowing his frustration, Manning headed for his own desk to work on his report of the incident.
Inspector Monroe scowled at the report, before glancing up at Dr. Shimi, the medical examiner. "This makes no bloody sense. I've never seen a dealer that used his own product."
"He wasn't an addict," the doctor assured him. Shimi had held the post for nearly 15 years and was well respected by his colleagues and the department. He never speculated, and his rulings had, to Monroe's knowledge, never been wrong. "The needle marks on his arm were all fresh, and the autopsy did not reveal any of the usual damage one would associate with long time abuse of a drug like PCP."
"Murder then," Monroe sighed, unsurprised. The flap that was beginning to develop over two similar deaths was just going to get worse.
"That's my ruling. You found him in an alley. Not unusual in a junkie, but this kid was no junkie. The amount I found in his system, injected in all at once? He'd have been dead before he hit the ground. There is no way this is an accidental overdose."
"Have you seen the case files for the other killings?"
Shimi nodded. "I have, and this fits the pattern, at least from a medical standpoint. All the victims died of a massive overdose. I'm given to understand that large amounts of the drug were found on the victims?"
"That's right," Monroe nodded. "Damn strange that. Why leave thousands in product for us to find? Why not keep it and sell it?"
"Not my area," Shimi shook his head.
"Is it possible that we're not looking for a rival dealer?"
"What do you mean?" Shimi asked. "Are you asking if this could be a serial killer using PCP as a murder weapon? That's an expensive way to kill a person and dress a scene."
"I'm just thinking out loud," Monroe shook his head. "We're missing something, but that makes about as much sense as another dealer killing them and leaving that much saleable product behind."
"Aberrant psychology isn't my area either," Shimi pointed out. "I'll go over the autopsy reports and see if I can find anything else."
"Thanks." Monroe turned to leave, his mind already running through alternate hypotheses. Incipient turf war? Serial killer with too much money? Neither made much sense. At the moment, they couldn't even establish a link between the victims. He needed more information, and the family and friends of the latest victim were his best recourse at the moment.
It has to be a nightmare, Joanna thought. That was the only explanation. Alan's death and the revelations that had followed had torn her world apart. She and her brother had been close, and Joanna felt certain she would know if he were using, let alone dealing, drugs. How could I have missed it?
Alan's death had only been the beginning of her family troubles, though. The investigation the police had launched had pried into every corner of their lives, and it had gotten worse when his death was linked to that of three other drug dealers. A solicitor in Bristol had died five days after Alan, under similar circumstances. Just as in Alan's case, there had been no criminal record or history of drug abuse. The number of cases and the circumstances around them had authorities across Britain alarmed.
After considering all possibilities, the police had decided that they were dealing with a massive and well organized criminal organization, a drug cartel setting up operations in England perhaps. Unfortunately, there was not the slightest connection between any of the victims.
Incident reports and resources were freely exchanged, and cross-jurisdictional cooperation reached a level not seen in years. The various police departments and government agencies began to share information and resources in a manner they never had before in an effort to locate the source of the drugs. The lives and histories of the victims, their friends, and their families were meticulously picked apart. All potential sources of the narcotics and the equipment necessary to produce them were investigated. A small shipping company owned by the brother of the victim in Dover was driven out of business by the investigation.
"You can't be serious!" Edward Stillwell could only stare at the man behind the desk in stark disbelief. Arnold Smithson had been in office for nearly 15 years and had acquired an impressive amount of political clout. If rumors were accurate, he had the ear of three separate ministers, and was all but confirmed to fill the post of Minister of the Interior when the current occupant of that office retired in the coming year.
"I assure you, I am," Smithson replied calmly. "Call it a leave of absence if you like, but this scandal can't be allowed to affect the new initiatives we've worked so hard for."
"It won't. It is precisely this kind of reaction that is feeding this scandal and these ridiculous allegations!"
"Ridiculous? Your son was a drug dealer murdered in a dispute over territory. All the evidence points to him being tied to a large organization."
"Mere speculation, on the part of the police, which the media has blown far out of proportion. There is no evidence to support those claims! The facts just don't add up."
"That is not my concern. The respectability of this institution is. Obviously I cannot simply have you sacked, but you would be well advised to take a prolonged vacation or simply resign. Things could get much worse. People might start to wonder what sort of influence these criminals might have with ties to a Member of Parliament."
"That is absurd."
"Public opinion and speculation of the media often is. I sympathize with your situation, but I have to think of the big picture."
"I will not take a leave of absence and I certainly will not resign my seat in the House." Stillwell straightened, his expression resolute.
"You will," Smithson assured him, and then told him why.
The honorable Member of Parliament, Edward Stillwell, resigned in disgrace. Their family was not as wealthy as some, and the seat had been hard won. It made Joanna furious, but she wasn't sure who to be angry with, the police, who were arguably just doing their jobs, or with Alan for involving them in this whole mess in the first place.
It had been Alan's drug dealing that had gotten him killed and was now ruining the lives of his family, but every time she tried to hate him, she remembered the little brother she had doted on. It made no sense that he could hide something like that from them.
She knew full well that her family was not the only one suffering. The investigation and the publicity it spawned had cost a lot of people their jobs and, in at least one case, their business. If it wasn't the police showing up to ask awkward questions and paw through records, it was the press hounding the families and friends of the victims, looking for sound bites.
The fact that these efforts had gained them precisely nothing only seemed to encourage them to greater efforts. It was when people that had nothing to do with her family or their problems began to suffer that she became truly angry.
"I am sorry, Joanna, but we simply can't have this kind of publicity." Harold Bryant, the director of the London branch of International Charities Cooperative, looked genuinely ashamed of what he was doing.
"You can't honestly believe-"
"I don't. Unfortunately, what I believe is irrelevant. Do you know what would happen if the authorities began investigating the ICC in connection with a drug cartel? Support would dry up. Our efforts would be seriously hampered on all fronts. We are currently coordinating the efforts of almost 100 different charitable organizations conducting 29 separate international relief efforts. We must be above suspicion. If the authorities begin interfering with shipments of food and medical supplies on the off-chance that we might be smuggling drugs…" He trailed off and spread his hands.
"I understand," Joanna gritted, "but this is still ridiculous. My family helped found the ICC. We have worked tirelessly, donated thousands of pounds a year, since before Alan was born. One of my family has always been on the board. To sever ties with us now sends entirely the wrong message."
"That is why we are not severing ties. We are asking you to distance yourselves from us, just for the time being. No one will question your decision to focus on your personal affairs at such a difficult time, and it will divert attention from the Cooperative. When this blows over-"
"No," Joanna cut him off. She was livid, but knew that losing her temper would not help matters. She needed to make the man and the London Board see reason. "What we need is a show of support, if even a passive one. So many friends have already turned on us. We've got people who have known us for years trading exaggerated tales about every petty disagreement, and sometimes outright lie for… for their 15 minutes of fame and an under-the-table payoff! If you do this, it will only draw the attention of the media and the authorities. It has to be business as usual. Or the wrong type of attention will be drawn to the ICC."
"I tend to agree," Bryant sighed, "but I have been overruled in this matter. The ICC board would prefer that you quietly withdraw, but we are prepared to 'sever ties' as you put it, publicly, for just the reasons I've given you. We would have to make a show of conducting an internal audit and review of practices, cooperating fully with the police. It would likely reduce the damage done to our reputation if we were proactive in the investigation."
Joanna could only stare at him in shock. "Do you have any idea what the press would say about my family if you did that?"
"I do," Bryant answered unhappily. "I'm sorry, but the decision has been made."
Maybe it's arrogant to think I knew him that well, she allowed, as she sat in her old bedroom at her parents' house. She hadn't been able to face going home to her own apartment, not with the vultures circling for some new scandal. If he could hide something this big from us, what about everyone else? Did dad use his position to embezzle? Does mum kill homeless people in her spare time?
She shook off her absurd thoughts. She didn't know why Alan had made the choices he did, but there was nothing she could do about it now. They just had to try to salvage what they could.
With the loss of her father's position, however, there were mounting problems. Those who had helped him get into office were calling in debts, and the press, sensing even deeper scandal, dogged his every step. Those that had once been loyal friends fed that particular fire with gossip, innuendo, and occasionally outright slander.
Every detail of their lives, sordid and otherwise, was placed under a microscope, first by the police and then by the press. Neither came anywhere near the truth. The drug dealers that had supplied Alan remained as elusive as those that had murdered him. And the nightmare continued.
"Where are we with those Muggle killings?" Director Bones asked as she looked around the table. The meeting had been underway for almost an hour, and thankfully, this was the last bit of business on the agenda.
Flaherty cleared his throat. "The Death Eaters responsible are proving elusive. We have a partial description of one of them, thanks to my trainee, Manning, and some hairs that led nowhere. I'm guessing they take precautions to keep us from tracking them. If we had a suspect, we could try matching the hair, but we don't. Unfortunately, the only thing we can confirm is that one has blonde hair in need of a trim. I've viewed the man myself in a pensieve and there's just nothing more there to work with. We are lucky to have what we do."
"Any pattern to the attacks?"
"The victims are randomly chosen, but they always choose the same type of place. Quiet areas, places a scream might go unnoticed, even without a silencing charm. Two warehouses, a barn on a remote farm. Not much else."
Bones considered. "Any known Death Eaters fit that description, vague though it might be? Or are known for this type of crime?"
Flaherty shook his head. "We'll keep investigating, but at the moment, we have nothing."
"Very well. Keep at it. Request additional help if you need it."
"With everything else going on," the Auror asked, "how much help would be available?"
Bones considered the situation and then grimaced. As much as she hated to admit it, the case had a fairly low priority for the DMLE. "Not much, but we'll find something. Do your best." With that, she ended the meeting and sent them on their way.
The case that had Amelia Bones most concerned was the murder of two prominent purebloods. The two had nothing in common except that they were both pureblood and that neither family had supported Voldemort during his rise to power. The involvement of Death Eaters was suspected, but the families were being very tightlipped. Pureblood pride, she reflected, was a real problem at times. The older families often considered themselves a law unto themselves, almost regarding the Ministry as a servant.
Malfoy might work a government job, but that didn't change his attitude in that respect. The idea of known Death Eaters working for the Ministry made her angry, but without ironclad proof that he had been a willing participant there was little to be done about it. Too many people owed the Malfoy family, and there were too many connections to high-ranking officials to keep him out. Still, she reasoned, there is something to the Muggle expression, 'keep your friends close and your enemies closer'.
She only wished she could get closer to whoever had killed Celeste Prewett and Morris Vance. Both were distant relatives of former and current Order members, but the branches of those families the two belonged to had never taken part in the war on either side. It seemed unlikely that the killings were motivated by revenge. Interviews revealed that Emmeline Vance had never even met her cousin Morris, as their fathers had not been on speaking terms in many years.
The connection was tentative, and it seemed unlikely to lead anywhere, especially as the families weren't talking. She was certain they knew something, but they wouldn't or couldn't cooperate. Neither Emmeline nor Gideon and Fabian's surviving brother had been able to shed any light on the motives of their distant relatives. It was a frustrating dead end.
It might even be a coincidence. Both families were wealthy, so the crimes might have been motivated by greed, or there might have been some questionable business deal that had gone sour. That would explain why the families were staying quiet. She had people looking into connections between the two families and whatever business interests they might have had in common, but as yet had turned up nothing.
Susan Bones left the cinema with a quick glance to either side. The Muggle establishment was in a part of London rarely frequented by wizarding folk, so it was unlikely anyone that knew her would see her, but she was still cautious.
It was one of her guilty pleasures. Her Muggle father had introduced her to it, and she shuddered to think what the other students would say if they found out. She was there every few days during the summer and was usually crabby for at least a week after starting at Hogwarts again each fall. Everyone simply assumed it was homesickness.
Looking around carefully, she dropped the paper slip into the nearest trashcan. Turning towards the Leaky Cauldron, that being the closest place with a floo connection, she started on the first leg of her trip home.
She had picked a new type this time, and she had thoroughly enjoyed it. It didn't particularly matter what she watched. Sometimes it was a comedy, sometimes drama. They all fascinated her, as the wizarding world had nothing like it. For Muggles, it was a common pastime and would not have attracted a second glance, but wizards, especially purebloods, were different. She would be ridiculed for any interest in a Muggle activity, even if the ones doing the mocking had no idea what they were mocking.
Susan was so wrapped up in her musings that she didn't notice the two men approaching her from behind. They waited until she came even with an alleyway before quietly stunning her and hustling her out of sight. They Apparated as soon as they were out of sight of anyone on the street.
"Stage one is accomplished," Arnold confirmed as he walked into his study. "You got the message ready, Brundt?"
The other man looked up from the papers he was studying and nodded. "It's ready. Girl give you any trouble?"
The other Death Eaters snorted derisively. "The little half-blood never knew what hit her," Bufort laughed as he leaned against the doorframe, watching the others.
"She's locked up in the basement," Arnold continued. "Place has so many wards on it that no one outside this room knows this house has a basement."
Brundt nodded. "Fine then, let's move on to stage two. If Madam Bones wants to see her niece again, she'll derail that investigation without arousing anyone's suspicions."
"We could get more out of her," Bufort pointed out. "A little ransom, maybe?"
"Too dangerous," Arnold shook his head. "I'm not talking about the Aurors either. The Dark Lord gave very specific orders. You really want to go against him?" All three had vivid memories of what their master had done to the last Death Eater who had violated orders and tried to use a mission for his own personal gain. Voldemort had been furious when he found out. The mission had succeeded, but the luckless man had still jeopardized the operation. All three of them had been grateful they hadn't been assigned to that mission. The man's partners had been tasked with cleaning up the mess after Voldemort had finished with him.
"So, how's this work again?" Brundt asked, happy to change the subject.
"Simple. We send the message by interdepartmental memo. A simple Confundus charm on one of the clerks will do the trick. The note itself has multiple charms on it in order to keep her from tracking it back to us, and to ensure that only she can read it. Anyone else will see just a blank piece of parchment." He indicated a special fold in the paper airplane he made out of the ransom note. "This will hold the proof that we've got her niece, which reminds me." He glanced up at Bufort. "Lawrence, would you go give Miss Bones a haircut?"
Bufort nodded and left the room. He returned a few minutes later bearing a length of the girl's hair still in the easily recognizable plait she normally wore it in. Arnold took the hair in one hand and, with a quick motion of his wand, caused it to fold in on itself and tuck neatly into the fold on the paper airplane.
"I'll take this to the home of that clerk in Misuse of Muggle Artifacts," Arnold said as he carefully tucked the ransom note away. "Bones'll have it by the end of the day."
"Think she'll go for it?" Brundt asked.
"If she don't," Bufort growled, "we'll just send her another piece of the girl, something that won't grow back." Neither of his associates commented. Bufort enjoyed causing pain. It was one of the reasons he had become a Death Eater, but too often, his preoccupation distracted him from the job at hand, which was why he hadn't risen terribly high.
"Make sure she stays put and doesn't get hurt," Arnold told them. "I'll be back soon." He left their carefully warded hideout and Apparated to a block of flats in Earlsfield. The place wasn't terribly well warded, but the wizards and witches that lived in the area made liberal use of notice-me-not charms to keep the Muggles from prying. Arnold wasn't affected and, after casting a similar spell on himself, made his way to the flat of one Timothy Amerley.
The man was pureblood, but not of a wealthy or prestigious family, hence the entry-level position he had held with the ministry for five years and the studio he lived in. He didn't have the family connections or, apparently, the ambition to go further.
Amerley had been chosen for his predictability. The man followed the same schedule every day. He arrived at the Ministry at 8:30 on the dot. At 1:00, he flooed home for lunch. He then returned at precisely 2:00 and worked until 5:30. One could set a watch by the man.
It was currently 1:30 in the afternoon, and Timothy was enjoying a bowl of tomato soup and a pastrami sandwich. The knock on his door caused him to frown. He didn't like having his time off interrupted without good reason. It was probably the old woman from across the way wanting help with her plumbing again. He'd done one favor for her, and she called him for every little thing. Magic made it easy, but it didn't make it any less of a bother.
Sighing, Tim stood up and went to the door. He opened it and found an unfamiliar wizard there. "Something I can do for you?" he asked hesitantly. The man offered him an unpleasant smile and gestured in a way that brought his wand out of the wrist holster and into his hand in a second.
Three minutes later, Tim shut the door while shaking his head over the irritation. Door-to-door salesmen were bad enough, but people 'spreading the Word' really annoyed him. He had tried to be polite, but on his list of priorities, finding God fell somewhere below finishing his lunch in peace and getting back to work on time. He didn't notice the folded piece of paper he stuffed into the pocket of his outer robe, and he would not remember sending the memo on when he returned to the office.
Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, was known for many things. An unwavering commitment to the letter of the law was one of them. Her faith in the justice system was another. Devotion to family was not an aspect of her character that was widely known, but it was there nonetheless. This would have surprised some of those who worked for her, as she rarely broached personal matters with her colleagues. She was strictly business at the office, but she always made time for her niece, her only living relative.
The day had been a busy one. She was running six open investigations herself, and keeping an interested eye on four others. Reports and memos regarding those cases had been flowing through her office all day. She would review each file, make suggestions or ask questions, and send them on or back. There were some good people working in the department, but details got missed, and occasionally, a view of the big picture was useful.
The previous month she had found two Aurors working related cases and had brought them together. That had resulted in a quick arrest and conviction after the two had compared notes.
It was shortly after 2:00PM when another memo fluttered into her office and made a neat landing directly in front of her, jumping the queue. That indicated a priority message. With a simple touch, the parchment unfolded and flattened itself to make for easy reading. It also spat out a mass of hair. Bones stared at it in confusion for a few seconds before recognizing Susan's plait.
Using her wand, she transferred the hair to another part of her desk and read the note before scowling furiously. Someone was going to pay for this! The kidnappers would send instructions, so the note claimed, for Susan's safe retrieval after the investigation into the Moorehead case was sabotaged. A moment's thought brought her the most likely suspects. Moorehead was suspected of embezzling from several of his prominent clients, and he faced time in Azkaban plus the ire of several prominent families if the allegations were proven true.
The man himself, though, was a worm. He would not have arranged a kidnapping on his own. There were indications, however, that the stolen money was being used to fund Death Eater operations. Given the amounts involved, the loss of that revenue would seriously impact Voldemort's ability to lure in new followers and properly supply them. If nothing else, the kidnapping was a strong indication that her conclusions were correct.
Naturally, the note told her to inform no one of the crime, but she was not in the habit of obeying such people. The Death Eater connection made things riskier, though. Normal channels could well be compromised. Death Eater agents inside the DMLE was a possibility. She made a short list of people she knew could be trusted and made a floo call.
While waiting, Amelia quickly ran through a series of tracing and forensic charms, learning everything she could from the parchment, which wasn't much. Whoever had sent it had been very careful. An examination of Susan's hair proved more fruitful. An elaborate charm for identifying foreign matter discovered one hair that didn't belong. It was dirty blonde, and for some reason that rang a bell with her.
When the knock at her door distracted her from her musings, she called for her people to enter. Two men and a woman, each experts in their own areas and thoroughly trustworthy, entered her office and closed the door behind them. Amelia reinforced her privacy wards and did a quick scan for eavesdropping charms while they waited silently. She laid out the situation for them and explained her initial theory and her concerns.
John Osgood nodded thoughtfully. "It makes too much sense. We could lean on Moorehead, but I doubt it would help. I doubt he knows anything about this, and it might tip our hand."
"I agree," Amelia nodded. "He's unlikely to be aware of this, let alone behind it. We're looking for Death Eaters."
"Usual suspects?" Jeremy Greenwood asked. "I can check my sources and see what I can learn, and see if there's any new recruits or hangers-on." Amelia nodded with an admonition to be discreet.
Hannah Whitehead, in the meantime, had been re-running trace and forensic spells, and adding a few of her own devising. "The extra hair is from a male in his late thirties. It's his natural color, too."
"It's a place to start," Bones nodded and glanced at Greenwood. "Anyone spring to mind?"
"Not immediately," Greenwood admitted, "but it's hard to tell with a single hair. I can certainly rule some people out, though."
"I may have an idea about that," Amelia sat back, looking pensive. "Something is bugging me about that hair color." She shook it off. "Get to work. Keep me updated and share what you learn with each other. No duplicated effort or wasted time. Go!"
They went, and Amelia Bones sat back to wrack her brain. She wasn't sure why that blonde hair was important to the matter or even if it was, but she felt it had to be nailed down. As her instincts had always been reliable, she went with it.
It wasn't until two hours later, though, when a memo came in for a three-point landing on her desk that she realized where the blonde hair had come from.
Flaherty and Manning were nervous as they approached Director Bones' office, and Flaherty was feeling slightly resentful as well. They had so little to go on in their investigation that he felt the reprimand he believed was coming was uncalled for. It wasn't their only case, and it was not top priority, per strong encouragement of their immediate superior.
The victims were only Muggles, after all. They couldn't be ordered to give it less time or attention, but there was an unspoken order to things. Crimes against purebloods came first, then crimes against half-bloods, followed by Muggle-borns and finally Muggles. Manning had grumbled over that repeatedly, but that was just the way of things, and Flaherty saw no point in fighting it.
Manning knocked on the door, and they were told to enter. Bones sat behind her desk with a grim look on her face. Files were piling up in her 'IN' basket, but it was a pensieve that held her attention at the moment. She was also not alone.
"The Muggle killings you've been investigating are related to something else," she began without preamble. "I've reviewed the pensieve memory you provided, and Auror Whitehead has confirmed that the hair sample in our possession came from one of your suspects. Perfect match for those you collected at the scene of the third killing. The one with the blonde hair has been busy."
Flaherty and Manning traded looks, and Manning asked. "How can we be of assistance, Madam Bones? Despite our efforts, we haven't turned up very much, and there hasn't been a new killing in almost two weeks."
"I suspect that's because their master has had them working on something more important. The killings seem to be nothing more than entertainment for them."
"So he's given them a task," Flaherty caught on. "That's the related case?"
"Yes. A matching blonde hair was recovered. Unfortunately, the steps taken to confound our forensic spells keep us from tracking the former owner in any way. "
"We had the same difficulty with the hair from that alley," Flaherty nodded.
"What I need from you is a lead, any lead, no matter how slight, that might point us in the right direction. I've reviewed your formal reports," she cut them off before either could speak. "They are thorough, but completely devoid of useful information. What I need are your hunches, you speculations, the sort of things you don't put in reports."
This was an unusual request, both knew. To request speculation from juniors, things too wild or without foundation to put in a report, was rare. Both realized that Bones must be under tremendous pressure.
Flaherty wracked his brain. No other witches or wizards had been anywhere near the killings. Recording charms set up at previous locations on the off chance a place might be reused had turned up nothing. The same was true of places that fit the same profile, places that might be suitable for the killers' purposes. That last step had been Manning's idea and, Flaherty thought privately, a thorough waste of time. That it had succeeded in catching Mundungus Fletcher trafficking in stolen goods did nothing to redeem the idea in his eyes.
"There was one thing, Madam Bones," Manning spoke up, much to his partner's irritation, "though I'm not sure it does much good at this point."
"Let's hear it, anyway."
"There was a witness to the murder of Alan Stillwell. His sister saw the whole thing, but neither Flaherty nor I knew she was there until after the fact. The matter was filed under 'related incidents'. She went to the Muggle police and told them everything she had seen, including Auror Flaherty and myself covering up the murder for the Muggle authorities."
"Why wasn't this in your main report?"
"A Muggle witness is of no use, Madam Bones, especially one who's been obliviated," Flaherty pointed out.
"Why was she not questioned before that?"
"We didn't know about her at first. By the time we learned there was a witness it was done, ma'am," Manning offered. "The Obliviator assigned to the station was put out at having to 'clean up our mess'."
"I see." Bones tried not to show it, but she was fuming. To have a witness to the crime, one who could have saved several lives, simply snatched away like that was infuriating. The Obliviator had been doing his job, and there was little to be said against him, but the two in front of her had made a rookie mistake, and in doing so had given the killers free rein. There was nothing to be done about it, though. Setting aside the urge to dress-down the two incompetents before her, she focused on more useful actions.
"You've turned up no additional leads?"
"None, ma'am," Manning answered unhappily.
"Very well. Leave the files with me and get back to work."
A witness with no memory of the crime was of no use, but what if … She remembered reading a recent article on memory erasure written by a healer at St. Mungo's. Something to do with Gilderoy Lockhart.
It was a thin straw to grasp at, but she was ready to try anything. The kidnappers were expecting a response soon, and she had to either sabotage the Moorehead investigation or find Susan and the Death Eaters responsible. It wouldn't be possible to stall them, not for long anyway.
She sent two messages…one to St. Mungo's, asking for a meeting with their healers specializing in memory and one to Dumbledore. The old wizard had come through before when the DMLE had unusual problems. Hopefully, he would again.
That done, she turned her attention to the case she was supposed to sabotage. If she were going to appear to disrupt the investigation without actually doing so, she'd have to be subtle. Very likely, they wanted time to dispose of key evidence. That meant there was incriminating evidence to find.
She spent the next hour pouring over every detail of the case, looking for the detail that might crack it. The fact that doing so might cost Susan her life was something she pushed to the back of her mind. She couldn't do anything about that at the moment, and solving one problem might lead to the solution to the other.
Samuel Brinsley had been a healer at St. Mungo's for almost 35 years. He had been called in on a variety of unusual cases in his time. He had consulted in the treatment of obscure venoms and ancient curses. He had treated patients held under the Cruciatus curse too long, although with only limited results. The previous year, he had been called in to apply research he had been conducting to the treatment of one Gilderoy Lockhart. The man had used a damaged wand to attempt a complicated memory modification spell and had Obliviated himself.
Brinsley was of the opinion that the result was poetic justice, given what was now generally known about the man, but that didn't stop him from trying to cure the fame-obsessed fool.
His previous researches had proven quite useful. Lockhart wasn't cured, but the therapies Brinsley and his colleagues had devised were promising. He was, at the moment Director Bones' summons arrived, reviewing the latest data from a new therapy that he had developed. It combined natural memory stimulation, familiar sights and sounds, combined with a charm to stimulate the reformation of memory pathways. So far it had had only limited success, but the charm still had a few flaws he hoped to correct.
He set aside these thoughts when the owl arrived bearing Madam Bones' message. After reading it, he frowned slightly. It was rather cryptic, but the one thing that was clear was that he was to come to her office as quickly as possible, and such a summons from the head of the DMLE was not something he could put off, no matter how busy he was. Checking his appointments, he called to his nurse and ordered her to clear the rest of his day.
Albus Dumbledore raised a bushy white eyebrow as he read the message from Amelia Bones. He was enjoying his summer holiday. Not as young as he used to be, the downtime was quite welcome, nevertheless he bored easily with nothing to do, and Amelia's letter hinted at a challenge.
As the matter was urgent, he set aside the pet project he'd been working on, and left his home in the care of his house elf before Apparating to the Ministry. Greeted respectfully at the Ministry approved Apparition point, he made his way to Amelia's office, somewhat surprised to see one of his former classmates there.
"Brinsley? Why it's been ages. How are you?"
"Quite well, Dumbledore, although a bit confused at the moment." He held up a parchment with the DMLE seal on it. "Do you, by chance, know what this is about?"
Albus displayed his own summons and shook his head with a wry smile. "I suspect we will find out together."
They arrived together at Bones' office and knocked politely. On receiving the call to enter, Dumbledore pushed open the door and led the way, noting the intense concentration on his former student's face as she reviewed the file before her. "Amelia? Are you alright?"
"No, Headmaster, I'm not." She motioned for them to close the door behind them and sit down, and then cast several privacy charms around her office. "What I'm about to tell you cannot leave this office."
As quickly as she could, without leaving out any pertinent details, she told them what she needed and why. "I don't want to hear that it's impossible. I need a way to reverse the Obliviation and get her memory of that time back."
"It isn't going to be easy," Brinsley offered slowly. "How long has it been?" She told him the date of the incident, and the healer frowned thoughtfully. "Some of the breakthroughs I've made treating one of my patients might come in handy here. I'll have to examine the young lady for myself." He glanced at Albus.
The headmaster nodded. "I know of a few books and articles on memory spells that might come in useful and a charm or two that might help." He stood. "With your niece in imminent danger, we should not waste a moment more." He turned to Brinsley. "Shall we meet at your office at St. Mungo's? I need to gather a few materials."
"I'll see you there." He provided directions to his office, and with an assurance that they would do their best, the two left Amelia alone to hope.
A quick Disillusioning charm left Albus Dumbledore looking like a respectable Muggle gentleman in rather dated clothes. Brinsley had told him that knowledge of the subject was key to helping her restore her memories. They would have the lady herself soon enough, but details of the incident that had led to her Obliviation were going to be necessary. So Albus had set out into Muggle London to find records of the incident. His first stop was the police station where Miss Stillwell had been taken.
Inspector Monroe wasn't quite sure why he was talking to the old man. He was someone official, perhaps from Whitehall. The ID the man had flashed was sufficient, regardless of who he worked for.
"Ugly business to be sure," his guest said, nodding. "Sadly, there are questions to be answered before this can be put to rest."
Monroe snorted. "That is something of an understatement. Stillwell's murder was the third in the series that has had the best minds in law enforcement scratching their heads."
The old man looked startled at this, but quickly hid his reaction.
"You'll have full access to the case files, of course, but I can tell you now that after nearly two months of investigation, none of us is any closer. The higher-ups think we're looking for a cartel that is eliminating their competition in a way that makes a statement. Some think we're dealing with a serial killer, since none of the victims had any previous criminal records and no history of drug abuse. There just isn't enough to go on."
The old man listened carefully, only occasionally offering an expression to indicate his reaction. It was strange, Monroe thought, that the man seemed to be hearing all of this for the first time. Twice he interrupted his account of the investigation to ask the man for details of his own position, but quickly got back on track. After all, the man's credentials were impeccable and the inspector had no reason to question him.
Albus Dumbledore was at a loss. This was something rare for him. After leaving the station, he had gone to a Muggle library and begun to search local periodicals for articles related to the case. What he found had left him deeply worried.
Thoughts and emotions chased themselves around and around his normally very ordered mind. He was shocked that the tactic used by Aurors in recent months had caused so much trouble and that the DMLE itself seemed completely unaware of it. It alarmed and angered him. The separation of Muggles and magical was something wizards took for granted. What went on in the wider world simply wasn't their concern.
Albus had tried to combat this tendency in himself by following the Muggle news and seeing them as people, unlike some pureblood wizards and witches. He had, in fact, read of the ongoing investigation into the drug related deaths, but it had never occurred to him that the Aurors tasked with upholding the law, including the laws that protected Muggles, would be responsible for it.
There was a more immediate problem, though. The lives of the surviving Stillwells had been turned upside down by the Muggle authorities, and they were on the verge of losing everything. It occurred to Dumbledore that Miss Joanna Stillwell might not want to help them. Given what the people they were pursuing had done, it was an unsettling thought, but it still needed to be considered. He needed to speak to Amelia, quickly.
Joanna Stillwell was having the strangest day of her life. The man that had approached her, claiming to be a police inspector and claiming to have information about her brother, should have seemed stranger to her than he did. The credentials were right, and he had the air of a police officer, so she had let him in. Then she noticed several things that didn't add up.
His clothes, for one thing, were badly mismatched. He seemed to be wearing bits from at least two different suits. She supposed that the man might have simply been in a rush that day and grabbed what came to hand, but the socks were a shade of green that just had to be illegal.
She remembered thinking; I shouldn't have let him in. "Err, Inspector…?" She had said, unsure of his name for some reason while she tried to casually get some distance.
"Flaherty, ma'am," he supplied. "It is a matter of some urgency."
"Since when do police inspectors wear mismatched clothes and bright green socks?"
He had blinked at her in confusion for a few seconds, and then had glanced down at himself and pulled at the legs of his trousers, as if surprised to see how he was dressed. The action had revealed a pattern on his socks…a pattern that was moving.
"Oh bugger," he'd sighed as she had gaped and then turned to run for the door of her house. That was the last thing she remembered clearly until she had suddenly found herself sitting in a room that looked remarkably like the one Inspector Monroe had used when breaking the news to her that her brother was dead.
There was an older woman sitting across the table from her, looking concerned. "Are you feeling better?" she asked.
Joanna jumped up and looked for the door. It was definitely of the same character as the interrogation room. There was only one heavy looking door and the only furniture were the chairs they were sitting in, and the table bolted to the floor. "Where am I? Who are you?"
"My name is Amelia Bones. Please," the woman spoke calmly. She made no gestures, threatening or soothing, but met Joanna's eyes unwaveringly. The affect might have been intended to be soothing, but that was not the affect it had. "Let me explain and apologize for the way you were brought here."
"Kidnapped out of my home, you mean?" Joanna snapped. She reached the door and pulled at the knob. It wasn't a great surprise to find it locked.
"This is very awkward. There are really no protocols for this." The head of the DMLE considered for a moment, wondering if the prepared speech she had was really the best approach. There really weren't many options, though.
"I know this was handled badly, but I had you brought here, because I desperately need your help, and I have very little time."
Giving up on the door, Joanna tried to calm herself. Sitting down and having a civilized conversation wasn't something she was prepared to do yet, but she could at least hear the other woman out.
"As I said, my name is Amelia Bones. I'm the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. A young girl has been kidnapped by the same people that murdered your brother, Alan."
Joanna stared at her silently for a moment, parsing that statement. "You're what?"
"I'm a witch, part of a community of magic users who has stayed hidden from mainstream society for many generations."
"I see." She considered this for a moment, while scanning the room for any potential way out, or a weapon if it came to that. No immediate options presented themselves. The door was locked, and the table and chairs were all bolted to the floor. There was nothing else in the room. "I'd like to speak to the hospital administrator then."
Amelia blinked in confusion. "What?"
"I've clearly been thrown in the madhouse and I'd like to know why." Aggravating the strange woman probably wasn't the best approach, but she was scared and, as she often did when she felt cornered, lashed out verbally at whatever was making her uneasy.
Amelia sighed. She wished she could have waited for Albus. People seemed to trust the headmaster automatically. "I can understand your skepticism, and I am prepared to provide proof." She drew her wand and watched Joanna roll her eyes before turning back to pound on the door.
"I'd like to leave now! Open up!" Her shout went unheeded. There were several privacy charms on the room to ensure that conversations remained confidential.
"Miss Stillwell, if you would." Her words drew Joanna's eyes back to the table and the chair she had been sitting in which had come loose from the floor and was now floating unsupported in the air. She made a quick gesture with her wand, and the chair rearranged itself into a box, a small end table, and then a chair again. "Please hear me out. Have a seat."
Joanna eyed the chair warily, showing no inclination to go near it. She didn't know how the other woman had done that. There were no wires visible or supports, and she couldn't imagine any combination of those that could have rearranged a solid wooden chair.
"I promise it will remain a chair. I apologize for doing it this way, but there isn't much time. A young girl's life is at stake."
"I still don't know what that has to do with me. I don't know anything about Alan's killer."
"Actually, you do. You just don't know it. Perhaps you should choose something, if you're still skeptical. What would you like to see?"
"Cast a spell to send me back to my home," she said without hesitation.
Amelia repressed a sigh. This was not going well. "I'm afraid I can't oblige that particular request. After your brother's killers are dealt with, I will be happy to arrange it."
"Fine. Um, change something about me. Or… change me into something else."
"An odd choice, but very well." She considered for a moment, before remembering her friend Minerva and taking inspiration. She made another, more complex, series of wand movements.
Suddenly the room seemed much bigger to Joanna. She could see the other woman's legs under the table. Her face came into view as she ducked down and regarded Joanna. "You are a cat for the moment. Look at your hands." Joanna did so and saw two white furry paws. She looked up to see Bones had risen and approached her holding out a small compact.
Joanna stared at the small furry face in the mirror and raised one hand/paw to touch her cheek. She glanced up at the huge woman and swallowed her fear. Nodding her head, she meowed in what she hoped was a polite tone. Bones apparently got the message and changed her back. Joanna found herself sitting on the floor staring at her hands.
Amelia allowed her a few moments to adjust and then drew her attention back to the matter she had been brought there to discuss. "I trust that is sufficient proof. As to why you know nothing of your brother's killer," she sighed. "That is rather embarrassing."
Joanna looked at her questioningly. "What do you mean?" She climbed slowly to her feet and took the chair, unsure of her legs' ability to support her.
"You see, the magical community guards its secrets well. We do this with strict laws about interaction with Muggles…non-magical folk," she clarified at Joanna's confused look, "and with spells that aid us in keeping the secret, such as Obliviate, which allows us to alter a person's memories."
"Alter memories?" The notion shocked her and made her instantly wary. "Are you saying you changed my memories because I saw something?"
"It is standard procedure," Bones answered without a trace of apology. "Unfortunately, on this occasion it has worked against us. No one realized you had witnessed your brother's murder, and your memories were wiped a short time later, while you were at the police station reporting what you had seen."
Joanna stared at her, dumbstruck. "How can you do that?"
"I assume you mean 'why do we do that?'. It's a matter of self-preservation, the most effective way of keeping a secret that could prove disastrous to both our worlds if released." Moving past that, she continued. "We can restore your memories with a procedure one of our top healers has developed. It is my hope that you'll be able to identify the kidnappers for us, and we can retrieve the girl they've abducted."
Joanna's mind was in turmoil. The notion that pieces of her life could be casually stripped away and replaced with lies was beyond frightening. Yet, the woman before her was saying it was standard procedure for these…magical people. What sort of society could one build using methods like that? What sort of society had lies and deception as a primary building block? With an effort, she set her outrage aside and focused on what was, for the moment, the important issue. "You can give me my memories back?"
"Yes. We have to if we want to catch these men and save Susan." From a pocket of her robes she removed a picture and pushed it across the table. "This is Susan. She's a couple of years younger than your brother. Susan was on her summer break, after her third year at Hogwarts School." The picture showed a smiling girl laughing and waving at the camera. It had been carefully chosen, and was one of Amelia's happier memories of her niece. Not telling Stillwell that Susan was her niece was a calculated risk. The chance that she would lose a family member just as Joanna had might have served to bond the two, but the tactic could easily have backfired. Amelia didn't want to be seen as playing for sympathy or exploiting Allan's death in any way.
"And when you're done with me?" Joanna knew it was a mistake asking as soon as the words left her mouth, but it was too late to recall them.
"I don't have a say in that," Bones replied, not unkindly. "Our laws exist for a reason, and I'm bending them as it is, but I promise that they will pay for all of their crimes."
"These men are…wizards then? That's why no one's found them?"
"Yes. Sadly, my own people haven't had much better luck than the Muggle authorities. They are proving very elusive."
"How did Alan get mixed up in this? He couldn't have been…"
"It was just chance. These men seem to consider Muggles to be fair game. They choose people at random, and…" Amelia broke off, not sure she should go into details or how much the restored memories would reveal. If she didn't know her brother had been brutalized before he was murdered, then it might be for the best.
"They," she continued reluctantly, "typically torture their victims before killing them. It's sport to them."
Joanna felt her stomach twist and kept her breakfast in place with an effort. Drug dealing wizards? Sadistic drug dealing wizards? It was small wonder that they were so successful and so hard to find. Joanna felt herself growing angrier by the second. These people were killing innocents for sport and poisoning who knew how many others with their narcotics. If she could do something to put a stop to that, she vowed, she would, even if she'd never be allowed to remember it. "What do I have to do?"
Bones relaxed and smiled grimly. "The treatment to restore your memories will be ready soon. Healer Brinsley is ready whenever you are."
Joanna nodded and prepared to ask one of the thousand odd questions she had about magic and the Wizarding world and especially about the drug dealers that had killed her brother. The first question, however, was preempted by a knock on the door.
Rising to her feet, Bones walked to the door and unlocked it with a flick of her wand and a muttered word. Brinsley entered and smiled at Joanna. "Hello, I'm Healer Brinsely. I hope this hasn't been too much of a shock for you, my dear."
"Much too much," Joanna replied, "but let's get on with it, shall we?"
Brinsley smiled and nodded. "As you wish." He seated himself at the table and began to explain the treatment. "The first part is a potion that will begin to loosen the hold of the false memories. It will be a bit confusing, but necessary. We follow that up with a charm I devised myself. It will take about an hour all told, so best we get started if you're ready."
"I am." Joanna was nervous, but there was too much at stake for her to let her fear and confusion or the multitude of doubts get in the way. There was a voice at the back of her head telling her that this couldn't be real and she should be trying to escape or at least look for a rational explanation. Brinsley nodded and led the two women to what resembled a hospital room without the monitors and equipment she was used to seeing. At his direction, she sat on the bed and drank the mixture he gave her. It tasted foul, but she didn't see the point in complaining.
Brinsley noted her expression and smiled apologetically. "Sorry about the taste, any attempt to improve it would have made the potion useless." She waved him off.
She waved him off. "It's fine, as long as it works." The world grew hazy. Objects seemed to swim in and out of focus and she grew too dizzy to sit up straight, so she lay down on the bed. She could mitigate that effect by closing her eyes, but more disconcerting by far was the way her recent memories flashed before her mind's eye, each with crystal clarity before beginning to fade. Not entirely, but they took on the consistency of a dream she had just awakened from. Barely held onto. The effect progressed backwards, and more and more of her memories seemed to float just out of reach.
She saw the man that had brought her to Bones, and the meeting with Harold Bryant. Farther back was the dinner with her parents at which she had learned of her father's loss of the hard won Parliament seat. Faster and faster the memories played out before her and then seemed to dissolve. She thought she would pass out from the strain, but she didn't. A retreat into blissful unconsciousness was denied her no matter how much she would have welcomed it at that point.
Joanna was only vaguely aware that there were other people there with her, so she was unaware when Healer Brinsley decided she had reached the point in her regression that the charm could be administered.
He moved his wand carefully through a complicated pattern while pronouncing the rather lengthy charm with a precision born of long practice casting complex spells. The Muggle woman was all but insensate on the bed, lost in her recent memories. He was unsure of the precise effect it would have on her as the regression occurred, but imagined it must be very confusing. It would be interesting to discuss it with her later, to determine if there was a way to make the process easier for the subject. The procedure had too many potential applications to simply be setaside after one use.
The charm seemed to be taking affect and the Muggle woman's breathing and heart rate slowed to something approaching normal. He ran a quick diagnostic spell and found almost everything to be settling into a normal pattern.
Almost everything. Her blood pressure was rising alarmingly and her breathing suddenly became ragged. Her eyes were clear, however, when she sat up and glared at Director Bones.
"You!" she gasped. "You lied!"
Director Bones was taken aback by the accusation. "What do you mean?"
"Your fault! Alan…he didn't do anything wrong. Your people," she broke off gasping. "Responsible…" She had to stop to catch her breath, and Brinsley eased her back on the bed. "Everything since Alan… died….Your fault!"
Brinsley was growing concerned and ran another diagnostic. She shouldn't be having a reaction like this, he thought, quickly considering and discarding options and theories. Joanna suddenly began to convulse, and the diagnostic showed systemic stresses approaching fatal levels. She was having a heart attack.
Raising his wand to administer the appropriate spell, he suddenly stopped as a disturbing thought occurred to him. Joanna had seemed to be stable, upset but stable, until he had cast the first diagnostic. Her condition had worsened dramatically when he had cast the second. Putting away his wand, he began to perform CPR, a skill he had acquired years ago. He could count on one hand the number of times he had had to use it outside of practice or a classroom where he was teaching the technique.
Bones stayed silent while Brinsley worked; raising an eyebrow at the strange things he was doing but knowing better than to question the healer during an emergency. He seemed to be forcing her heart to beat and breathing for her, although why he didn't use his wand was a mystery for the moment. Eventually, Miss Stillwell stabilized and she slipped into a natural, exhausted sleep.
"Give her some time," Brinseley offered. "Obviously, the procedure is more traumatic than anticipated, and I'm not sure what to make of this side-effect." He shook his head in consternation, thinking furiously. "For the moment, let her sleep and let the memories 'settle'. She should be more coherent when she wakes up."
"Time is an issue," Bones pointed out.
"I know, but she seems to be reacting very badly to magic. Reviving her could be dangerous, and you won't learn anything if she dies." There was no arguing that, and Bones settled in to wait impatiently while Brinsley left to fetch some equipment.
It was less than an hour, fortunately, before she began to stir without the aid of magic. She sat up and looked around, slightly dazed. When her eyes settled on Bones, who was waiting anxiously, she glared accusingly at the older woman. A knock on the door distracted them. Professor Dumbledore entered the room with Healer Brinsley.
"I am sorry to interrupt," Brinsley said to both women, "but this is rather urgent. I need to make sure you're well Miss Stillwell." He put several common medical devices on the table, common at least to Joanna. Why a wizard was using them when he had a stick he could wave confused her. Her curiosity didn't divert her, though. The memories of what the two wizards had done to her brother's body were as fresh as if she had just witnessed their crime.
Bones noted that Dumbledore was oddly hesitant, almost at a loss as to how to proceed. This was a first in her experience. "Professor?" she asked curiously. Whatever had the usually unflappable headmaster in this state couldn't be good news.
Joanna, still too caught up in her recovered memories to think clearly, merely glared at the two of them. It was all back in crystal clear detail. She saw the men who had killed Alan. She saw, and recognized, the man who had planted the drugs on him and injected the poison into his veins. She even remembered the man who had walked into the interrogation room where she had been trying to convince Inspector Monroe of what had happened and pointed his wand at her.
Everything that had followed; the loss of her father's seat in Parliament, the betrayal by long-time friends, the rejection by organizations they'd long supported. It was all the fault of the wizards. Now they've got the nerve to ask for my help! Not to stop these criminals from killing other Muggles, but because one of their own is in trouble!
Her first impulse was to refuse out of hand to help them. If they couldn't be bothered to do the right thing for the sake of her kind, she saw no compelling reason to help one of theirs.
Her anger didn't fade, but after a few moments of submitting to the examination, she found she was calmer and able to think more clearly. She started to think things through. They'd keep doing this. She knew they would. The killers would keep killing and the wizards would keep destroying peoples' lives without a care. What happened to Muggle victims and their families didn't affect them, after all.
All too soon, the healer's ministrations became annoying, and as she felt steady enough to speak to the wizards, she brushed Brinsley away irritably. "I'm fine. Back off!" She returned her glare to Bones and the old man.
"I am deeply sorry, Miss Stillwell." Dumbledore spoke before she could, much to Madam Bones' surprise and confusion. "We had no idea of the affect-"
"Of course you didn't! Because you didn't care. Nothing that happens to us ordinary humans impacts your lives, does it? So there was no need to think about what you were doing to us!"
"I don't understand," Madam Bones broke in. "What do you mean?"
"You're in charge, right?" Joanna asked, her tone bitter. At Amelia's nod, she continued. "Then you set policy, don't you? You decide how best to hide your magic from the rest of us. How to cover up crimes against us?"
"Yes." She saw no point in denying it, even if she wouldn't have phrased it that way. Amelia was getting a very bad feeling about where this was going.
"Then this is your fault!"
Dumbledore looked like he was beginning to speak, but she silenced him with a glare and a curt "shut up".
"Your goons may not have been the ones to kill him, but they took the only thing he had left, his good name."
"I don't understand." Bones said blankly.
"You used drugs…illegal narcotics, to make his death look like an 'accidental overdose'. Somewhere you got the idea that Muggle authorities wouldn't care about 'just another dead addict'. Aside from being… morally repugnant your tactic has one serious flaw."
"And that is?" Bones managed to ask, while trying to wrap her head around what the younger woman was saying. Illegal drugs? When had this started? What drugs?
"Your men are idiots!" she yelled. Taken aback by the volume and the bitter anger in her tone, Bones didn't respond. "They used enough of that poison to drop an elephant in its tracks, never mind a person! There was no way it could have been ruled an accident. Then they stuff his pockets with a £100,000.00 worth of it. They don't think he's a dead addict. They think he's a drug dealer murdered by a rival. Your little 'diversionary tactic' has been running every law enforcement agency in Great Britain ragged looking for a conspiracy that doesn't exist!"
"I..Miss Stillwell, I had no idea…"
"Of course you didn't! You didn't think about…about the conse-." She had begun crying openly at some point without realizing it, and the tears only made her angrier. She took a deep breath in order to get a grip on herself. She couldn't break down. Not now. "This didn't affect you or your kind, so it didn't matter. Now you ask me to help you rescue a witch. Alan died months ago. You've known about me for months, and two more of my kind have been killed, but you only come to me now. Tell me this. Why should I help? She's just a witch. She's nothing to me, just like my brother was nothing to you!"
Bones sat back in her chair heavily. This couldn't happen. Stillwell couldn't refuse. There had been mistakes, she saw that plainly now. Joanna Stillwell had every right to be furious, but would she really take out her anger on an innocent girl?
"Alan had much in common with Susan," Dumbledore offered gently, trying to be the voice of reason. "Like him, she is human. Susan has dreams and aspirations. Susan also has friends and a family that loves her and wants her back safely. Are you really going to allow Susan to die just to inflict pain on people who've never done you any intentional harm?"
Joanna said nothing for a moment. She knew the old man was right. She couldn't just let someone die knowing she could do something about it, especially as she knew those directly responsible would go on killing. But she also recognized the tactic the old wizard was using. He had used the girl's name four times in under a minute. He wanted her to know the name and not be able to forget it or dehumanize the one being held hostage. It was an infuriating tactic when the person it was being used on was aware. That didn't mean she didn't get the point. Still, what was done to Alan could not go unanswered. "Why should I care?" she demanded again. "What's in it for me?" It came out sounding more mercenary than she would have liked, but the sentiment was correct.
"You want payment?" Bones sounded shocked and was beginning to look angry.
"I want justice," Joanna snapped back at her. "What are you going to do about Alan?"
That stumped her. What could she do? Albus came to the rescue, being the calmest and most rational person in the room at the moment. "We can take steps to repair his reputation, and clear your family name from this unintended scandal."
"And the others? What about everyone else you've ruined with your stupid secrecy? There's a man in Dover who lost his shipping firm because the police were convinced that his 'drug dealing brother' was using it to move his supply!"
"We will do what we can," Bones assured her. "With the memory alteration spell, we can-"
"You can't use that," she interrupted, shocked at the idea. Didn't they understand what that spell did? Didn't they even think about what they were doing to people?
"She is correct," Dumbledore sighed, and Joanna looked at him hopefully. "The knowledge has spread too far. There are articles about this in dozens of papers. Thousands of people know about it. Memory modification on such a scale is impossible and would do nothing for the physical records scattered across a dozen cities."
Joanna sighed. So much for the hope that one person got it. "You use that spell for everything, don't you?" she asked quietly. It was inconceivable. Their entire society was dependent on the most fundamental violation she could imagine. The spell was no better than rape, literally tearing away pieces of a person's identity. It made her sick to think about it, but so far, there was little about these wizards that didn't sicken her.
"We'll come up with something," Bones sighed, disappointed, Joanna guessed as she fumed silently, by the lack of an easy solution.
"You'll have to do better than 'something'," Joanna told her, "and you'll have to do it before I tell you anything."
"We don't have that kind of time!" Amelia leaned forward, a note of desperation penetrating her professional façade. "Her kidnappers gave us a deadline. They will kill her if we don't meet it!"
Joanna met her gaze sternly and spoke slowly and succinctly so there could be no misunderstanding. "Not. My. Problem." Before Amelia could pick up her jaw and muster a response, Joanna pressed on. "If you want to meet your deadline then you'll need to do a few things for me."
"Such as?" Dumbledore asked placing a hand on his former student's shoulder, silently asking for patience.
"One. Stop using drugs to cover up your people's crimes."
"Done," Bones agreed. She would have done that anyway.
"Two. Find a way to clear Alan and everyone else you've hurt with this scheme without using that vile… mind-rape spell of yours on half of England."
Both looked taken aback at her description of the memory modification spell, but didn't waste time arguing the matter. "Very well," Bones answered. "It will take time to make a proper plan, though, and we certainly couldn't implement it before the deadline."
Joanna didn't doubt that was true. Bones was plainly desperate no matter how hard she tried to hide it, but she couldn't just accept the witch's word for it. "How do I know you'll keep your promise?"
"I'll make an unbreakable vow," she answered without hesitation. "I will find a way to clear the names of all those wronged by my Aurors." Both Dumbledore and Healer Brinsley looked startled by the offer, but Joanna just looked confused. They took a few moments to explain what an unbreakable vow was and why, precisely, it was unbreakable. Joanna agreed.
As the vow had to be between two magical folk, she could only watch as Healer Brinsley tied Bones' and Dumbledore's hands together, and Bones made the requested promises. The Ministry would stop committing crimes themselves in order to cover up crimes committed by wizards. The wording had been Joanna's idea, and Bones had winced but agreed to it. She also promised to find a way to clear Alan's name, and the names of the other victims affected by the DMLE's actions. Neither Brinsley nor Dumbledore were happy about the vagueness of the promises, but Bones was satisfied with it.
"Now, your part," Bones turned to Joanna seriously.
Joanna nodded, still a bit suspicious, but she began to talk. In excruciating detail, thanks to Bones' close questioning, she went over everything she had seen and heard. The names the men had called each other by, Bufort and Arnold, were given to one of her Aurors to check.
Bones' skills as an interrogator were brought into play as she mercilessly questioned every recalled detail, checking for inconsistencies. She also had a picture array brought in with images of several prominent Death Eaters as well as three Aurors and the Minister of Magic. Jo resented the treatment, and made no secret of it, but Bones assured her it was necessary. After the third repetition with no inconsistencies or extra recalled details, Bones sat back and sighed.
"Very well, Miss Stillwell. I'm satisfied that this is all you can tell me. The men you identified are known to us. Hopefully…" She trailed off in thought. There had been suspicions after the first war about a number of families, but in quite a few cases, there was little or no evidence.
A mere 20 minutes later she had her answer. Bones had returned to her office, leaving Joanna in the care of Healer Brinsley. There she was presented with three files. Jimmy Arnold, Lawrence Bufort, and Louis Brundt had known each other for years and had, according to the files, joined the Death Eaters together. They had not taken the mark during the first war so they could work in secret. At least, that was what had been alleged. There was no proof, and the three had never even been arrested, merely questioned and released. The sheer number of times their names had come up, though, was enough to satisfy most, even if nothing could be proven in court.
There was enough to link them to this, though. Joanna's testimony might not be admissible as evidence, but it could be acted on in the course of an investigation. She began the process of locating the men. Time was limited, but she knew discretion was vital. If they got wind of her suspicions, let alone that she was searching for them, they might kill Susan on the spot. Bearing this in mind, she gave the team of Aurors she had assembled earlier detailed instructions and sent them out.
Bufort's brother seemed the best option, but she didn't want to rely completely on one possible lead. Osgood and Greenwood were sent to find Trevor Bufort. Whitehead was sent to visit the scenes of previous murders, starting with the place Alan Stillwell had been tortured.
Barely an hour had passed when Osgood and Greenwood returned with good news. Bones waved them in anxiously. "Well? Did you find Bufort's brother?"
"Trevor Bufort is in custody. Guess who our three kidnappers made the secret keeper for their hideout?" Greenwood smirked.
Bones blinked in astonishment. "It can't be that easy."
"It wasn't," Osgood confirmed. "You'll have to make him some guarantees, but Trevor is terrified of his brother, does everything he and his friends tell him to do. He'll jump at the chance to get out from under their thumbs."
"What sort of guarantees?"
"Immunity from prosecution and some help relocating, somewhere that they won't find him. I've heard the Muggles have something like that, called a 'witness protection program'."
"That can be arranged easily enough, provided his information is good."
"Would you like to meet with him?" Osgood asked.
"No. Time is short. We can deal for involvement in any crimes he can provide evidence against his brother and his associates for. We can sort the details out later."
"That ought to do it," Osgood nodded. "He's willing to tell us the location and provided details on their defenses."
Bones nodded, satisfied. "Then get them." The two Aurors left the office and Bones returned to reviewing the files she had on the kidnappers and their activities. All three were definitely working for Voldemort. The ransom they'd demanded, the people they targeted for their fun, and the collected allegations and suspicions from over the years all pointed to that fact. If they could be captured and convinced to give evidence against others, she could really hurt their organization.
Arnold, Brundt, and Bufort were small time. The orders would not have come directly from their dark lord, which meant that someone more accessible was giving the orders. If they could catch one of the inner circle… Bones broke off that line of thought, shaking her head. One thing at a time.
They needed to find a way to get Susan back first. That was her sole concern for the moment. All of the data pointed to a funding source for Voldemort. If they were going to this extreme, it meant that it was an important piece of the operation. They could slow Voldemort considerably if she was right about that. That meant that the three Death Eaters would be taking every precaution. They would be more afraid of failing their psychotic master than they would be of the Aurors. That complicated things. The operation to rescue Susan would have to be carefully planned, taking all of the information that Trevor Bufort could provide.
She spent another hour reviewing those files and every related case file she could find. All she managed to do was confirm her suspicions about the importance of the funding source. When she received word that the raid was ready to proceed on her word, she was forced to accept that there was nothing else she could do to help her niece. She gave the order and wished them luck.
Trevor Bufort was nervous, and understandably so, Osgood reflected. From what he could gather, Lawrence, the man's older brother, had terrorized him since they were boys. Lawrence Bufort no doubt had an interesting psychological profile, but it was of no interest to Osgood or the other Aurors save in determining what the man was capable of. It seemed that the answer to that question was 'almost anything'.
None of them doubted he would kill Susan just for spite if things went wrong. Arnold appeared to be the thinker in the group, while Louis Brundt was a loyal follower, not stupid but easily led. His file indicated that he had followed his two friends into Voldemort's service. None of them were great strategists and the team didn't anticipate any surprises, but the multilayered security they did use wouldn't be easy to get around. Trevor was their way in. The hair he provided for the Polyjuice potion along with as much information as he had on the layout of the house, was their way in and their best hope.
Stunning the three quickly before any one of them could react would be too much to hope for, but they still aimed for that outcome. Osgood, the fastest of the three would walk through the front door disguised as Trevor. The other two would sneak in through windows. Their source had given them a thorough layout of the place where Susan was being held. The isolated house was a piece of property formerly owned by a pureblood family that had been wiped out during the last war. It had simply vanished from the records, and from the memories of the people who knew about it, thanks to some fairly elaborate charm work.
When the preparations were complete, the three moved in. Trevor was expected at a certain time every two days to deliver orders and supplies as necessary. If he was late, or early for that matter, they would be suspicious. So, despite the deadline they faced, another short delay was necessary.
Osgood knocked on the door at the appointed time, just as Trevor always did. He levitated several bags of groceries behind him, one of which contained, in addition to food, the means to implement plan A.
Arnold let him in and gave him a once over before leading him into the kitchen and set him about unpacking the groceries. Trevor had said that he spoke to the Death Eaters as little as possible, only delivering supplies and relaying orders as needed. Since he needed all three of them together, he told Arnold that he had orders to relay. The charm he used to copy Trevor's voice worked perfectly and Arnold simply grunted and went to fetch the others.
The bags were quickly unloaded, and plan A was set up. It was basically a stun grenade. It produced the same effect as a Stupefy spell, but it released the magic in an omni-directional burst that should take down everyone in the room that did not have a shield as he did. It was a variation on something that the Weasley twins had developed. But the Auror who had seen the potential of the invention had made some modifications. It was simple piece of clothing, innocuous, that carried a Protego spell, just as twins' invention was, but it was modified to activate the same instant the stun grenade went off. Till then, it was undetectable.
Arnold led the others back into the room, looking irritated. "Now then, what's this about? We weren't expecting any new orders." Osgood merely shrugged, trying hard to look nervous and subservient. He held up a rolled up parchment before setting it on the table. The Death Eaters gathered around as he unrolled the parchment, triggering the spell.
A collective sigh of relief had been released when the Death Eaters were captured with so little trouble. It was finding Susan that took the most time, effort, and ingenuity. Trevor hadn't been able to tell them anything about the girl's whereabouts. The kidnappers were all marked Death Eaters so it was deemed too dangerous to wake them up there, even with a team of Aurors in place. Should one of them manage to use his dark mark to alert Voldemort the rescue could go very wrong.
With the house secured, two more experts were called in, specialists in concealment charms and wards. It took nearly four hours of work, but they were able to uncover the basement and bring the girl out safely. She was returned to her Aunt half-an-hour after that.
The reunion was short-lived, though, as Cornelius Fudge had somehow gotten wind of the operation, especially the involvement of a Muggle and had decided to personally demonstrate his displeasure. He didn't know the details, for which Amelia was grateful, given how close the Minister was to Lucius Malfoy. He did, however, know that a Muggle had been brought into the Ministry for some reason and been told about their world.
Joanna had been waiting impatiently for some word of the Death Eaters who had killed her brother. Brinsley was poor company, but at least he had reason to be there, and it was better than waiting alone. He had run a variety of tests on her, both mundane and magical, but would not explain the purpose of those tests. The old man, Dumbledore, had left shortly after Bones, promising to return when he had word.
Both Joanna and Brinsley looked up at the sound of raised voices outside the room. They sounded angry, and one was definitely Amelia Bones. The door opened and an officious looking man in a horrid green suit and bowler strode into the room like he owned the place. Bones was right on his heels, and behind her came another wizard that Joanna instantly recognized.
"Be reasonable, Minister. We never would have captured those three without her help."
"This goes beyond one criminal case!" the man blustered. "You've put our entire world in danger for the sake of one person! It doesn't matter if she is your niece."
"Niece?" Joanna broke in, her tone attracting the attention of everyone in the room. "So you only considered stopping these killers when one of your family was threatened?"
Madam Bones' expression hardened, but she didn't respond to the charge. There was nothing she could say. The Minister, after a brief glance at Joanna, went back to berating the head of the DMLE. "You know better than this. If it weren't for all your years of service, I would ask for your resignation now. You obviously have no regard for your career."
"The man in the ugly suit is right," Joanna broke in, gaining surprised looks from everyone in the room. "Putting the life of a child over the need to cover your arse? What were you thinking?" Brinsley snorted in amusement at the look on the officials' faces but quickly turned it into a cough.
"That will be quite enough out of you," the Minister snapped. "Obliviator Allsdale, you know your duty." The man stepped forward and Joanna glared at him, knowing there was nothing she could do to stop it.
"I can't allow that Minister," Brinsley stepped in front of her. "Not under these circumstances."
"Healer Brinsley," the Minister snapped. "You've already placed your career in jeopardy with your involvement in a violation of the Statute of Secrecy. Don't jeopardize your freedom as well by interfering with Allsdale's performance of his duties."
"My duty as a healer comes first, Minister. Miss Stillwell is-"
"I will have you thrown in Azkhaban for obstruction," Fudge threatened.
"Perhaps we can be cellmates," Brinsley answered coldly. "As you'll be there for murder if you persist." This threw Fudge for a moment and made everyone else take notice, especially Joanna. "The memory restoration process had an unanticipated side-effect. At present, Miss Stillwell is extremely sensitive to magic. I'd liken it to an allergic reaction. Earlier today, a simple diagnostic spell caused serious systemic stress. A spell as complex as memory modification would almost certainly kill her." Fudge considered for a moment and started to speak again, but Brinsley cut him off. "If you're going to ignore me and order the modification, at least have the good sense to have my claim verified first."
"That seems prudent, Minister," Allsdale put in. "I won't risk her life because you think a respected healer with decades of experience might be lying for some reason." Fudge looked outraged at what he perceived as mutiny, but both Bones and Allsdale were steadfast, and Brinsley wasn't budging.
Joanna surprised herself and them by speaking up, trying not to sound as bitter as she felt. "I'm surprised at you," she told Allsdale. "If it goes wrong you can always just rip out their memories and put in something that would make it not your fault. That is what you do after all."
Allsdale gave her a stony look but otherwise didn't respond.
"Very well. I'll have your findings verified, but if you're wasting my time it won't go well for you." He turned back to Bones. "What do you suggest we do with her in the meantime?"
"'She' is in the room," Joanna reminded him, irritated at his manner. She was ignored.
Bones, to her credit, spoke directly to Joanna. "I can arrange a place for you to stay and get word to your family that you're taking a brief holiday." She turned to Brinsley. "Can you look into finding a solution to this side-effect?"
"Of course, Madam Bones."
"Now just a moment!" Fudge broke in.
"We aren't the only ones who use the memory modification charm, Minister," Bones interrupted. "I can think of several Death Eaters running loose who would now be in prison if we had had a means of restoring the memories of various witnesses. It really has too much potential to just be cast aside, and we do need to set matters right with Miss Stillwell."
"Meaning you need to make me forget this ever happened, I assume," Joanna answered darkly.
Bones had the grace to look apologetic. "I did tell you before we began that it would have to be done and that that was out of my hands."
Rebuttal seemed pointless. Joanna knew she wasn't going change their minds, and she doubted she could even shame them into regretting it. "What now?" she asked, after simmering quietly for a moment.
"I don't know how long it will take Healer Brinsley to counter the side-effects of the treatment. You may be with us a while."
"We cannot abide such a security risk!" Fudge was in rare form. He hated being balked but knew when he had to concede a point. "You will take responsibility for her, Madam Bones. If she steps out of line it is on your head. Understood?"
Joanna held her tongue with an effort. Realizing she was to be held captive was an unpleasant surprise, but she realized she should have expected something like that to happen. It couldn't be as simple as Bones had made out.
Fudge nodded to Allsdale, and with a final warning to keep him informed, swept out of the room, the Obliviator at his heels. There was a moment of silence before Brinsley decided to put the unpleasant encounter behind them. After all, nothing had really changed.
"I have run what tests I can for the moment. I need time to study the results and consult with some colleagues and Professor Dumbledore. He should be told of this…development." He turned to Joanna. "Miss Stillwell, I will keep you informed of my progress. With luck, we will be able to return you to your normal life soon."
She nodded to him and then turned to Amelia. "I also expect you to keep me informed of any progress to clear my brother and clean up the mess you've made."
"Of course," she nodded before rising. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to see to your accommodations." She looked at Brinsley. "The hospital room here should do temporarily. I'll arrange for something better soon."
Joanna had no choice but to wait for them to come back. While she waited, she thought. Their determination to erase her memory was unwavering, and the fact that they didn't see anything wrong with it was her biggest problem. Their desire for secrecy was their first and only concern, and ripping out the memories of innocent bystanders and replacing them with lies wasn't even a 'necessary evil'. It was business as usual.
The fact that they could do it so casually left her with serious doubts. If she couldn't remember Bones' promise how could she know if it had been kept? The so-called unbreakable vow could just be another lie like so many of the others they told as a matter of course. At the very least, she'd have to find a way to stall until the woman actually kept her word and she could see the proof herself. Ideally, she needed to find a way to escape with her mind intact.
Amelia Bones returned after roughly two hours had passed. She apologized for the wait, but said it had taken time to get the necessary clearances for what she had in mind.
"I've arranged for you to stay with Susan and myself while you wait for Brinsley. Perhaps we can change your opinion of the wizarding world."
"I suppose anything is possible," she answered, her tone non-committal.
His name was Jimmy Arnold, and there was no information on him anywhere. Monroe resisted the urge to slam down the phone. Their months of investigating had finally turned up a solid lead; one thing that tied all of the deaths together; the name Jimmy Arnold. The trouble was that there was no Jimmy Arnold, or at least not one that they could find. Oh, there were people with that name, but none of them had any connection to the victims.
Whoever he was, assuming the name wasn't an alias, he wasn't from England, or he lived so far off the grid that he had managed to avoid leaving the footprints that everyone in modern society did. No birth certificate. No school records. No records with the revenue service. No one in police files was known to use that alias. The list of what they didn't know went on and on. The name had turned up on a day planner of one Robert Weston of Maidstone, the first victim. It was also on a short list of persons of interest in the investigation of a smalltime drug trafficking ring that had suddenly vanished a few weeks before the killings started.
When questioned about Arnold, friends and acquaintances of the other victims seemed to remember the name, but were puzzled by his connection. Paul Gladson, the former owner of a Dover shipping company, provided an employment application filled out by Arnold, but said that the man had never turned up for his interview.
The address on the application was phony, but he had been there at one point. Several people in the neighborhood had provided a description of a man they believed to be Arnold based on Gladson's description.
Gradually, the pieces fell into place; there were even tentative links to drug dealers who had been robbed of their money and product. At one of those robberies, the police found fingerprints that couldn't be matched to anyone attached to the dealer that had been robbed. That discovery tied the man they suspected to be Jimmy Arnold to other robberies and two of the murders. The same prints were found on the clothing of Alan Stillwell when, on a hunch, Monroe had the victim's clothing tested.
Virtually overnight, the focus of the investigation shifted. Bones kept her Aurors busy laying false trails and planting evidence; sometimes it was physical evidence, sometimes it was merely false memories. She kept the explanation of her methods vague when explaining the situation to Joanna, knowing how the Muggle woman felt about the spell.
"That was the man who killed Alan?" she had asked over dinner on the third night there. She had settled into the Bones' home with bad grace, but kept most of her complaints to herself. Gilded or not, it was still a cage.
"That's right. Arnold was perfect for this, as he can't refute what the Muggle authorities are being led to believe."
"What do you mean? I thought all three were captured?"
"They were," Bones sighed. "Unfortunately, the Dark Lord they serve has a way of enforcing obedience. He can discipline his followers from a distance, causing pain or even death as he sees fit."
Joanna shuddered at the idea. "So you intend the police to find him dead or shoot him themselves at some point?"
"Something like that," Bones admitted. At Joanna's slight frown, she sighed. "Some obfuscation and misdirection are necessary. I am keeping my vow, but I also have to uphold the statute of secrecy."
"I know," Joanna relented, having early on realized that it wasn't even worth the effort debating that. It was one of many pointless discussions she could have had with Bones. Politics, free press, the prison system, and slavery were just warm ups.
On her first day at the Bones' family home, she had the first of several unpleasant shocks. Amelia introduced her to Uba, the house elf. House elves, she learned were a sentient race that, according to Uba, existed for the sole purpose of serving wizards and witches. Slavery wasn't just an institution for the wizards. The house elves had the notion of servitude so deeply ingrained in them that the idea of freedom or accepting pay for work was absolutely scandalous.
When pressed on the matter, Uba admitted in hushed tones that she had heard of an elf who took a salary. He was currently at Hogwarts whose Headmaster had all sorts of funny ideas. The way the small creature spoke of this oddity of an elf made it clear that she thought he was the worst kind of deviant. Certainly she, Uba, would never shame herself by accepting money for the work she did, and would never willingly wear human-style clothing.
Joanna came away from the conversation thoroughly confused and despairing for the poor creatures. The elves knew nothing of their history; only that they had proudly served the wizards for thousands of years. No one knew how it all got started, and she suspected that the loss of that history was deliberate on the part of the wizards. Why let their slaves know they had ever been anything but slaves?
The elves' outlook was so warped that a free elf was an object of either pity or scorn. It was horrible, but as she wanted to learn more about the wizarding world, she had to set aside attempts to make Uba see reason.
The little servant was far from an unbiased source of information, but she didn't seem to have the slightest notion about guile, and she rarely edited her thoughts before speaking. She would happily prattle on while she worked, happy to enlighten Joanna on any subject ranging from the proper work of a house elf, something she could go on about for hours, to the hero who'd made life so much better for house elves and other nonhumans. She even kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about him.
Joanna read them all, first with interest, then with disbelief, and finally with disgust. From all accounts, Harry Potter had defeated the Dark Lord, whose name no one would tell her, when he was a baby. There were books about him and even dolls apparently. What actually happened that night was a mystery, but speculation ran the gamut from vague yet plausible to completely absurd.
The paper's treatment of him was inconsistent, sometimes varying from day to day it seemed. He would be the savior of the world one day, a glory-seeking, attention-starved brat the next. The day after that he was a poor confused victim led astray by the manipulative headmaster of his school. By the end of the week, he was the newest Dark Lord in actual capital letters laying the foundation for his own takeover of Britain. The whole thing made Joanna slightly dizzy.
"They should probably rename this rag Pravda and be done with it," she muttered, laying aside the scrapbook.
"Missy Jo?" Uba asked.
"Sorry. Pravda is the name of the Soviet Union's state run paper. The name means 'truth', but by all accounts what's true varies from day to day according to the need or just the whim of the communist leaders."
"Ah. Uba understands Missy Jo. The paper tells many lies about the great Harry Potter." Her tone made Joanna smile slightly. She sounded like a schoolgirl fancying the latest rock star.
"There just isn't much reliable information then other than he was present when this Dark Lord died?" To her credit, Uba didn't immediately insist that the great Harry Potter had defeated the unnamable evil. She stopped and thought a moment.
"No, Missy Jo. Very little." The admission seemed to send the little creature into a depression that lasted the rest of the afternoon. By the next morning, though, she had put it behind her and was cheerfully adding a new article to her scrapbook, this one with a headline screaming; The Boy Who Lied. Joanna shook her head while watching Uba handle the latest addition to her collection with great care but decided not to comment. A depressed Uba was not something she wanted to experience again.
Almost three weeks passed in this fashion. Joanna tried hard to keep herself distracted, but she was all too aware of the passage of time and that Madame Bones was stalling to give Brinsley more time.
Her evenings were spent with Amelia and Susan. They avoided talking about Susan's kidnapping or why Joanna was there, at least after the first dinner together. Joanna had been in a royal temper, and though she regretted it later, she had been rather nasty to the girl when Susan had tried to thank her for her help, although she hadn't used inappropriate language or even raised her voice. Joanna had simply been completely honest about the reasons she had helped, and the reservations she had had. The conversation had left Susan confused and upset. Madam Bones had not been pleased.
Brinsley came to a realization after the first week of researching Joanna's problem. He repeated his tests, ran additional tests, and devised new tests. One experiment after another told him the same thing. The allergy to magic was permanent. He broadened his research and conferred often with Dumbledore and two or three colleagues he trusted implicitly. None of them were able to offer any hope.
He delayed sharing this with the Ministry as long as possible. There was, he was certain, a solution. It was just a matter of time. Just a matter of time before we can 'mind rape' the girl and send her back. He actually considered the assessment of the spell grossly unfair, but her description of it stuck in his mind. The more he thought about the way the spell worked and more to the point, the ways it could be misused, the more he came to understand her point of view. Tearing away pieces of a person's identity. That was how she had put it during one of her examinations. It was far from an accurate description of what Obliviate did, but the end result was much the same. Memories that shaped a person's outlook and affected their future choices could be easily wiped away. He supposed that did qualify as taking part of a person's identity.
It didn't change matters, though. It was the wizards' most effective means of ensuring secrecy. It couldn't be discarded, even if the magical community came to believe it was wrong to alter memories.
While he could see why she'd object to having it used on her, and he certainly understood her being upset about her brother, he saw no compelling reason for them to stop using Obliviate or even substantially alter their methods in maintaining the Statute of Secrecy.
It seemed that there was simply no good answer, none to any of their questions. He avoided talking to Dumbledore or anyone else about the questions Stillwell raised, and none of the others brought it up. He knew this was because there was nothing to say. It was often at the back of his mind, though, and it distracted him.
That distraction didn't keep him from being thorough in his research. It didn't keep him from examining the problem from every angle and coming to the conclusion that there was no ready solution to the problem. It was possible that the 'allergy', as he termed it, might fade in time, but that could take years. Finally, he had to present his findings to Bones and the Ministry. He managed to speak to Madam Bones first.
"Do you need more time?" Bones asked after hearing his findings. Brinsley shook his head.
"I might make a breakthrough someday, but right now I have no avenues of research that are even vaguely promising. It might fade in time, but that could take years." His expression grew grim. "I doubt the Minister will allow the situation to stand, even if you want her for a houseguest for however long this takes."
Bones nodded her agreement, stifling her reaction to the idea. She understood Joanna's anger, but that didn't make her any more pleasant to deal with. At least she hadn't lashed out at Susan again. The scathing commentary on the wizarding world in general had been bad enough, but it still amazed her that the woman would so blithely admit that she probably would have left Susan with the Death Eaters if she'd known that the girl was Amelia's niece. "We need to have an alternative to suggest to him before we break the news to Fudge. I don't know what his solution would be, but it would likely be unpleasant."
"Perhaps Albus will have an idea," Brinsley ventured.
Amelia Bones and Healer Brinsley gave their report to the Minister only after delaying the meeting for a full three days. He had finally become impatient and come to her office. On learning that they couldn't wipe the Muggle woman's memory any time soon, he was not pleased. Brinsley argued for more time, but Fudge refused to assign a team to research the problem of one Muggle. The conversation turned to their next move.
"Focus now on what to do with her since you can't Obliviate her memories," he instructed. "I assume you don't want a permanent house guest." Bones did not respond immediately and Fudge didn't give her time. "It isn't an option anyway. Bring me options in two days. If nothing else can be found, there may be no choice but to send her to Azkhaban."
Bones and Brinsley immediately protested and words became heated. "Give me another viable option," Fudge demanded, cutting both off before turning to open the door.
Susan Bones didn't like being around the Muggle woman. It wasn't that she disliked Muggles in general or even Joanna in particular, but the woman confused her. Aunt Amelia had tried to explain the circumstances of Susan's rescue after that unpleasant first dinner with Joanna, but Susan only found it upsetting. The Muggle woman's words had been harsh, but they'd been honest. Her aunt, however, while owning up to her mistakes, had tried to sugarcoat everything. The effort had not been well received.
In the days following, her words had been more carefully chosen, but no less critical of wizarding society. She didn't bother to hide her opinions on slavery, bigotry, classism, and what she called yellow journalism after a few days of reading The Daily Prophet. When Aunt Amelia had tried to defend the Ministry's actions and their way of life in general, Joanna had scoffed. "Yes, they're doing a fine job. The Ministry of Magic, boldly rising to meet the challenges of the 19th century."
There had been no good answer, so Amelia didn't put too much effort into trying to make the Muggle woman see their side of things. Joanna, as Susan saw it, had every reason to be angry, and the young witch found herself wondering what she would have done in the same situation. It wasn't the first time since that night that she had gone over the entire mess in her mind, but she decided, right before meeting her aunt for lunch, that it wasn't the time, as the topic never failed to cause stress.
Setting aside the issue for the moment, she got off the lift and headed for her aunt's office. The raised voices she heard as she approached made her stop. She recognized her aunt's voice as well as that of Cornelius Fudge. The Minister of Magic had occasionally been a guest for dinner at the Bones' home, but never more often than politics dictated. Susan didn't understand how politics could force her aunt to have the unpleasant man over for dinner, but she always smiled and was gracious throughout those occasions. She knew Aunt Amelia didn't like him either, and she was seeing one of the reasons why.
Fudge had paused in the open door to her aunt's office as he was leaving and turned around to berate her in full view of anyone passing by. Susan scowled and stepped into an alcove when she realized they were talking about Stillwell. Something about the Muggle woman was upsetting the Minister. When he finished insulting her aunt, Fudge got to the reason for his anger.
"There's no way around it, Bones. The situation is completely unacceptable. Even if you are willing to house that Muggle for however long this 'allergy' lasts, we can't afford the risk. If we cannot modify her memory, she must be relocated to a secure facility. Azkhaban is our most secure."
"Minister! That is inhuman! Stillwell has committed no crime, certainly nothing that warrants exposing her to Dementors. What about a secure ward at St. Mungo's if you insist on imprisoning her."
Fudge shook his head. "St. Mungo's is for preserving and improving the health of our own people. Stillwell isn't ill, and I can't see wasting resources on her. What is required is storage, and Azkhaban is best suited for that. The discussion is over, Madam Bones. Good day." He turned and started down the hall, fortunately in the opposite direction.
Susan leaned out of her alcove and stared after the vile little man. He couldn't be serious! He couldn't mean to move a person that the Ministry had already so thoroughly wronged into a wizarding prison. Whatever mixed feelings she might have about Joanna Stillwell, the woman had still saved her life. She couldn't allow that.
"Uba?" She whispered, after giving the problem a moment's thought. The house elf appeared before her. "I need you to do something for me."
Joanna set aside the magazine she'd been reading; something called Witch Weekly. It was a lot like some Muggle gossip rags. There were articles on the habits, likes, and dislikes of celebrities whose names meant nothing to her. It contained a recipe for a love potion that probably worked, and beauty tips involving 'potion ingredients' she wouldn't want anywhere near her, let alone on her skin. Setting aside the magazine, she rose to wander the house…again.
There was very little else she could do. She couldn't leave the house, the books made no sense to her, and even the housework was all taken care of, not that she had any desire to become the Bones' maid, but it would have been preferable to going stir-crazy. Uba made an interesting companion, but her subservient manner and obsession with Wizarding Britain's teenage heartthrob began to grate on her nerves after a time. So she found herself at loose ends more often than she liked.
She paused at the largest window in the Bones' home, a picture window looking out on the garden. She wasn't allowed outside of the house except when accompanied, one of Fudge's conditions. At least that was what she had been told. Fudge, of course, would never lower himself to speak to a Muggle. She shook off that thought, not really believing that Bones was lying to her. It didn't particularly matter if she was. Doesn't matter who has the keys or sets the rules. I'm still a prisoner.
"Missy Jo?" Joanna turned at the sound of Uba's voice, mustering a smile for the little creature. "I have been given instructions, Missy Jo. You are to be taken out of the house and let go near the Muggle village a few miles from here."
"Just like that?" She was dubious, but the little elf nodded.
"Uba was told to take Missy Jo to the nearest village. Ministry folk don't know about this. They will try to find Missy Jo." This chilled her, but the little creature pressed on before she could respond. "The Fudgey Minister wants to move you to bad place, a place wizards keep their bad ones."
Joanna stared at her in shock. "A prison? Why would they do that?" Uba only shook her head, clearly not having the answer. "Alright, then. Let's go." There didn't seem to be anything else to say. She knew that Brinsley had had no luck reversing her magic allergy and wondered how long it would be before Bones tired of having her there, but she hadn't thought they'd throw her in with their criminals.
Uba knew about her trouble with magic, so she refrained from Aparating with her to the village. Instead she led the way on foot from the house, and together they made their way to the outskirts of the nearby Muggle village. "This is as far as Uba can go, Missy Jo. Be careful."
"I will. Thank you." The little elf Apparated away, and Joanna headed into the village to try to find transport. She had never heard of the place before, as it was barely a dot on the map, but there were phones and a quick call arranged her transportation to London.
The wizards would be looking for her soon, she was certain of that. Still, she had to risk seeing her parents, checking on them. The wizards would probably erase their memories if they found out she'd contacted them, but she should be able to convince them to keep it secret.
Thinking of what she'd have to do to stay out of the Ministry's grasp made her head hurt, and she wasn't entirely sure any of the half-baked ideas she had would work. How did wizards track a person they needed to find? She worried about this during the entire trip back to London.
Arranging a covert meeting with her father proved more difficult than expected. Her parents were angry with her for just taking off with only a brief note that she needed time away. She tried to tell her father over the phone that she hadn't simply left, that she'd had no choice in the matter, but her father, wrung out from all that had happened and feeling more than a little betrayed by his daughter's seeming abandonment of the family, was in no mood for excuses.
"This has to do with the people who killed Alan, dad. There's a lot that's been kept from you, and I can't go into it over the phone."
"So come home."
"Not a good idea. Those same people are looking for me-"
"Rubbish! I don't know what sort of fantasy you've wrapped yourself in, but I won't have it. You have something to show us? Then, come home. We'll be waiting for an explanation of your behavior."
Going to the house, she feared, would be a bad idea, so she settled on ambushing her father instead. He had his routines even after a change of employment. He'd taken work as a consultant for a firm that held a number of contracts with the government and had use for his political knowledge and connections. He often had lunch with one of his old friends from Parliament at one of the better private clubs in London.
She gained access with her father's name and found him and his friend talking politics over salad. Her father didn't look pleased to see her, but he didn't want to make a scene in public, which was why she had chosen the setting.
She joined them at the table without invitation and nodded to her father's old colleague. "Good to see you, Sir Harold. How've you been?"
"Well enough," he answered awkwardly. Harold had been treated to Stillwell's rant about his daughter's behavior. He wasn't sure what to make of her sudden appearance at the club.
Edward Stillwell maintained a neutral façade with effort. "Joanna," he nodded to her, his tone somewhat frosty.
"I don't have much time, but there are things you need to know." She raised a hand to forestall her father's objections. "What you think you know about Alan isn't the truth. He was targeted by a sadistic group of men." She had decided to spare her parents the details. "The drugs were part of… setting the stage I suppose. He never used or dealt drugs."
"I'm sure you'd like to believe that."
"I know that. Watch the papers for the name Jimmy Arnold. He's the one who killed Alan."
"How do you know that?" her father demanded, growing exasperated, but kept his voice civil, mindful of his image and surroundings.
"I've been spending my time with the people who caught him. They're… unwilling to simply come out and admit what happened. For some reason, he's important to some very important people. I don't know the details, but they insist on manipulating the police and press to let the truth be 'discovered'."
"You do realize how this sounds, don't you?" Sir Harold interjected. "I mean, objectively, my dear, this sounds like a paranoid fantasy."
Joanna sat back in her chair and grimaced. "I think that's what they rely on."
"The mysterious 'they'," her father barely kept the sneer out of his voice. "Who is 'they'? Government? Secret society? Aliens?"
Joanna scowled at him. "It hardly matters, since you've made it clear you won't listen. Just remember the name Jimmy Arnold and watch the news." She moved to rise, but then felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Miss Stillwell. I'm going to have to ask you to come with us." She turned to find Allsdale and two Aurors standing behind her. The two men were easily spotted if one knew what to look for, as they were glancing around nervously, unsure of why they were drawing such attention. Joanna suspected it was because they had complimented their conservative black two-piece suits and ties with loud Hawaiian shirts and canvas deck shoes.
"Say hello to 'they' dad. Unfortunately, they probably won't let you remember this meeting."
Allsdale scowled. "I am sympathetic, Miss Stillwell, but I have a job to do. Don't make us use magic to restrain you. I do not want to damage you, but I will do my duty."
"Magic?" her father snorted. "What nonsense is this?" He glanced at his daughter with a mixture of contempt and pity. "Did you join a cult or something?"
"Leave him out of this," she told Allsdale, moving between him and her father.
"You made that impossible," he answered, his tone firm but not unkind. "Stand aside."
"Dad, get out of here," she tried to warn him. One of the Aurors grew impatient and drew his wand. Before Allsdale could warn him against it, the man cast a Body Bind curse and set about controlling the resulting confusion in the club. Allsdale and the other Auror had no choice but to assist at that point.
Joanna felt a pain in her chest as her heart began to speed out of control in an increasingly unsteady rhythm. She stayed upright because of the spell, and her distress wasn't obvious or even noticeable to anyone who didn't know of her adverse reaction to magic.
Allsdale saw what was happening though, and cursed quietly. "Finish up here. I'll be back as soon as I can." He had no choice but to risk Apparating with the woman.
Healer Brinsley was shocked and angered when he found out that Allsdale had risked Apparating with the woman, but he knew there had to be a good reason. Learning it, however, took a backseat to keeping Joanna alive.
It took nearly two hours working with techniques and equipment he had mainly theoretical knowledge of, but he stabilized her. When it was safe to do so, he had her moved by a Muggle-style gurney to a private room, and gave strict instructions that, until further notice, no one was to even use magic in the room. He then went to find Allsdale.
"Didn't you warn them?" Brinsley demanded. "I was quite clear that magic was not meant to be used on her."
"I told them not to cast any spells against her…but I was not explicit as to why. They are allegedly trained to follow orders. The details should not have mattered."
"Evidently, you should have been clearer," Bones snapped. He wasn't primarily responsible, it was true, but he should have warned the Aurors he took with him of the dangers of using magic against Stillwell. According to their own report, they had had no idea of why they weren't supposed to use magic and that Stillwell herself had made matters more difficult by trying to use her allergy to magic to interfere by standing between the Aurors and her father. Repressing a sigh, she put the matter aside and moved on. "What is her current condition?"
"Critical," Brinsley answered succinctly. "She's going to be in bedridden for at least three more days. You can tell Minister Fudge that he'll have to wait at least a week before he can throw her in Azkhaban."
"Don't take that tone with me, Brinsley. I'm not any happier about that than you are. If you've any ideas for changing his mind, let me know."
The healer sighed and nodded. "Sorry. I've been wracking my brain for a solution, but still can't find anything. The allergy might fade in time, but there's no ready solution, and Fudge won't be stalled. He wants to be seen preserving our way of life or upholding the letter of the law or whatever it is that helps him sleep at night."
"The worst part of it is," Bones answered, nodding in reluctant agreement, "is that he isn't wrong. The situation is horrible, but can we endanger our society for the sake of one person?"
"Who would believe her? There's no proof of what she might say." He considered the implications for a moment and the likely outcome. "She'd likely wind up in one of those Muggle asylum things if she tried too hard to convince people."
"That's not the issue, and you know it," Bones sighed. She didn't see anything that could be done. Nothing legal anyway. She had time to think of something. Fudge would at least have to wait until Stillwell could be moved safely.
"I don't know what to do," she admitted. "We can't let her be sent to Azkhaban for something that is not her fault. Even taking this matter before the Wizengamot would be useless, perhaps worse than useless. Sadly, Stilwell was right. The purebloods especially won't want to put any thought or effort into aiding one Muggle woman, regardless of what she's done for us."
Brinsley would have liked to disbelieve that, but he knew better. "What needs to be done, then? Maybe…"
"What? " Bones asked.
Brinsley shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing practical anyway." He knew they couldn't just let her go, as that hadn't worked out the first time. Susan had admitted to giving Uba that order, and the Minister had chosen to be magnanimous in forgiving her. Probably, Brinsley thought sourly, because there had been an audience. He acknowledged the possibility of a wizarding debt and let the matter pass with a warning that whatever debt Susan felt was now paid in full.
Something would have to be done, though. Neither Bones nor he could simply set aside the law no matter how much they disagreed with it. There had to be a legal solution to the problem.
Joanna was in and out of consciousness for two days. When she was finally fully awake, Brinsley told her what had happened and laid out her current situation. He would have waited to avoid causing her undue stress, but Joanna insisted that not knowing was worse. When she understood the situation entirely, that Fudge could be put off days at most, she felt the beginnings of despair, but tried to shake it off. There had to be a way out!
She questioned Brinsley closely, drawing on old movies and books for escape ideas as the healer had made it plain there were no legal remedies likely to present themselves. Brinsley shot most of them down as being impractical or impossible, given the abilities of the enemies to use magic.
The notion of faking her death had possibilities, but he pointed out that another physician would have to perform an examination per hospital regulations, and an autopsy or even a cursory magical examination would discover the ruse and most likely kill her. After an hour of this, Joanna grew fatigued. Brinsley assured her he would keep thinking, and advised her to get some sleep.
Bones had not been idle. During this time. She had been busy manipulating the Muggle law enforcement agencies and the Ministry with varying degrees of success. The name Jimmy Arnold had hit the papers and there was a manhunt underway for what authorities were calling a particularly sadistic killer. His use of illegal drugs to kill and to dress the scene was making headlines. The police were furious that they had been taken in, but publicly admitted no fault as all avenues of investigation had to be pursued.
A spokesman did tell the press that the police regretted the necessity of the investigation and the inconvenience it had caused, but the notion of a serial killer using narcotics was so outrageous it had never even been considered.
The man's choice of the word 'inconvenience' had sparked a storm of criticism, mostly from the families that had suffered. There was talk of lawsuits and renewed scandals over mismanagement of the investigation. The victims and their families were being vindicated, but the damage was largely irreparable.
She had less luck with the Ministry. Every favor she was owed was denied, every string she pulled broke. No one was willing to put their own position in jeopardy, however slight, to help a Muggle. Many she spoke to honestly didn't understand why she was so upset. It was only a Muggle after all. Others would cluck and sympathize but still refuse to offer any substantial assistance or support.
Bones was furious, but had to refrain from showing it. She had to work closely with some of these people and couldn't alienate them over this one case. The Minister had made that point himself when he found she was attempting to rally support against his decision to send Stillwell to Azkhaban.
"You are the Director of the DMLE," he reminded her after calling her to his office for a closed-door meeting. "You should know better than to seek ways to circumvent our laws for your own benefit. It sets a bad precedent, or I should say another bad precedent, and if you wish to keep your post you will cease and desist." The Minister would brook no argument and entertain no pleas. She left his office silently fuming.
The days passed in a blur for Joanna. She was pronounced fit to travel a week after she had been recaptured, though she hardly felt it. She still felt weak and even minor exertions tired her. The Minister had ordered another healer to examine her, as he didn't trust Brinsley's judgment, and the man nearly put her back in the hospital before Brinsley interrupted to remind the man that any spell used on her could prove fatal.
His request for more time had been ignored. He had tried arguing that, in her weakened state, the mere presence of the Dementors could do irreparable harm. There was too little information on the affect of ambient magic.
Fudge had scowled at that. "St. Mungo's will not fund a research study for the benefit of one Muggle. There is a healer on staff at the prison. He can look after her needs."
"Sign the death certificate you mean," Brinsley sputtered. "I know the man. He holds the post solely because his patients aren't considered very important. Signing death certificates is just about all that one is good for."
"Your opinion has been noted, Healer Brinsley. It does not change the situation." He would hear no more arguments after that and ordered Brinsley out of his office.
With time running out and no available options, Brinsley placed a floo call to Dumbledore. The Headmaster had not been idle. Through Director Bones, he had been keeping abreast of developments in Joanna's case. He was as troubled by Fudge's decision and his refusal to budge on the issue as either of them. Brinsley was disappointed when the old man shook his head. He had grown used to last minute miracles from the man.
"I'm sorry Samuel, but there is no legal recourse." The way he stressed the word legal was not lost on the healer. "Minister Fudge is within the law even if he is stretching his authority a bit. I was planning on arguing that point with him this afternoon. Perhaps you would care to join me in presenting a united front?"
Brinsley nodded, readily agreeing. He didn't know what good it would do, but he had seen his old school mate pull off some impossible things. "When do you want me to meet you?"
"Actually, I'd like you to come over now. There is something else I'd like to speak to you about."
Dumbledore stood up from the fireplace, his bones creaking unpleasantly, and turned to face the other person in the room. "He'll provide what you need even if he'll never know it. Are you sure you wish to do this?"
"It's my mess, Professor. I have to make it right." Dumbledore began to object, but the young man shook his head. "I grew up in that world. I should have known better. Losing touch with my life before Hogwarts is no excuse. All Muggle school children get the anti-drug lectures at an early age. I…maybe I couldn't have foreseen things getting this out of control, but I still should have tried to speak out against that…expedient."
"Perhaps," Dumbledore allowed tiredly. "I was caught off guard by this situation as well. It is, I don't mind telling you, a most unpleasant feeling." His guest didn't respond. "I am meeting Brinsley in 20 minutes at the pub. You should be able to get what you need from his cloak. The meeting with the Minister has been timed carefully to coincide with Miss Stillwell's transfer."
"I'll be ready, professor. I already have everything else I'll need."
Dumbledore nodded. "Good luck, Everett."
The two parted ways and approached the pub separately. A quick summoning charm from the door of the pub got Everett a single gray hair off the elderly healer's coat. He moved casually away from The Hogshead with his prize, trying not to draw any attention. Once he was a reasonable distance away, he Apparated. His plan would start in three hours. Until then, he simply needed to stay out of sight and get ready.
Joanna knew they wouldn't hesitate to use magic against her, not this group. They were impatient enough as it was, having to do things the Muggle way, so she decided not to push her luck by tempting them to ignore their orders. She walked to the car and got in between the two Aurors without a word of protest. They looked distinctly uncomfortable in the 'Muggle death trap'.
When the third member of her escort slid into the driver's seat and frowned at the wheel and dashboard, she couldn't stop herself from asking, "You do know how to drive, don't you?" He shot her a glare and started the car.
His performance behind the wheel led her to believe that he had read the drivers' education manual and called it a day, but they eventually reached the shore where they were to catch the boat for the Wizarding prison. She took what she assumed would be her last look at the outside world and thus, was the only one who saw the stranger in the dark robe and hood.
It was a decidedly menacing figure, and she instinctively backed away, especially when the stranger brandished a wand. The Aurors noticed her reaction and looked around, spotting him at once. "Death Eater!" one of them yelled, drawing his wand, but it was too late. Two red beams of energy were already in flight and the nearest Aurors went down. The third was knocked off his feet by a purplish bolt, but he retained consciousness, unable to move. The stranger kept her covered while he moved in.
"Since when do Death Eaters use stunners?" the last conscious Auror asked, trying to sound brave.
"Since we want witnesses to what happens to those that speak out against us." The Auror saw the masked criminal raise his wand and send a killing curse toward the spot he'd last seen the Muggle. Then the wand was turned on him and another stunner was fired.
Joanna watched, petrified as her escort was effortlessly disabled. Her fear turned to puzzlement, however, when the green light the man claimed was for her missed her by several feet. When the last Auror was unconscious, the man put away his wand and removed his hood.
She recognized Brinsley immediately, but his presence there made no sense, nor did the voice she heard when he spoke. "We can't linger here," he interrupted her thoughts. "Don't worry. I'm not here to hurt you. I…I just want to try to make up for what I did."
"You're letting me go?" Joanna asked slowly. "You're not Brinsley, are you? The voice is wrong."
"Not here," he stated. "Come on. We have to get you somewhere safe." Joanna couldn't argue with that, and they left the beach in a hurry. A few minutes walk brought them to another car, which the man seemed quite comfortable driving.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Better not to say," he answered. "Better for both of us. I'm just trying to correct our mistake the best way I can." Everett wished he could give her a better, more thorough answer, but it really was best if she didn't know who he was or what crimes had been committed during her rescue. "If they put enough effort into it, they'll figure out that you're not dead. You still can't go home, I'm afraid, but I can give you safe transport to almost anywhere you want to go."
The offer didn't do as much to reassure her as he would have hoped. She was still losing all connection to her family and friends, but at least she would be free and able to live a relatively normal life.
He answered the questions she had as best she could, but he wasn't as helpful to her as he would have liked to be. At her request, he got her as far as Bournermouth. She could access some of her own resources there and make arrangements for travel elsewhere. He warned her that, although they weren't likely to be monitoring Muggle banking activity too closely, they would take note soon enough and any transactions from that point on would likely have to be cash until a new identity could be established. She nodded, looking pained but resigned, and left him. He never saw her again, nor to his knowledge, did any other Ministry official.
There was an investigation, as anticipated, and the ruse didn't fool Fudge. He suspected a trick immediately and ordered a search. Thanks to widely accepted rumors of Voldemort's return only a month after, however, and an increase in Death Eater activities, the Ministry soon had bigger problems and the matter was given a very low priority, and eventually the case was closed and filed away as a simple matter of bookkeeping.
An hour after the meeting with Minister Fudge went exactly as Dumbledore had anticipated, he met Everett Manning at a small Muggle pub a few blocks from the Ministry.
"Fudge will be aware soon enough. He'll be very unhappy."
"That's not my problem, or won't be soon. You ready to do the last part?"
"Of course," the old Headmaster nodded. "I wonder if Miss Stillwell would approve, though." Everett snorted mirthlessly.
"Nothing about us met with her approval. Why should this?"
"True," Dumbledore nodded, oddly troubled by what he was about to do, regardless of the effectiveness of the action that would protect Manning and himself from Ministry scrutiny. "Obliviate."