Act Two - A Black Comedy

Chapter Eight - Constant Vigilance

The early summer days passed quickly for Hermione, and she suspected Harry felt similarly. For perhaps the first time since she’d been six, she could unequivocally state that life was good. Maybe she and Harry had a dozen awful things to look forward to in the future, but they had each other and plenty to do.


Not getting an answer, Hermione stepped inside the TARDIS to look for him. She passed through the sitting room, smiling at the stacks of paper and books left out on the desk. Harry’s progress in the physical sciences was proceeding well enough. As she’d first thought that morning after their night on the Astronomy Tower, holding his attention was easy; one merely had to give him material that he could do something with. Having transfiguration available made that simple enough. Somewhere nearby, Harry probably still had the plans to his giant Van de Graaff generator he’d pilfered from a book lying around.

A frown briefly passed over Hermione’s face; surprise five-hundred kilovolt shocks were never fun. Still, her smile returned swiftly enough as one particular memory of that project surfaced.

“You’re not so bad at maths as you made yourself out to be,” Hermione had said while looking over Harry’s shoulder. He’d not been performing any truly inspired calculations, but he’d made a good showing nonetheless whilst in pursuit of not electrocuting himself.

“Yes, well, I’m literate and can ‘plug and chug’ with the best of them.”

Chuckling, Hermione had amused herself at his expense by tousling his perpetually messy hair. “We’ll make an engineer of you yet,” she’d said before adding, “you clever raven.”

Yes, the future might be filled with stormy weather, but the sun shone on the present with nary a cloud to be seen.

That was not counting today, of course. Harry still intended to go through with his plans.

With a sigh, Hermione opened the door to their potions lab. Inside, all she found were the room’s usual contents. Their stores were off in an adjoining room and undisturbed. The main room had a cauldron brewing more polyjuice, just in case, but everything else had been cleaned and put away. The second and smaller adjoining room held a few bottled final results on shelves but was otherwise empty.

There was also her dad’s mess off in a corner, but Hermione paid that no mind. Really, him joining her and Harry while they brewed still irked her somewhat. Harry had entirely forgotten about asking to learn how to cook over a fire pit until he’d placed a cauldron over a fire in Dan’s presence. Now her diet had a sudden spike in protein.

Moving on, Hermione opened the door to the room designated as the experimental chamber. Anything that had a chance of blowing up in their faces was relegated to being tested in the empty room. And it was indeed empty. Harry was not present there, either.

Hermione next checked Harry’s bedroom. Although he’d reported no altercations with the Dursleys since his first night at their home with her, she half expected to find him on his bed trying to sleep off something that needed healing. She figured it would still be a year or two at minimum before she’d get him to come straight to her immediately after being injured. She held no illusions about him actually seeking professional medical help on his own.

Not finding Harry asleep or otherwise relaxing in bed, she called out, “Harry?” The door to the bathroom was open and the light off. She pushed open the door to the TARDIS’s drearily empty library, finding no one.

“Harry!” Hermione tried one last time. Still not getting a response, she left the TARDIS to explore her house.

Just outside, Hermione nearly tripped over a dangling cord, catching herself just shy of falling. She levitated the television and VCR into a corner and pushed the surrounding movies away with her foot.

Note to self: properly clean up after brewing. That, or find a way to get electronics to work inside the TARDIS.

Brewing potions led to a fair amount of mentally unstimulating time, to put it politely. Hermione freely admitted that. Movies were perhaps the best way to fill the void. Harry desperately needed more positive exposure to muggle culture, and she happily provided. Monty Python, Doctor Who, Star Wars – they all captured his interest, and there was a lot more where they came from.

Hermione next paid a visit to the second floor parlour, seeing as it was nearby. She rather doubted Harry would be there, and she was right. While she had good memories within, he tended to avoid the room outside their occlumency and legilimency practice. Harry, Hermione knew, associated the parlour with embarrassment, mutual tears, and clingy, desperate hugs.

Harry had been so horribly right when he’d told Hermione she’d not want to see or experience his early memories.

Still not finding Harry, Hermione headed downstairs and outside to the veranda. There she allowed good memories to fill her, patronus memories. Harry had made marginal gains for his efforts while Hermione languished behind with barely a flash of light. To call it frustrating would be like saying it rained in Scotland sometimes. Even so, happy memories remained happy memories. Practising each morning on the veranda brought them naturally to mind, displacing any others.

Eventually, Hermione found Harry on the first floor study at the family computer. From her mokeskin pouch, she withdrew Daphne’s box of chocolates. It was far too soon – in Hermione’s opinion, at least – for Harry to make the trip to Azkaban to meet Sirius Black, but Harry’s patronus was passable enough for them to make the journey under careful supervision.

Still, with no corporeal patronus between them, they were really tempting fate.

“Solitaire, Harry?” Hermione asked. She leaned against the back of the desk chair Harry was sitting on to peer over his shoulder. “Really? Today?”

“You said I could play games on it.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Yes, but solitaire? We have a few decks of playing cards, you know.”

“Yes, but this is more mind-numbing.”

“Of all the things you can do with a computer, you use it to bore yourself to death. Only you, Harry.”

By the rapid rising and falling of his chest, Hermione assumed Harry was laughing silently to himself. Still, it was hardly like him to idle away time with boredom when he could be brooding instead.

“Nervous?” Hermione asked.

Harry paused his mindless clicking for a moment to give her a look that said, “Of course, you nitwit.”

“Okay, I suppose I deserved that,” Hermione admitted. “Do you want to talk about it?”


“And you’re sure you still want to go through with this?”


“And you still want me to come with?”

“Yes, Hermione. Please. Just…leave it be until we actually leave.”

“I will after one last thing.” Hermione reached around the chair and set her veritaserum-laced chocolates on Harry’s lap. He picked up the box, curious, and examined it. While its browns and blacks were the usual colouring for a generic chocolate bar, it was otherwise unlabelled.

“What’s this?”

“Chocolate,” Hermione replied, earning a raised eyebrow from Harry.

“I thought chocolate was a contraband in this house.”

“You prat,” Hermione said. “Just because we don’t eat it much doesn’t mean we never eat it.”

“Ooookay,” Harry replied, clearly sceptical as he dragged the word out. “What’s the occasion, then?”

“Nothing. Chocolate helps fight off the effects dementors have on you. And it’s just chocolate for some reason. Specifically milk chocolate. Other sugary things or milk products don’t work.”

Harry hummed, examining the box again. “Alright, thanks. But don’t you think Lady Bones or whoever would give us some after we’re done?”

“Probably, but those aren’t for you.”

“They’re not poisoned, are they?” Harry asked. “Even if they won’t do any lasting damage…”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “No, of course they’re not poisoned, but they are laced with something” – she hesitated to say the next word, knowing exactly what response she would get – “illegal.”

“Oh, Jailbird,” Harry said, just as Hermione had expected. “This won’t get me arrested, you know. I’ll just tell them you gave it to me.” Smirking, he added, “Plus it’s too early to seize power.”

“Prat!” Hermione said, smacking Harry’s arm a little harder than normal. “Just don’t do anything suspicious, and we won’t get caught. Daphne’s note said it’d fool a–”

“You got this from Greengrass?” Harry interrupted. “Are you trying to get us thrown in jail?”

“Harry,” Hermione said, trying to be patient. Too many Slytherins were too unpleasant, to put it nicely, for it to be fair to call him out on his bias. She actually found herself agreeing with Daphne these days, putting the blame for the prejudice on Ron and Malfoy. Of course, there was the whole ‘terrified of turning into a dark lord’ thing, too, but she considered that as having more of a very compelling sustaining effect rather than being a cause, since it was a more recent development in Harry’s psyche.

“If you have no other reason to trust her,” Hermione said, “trust that the Greengrasses want to keep doing business. If she sets up one of her enemies to fall through her family’s business, which we’re not, everyone else will be wondering if they’re to be next, which is bad for customer loyalty. Nothing hurts the rich quite like a lighter pocket. All present company excluded, of course.” That last comment got a chuckle out of Harry.

“Alright, fine. So what’s in it?”

“Veritaserum, or if you’re not familiar with the name, truth serum, colloquially known as legilimency in a bottle.”

Harry looked like he wanted to say a lot of things. A grateful smile turned into a thoughtful frown. His hands fiddled with the box, turning it about. His brows narrowed, but that soon passed. Eventually, he settled on, “Thank you.”

After playing with the box of chocolates for a few seconds longer, Harry asked, “How much do I owe you?” After Hermione gave him a disapproving look, he amended his question to, “How much more am I going to spend on your birthday present?”

Hermione rolled her eyes but answered anyway. “Remember how I said Daphne wants us to save the world?”

“That’s…kind of a steep price.”

“Well,” Hermione said, trying to be as offhandedly casual as possible, “it was either that or a thousand pounds.”

“Ah. I see we got the better end of the deal.” Harry and Hermione exchanged smirks before breaking down into giggles.

Recovering, Harry said, “We should show up with more chocolate. We can honestly say we don't know if it will be provided. We should have at least three brands: this one, your favourite, and…chocolate frogs for me, I suppose. No, those are enchanted; they’ll draw attention. Something else, then. At any rate, we'll likely draw less attention that way. And it wouldn’t hurt to munch on them the whole time.”

“Hmm, how very Slytherin.”

Clearly irritated, Harry asked, “Are you going to do that every time I have a good idea?”

Hermione ruffled Harry’s hair with a hand, grinning all the while. “It’s called desensitisation therapy. I’ll stop when you stop cringing.” Laughing at the glare he sent her way, she added, “Although maybe I should be feeding you a piece of chocolate every time to associate a good feeling with it.”

“I’m not a dog,” Harry protested.

Feigning surprise, Hermione gasped. Her hands shot to her cheeks. “You’re not! But you were a stray I brought home and adopted. You looked so mangy and lost. We’ve even scheduled an appointment with the vet to get your shots. And if you’re staying here, Dad will probably want you nut–”


Hermione got as far as drawing her wand before the giggles started. Worse, Harry added a second and third casting of that blasted tickling charm. She clutched her side as she started wheezing, and her cheeks felt like they were on fire from laughing too hard. Actually countering the spells was a thought lost to the past as she collapsed onto her knees, and soon after, her side.

When the time came, Hermione swore that the very first spell she would learn to cast silently would be finite incantatem.

A knock came at the open door to the study drawing Harry’s attention. Hermione’s followed as soon as he took mercy on her. A moment later, Emma wandered in.

“I hate to break up all the fun,” Emma said, “but we should leave soon if you two want to get to Gringotts before lunch. We wouldn’t want to show off your completely legal wands to the aurors, now would we? They might get jealous.”

Blushing too much to get a response out, Hermione let Harry answer for them both while she took over turning off the computer.

“We’ll be down in a minute.” Once Emma left, Harry said, “The coast is clear. You can stop blushing now.”

“That’s not how it works,” Hermione muttered. Changing the topic, she asked, “So besides the mind-numbing boredom, what did you think of the computer?”

“Hmm… About what I expected. I think I’d have to play with it a lot more to really get much out of it, but I do appreciate how non-magical tech is catching up.”

As much as she hated to admit it, Hermione agreed. “The muggle world does feel a bit behind technologically. But in some areas it's way ahead. A computer can do thousands of arithmancy spells in an instant. Well, not spells, but you know what I mean. Floppy disks are a bit unwieldy, but CDs are very compact. I could probably put all of Hogwarts’s library on a small stack of them.”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t have the first clue about computers, so I’ll take your word for it. It does sound convenient to digitise our books, though.”

“Well,” Hermione said, gnawing at her lip. “I don’t really know how to go about doing that.”

Harry just shrugged again. “We could always stop by a bookstore on the way back and get a textbook or something.”

As she was quickly growing used to, a strange sort of triumphant pride swelled within Hermione’s chest when Harry suggested looking something up instead of simply shrugging and saying ‘I don’t know’. If this was what it felt like to be a teacher watching curiosity take root in a student, she would have to seriously reconsider her career options. Politics still seemed unavoidable in the near future, but maybe someday.

“I’ll let Mum know, then. She can direct us to where we’d need to go. But speaking of, we should go.”

With that, Harry got up from his chair, and he and Hermione made their way downstairs. On the way out, Hermione remembered to grab the book of maps, wards, and miscellaneous notes Harry had been given in the off chance they had the time and the inclination to deal with it today.

The characteristic rap-rap-a-rap knock of her father came at the door to the family potions lab.

“Bubblehead charm!” Daphne called out. Once she confirmed who was behind the door a few seconds later, she said, “Hello, Dad,” before returning to dicing one of the more noxious ingredients involved in an ageing potion. Her hands were chafed from wearing dragonhide gloves so often this past week, but better that than melted. Rashes were easy to fix.

“What? No hug?” Edmund Greengrass was a tall man whose short hair was closer to white than the very light blonde that the rest of the family possessed. Like Daphne, he had foregone robes in the potions room in favour of something more muggle with sleeves that stayed above the elbow, although unlike herself, he’d most likely simply transfigured his robes.

“A little busy here.” To punctuate her point, Daphne set her knife down and rushed over to an entirely different project on another table, where a separate cauldron of polyjuice needed immediate attention. “How was your trip to Egypt?”

Edmund let out a groan. “Let’s not talk about that. It suffices to say that I successfully obtained a new supplier for desert plants.”

“After only four weeks.” Daphne was unable to help the teasing tone that creeped into her voice.

“Anyway,” Edmund said, rather inelegantly changing the topic, “your mother tells me you’ve been brewing ageing potions and polyjuice. Should I be worried about something as a parent?”

Daphne refused to dignify that with a blush, but she did nearly drop her stirring stick. “No,” she said flatly. “I shouldn’t think so.”

Humming, Edmund glanced over the numerous tables nearby, each of which had at least one cauldron simmering. “Is that a cauldron filled with pepperup I spy bubbling over there?”

Daphne followed her father’s gaze. She nodded.

“And from the blue colouring, I take it that there is a restorative draught. Mandrake based?”

“No, Dad. It’s Dagworth-Granger’s much cheaper and simpler variant.”

“Ah. Not as effective, but certainly much less of a hassle.” Edmund paused to look from cauldron to cauldron. His gaze next shifted to the shelves of recently bottled potions lining the wall on the far side of the lab. “And are those–”

Daphne sighed. “I’m sure they are, Dad. Would you please stop teasing me while I’m working?”

“Hmm, very well. I take it that since you’re brewing these yourself, you don’t want anyone outside the family to know you have a use for a highly suspect combination of potions? Particularly so in such large quantities.”

“For the greater part, yes.”

That was the honest answer. But as much as brewing felt like a chore, Daphne could admit to herself that she held another really very petty reason. Potions was the one and only class she managed to outperform Hermione Granger in on occasion, and she would be dead and burnt to ashes before she let that achievement slip out of her grasp. If Hermione could brew polyjuice, then so could she.

“I see. Then is this something that I should be concerned about as your head of house?”

Although her hands kept working, Daphne looked up at her father, judging his expression. His piercing grey eyes focused on hers. His brow was set. But his lips betrayed a faint hint of pride. He was willing, then, she concluded, to at least hear out her intentions.

“Undoubtedly. I’ve picked my side.” Most likely.

The seconds passed to the sound of bubbles, pops, and the soft roar of boiling cauldrons. Daphne straightened her already good posture under her father’s gaze. She felt the force of his scrutiny fall upon her, the weight of it threatening to send nervous shivers through her. She remained unmoved; she refused to be found wanting.

“This isn’t a conversation to be had in the lab, is it?”

Daphne shook her head. “I can leave everything alone in fifty-two minutes for the following three hours.”

“Meet me in the library when you’re ready.”

“I will.” When Edmund was halfway out the door, the tension vanished in an instant. Daphne then remembered something important. “Oh! And welcome back, Dad.”

After a long drive to London, a visit to Gringotts, and a detour to buy more chocolate, Emma, Harry, and Hermione were all gathered outside the visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic. Each was dressed in their new casual robes so as not to draw attention within. A weaker version of the muggle-repelling charm, they had discovered, came standard issue on all upscale clothes made in Diagon Alley, so only the occasional squib had given them strange looks while moving about London.

“Um, Hermione, are you sure we have the right place?”

Hermione looked back and forth between Harry, her mum, and the very visible phone box on a busy public street in the middle of London. A car went by at least once every second, and there was a fair amount of foot traffic on the pavement, often even not one foot from the box itself. It was all nearly as absurd as putting a magical portal in the middle of King's Cross.

“There’s probably a muggle-repelling charm,” Hermione hesitantly offered. “Or…maybe an area of effect confundus to deal with squibs not in the know? Somehow?” That would explain a lot, actually, if British magicals were subjected to a confundus on a daily basis.

“Well, it won’t be our fault if the ministry hasn’t taken proper precautions on its own building,” Emma said. Without further argument, she opened the door to the phone box doubling as the public visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic and stepped inside.

Shrugging to Harry, Hermione followed her mum in and closed the door once Harry had squeezed inside with them both. It was a tight fit, but better that than risk getting separated by making two trips.

“Wow, a rotary phone. That takes me back,” Emma said as she pulled the handset off and passed it down to Hermione. It was a distressingly real possibility the other end would hang up on a squib. Chuckling, she asked, “Sweetie, have you ever seen one of these?”

“Yes, Mum,” Hermione replied. “Nana Leslie still has one in her kitchen.”

“Ah, of course. She’s been asking us to visit her, you know. Maybe we’ll ride the Knight Bus there this summer and visit your dad’s mum and dad over the winter hols.” After mumbling, “Dial magic for unsecure password,” to herself, Emma then added, “You’d be welcome to come with to keep Hermione entertained, Harry. She doesn’t like playing bridge with us because she always loses.”

Hermione’s protesting, “Mum!” was cut off when she heard a bland, almost monotone, female voice come from the telephone. She put a hand over her unused ear, unfortunately leaving her mum to her further corrupt Harry while she listened.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your names and purpose of visit.”

“Ah, Hermione and Emma Granger and Harry Potter. We’re here to see Lady Bones of the DMLE.”

There was a pause before the voice said, “Please declare any magical artifacts in your possession.”

“Two wands and two mokeskin pouches containing various mundane items and a Gringotts vault key.” That Harry also had his cloak need not be mentioned, and the less said about their chocolate, the better. “Oh, and our robes. And first aid kits.” And probably a few dozen other odds and ends, but really, enough was enough.

Again, there was a pause before a clattering sound came from the coin return. The voice then said, “Please take your identifications from the receptacle. Enjoy your visit to the Ministry of Magic.”

Before Hermione could say anything or even pass the mouthpiece back to her mum, the phone box lurched downward, drawing a startled squeak from her. For once, however, the magical world provided a nice, slow, smooth ride as transportation. Less than a minute later, the phone box came to a halt, and the three of them took their first steps into the ministry, but not before Hermione remembered at the last second to retrieve whatever constituted identifications from the coin return.

Looking around, Hermione found that they were in a long tunnel of fireplaces that almost appeared to extend in one direction forever. A flash of green light could be seen on occasion from the odd fireplace, which Hermione assumed meant each and every one was a floo connection. She doubted they ever had enough traffic to justify hundreds, if not thousands, of them, but then material and spatial resources were of a much lesser concern in the magical world, so she let the matter go.

In the other direction stood a fountain made of gold standing out starkly against the black brick that comprised the rest of the building. It depicted an idyllic scene of a beautiful witch, an ancient and wizened wizard, an unusually small centaur, a smiling goblin – who would believe that? – and a giddy looking house elf gathered together as if they were all equals, or at least as if they all somewhat liked each other. Below was an inscription naming it as the Fountain of Magical Brethren.

That was, of course, about as far from the truth as it was possible to be, never mind that it completely left out the vast majority of sapient beings. Really, reading into things, the witch and wizard in the statue towered over the others, who had to look up to them. The proportions were all wrong, too, especially the centaur, who was at most half the size of a real one. Hermione had no idea where to start listing all the horrible, offencive ways she could interpret the fountain.

Setting that aside for now, which was perhaps for the best, Hermione handed out the badges that would identify them as visitors. Each had their name on it and the purpose of their visit in a manner of speaking.

“Guest celebrity?” Harry asked, narrowing his eyes at his own badge. “What did you say to get this, Hermione?”

Hermione, frowning at her own badge but begrudgingly putting it on, said, “I just told them we were visiting Lady Bones. I don’t know how they got ‘guest celebrity’ out of that, much less ‘complainer’ or–” Hermione frowned even more as she glanced at her mum’s identification. “–‘distraction’.”

“They’re certainly not very welcoming,” Emma said, “but I can’t say I expected otherwise.” Sighing, she continued, “Anyway, I think I see the elevator past those…office windows, are they?”

Hermione glanced up away from the crowd to the upper levels of the grand hallway they were in. Rows upon rows of windows lined the walls all the way up to the ceiling, many of which had a light on and had a ministry official visible within. It seemed like a fair guess to call them offices. And indeed, further on past both them and the fountain in the atrium, a large crowd milled about in front of a series of lifts. Surprisingly, however, the people had not gathered merely to wait for a ride.

Atop a soap box – and that just had to have been transfigured on purpose – stood an average-sized man with short, red hair and rather drab robes. At his neck, Hermione could see the polo neck of a very muggle shirt poking out from beneath his robe. She hung back momentarily as Emma and Harry called for a lift to listen in.

“…the purebloods are right. We do not belong here. We are not welcome here. Yet we are given no choice. We must live here. We are forced to abide by laws and customs we have no say in inside a society that has only pretend tolerance for our own ways.”

Hermione tapped the arm of a another witch listening. Once she had the woman’s attention, she asked, “Who is that?”

Lord Smith.”

“‘Lord’?” Hermione glanced back at the man who sounded very much like a disgruntled muggleborn.

The witch snorted in amusement. “Some inbred swine discovered the bastard son of Hepzibah Smith in the muggle world and thought he would be easy to control. Turns out mistaken squibs don’t like being abandoned. He’s running against Fudge for minister.”

A small smile grew on Hermione’s face. Maybe I won’t have to fix everything myself after all.


Hearing her name, Hermione found Harry and Emma holding open a lift for her. She hurried through the crowd and hopped on board with them. A short ride later, and the three got their first look at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Unlike the glamour and ostentatiousness of the atrium, the halls were straight with a low ceiling, posted signs gave directions at every intersection, people moved about orderly and efficiently, and from first impressions, no space went to waste. It was almost as if someone had designed this department instead of cobbling it together on whim and fancy the way most magical buildings were.

Emma, being tall enough to see through the crowd, took off and said, “Department Head’s Office this way.” Hermione followed after her immediately, pulling Harry along behind her.

The last leg of the journey passed by quickly as they followed the flow of traffic. They shortly found themselves waiting just outside Lady Bones's office. The secretary predictably both fawned over Harry and drew the kind of attention to him that they had managed to avoid until now. When they recognised the approaching sound of Lady Bones's voice, the relief was palpable on Harry's face.

“I don't care what the minister says, Dawlish. I don't take orders from his insane undersecretary, and her complaints aren't even legal to act on, let alone worth the department’s time. And do quote me on that.” Hermione noticed Lady Bones briefly make eye contact with Harry. “Stop wasting my time with this, or I'll transfer you to Azkaban.”

The far more normal looking of the two wizards walking with Lady Bones paled considerably. He quickly made his excuses and fled the scene just as her group converged on Hermione’s. She was suitably unimpressed by the crowd she found.

“Attention!” Lady Bones barked. Every head nearby spun toward her. “Stop wasting time and get back to work!”

Despite an excessive amount of grumbling, the crowd swamping Harry dispersed.

“My apologies,” Lady Bones said, eyeing the visitor's badges, “for both that display of unprofessionalism my department has shown you and for your identifications. I'll be exchanging words with our internal security office.”

Before Hermione, Harry, or Emma could get a word in edgewise, Lady Bones turned to her secretary. “Clarissa, do you have the Black forms ready?”

The secretary – Clarissa, apparently – scrambled back behind her desk to the tune of a, “Yes, Ma’am,” before rummaging through a cabinet. She eventually produced a small stack of parchment and handed it over to Lady Bones, who skimmed through them before tapping them with her wand. Immediately after, she handed the pile over to the other man who had shown up with her, and though his one good eye looked toward the parchment, Hermione knew that his false eye was still watching her – and Harry, and her mum, and everything everywhere.

Now done with administrative work, it seemed, Lady Bones turned her attention back to Hermione and Harry. “Miss Granger, Mr Potter, and I presume Mrs Granger?”

“Dr Granger, if we’re being formal.”

Nodding, Lady Bones said, “Dr Granger, then. This is Auror Alastor Moody. He’ll be escorting you to Azkaban today. Alastor… I guess I can only threaten you with forcing your retirement through a few weeks sooner. Please try not to scar them anyway.”

Auror Moody scoffed. From that alone, Hermione was sure he considered this a chore, and the way he looked down at them only reinforced that impression. “If the kids can’t last a day with me, they shouldn’t be going to Azkaban to begin with.”

“Just be nice.” Auror Moody looked no less pleased by that, but Lady Bones ignored him. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to be going. Thank you for being punctual.”

Emma had a dangerous grin on her face as she said, “Punctuality is the politeness of kings. Or queens in this case.”

Grinning back, Lady Bones stopped and held out a hand to shake to the disapproving look of her secretary. Hermione had to wonder if she actually understood the muggle reference. “Well met, Dr Granger. Miss Granger, Susan speaks very highly of you. Please continue to be kind to her.”

“Of course.”

“Good day, Mr Potter.”

“Actually,” Harry said, drawing Lady Bones’s attention back to him as she turned to leave, “there is one other thing. I don’t know what the proper channels are for this, but I’ve recently learnt that there may be a prophecy concerning me. How would I go about verifying that, if it's even possible?”

“I'm sorry, Mr Potter, but the unspeakables normally don't allow anyone into the Hall of Prophecy. I don't know that any of them would be sympathetic to your plight.”

Hermione just barely caught Harry clicking his tongue. Lady Bones likely heard it too, as she added, “I'd recommend that you not set off on an adventure sneaking through the Department of Mysteries. The unspeakables tend not to be forgiving, and their department is both well-warded and extremely dangerous. I doubt you could ever make it to the prophecy room without someone showing you the way.”

Pulling Harry aside, Hermione held a quick and quiet conversation with him. She knew him too well not to see through the fake feeling of acceptance he was trying to project.

“Don't even think about it, Harry.”

After only a moment's pause, Harry asked, “Am I really that obvious?”

“Just to me. Does it really matter, though? Quirrelmort possibly knowing the prophecy that might not even exist didn't help him.”

“That’s no reason not to find out what it says.”

“Risk versus reward. We can guess what it says in general terms. And I've never heard that prophecies are ever particularly…lucid.”

That drew a real smile to Harry's face. “As bad as muggle prophecies in stories?”

“Pretty much.”

“Fine. I suppose since I’m alive, it’s not that important, if it does, in fact, exist.”

“Not going to do anything foolish, then?”

“Yes, yes. I promise I won't.”

With that promise extracted, Hermione and Harry said their goodbyes, and Lady Bones soon vanished back into the crowd, leaving the three of them with Auror Moody.

“A prophecy, Harry?” Emma asked.

Harry shrugged, and Hermione said, “We don't actually know if there is one.”

Auror Moody made a gruff sound to get their attention that Hermione suspected was supposed to be him clearing his throat. “Don't bother, Lad. I personally used your hand to smash that prophecy sphere and put a fake in its place.”

“So there is a prophecy!” Hermione said at the same time that Harry said, “Or that's what you want us to think in case someone reads our minds.”

For an instant, Auror Moody's false eye stopped moving and fixed solely on Harry. If anything, he looked interested.

“Come on, then. We don’t have all day.” Auror Moody started walking back the way he originally came from without another word. Hermione and Harry rushed after him with Emma following just behind them.

“Um, Auror Moody, Sir?” Hermione said hesitantly. It was clear enough that if he knew the prophecy, he had no intention of sharing, at least not right now, but there was little harm in asking, anyway. “Would you tell us the prophecy?”

Without hesitation, Auror Moody simply said, “Don’t know it, Lass.” And that was fair enough, Hermione supposed.

As they walked, it was only now that Hermione managed to get a good look at their guide. He was perhaps slightly taller than average, covered in more scars than she could count without wincing, and despite his age and wooden leg, he managed to move with a natural gait. He did, however, carry himself like he was expecting an ambush from behind not just every corner but every person and maybe even every particle of oxygen.

“So this is Tonks’s mentor?” Harry whispered.

“So it seems,” Hermione whispered back. “What do you think are the odds he leads us on a long walk for an hour to check for polyjuice?”

“That would be a little obvious, wouldn’t it? We’ll probably be with him for over an hour, anyway.”

“True, but by the time we get to Azkaban, it could be too late if we wanted to pull something.”

Harry shrugged. “He’s just our escort. The real security is already at Azkaban or on the way, presumably.”

“True. We probably won’t be taken out of a secure area, too.”

And indeed, Auror Moody led them through the DMLE to a heavily fortified gate, where he handed over one of the sheets of parchment Lady Bones had given him to one of the guards. The two exchanged a few words with each other that Hermione was completely unable to hear. Most likely there were privacy wards in place to ensure no one overheard passwords and such.

Once they were done talking, the guards cast a ludicrous number of spells. Hermione recognised the one to detect animagi but no others. It all culminated with the gate opening minutes later. Walking through it behind Auror Moody and down a short hallway, Hermione found herself in a small room with nothing in it except for a strange, triangular prism made of, perhaps, wood. It stood on three short legs, and looking closer, it possessed a handle and what appeared to be a door.

Hermione jumped when Auror Moody spoke from beside her. “Vanishing cabinet. They fell out of popular use ten years ago. They’re a very limited type floo connection but much harder to interfere with. Besides phoenix fire, this is the only convenient way into Azkaban.”

Ignoring Harry’s groan at the mention of floo travel, Hermione asked a question she suspected she’d not like the answer to. “Is it also a convenient way out?”

“No. I hope you know how to fly a broomstick.”

Hermione joined Harry in groaning.

“Um, squib here,” Emma said, raising her hand and waving it a bit. “Will a broomstick work for me?”

Auror Moody grunted and simply said, “Stay here. We’re not taking someone who’s never ridden a broom before.” Hermione could tell from his expression that as far as he was concerned, that was the end of the conversation.

Emma frowned at Auror Moody, but she restrained herself to just that. “Right then. Hermione, Harry, I’ll wait for you in the Leaky Cauldron. Floo there from the atrium after you're done here, alright?”

“Yes, Mum.”

After Harry agreed and Emma had departed, Auror Moody said, “Hop into the cabinet. Close the door, then open it again.”

Straightforward, Hermione commented to herself. Harry led the way and hopped in first with Hermione right behind him. She pulled the door closed. Nothing happened.

Hesitantly, Hermione asked, “Did it work?” She spoke loud enough to hopefully be heard outside the cabinet.

“Open the door,” came a completely unfamiliar voice.

Harry and Hermione turned to each other. The former shrugged and shoved the door open. Immediately, the two of them were assaulted with a frigid chill in the air and understood why Lady Bones had told them to dress warm.

“Oh my gosh!” Hermione said. “Jumper.” At her command, her mokeskin pouch spit out a green, thick wool jumper. It looked rather bland and tasteless as well as rather silly over her robes, but it was there for emergencies, not to make a fashion statement. Next to her, Harry mirrored her actions, but his jumper was the blue one with an H on it that Mrs Weasley had knit for him.

Taking her first steps into a place she had hoped never to visit, Hermione felt a cold, creeping feeling in her mind. It was weak and barely noticeable, but it was there. Next to her, Harry had a tight expression on his face. Whether it was from the effects of the dementors or from being so close to meeting Sirius Black was anyone’s guess.

“Hurry up and move,” the same voice from earlier said at the same time that the cabinet door behind Hermione slammed shut. Now that she was paying attention, she noticed that the voice belonged to a very disgruntled looking witch standing not too far away from her. The witch had her wand out and a silver falcon resting on her shoulder.

A corporeal patronus! Hermione walked quickly closer to the witch to get a better look, ignoring the five other aurors in the room watching her. It looks almost like it’s made of stardust.

“You must be Hermione Granger,” the witch said, breaking Hermione out of her fascination with the patronus. “The chief warned me about you. While you’re here, look, don’t touch, and nothing is interesting enough to wander off. Understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Hermione said, almost squeaked. Lady Bones had warned them about her? Really? Coming up behind her, she could hear Harry snickering, and so she sent him the glare he so rightly deserved. Still, snickering at her was better than brooding over the coming meeting.

The sound of the cabinet door opening and slamming shut again came, and soon after, Auror Moody said, “Jones, do you have Black up and ready?” As he said that, he handed over the remaining parchments Lady Bones had given him.

“Room three,” the witch, presumably Jones, said. She flipped through the parchments in her hands before throwing them onto a table nearby. Now that Hermione stopped to figure out where she was, it looked a lot like a lounge. There were even three aurors in the midst of a card game nearby. “Are you both ready?”

Hermione turned to Harry, who gave a tight nod, and they were off. She grabbed hold of his hand with both of hers as he became progressively more visibly angry with every step they took. She coaxed it out of a fist and slipped her fingers between his to keep it that way. It seemed, deep down, he had taken her advice about not hoping for too much, but the opposite extreme was little better and might cost them both much, much more.

“Last chance to turn back, Harry,” Hermione whispered to him. She assumed the glare he sent back to her meant no. “Deep breaths, Harry. You can scream, and punch pillows, and tear phone books in half later, but right now you’re on a mission. Do what you do best.”

Harry nodded, which was better than nothing. He asked his mokeskin pouch for a chocolate bar and scoffed it down in a second. He seemed a bit better after that, which was perhaps even more worrying. If the dementors could reach him enough through a patronus two metres from him this far away for chocolate to help already, Hermione dreaded to think how he would feel by the time they left or, much worse, if he actually came into contact with a dementor.

At last, the group arrived outside a door numbered three. Auror Jones stopped there and turned to address Harry and Hermione. “I don’t know what you two are hoping for, but Black barely ever speaks these days. If you can’t get anything out of him, well, you’re out of luck.”

“Have you stuffed him full of chocolate yet?” Harry asked. Auror Jones had barely said, “Some,” before Harry said, “Box of chocolate.” Daphne’s veritaserum-laced chocolate flew into his hands, and he started peeling away the outer wrapping on the box. “I hope you don’t mind if I shove this down his throat.”

Auror Jones hesitated for a moment, but Hermione noticed her eyes drifting up toward Harry’s scar. As much as he hated it, sometimes his fame was useful. Hermione held her breath as Auror Jones cast several spells – presumably detections spells – on the chocolate box. When the single word, “Alright,” came, Hermione had to force herself not to sigh in relief, and she only just barely succeeded. Harry, however, had a face of stone; if he was relieved, he sure hid it well.

The door opened slowly, ominously, squeaking the whole time. Hermione wondered if all that was purposefully spelt onto the hinges. Auror Jones took up guard in the hall while Auror Moody, Harry, and Hermione all stepped inside. They were staring in the face of a second door. Presumably, while Auror Moody worked on unlocking the next one, Auror Jones was locking the previous.

And then Auror Moody suddenly turned and did the strangest thing. He cast a series of spells back at the door they’d come through. Hermione recognised a couple of them as privacy spells. His false eye spun erratically about before stopping on Harry. Then a second later, it moved in a blink to land squarely on Hermione.

“Which one of you had the idea to bring your own chocolate?”

Before Harry could do anything noble and stupid, Hermione weakly raised her hand. That got Auror Moody to really look at her this time, although his false eye never lingered for long before whirling about erratically again in its socket.

“Constant vigilance, eh, Lass?”

“Y-yes?” Hermione supposed she had gone out her way to avoid tempting fate today, if that counted.

“Do either of you know the patronus charm?”

“Harry can make a shield.”

Auror Moody’s false eye spun back to Harry, but he kept his attention on Hermione, presumably. “Homemade or bought?”

It took her a few seconds before Hermione could figure out what Auror Moody was talking about. “T-the chocolate?” Curse my stutter!

“We stopped by Diagon Alley and Gringotts this morning,” Harry said coldly, glaring at Auror Moody.

“Nice non-answer, Lad.” Without word or wand, the half-opened box of veritaserum chocolate leapt out of Harry’s grasp into Auror Moody’s hand. “Who did you buy this from, then?”

Not seeing anyway around it, Hermione shook her head at Harry to tell him not to do anything drastic. “Daphne Greengrass,” she said while silently begging for this not to go any more wrong than it already had.

“Good choice, Lass. The Greengrasses are reputable off-the-books confectioners.”

Hermione blinked. Then her eyes widened, and she noticed Harry looked just as surprised. Were they really going to get away with this? Cautious, she tried, “Um… Constant vigilance?”

Auror Moody, for the first time since Lady Bones had introduced him, made something approaching a smile. He tossed the chocolate back to Harry and said, “Good lass. For the record, you got unlucky getting me as an escort; I noticed even before we met. Don’t blame the Greengrasses.”

Before we met? Hermione eyed Auror Moody’s false eye with a newfound respect and curiosity. It was obviously magical, but apparently it was very magical. It might even be a major magical artifact like Harry's cloak. She really, really wanted to know more about it. Better not push my luck, though. “Thank you, Sir. I don’t know what to say.”

Hermione nudged Harry, who had been only a little distracted from Sirius Black, with her elbow. He grunted, then uttered a terse, “Thank you.”

“No problem. Now are you two ready?” Auror Moody’s eye spun to face behind him toward the door. “Black is chained down just on the other side.” Despite saying that, he refused to lower his guard or put away his wand.

After taking a deep breath, Harry said, “I’m ready.”

Daphne collapsed onto the chair across from her father, exhausted. All of her potions were off on their own and could be left without a babysitter for now. Her little sister was an entirely different matter, however.

Smothering a laugh, Edmund pointed just above his right ear. “You’ve got a large blotch of something black–”

“I’m aware, Father,” a thoroughly unamused Daphne interrupted. “Astoria needs to be kept on a leash.”

“Ah, the luxuries of not being an heir. Wouldn’t it be nice if we two could’ve been a wild child at that age?”

Daphne grumbled about Astoria’s lack of civilised manners as Edmund folded up a copy of The Quibbler, much to her dad’s amusement. Once it was tossed onto a nearby pile with The Daily Prophet and half a dozen other newspapers and magazines, he cast a few spells to clean her off, and the two then settled down for business.

“So, Daphne, you say you’ve chosen a side.” After she nodded, Edmund continued, “Why don’t you first explain the political climate as you see it, then, before we address what’s changed for you?”

After spending much of the last several weeks thinking about just that – and giving a good rant on the subject to Hermione – Daphne launched into explaining her perspective. “As I see it, there are four primary factions one can identify with at present: You-Know-Who and the traditionalists, Dumbledore and the idealists, the rabble who like things as they are, and the sane people who are trying to keep our country from imploding.”

Edmund let out a snort. “I take it you consider us members of that last category?”

“Of course,” Daphne said, folding her arms. “The problem is our circle of friends and allies is so small. The rabble are idiots like our dearly beloved Minister for Magic. We can count on them to do nothing of interest their whole lives.”

“Daphne.” The mere tone of Edmund’s voice made her wince, and she dropped the sarcasm. There would be time enough for snide remarks some other time.

“More importantly,” Daphne continued, “the intelligent members of that group are either wilfully ignorant of what’s been going on around them or don’t care. I confirmed that You-Know-Who is not dead. I’m not sure what exactly his current goals are, but he’s definitely alive in some manner.”

“Who is your source?”

Daphne chuckled at the memory. “Hermione. She’s so easy to rile. She’s a bad liar to begin with and hopeless in a temper.”

“Hermione?” With a quirked eyebrow and a teasing smirk, Edmund asked, “As in ‘that infuriating encyclopedia’ Hermione Granger?”

“I, uh – well, you see, it’s just…” Daphne let out a quiet sigh and allowed her shoulders to slump slightly. “At some point she started referring to me by my given name, and… I don’t know. I think she sees academic rivalry as a type of friendship.” She shrugged.

“Well, I certainly won’t discourage you from adding a talented and well-informed witch to your circle of friends.”

Daphne blew a strand of blackened, greasy hair out of her face with a huff.

“It’s just a suggestion, Daphne. Losing Lily Potter to Dumbledore was a disaster I’d not like to see made again.”

As much as she found the thought distasteful, Daphne knew she would have to try harder to be civil with Hermione. If she could get over her own admittedly unfair and somewhat petty issues with the girl, they might even, dare she say it, become friends one day.

“I could, however,” Edmund continued, “see the benefit of keeping your association quiet with You-Know-Who semi-active once more, although I doubt it’d be worth the effort. Which, come to think of it, does explain Lord Malfoy’s unusually…direct behaviour of late, if he were acting on orders from You-Know-Who. That madman was never particularly subtle in anything he was personally involved in. Are you aware that Lord Malfoy outright threatened the families of the entire Hogwarts Board of Governors?”

“That” – Daphne’s brows furrowed – “does seem out of character.” Draco Malfoy was a fool and a self-entitled git, but his father was an entirely different creature. There was a reason why Lord Malfoy, who was obviously a Death Eater, had escaped Azkaban, and it had little to do with his coffers. Plenty of other wealthy Death Eaters had been tried and sentenced.

“Still, it’s not a great surprise that You-Know-Who survived. Little about the Attack on Godric’s Hollow adds up, especially the lack of a body when both the elder Potters’ were found. But now we can say the game is afoot. Now, you were saying before…”

It took a few moments of reflection, but Daphne picked up where she’d left off before being sidetracked. “Ah, yes, well, we’re not going to be able to gain any support from those aligned with or supportive of You-Know-Who. There might be a few insincere people we could sway if we made our side look more lucrative, but the simple fact of the matter is that most of our nation’s wealth is concentrated among the traditionalists.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Edmund said. To Daphne’s raised eyebrow, he added, “Collectively, the muggleborn have at least a comparable amount of capital and property, but our strict banking regulations prevent them from bringing anywhere near its full weight to bear in the magical world.”

“What? I don’t… I don’t understand.”

Edmund called for a house elf to fetch a book for him. Less than a minute later, Daphne found herself with a thick book in her hands and instructions to skim through it over the summer. From the title, the logical guess would be that the book held a comprehensive history of the wars and treaties made between Magical Britain and its native goblins.

“To summarise a very long explanation,” Edmund began, “in principle, Gringotts is by treaty granted a monopoly on banking and minting our currency. Officially, to prevent inflation and large-scale theft from the muggle world, the goblins follow a strict set of regulations to allow approximately a specific amount of total coin in our markets per capita. Once this became a global standard, it’s since worked surprisingly well. Unofficially, an intended side effect of that is any one muggleborn can only exchange so many pounds, euros, dollars, yen, and such into galleons, thus limiting the amount of wealth they can directly bring with them into the magical world. For example, after you mentioned them last summer, I looked into the Granger family. They have approximately a quarter of our own net worth.”

“Ah…” Daphne said, not really sure how to respond to that in her surprise. “Does that affect what I was going to say?”

“A bit, but not much. I merely wished to point out a common oversight to you.” Left unsaid, although Daphne got the message loud and clear, was that someday that error could easily come back to haunt anyone who made enough of an enemy of the muggleborn for them to band together.

“Okay. Well, as I was saying, then, we really don’t have the kind of financial power necessary to turn nominal traditionalists into allies. And then there’s Dumbledore and his followers.”

For one reason or another, Dumbledore had adopted a great deal of muggle culture, and his behaviour infected those who idolised him. While Daphne had no issue with the muggleborn acting as muggleborn did, as she had said to Hermione, she hated that her own culture was being very, very slowly eroded. Almost a fourth of Hogwarts now must celebrate Christmas, and only the muggleborn and the occasional half-blood actually knew what the holiday was even about.

By Merlin’s saggy beard, even the name of their winter festivities had been subsumed by Christmas. The last person who had replied, “Do you mean our holiday or Christmas?” when Daphne had asked what they were doing for Yule had been sent to Madam Pomfrey to heal a broken nose and for an extended curse-breaking session. The detentions had been worth the catharsis.

Sighing, Daphne said, “Dumbledore and his devotees are nominal allies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Just not a close or lasting friend. You-Know-Who is the worse and most immediate threat, but I wouldn’t wish for Dumbledore or anyone like him to retain power once this is all over. He acts slowly over decades – possibly not even intentionally, given his political history – but the years add up. He’s such an icon, too, that swaying his followers is just as difficult as You-Know-Who’s.”

“Quite. Now, then.” Edmund leaned forward with his hands folded together and captured Daphne’s gaze. “What’s changed that convinced you to side with either the old madman or the mad old man?”

“Nothing. If I had to pick one, I’d pick…whichever one referred to You-Know-Who, simply because Dumbledore won’t win, and we both know how effective the ministry has proven.”

Edmund said nothing. He merely raised an eyebrow, silently asking her to elaborate on her choice. There Daphne hesitated to gather her thoughts. She knew perfectly well that this was going to stretch the amount of trust her father had in her competence and reasoning ability. It was a real test of one’s credibility when suggesting that the best course of action was aligning with and following a pair of thirteen-year-olds.

“I think that if we can keep them alive long enough to grow up and figure out what cause they’re fighting for, we should side with Potter and” – Daphne grimaced – “Hermione.”

Edmund straightened his posture, clearly surprised. “Well, I have to admit that’s not what I expected. Didn’t you tell me that Harry Potter is ‘an average, shy wizard who just wants the world to leave him alone’?”

“Something like that. But I was recently reminded that not everyone is who they appear to be.”

“Oh? A snake hiding amongst lions, then?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Daphne said. Despite being a parselmouth, the boy was as Gryffindor as Malfoy, although usually in a good way. “Based on what little I’ve been permitted to observe, he’s very much the type to rush in without a plan. He played some important role my first year in a number of strange heroics with Hermione being his one constant companion. Then this last year he slew a basilisk twice his height and as long as a quidditch pitch with only a sword. Susan Bones was my source for that. She personally witnessed the basilisk at length.”

“I’m very surprised he survived the encounter,” Edmund commented.

Daphne scoffed. “Honestly, with just the injuries I’ve personally seen Potter survive, I wouldn’t be surprised if he were immortal. Rumour even has it the basilisk actually bit him.”

Edmund raised a sceptical eyebrow. “If true, then he’s very lucky Dumbledore has a phoenix.”

“True. All that said, however, Hermione provided me with a key piece of information I’d been missing: Potter hasn’t been trying.”

Both surprise and excitement snuck onto Edmund’s face. “You mean to tell me he slew a legendary monster with what? His wits?”

Daphne chuckled. “That’s exactly how I reacted.”

“Ah. Like father, like daughter. How proud I am.”

With a roll of her eyes, Daphne continued, “Apparently, Hermione has been allowed to see what Potter is properly capable of on occasion. Through some undisclosed means, she claims she’s managed to bring that boy to the surface. I did notice him behaving…differently, since. It’s hard to put an exact word to it. Confident might be it. Less like he’s waiting for something bad to happen to him, maybe.”

Edmund frowned at that description and rose from his seat. “Walk with me,” he said.

Confused, Daphne followed after him through their manor toward the library.

“Daphne, I need to ask you a few serious questions. You will not tell anyone that I have, especially not Astoria. Understood?”

Rather nervous and confused, Daphne nodded.

“How accurate do you think the inferences you’ve made are?”

“Very.” I wouldn’t have acted on them at all if I believed otherwise.

“Do you honestly believe Mr Potter should be doing better in school?”

That was a much more subjective question, but everything she’d seen and heard recently indicated that the answer was probably yes, and Daphne said as such.

Entering the library, Edmund pulled an old Prophet from their archive that had a picture of Potter on the front page. His frown deepened. “I don’t suppose he’s very tall, is he?” he asked. The picture The Prophet had lacked another person with Potter for comparison.

Daphne cocked her head to the side. “He’s probably the second or third shortest person in our year.”

“And how does he react to physical contact?”

“Fine, I guess.” Not that Daphne had been paying much attention to such things. She’d never had much reason to take note of such things about anyone. But on the other hand… “Although come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone other than Hermione and Madam Pomfrey touch him. Why?”

“It’s nothing,” Edmund said, returning the newspaper to its place. He then ushered the two of them from the library. “Just a magical tic I think he might have. Do try to be nice to him if you do befriend him, though. You wouldn’t want to get caught up in it. It’s very unpleasant for all involved.”

Despite the grin Edmund said all that with, Daphne had the distinct feeling that something very important had just gone over her head. Even so, Potter’s possible ‘magical tic’ was not why they were having this conversation, nor was it really all that interesting.

“Now, then,” Edmund said, veering the topic back to where it’d come from as surely as he led them back to his study. “I understand your argument for Mr Potter. What’s your reasoning for Miss Granger?”

Daphne breathed deeply to assuage the annoyance of having to praise the girl. “Hermione is alarmingly brilliant, upset with the status quo, motivated, she’s the Boy-Who-Lived’s best friend, and I have a large wager placed on her being the future Mrs Potter.” Really, what more needed to be said?

“Forgive me for not staying up-to-date on teenage politics, but you’ve mentioned another boy before. The youngest male Weasley, I believe?”

“I don’t want to talk about that arse,” Daphne bit out. Ronald Weasley was thoroughly unpleasant company for any Slytherin. “There’s no reason for him to exist.”

Perhaps wisely deciding to drop that topic entirely, Edmund then asked, “Alright, now please explain to me why you’re distinguishing the Potter–Granger side from Dumbledore and his allies.”

“Simple. After Grindelwald's defeat up until 1970, it was Dumbledore’s world. Even now, he’s the chief warlock, the supreme mugwump, and the headmaster of Hogwarts, and he's refused the Minister for Magic position three times.”

“Four, actually,” Edmund said.

“Four, then. Dumbledore has effectively been King of Magical Britain all this time. Change has been very slow under him, and I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. He’s magical-raised and was born in the last century, so despite his predilections, he doesn’t truly understand why the muggle-raised are so disgruntled.”

“And despite what he has done, Miss Granger is still unhappy with the way things are,” Edmund concluded. “I see. And Mr Potter?”

Daphne shrugged. “He is a shy boy who wants the world to leave him alone. He doesn’t have much respect for authority so far as I can tell, although he does have some sort of strange, friendly relationship with Dumbledore. But Hermione has him wrapped around her finger. If you pull her away, he will come with.”

“Ah. So no chance of a marriage to either of them, then?”

It was bad manners, but Daphne scoffed and rolled her eyes, an act which only seemed to amuse her father. “Please. Even if I were so inclined, those two are besotted with each other. Emotionally, if not yet physically. Anyone who actually managed to come between them would be in for a very uncomfortable marriage in any form it took, even if it was just for children, and there’s no room for three.”

“Point taken.”

Arriving back at Edmund’s study, he sat down behind his desk and left Daphne standing on the opposite side. He leaned back in his chair, hands folded together as he sunk into thought. Without conversation to keep her focused, Daphne fell into an awkward state of fidgeting as she waited for approval or rejection of her actions. Eventually, she worked up the nerve to just ask.

“So what do you think?”

“I’m not sure,” Edmund slowly said. “I don’t know either Miss Granger or Mr Potter myself.” He paused, considering the matter for a few more seconds. “I do trust you to make good decisions, however. For now, do as you wish. Befriend them, offer what assistance you choose, and we’ll see how those two grow over the coming year. Be sure to extend an invitation to them and Miss Granger's parents to our Yule celebrations, preferably before the Longbottoms do. I expect it will be an enjoyable new experience for all of them.”

The smile that had been slowly creeping onto Daphne’s face blossomed into a full grin. She walked around the desk between her and Edmund to give him a hug. Finally, at long, long last, it was time for the Greengrass heir to start playing the game. Oh, this was going to be fun!

Daphne released her father to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you.”

“Make me proud, my little flower.”

“Dad, please stop calling me that.”

Edmund had no pity and laughed at Daphne’s embarrassment and made no promises. Instead he called for a house elf and asked for today’s mail, nevermind that he already had today’s Prophet sitting on the table nearby. He rifled through the stack, eventually removing an unremarkable, beige envelope from it. He held it out to her.

“While we’re on the subject, a particular snowy owl delivered this while you were in the lab. I haven’t read it, of course, but I am curious to hear what Mr Potter has to say, if it’s nothing private. That, and I would like to know why exactly you gave Mr Potter and Miss Granger veritaserum.”

As she opened the envelope and set to reading, Daphne said, “Those two were going to interrogate Sirius Black. Hermione wanted to make sure whatever answers they received were…genuine…”

“What’s wrong?”

Daphne looked up at her father, then back down to the letter. The introduction was a short thank you note, but the rest of it required a second and third reading. Surely her eyes must have been playing tricks on her.

“Ah!” The letter burst into flame and burnt to a crisp in an instant, not even leaving behind ashes. Daphne looked at the palms of her hands, but they were both uninjured and room temperature. After the initial shock had worn off, a few thoughts took root in her head. One, she would give better than even odds on Hermione having found a way to cheat the ministry's underage magic laws – not that doing so was terribly difficult. Two, and more importantly, if that letter had been spelt to self-destruct, Potter’s request had been genuine.

A smile slowly lit up Daphne’s face. Oh, this was going to be fun, indeed. “Nothing is wrong, Dad. In fact, if we can pull this off, we may have just been handed the biggest coup in decades on a silver platter.”

Eavesdropping was such a bad habit, but there was absolutely no way Susan would come out from behind the corner now. The sparks flew between her Aunt Amelia and Lord Malfoy, and if that alone were not intense enough, Lord Malfoy stood between her and her aunt. Her positioning was positively dreadful!

Although to be fair to herself, the route through the Ministry of Magic Susan had taken was the only way for her to get to where she was supposed to meet her aunt for a late dinner.

“If it isn’t our illustrious head of law enforcement.” Everything about Lord Malfoy from his luxurious robes to his well-kept appearance screamed wealth and privilege – not something Susan was a stranger to herself – but that voice. There was some undertone to it which said that if he deigned to acknowledge your existence, you had perhaps five seconds on a good day to explain why he shouldn’t simply kill you where you stood. Even the cane that he leaned on, for all that it was a work of art, radiated power; it was an instrument of death, not a crutch, just as the man himself was.

Amelia, in the extreme opposite, possessed a rough, mundane aura. She’d fought her way through a war and had come out the other end whole, and it showed in both her dress and how she held herself. Her guard was raised, and if a fight broke out, her snug but flexible and simple robes along with her distance would grant her all the opportunity she needed to deliver an uppercut to the jaw before Lord Malfoy could fire a spell – providing he used his wand and did not dodge, of course.

“Lord Malfoy.” Rather surprisingly, Amelia had a polite – almost friendly, even – tone to her voice. She usually resorted to growling at the man, eternally frustrated with him as she was. Stranger still was the tiny upturning of her lips. Susan swore she had to be seeing things. She was a fair distance away. That might be it. It had to be.

Lord Malfoy appeared to have taken note of the very same thing. “Any plans to murder my wife today?”

“Only if she tries first,” Amelia replied. “And you? Any plans to murder children today?”

“Certainly not.” It was the strangest thing how cordial those two were being with this rather singular greeting. “On the subject, however, I have been meaning to ask after Ginerva Weasley’s health. She may have been found innocent, but as a parent, I would be uncomfortable with my son being around such a…damaged young witch.”

“If you must know, she’s been scheduled to see a healer in Egypt. Once she receives a clean bill of health, she’ll be allowed to return to Hogwarts and will pose no danger to those students who are not first a danger to her.”

“Then I wish her the best in her recovery.” Despite everything, Lord Malfoy sounded sincere. But even so, there was no way he actually cared even the slightest bit. “Now who I wished to speak of with you is Rubeus Hagrid.”

Amelia emitted a rather cautious, “Yes?”

“I should hope you are aware that after recent events, it is blindingly obvious he was not responsible for the death of Myrtle Warren in forty-three.”

Susan cocked her head to the side and leaned out past the corner just a little further. Something was wrong with her ears.

“I am. A date has already been set for his retrial. The formal announcement will be sent out next week.”

“Excellent. I shall take my leave of you, then. Good evening, Lady Bones.”

Quickly and quietly, Susan ducked out of sight and hid herself in a nearby office, one which was fortunately empty. She waited there well over a minute, not being sure how long it would take for Lord Malfoy to be well and truly gone. The answer came to her in a rather unexpected manner.

“I highly suggest you leave espionage to my department.”

Once Susan had gotten the initial guilty squeak out of the way, she had the decency to stare at her feet and mumble an apology. Amelia did not sound particularly upset, however.

“Come along, Susan,” Amelia said. “I have reservations at a muggle restaurant near Diagon Alley on Shacklebolt’s recommendation.”

As they walked through the near empty halls of the ministry at this time of day, Susan continually stole glances at her aunt. Her curiosity burnt, and she most certainly had questions about the conversation she had just overheard. It was at times like this that she wished she could read her aunt the way Hermione and Harry could so clearly read each other. Did silence mean she was not supposed to ask and just forget everything? Maybe it meant she should wait until they were somewhere more private. Or possibly, Amelia was merely waiting to see if she would even ask at all.

In the end, as soon as they left the ministry and entered the muggle side of London, the questions emerged.

“Aunt Amelia? Why did Lord Malfoy ask about Mr Hagrid’s trial? He wasn't trying to actually help, was he?”

“No,” Amelia replied, a bitter tone briefly entering her voice. “Not that I would, but he's made it clear I can't ignore the issue without taking some major flak from our friends. Unfortunately, I have to send Mr Hagrid's case through the courts, and as high profile as it is, I'll be a judge for it along with the rest of the Wizengamot. I can't just give him a wand and say, ‘Have fun,’ as much as I’d like to.”

“So he's going to try to interfere?”

Amelia shook her head. “He won't draw any more attention to himself over this fiasco. He will either stay out of the way, or far more likely, pretend to be a champion of justice and ‘help’.”

“That's…good?” The reason why aside, at least Lord Malfoy would do something unambiguously good for once.

“In name only. He will play the part while his own friends cause problems for us. Mr Hagrid will eventually be declared innocent, because it is blindingly obvious he isn't guilty, but a lot of my time is going to be wasted on something ultimately unimportant. Meanwhile, Malfoy gets to enjoy looking like a decent human being with little to no effort. It's much more in keeping with his style than the mess he caused at Hogwarts.”

“Oh.” Why was it that everything was always so much easier for the bad guys?

“However, you’re right to be confused.”

Susan looked up at her aunt.

“Remember that Fudge placed Mr Hagrid in Azkaban. Any attention to the trial will make the minister look bad, and Malfoy has the minister in his pocket. With elections next year fast approaching, Fudge can ill afford the negative attention.”

Eyes wide in understanding, Susan said, “He’s going to try to get one of his own elected?”

“Possibly,” Amelia mumbled. “I’m no seer, but my inner eye is warning me.”

Susan frowned but moved on; she had nothing to contribute herself. Besides, there was something more interesting that demanded to be asked. “Why did you seem…happy, I suppose, when he first appeared?”

A wide, almost evil grin broke out onto Amelia's face. “I'll tell you more when we're home, but it suffices to say that Mr Potter and Miss Granger have given me a wonderfully irritating gift.”

Harry and Hermione? Weren't they going to visit Sirius Black in Azkaban today? “What sort of gift?”

“A sharp slap in Malfoy's face and the greatest gift of all: revenge.”

Revenge? Whenever that word popped up, it almost always referred to one of two things. “Against the Blacks or Lestrange in particular?”

“The second greatest gift, then,” Amelia said, which meant this was about the House of Black as a whole, unfortunately, not Bellatrix Lestrange née Black. Susan had just as much of a bone to pick with the latter herself. That monster had personally reinvigorated the Bones–Black feud by eradicating every last Bones except herself and Aunt Amelia, and even that had been a close call.

“We severely crippled them long ago, but we never destroyed the Blacks,” Amelia said. No one needed to point out that that had been a horrible, disastrous mistake – not from pity, of course, but from cooling tempers and lack of effort. “This time, though – oh, this time we are going to annihilate them and cause the name to die out forever. When we're through, no one will even be able to recognise what's left.”

Amelia's somewhat mad smile proved infectious as they approached their destination. Good food and better news, tonight was a night for celebration.