Situation (Worth the Risk #21)

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The note is delivered to the office at half-nine. As soon as Hermione sees the man in Auror robes shifting awkwardly in her doorway, she knows that he has a note from Harry. While these are relatively rare occasions, they have become routine over the years. She sometimes teases Harry about him becoming predictable in certain aspects of his work, but she likes the pattern when it comes to this.

After she beckons the man into her office, she takes the parchment from him and removes the charms effortlessly before she reads. Hermione - I need to have lunch with you. I’ll be at your office by eleven. Harry. It’s very brief and to the point, which causes her lips to purse. Harry isn’t a man of many words under the best of circumstances, yet she recognizes that he’s stressed and upset just from these few. Need instead of want confirms that it does involve work. The eleven o’clock lunch time is early, which means it must be serious.

“Tell him that’s fine,” she says composedly, even as her mind is racing to try to figure out what this must be about. After the Auror nods and leaves, she sits back in her chair and studies the note before she calls out, “Caroline, please come here.”

Less than a minute later, Caroline is standing in the doorway with a notepad and pen, which Hermione feels are more useful than parchment and a quill in a busy work environment. “Please owl Finnigan’s and secure a private booth for eleven o’clock, and mark my calendar, too. I’m having a working lunch with Mr. Potter, and we don’t want to be disturbed.”

“I’ll do it right now,” Caroline says, smiling at Hermione before she leaves the office. She’s been Hermione’s assistant for eight years now, so she’s familiar with the routine, too.

Once Caroline is seeing to the arrangements, Hermione looks at the note again. “Lupin, please come here,” she calls out. She kicks her shoes off beneath her desk, stretching out her toes as she rubs the back of her neck. It’s Tuesday and she was able to get the rest of Ogden’s files sorted yesterday, so she expected it to be a normal day. Of course, she should know better than to plan for ‘normal’ around here.

“You hollered my name, Boss?” Teddy says with a grin as he enters the office. He’s wearing his spectacles, and it looks like he didn’t shave this morning judging by the faint shadow on his jaw.

Upon seeing him, she unconsciously licks her lips and blinks at him before she shakes her head slightly and focuses. “Please sit,” she says, indicating the chair in front of her desk. “Have you heard any news from down the hall?”

At her question, he frowns in thought and sits down. ‘Down the hall’ is code for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, which currently encompasses the Aurors, hit wizards, Unspeakables, and the Department of Mysteries, though the latter is still several floors below them. She expects that this particular lunch will involve Aurors, but she can’t be completely positive since Harry tends to have Aurors around regardless of the situation.

“Not recently,” Teddy says. “I mean, nothing out of the ordinary. There were whispers about an Unspeakable being caught with his trousers down, literally, while he was on an assignment, but that area is impossible to hear anything reliable about. Otherwise, I haven’t heard anything different or bizarre. Just the usual gossip, which I hear even though I have no interest in that sort of thing.”

It’s not internal, she knows. Terry Boot normally handles any case that’s internal or involves employees of the Ministry. If Harry’s contacted her directly, especially knowing her current case load, it has to be one of only a few things. She just hopes that she might narrow it down before eleven so she can be prepared. She hates when Harry does this. Being vague certainly cuts down the risk of anyone knowing exactly what he’s saying, but with the charms he places on any private correspondence, it’s also not exactly necessary. Besides, if anyone took the time to break the charms, they’d soon discover it was impossible since the charms are personalized to the recipient.

“Is everything okay?” Teddy asks softly. He pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and stares at her intently. She takes a moment to look at him, wetting her lips when his gaze briefly drops, before she nods.

“It’s fine. Harry has a case to discuss over lunch, so I was just curious if there was any news to indicate what it might concern. Considering he wants to meet earlier than our usual lunch time, I expect it’s something new that he deems urgent.”

“I could go get coffee down the hall and see if I hear anything,” he offers as he stares at her. He bites his lip, and she sees him curl his fingers around the notepad he’s holding until his knuckles are white. I want to touch you is unspoken, but her skin tingles and warms up even as he resists.

“That’s not necessary. If it’s not already being discussed, then Harry’s obviously keeping a tight hold on information right now. I’ll find out in a little over an hour anyway, so I‘ll just have to be patient.”

“Whoever said that patience is a virtue is a bloody liar,” he mutters, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair before he flashes a smile. “I’ll let you know if I happen to hear anything before your lunch, Boss.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it,” she says. “How is the progress coming on the Stapleton case?”

He flips through his notepad and glances down. “Collins and I finished questioning the tenants, and it appears the claims of prejudice are substantiated. Two other Muggleborns allege that they were harassed, and that Stapleton told them, ‘Pay the rent on your knees like others of your kind’ on more than one occasion. They agreed to present evidence if necessary, as did three others who had witnessed similar behavior but weren’t the focus of it. One wizard actually filed a complaint about a situation he witnessed, but the Housing Authority failed to follow up on the allegations. It is documented, though, so I plan to get copies of that and seek out the person named, as she no longer lives at the building.”

“Good. I’m looking forward to showing Stapleton just what ‘my kind’ can do when I vilify him in the courtroom,” she says firmly. She disliked the man as soon as she read the casenotes, so she knows she’ll take satisfaction in seeing him convicted. It’s probably wrong of her to make cases more personal in that way, but it’s one of the reasons that she works so hard and does her best not to lose. If she were distant and unaffected, she’d be as ineffective as Parsons, who takes any case that pays him well enough and never cares about a verdict.

“I’m looking forward to that, too,” Teddy says. “I’m planning to go down to records later this morning to find the file because the Housing Authority already sent it to archives. Once I get that information, I’ll keep you up-to-date on what I find out before I find the woman involved.”

“Take Collins with you when you find her. If she was harassed by Stapleton, she might be more open to talking to a female than a male,” she tells him. “And, yes, keep me updated as you proceed. Depending on how my lunch with Harry goes, I might need you on whatever he wishes to discuss, so take time to compile your notes today in case we let Collins take it on completely.”

“Will do, Boss.” He stands up and closes his notepad before he leans down and whispers, “For the record, I want to word-I-can’t-say-at-work you right now.” He straightens and winks before he goes back out to his desk.

“Incorrigible,” she mutters even as she smiles and reaches for a file. The time flies by quickly as she reviews two cases that are close to completion, wanting them ready to finish up if it’s necessary.

The last time Harry summoned her for one of these meetings, it was an intricate case that required her complete concentration for weeks, along with long hours and even overtime. Selfishly, she hopes this case isn’t that difficult because Rose is coming home soon, and she only has a couple of months before both the children are leaving her for Hogwarts. However, based on previous experience, she has a sinking feeling that this one is bad. Harry rarely ever seeks a meeting without at least a day’s notice. Her schedule is as busy as his, and he respects that she can’t just drop everything for him. Today, however, he hasn’t even given her an hour and a half’s notice.

“Oi, Teddy, nice specs.”

The sound of Harry’s voice from the office outside catches her attention, so she closes her file and straightens her desk. She hears Teddy laugh before he says, “Look better on me than you. Jealous, Godpapa?”

“And there we have proof of the foolishness of youth,” Harry replies. “You just wish you looked so good, Godson.”

“Children,” Hermione warns as she fights a smile. She glances at Caroline, who is biting her lip to keep from smiling even as she focuses on gathering her filing and quietly leaving the office. “If anything, I think it’s proof of man’s fallibility by placing so much importance on appearances and competition.”

Harry looks at her, and her earlier fears return despite his teasing with Teddy. There are shadows beneath his eyes, which means he’s been up all night, and he looks exhausted. He’s wearing Auror robes, but she expects that they’re the same ones he wore yesterday. He smiles slightly as he tells Teddy, “When she starts using big words like that, it’s usually better to just surrender or else you might be forced to think.”

“I’ve heard about the big words warning,” Teddy says, ducking his head as he smiles while obviously remembering his conversation with Hugo the other day. He looks back up and arches a brow. “Fortunately, I don’t mind having to think sometimes. Keeps her on her guard since I don’t give up as easily as others.”

“Foolish youth,” Harry mutters again even as he grins. “Many a person has spoken those fighting words before, and our Hermione is always the last one standing. But good for you, Teddy. Keep her on her toes until she defeats you so horrifically that you’re drained and babbling nonsensical words because she’s managed to make you realize you aren’t nearly as smart as you think.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Godpapa,” Teddy quips even as his attention is focused on her. “I already know I’m not as smart as I think, so I’ve removed her advantage by acknowledging my own weakness. I think I’m a good match for her.”

“Everyone has weaknesses, Lupin,” she says curtly, a smile softening her tone even as she narrows her eyes at him for basically flirting right in front of Harry. He’s lucky that Harry is distracted. Or maybe she’s the one reading more into his innocent teasing than she should. At that idea, she becomes slightly flustered and concentrates on something else, namely Harry and the working lunch. “I’ve reserved a private booth at Finnigan’s for lunch.”

“Good. We should go,” Harry says with a nod. He picks up a file from the edge of Teddy’s desk and smiles mischievously. “We’ll bring you back a kiddie meal, Teddy. Maybe even a biscuit, if Hermione thinks you deserve one.”

“Very funny,” Teddy says dryly, glancing at Hermione as he shifts uncomfortably. Having his age ridiculed is obviously a touchy subject, even when it’s Harry doing the teasing.

“If you need anything, we’ll be at Finnigan’s,” she says softly. “Only you or Caroline have permission to disturb us.”

“No worries, Boss. I’ll take care of everything,” he tells her with a smile.

She follows Harry out of the office and down the hall to the lift. He won’t discuss the case with her until he feels it’s the right time, and that certainly won’t be in a public hallway. When they step onto the lift, which is fortunately empty, she asks, “Are you looking forward to James and Albus returning home soon?”

“Of course,” he says, tightening his grip on the file. “I think Lily’s the most excited, though. She hasn’t enjoyed being on her own so much. I feel sorry for her that she has another year of it before she goes to Hogwarts. Is Rose eager to come home?”

“I think so, though it’s difficult to tell in letters. She mostly talks about her subjects and plans for trying out for Quidditch next year. Oddly enough, Malfoy’s son is one of her biggest competitors for top marks in their classes but he’s also part of her scheme for next year’s tryouts. She has decided that Ravenclaw might actually win a few matches by having three second years make the team, so they're working out practice schedules for the summer and such.”

“Ron has whined about the marks, but I wasn’t aware of the team strategy,” Harry says thoughtfully. He laughs suddenly. “God, is it immature of me to wish I could see the look on Malfoy’s face when he hears his precious son is scheming with a Weasley who’s your daughter, no less?”

“Very immature,” she agrees as they step off the lift and start their walk to Finnigan‘s. “I assume that news probably wouldn’t cause as much of a shock as his son being sorted in Ravenclaw did, actually.”

“I almost feel sorry for the kid,” Harry mutters at that. “Houses aren’t the same now, though it’s probably good for the kid that he wasn’t put into Slytherin. With that last name and his looks, it would have been tough.”

“Like Al had he been sorted into Gryffindor,” she says softly.

He glances at her and smiles. “Yeah, like that. I was oddly relieved when he sent us the owl telling us he’d been put into Hufflepuff. It’s a good House, and he won’t be stuck with my looks and name trying to follow the same footsteps. James loves Gryffindor, but he definitely takes after Ginny more, so I wasn’t as worried about him.”

“Perhaps Malfoy felt the same way about Scorpius,” she muses. While Malfoy managed to escape Azkaban, in part due to his mother’s political maneuvering and in part due to the lack of evidence showing him guilty of anything more than being a scared child caught up in things he didn’t particularly understand, many people still muttered and whispered about the family. She has no fondness for Malfoy particularly, but she’s come across him over the years during her work, and they’ve always been politely civil. His wife is quite charming and serves on several committees that Hermione‘s worked with, so she has more contact with her. She’s guilty of originally assuming that he married Colette due to her Muggleborn status rather than any emotional connections, though she no longer feels that way, regardless of her opinion of Malfoy.

“Maybe. I still don’t trust the man, but he’s not my concern unless he breaks the law. Did you know that Teddy actually goes over for dinner once a month? Cousins and all that family connection nonsense,” Harry says, making a face. “Teddy used to eat with us three or four nights a week, but we don’t see him so much now that he’s getting older. I guess I should be glad he visits most every week, since I know he’s busy with his internship and that grandmother of his. Guess I still think about him as being five and tagging along everywhere I go, but he’s a man now. God, we’re getting old, aren’t we?”

It’s awkward to hear Harry talk about Teddy. More uncomfortable than she ever expected, especially when she has to bite her tongue to not say anything incriminating. She wasn’t aware that Teddy had dinner with Malfoy monthly, as he never said anything whenever she talked about Rose’s rivalry with Scorpius. It makes her wonder what else she doesn’t know about him. When she realizes Harry will expect a reply, she says, “I think we’re only as old as we feel. While Teddy’s definitely not five anymore, that doesn’t automatically mean we’re ancient. He’s a good man, so I suppose that should help you adjust to the fact he’s no longer a child.”

“Is he doing well with his internship?” Harry asks curiously. “I was surprised when he told me what he’d decided to do, in all honesty, because it didn’t seem to suit him, but he’s been very enthusiastic.”

“He’s really good,” she says honestly, “but I don’t think his heart is in it, not the way it needs to be if you want to be successful. He’s more for action and doing something versus being patient and following lengthy processes to obtain convictions. He’d do well, regardless of lacking the nature better suited for it, though I doubt there’s anything he couldn’t do well if he set his mind to it.”

“Takes after his parents in that way,” Harry says. “Thanks for telling me. I’ve asked him but it’s tough to get a straight answer out of him sometimes. He seems happy, so I guess he’s enjoying it.”

They arrive at Finnigan’s before Harry can continue talking about Teddy. She’s relieved to have the distraction because she hates lying to Harry, even if it’s just by not being completely honest. Seamus greets them and walks them back to a private booth. Once they’re seated, he hands them menus.

“The special today is a Cornish pastie, though we have a veggie pastie for those who don't like meat,” Seamus tells them. “Choice of chips or mashed potatoes. Dessert is apple pie, either plain or with ice cream.”

“That sounds good,” Harry says. “Cornish with potatoes. I’ll have ice cream, of course. And I think I want pumpkin juice. No laughing.”

“Wasn’t gonna laugh,” Seamus says, eyes twinkling as he winks at Hermione. “And for you, my love?”

“The same, actually.” She smiles. “Thank you.”

“That’s easy ‘nuff. Seeing as it’s a private lunch, I’ll put these in for yeh and bring it out myself,” Seamus tells them. Considering they hear the same offer every time they request a private booth, it’s pointless for him repeat himself, but she figures it’s just habit. “Oi! Nearly forgot. I’m having a party for Dean on Friday night. It’s his birthday, the old tosser, and I have to make sure everyone knows he’s another year older. It’s a surprise, of course, cause he’d hex my bollocks off if he knew I was plannin' anything. Quite like them where they are, so keep it mum. Eight o’clock Friday. Taking place here, as I’ll close for the night.”

“We’ll keep it secret,” Harry promises as he scribbles a note on a piece of clean paper. “Eight?”

“Yeah, eight. I’m not sending out invites so there’s less chance of Dean finding out, so let Ron know if yeh see him before I do?” Seamus asks.

“I’ll be sure to tell him,” Hermione says. Seamus grins and leaves them to their work. Harry, however, seems hesitant to begin discussing the case since he drums his fingers on the file and doesn’t start talking.

“You can come with me and Ginny,” he says. At her confused look, he grins. “Sorry. The party on Friday. I know how you hate attending those sorts of things alone.”

“Oh, right. Thank you. That sounds fine,” she tells him. Now that Ron is dating Mel, she knows he’ll have a date. As for her, the only person she considers asking isn’t someone she can date openly, so Harry and Ginny are a decent alternative to going alone.

“How’s work? Getting caught up from Ogden?”

“Work is manageable. And, yes, I was able to get the last of his files sorted yesterday. He came into the office and worked for a few hours, too. He looks better than he did last week, but he said St. Mungos isn’t sure what’s causing his weakness and exhaustion yet. Still doing tests, though he has Macmillan as his Healer, so he’s in good hands.”

Harry nods. “Hannah will take good care of him. I’m glad work is calmer than it was.”

“Harry, are you going to continue making idle chit chat, which is so contradictory to your nature that it’s painfully obvious when you try, or just discuss the case file that you keep fondling?”

“There are times when I really dislike your blunt honesty.”

“So you’ve told me, oh, hundreds of times over the last twenty plus years.”

“You don’t have to sound so smug about it.”

“If you don’t start talking, Potter, I’ll summon the file myself.”

He sighs and pulls his glasses off, rubbing them with the sleeve of his robe before he puts them back on. “It---you might prefer waiting until after we eat.”

“Oh,” she murmurs, feeling a weight in her belly at his words. If Harry thinks it’s going to be that bad, she can’t not be concerned.

“Ron was going to come with us for lunch,” he says quietly, peering at her seriously, “but he had to finish up a few things and couldn’t make it.”

“I understand.” And she does. Harry alone for a business lunch means it’s something he thinks will bother her. If Ron attends, too, it’s even worse. After all her experiences with the war and then later in the department, there aren’t many things that really get to her anymore. She might be affected, but not in a way that is visibly noticeable. Whenever those few cases do come up that have her triggers, though, her boys take measures to give her a little protection from prying eyes until she’s okay. She loves them for it, even if she protested such coddling at first.

He nudges her leg with his and smiles. “It’ll be okay. I just---I’d rather wait until after we eat. I need the break,” he admits.

“Right,” she says, understanding that well enough. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Not a wink. Ginny’ll kill me for working so hard until she finds out why. Then, well, she understands,” he says in a grateful tone. “So, is Hugo looking forward to Diagon Alley shopping and getting his wand?”

“Of course. I actually need to talk to Dean on Friday about that. You know, it’s funny, isn’t it? Somehow, apprenticing with Ollivander transmitted that odd ability of knowing when it’s the right time to buy a wand.” She smiles and tries not to stare at the file.

“I’ve noticed that but wasn’t sure if I was just imagining things.” Harry grins. “I’m glad I’m not. James actually has one of Dean’s wands, but the one who chose Albus was Ollivander’s.”

She nods. “Ginny mentioned that it was slightly surreal for her son to have a wand made by her ex-boyfriend,” she teases softly. “Rose has one of Ollivander’s, but one of Dean’s nearly chose her. I wonder how many more years it’s going to take before we just call them ‘wands’ instead of differentiating that way. It’s been five years since Ollivander officially retired, after all, and we still do it.”

“Alas, we are creatures of habit, so I figure Dean’s stuck with it for our generation, at least. I mean, we still call it Lovegood’s Quibbler and Patil’s Quibbler, and Parvati took over as editor over ten years ago.”

“Point. We humans are silly creatures,” she says with a smile. Seamus arrives with their food and drinks and, once he sees they’re not working yet, sits to chat for a few minutes while they begin to eat. After he goes back to work, they eat in silence, both sneaking looks at the file.

When they finish eating, Seamus comes over to clear the plates and they ask that the pie not be brought out for awhile so they can get some work done. Once he leaves them to it, Harry sighs and opens the file. “This is one of the worst I’ve seen,” he says quietly. “When the owl arrived last night, I knew it had to be big or my Aurors wouldn’t have contacted me. I just had no idea until I got there. I know it’s breaking that stupid ‘forty-eight hour’ rule by bringing you in already, but you need to be part of this from the start.”

She takes the file from him and looks down. A brief review of the notes has her hands shaking, and she feels nauseous as she looks at the accompanying photographs. “God,” she whispers, staring in horror at the bodies of four children who are so near the size of Hugo and Rose that she feels tears in her eyes. The next few photographs show two other children, around the same age or younger, who are alive but have obviously been abused and tortured.

“Those two escaped last night. When the Aurors went to Warrington’s estate, they found him asleep. He wasn’t aware the kids had got out, and he gave some story about them obviously lying as he had no idea who they were, after he confirmed knowledge of them. Stupid bastard,” Harry growls softly. “I was contacted because Charles Warrington is a wealthy Pureblood with a history of dark magic, even if there are no direct links to Voldemort.”

“Yes, I know the name,” she whispers, trying to concentrate and move past the desire to throw up. She glances up and smiles wryly. “He donates quite a lot of money to the children’s fund every year.”

“Of course he does,” Harry says dryly. “When I arrived, I was filled in on the changing story, and he was acting too suspiciously to not be guilty of something. I know, me being judgmental again but I’m usually right. In this case, I wish I hadn’t been. A search of his house was made, and we found a door in the dungeon that led into a room like the children described. We found those four dead. The medical examiner estimates they died at various times within the last week and the abuse continued after death.”

Harry can barely say the last few words, and she puts her hand over her mouth as she stares at the table, forcing herself to stay in control. “Judging from the wounds, I’d suggest various magical and Muggle torture as well as sexual abuse. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Harry says softly. “The two children who escaped were found by a neighbor, who alerted the Aurors immediately. They told her where they escaped from, said the other kids weren’t moving anymore, and mentioned the damp, cold room before they stopped talking. We haven’t pressed for anything more yet, but they’re in the custody of protective services. They’ve also been abused and tortured, and Healer Matthews says it’s a miracle that the little boy survived judging by his injuries.”

“Those poor babies,” she whispers, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she writes a few notes. “Do we know who they are yet?”

“No. Warrington isn’t saying anything, but we’ve searched his study and found paperwork from Oakwood, so we suspect they’re adopted. I won’t say it officially without proof, of course, but I figure they’re Muggleborn. The boy who survived is roughly ten and the girl isn‘t much older, maybe twelve, according to Matthews.”

“If he adopted them from Oakwood, how did this happen?” she asks. “There are rules and procedures set up to prevent this!”

“It’s just a suspicion at this point, Hermione. We’ll know more once we have time to investigate,” Harry reminds her softly.

“If Oakwood is at fault, I’ll see them suffer as much as Warrington,” she promises him.

“I know you will. It’s why I’m involving you,” he says matter-of-factly. “This bastard deserves the worst that can be imagined, and you’re the only one I know capable of giving it to him.”

She nods and looks back at the photos, forcing herself to study them despite her desire to look away and not ever see them again. “I’ll go through the file this afternoon. Copy me on anything important. No, change that. Copy me on everything, because there could be something important that would be overlooked. Is it okay if I’m there when you try to speak with the children?”

“Of course. Ron is handling the case directly, and I’m overseeing it. We have three of our best Aurors working on this, and I’ll have to figure out a statement to make before the papers get hold of it. The last thing we need is mass panic or allegations of Death Eaters torturing and killing children. We can keep it quiet until tomorrow, at least, then I’ll meet with Lee, Parvati and Penelope, so the WWN, Quibbler and Prophet all have the same information. Thank god they’ll be reasonable about things. Having children and death involved automatically creates tension for people.”

“If you need help with the statement, let me know,” she offers as she closes the file. She’ll pull Teddy off Stapleton and ask Entwhistle to be her second. Kevin knows Pureblood society and has a similar interest in cases involving children, so she doesn’t foresee him refusing. For now, though, she has something she needs to do. “I’ll review this more in depth when I get back to the office. I need to go now, though. I’ll see you later, Harry. And thanks for lunch.”

She stands up and brushes a kiss against his cheek. He reaches for her hand and squeezes it tightly. “We’ll make him regret this,” he vows quietly, and she nods her agreement. “I’ll stop by in the morning for you to review my statement, or help me write it, if I can’t find the words. You know how bad I am at that stuff.”

“You’ll do fine,” she whispers, giving him a hug before she impulsively ruffles his hair. He swats at her hand, and she smiles as she holds the file tightly and leaves the private room. She stops at the bar to pay, and Seamus gives her a take-away container with her pie. After she agrees to be at the party on Friday, she goes to the fireplace and tosses in Floo powder.

When she steps through and enters the Burrow, she listens for voices. Hugo and Lily are laughing, and she follows the direction of the laughter into the kitchen, where she finds them covered in flour as Molly shakes her head.

“Mum!” Hugo cries out as he notices her and seems to forget his recent 'I'm too old to hug Mum in public' rule as he steps towards her. She walks forward, setting the file down as she exchanges a look with Molly before she leans down and catches Hugo as he runs to her. She hugs him tightly, needing this brief moment with her child before she returns to work and starts reviewing her new case.