Intuition (Worth the Risk #22)

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Hugo likes the apple pie but declares it would be perfect if it had ice cream. Hermione has to agree, though not enough to go back into the Burrow to ask Molly if she has vanilla ice cream. She’s found a comfortable spot in the garden, and Hugo is sitting beside her sharing her pie before she has to return to work. She tries not to think about the new case while Hugo tells her about his day so far.

It isn’t easy to avoid it, however. The photographs flash in her mind, and she feels sick thinking about it being one of her children or a friend’s child in that situation. She’s had worse cases, unfortunately---a few years after she first started in Magical Law, there was a serial killer who targeted young teenaged witches, so she was forced to learn how to distance herself without losing empathy for the victim long ago---but crimes against children bother her more than any other.

After they finish the slice of pie, she gives Hugo a kiss on the cheek, receives a hug from Lily, and tells Molly goodbye before she takes the Floo back to the lobby of the Ministry. She’s in a better mental place to review the case in depth now that she’s spent time with Hugo, and, by the time she reaches her office, she’s resolved to see Warrington receive the worst punishment available.

Caroline isn’t at her desk when she enters the office, but Teddy is flipping through a file and making notes. He looks up after she closes the door and frowns as he studies her. “Everything okay, Boss?” he asks with concern as he stands up. He reaches out as if to touch her arm, then freezes, catching himself, before he slowly drops his hand again. “You look upset.”

“There’s a new case,” she explains quietly. She bites her lip and considers giving him a hug. Caroline’s gone, so it’s not like anyone will catch them if they’re quick about it. She could really use the feel of his strong arms around her at the moment. She takes a step closer, but he shakes his head once and nods at her office.

“Is it the file Harry had?” He runs his fingers through his hair and sits on the edge of his desk, pushing his spectacles up the bridge of his nose, which is a nervous habit she’s noticed over the last few months.

“Yes. It’s bad. One of the worst that’s come through the office in awhile. I’m going to need you to give Collins everything on Stapleton, because I need you working on this one with us.”

“Got it. I already have most of the Stapleton file organized, so I’ll finish that immediately,” he says before lowering his voice. “You have a visitor. He went into your office to wait.”

She arches a brow and scowls. “In my office?”

“It’s Ron,” he tells her. “Caroline’s at lunch, so I wasn’t sure if I should insist he wait out here or what.”

“Oh, no. That’s fine. Ron’s an exception.” She bites her lip and fusses with the file for a moment as she realizes she nearly hugged Teddy with her ex-husband in the next room. She’s relieved that he stopped her before she could. “I’ll go see what he needs. After he leaves, I’ll give you a rundown on the case.”

“Okay, Boss.” He smiles slightly and sits back down so he can finish his notes.

When she enters her office, she finds Ron sitting in one of the guest chairs. His elbows are on the edge of her desk, and he’s cradling his head in his hands. From the slump of his shoulders and bad posture, she knows he’s had as rough a day as Harry. “Hi, you,” she says softly, closing the door behind her. She walks over and squeezes his shoulder, not surprised when he turns his head and hugs her around her waist.

It takes him a minute to speak, but she can finally hear words muffled by her robes. He pulls his head back and looks up at her, staring for a moment before he sighs and shakes his head slightly. “It’s a bad one, Hermione.”

“I know.” She starts to brush his hair out of his eyes but catches herself before she does. After so many years, the small intimate gestures are such a habit that she finds herself making them unconsciously. She curls her fingers into her palm and walks around the desk to sit down. “How are the children?”

“Alive, but barely. Matthews says it’ll be a couple of days before they’ll be ready for us to try talking with them. I figure I’ll go by on Thursday afternoon, so set aside a couple of hours. I assume you‘ll want to come with.”

“Of course,” she says. “I already cleared it with Harry. I’m intending to bring Entwhistle into this one as my second, and I’m reassigning Lupin and Bones to the team.”

He listens and nods, frowning slightly before he says, “Good choices. Susan always does well on these cases, and Entwhistle has a solid record. You think Teddy’s ready for something like this?”

“I don’t know,” she admits. “But he’s the intern, which means he needs the training. Besides, with Ogden on leave, the department’s already struggling.”

“I’m sure that Teddy’ll do fine,” he says after a moment.

She nods. “I wouldn’t assign him to the case if I weren’t completely confident in his abilities,” she says honestly. She glances at the file and then back at him. “Any chance Warrington will just confess after a couple of days in holding?”

He snorts. “I doubt it. Warrington’s one of those annoying bastards who thinks he can buy his way out of anything, even what he did to those poor kids.”

“Is there any new information beyond what’s in the file?” she asks, knowing exactly what type Warrington is from the little interaction she’s had with him over the years. “I reviewed it briefly at lunch, but I have to make a more thorough study of it now.”

“Not much. Today, we secured the house and are doing a thorough search to see if we can locate anything that might have been used in the torture or the abuse. We, uh, suspect that it wasn’t just traditional abuse judging by some of the injuries of the dead children. We sent everything downstairs for processing, but it’ll be tomorrow, at least, before the potion results come back to potentially link anything we located.”

She cringes when he mentions the suspicions regarding the abuse, wondering if she could convince the Wizengamot that unanesthetized castration followed by a shrinking charm for whatever is left would be a suitable punishment to add to whatever sentence is decided. She focuses her attention back on the case and makes a note about the tests. “That’s understandable, and it‘ll be great if they do get them back tomorrow. I’ll send a memo down to the lab asking them to copy me on any results. Who’s in charge of the case down there?”

“Corner. I already told him to make sure to send you copies of everything,” Ron says. “Figured you’d want them.”

“Good. Michael won’t miss anything. I’m glad you and Harry have such a good, solid crew working on this. And thank you. That’s one thing off my list,” she murmurs, scratching through where she’d just written herself a note.

“We also have to try to find out who the children are; we didn’t find any records of names or ages in his personal desk, but his library had hundreds of books, so he might have hidden important documents there. I have an Auror searching every book. Harry’s also assigned an Unspeakable to the case, though we won’t know anything except results should he or she find a magically hidden compartment in the house. He doesn’t want to risk one of the Aurors missing something really developed.”

“It’s a smart idea, but it’s bothersome having an Unspeakable involved when it comes before the Wizengamot,” she mutters, rubbing the back of her neck as she looks at Ron. “If it’ll help, it’ll be worth the trouble, though.”

“Here’s a list of the personnel assigned to the case.” Ron passes a roll of parchment across the desk. “I included clerks and admin, too, because Harry wants to keep a tight hold on information right now.”

She nods. “Yes, he mentioned that. I’ll be sure to make Susan aware, just so she doesn’t accidentally say anything to Parvati when she goes home tonight.”

“Good idea.” Ron leans back in the chair and yawns. “Sorry. Been a long day. Think I could have Hugo tonight? I sort of need to see him after today.”

“I actually dropped by the Burrow after leaving Harry at Finnigan’s,” she admits. “And that’s fine. I’m sure he’d enjoy sleeping over. I’ll probably work late, then, and try to sort through the file as well as I can so far.”

“Great. I’ll get him from Mum’s after work, and drop him off in the morning. He’s got clean clothes on my flat. Stopping that question before you ask. Like I can’t do laundry or something.”

“Perhaps I ask it because of the number of times I’ve dropped Hugo by to see piles of dirty clothes waiting to be washed.”

“Twice. Two times and you make it sound like a hundred.”

“That’s two times too many.”

“You know, I’m not bringing up how many times I’ve dropped by the house to see weeds and leaves in the garden or noticed that the rug needed hoovering.”

“Point. However, Hugo isn’t going to wearing a rug or weeds.”

“No, he’s going to be wearing clean clothes that I washed myself.”

She smiles before studying him closely. He seems off this afternoon, more so than usual regardless of the case. “Are you really okay, Ron?” she asks softly, knowing how difficult it is for him to deal with dead people of any sort, much less children.

“As well as I can be considering,” he says simply. “I’ll be fine, Hermione. No need to worry about me. Are you okay?”

“As well as I can be considering,” she repeats with a wry smile. “Seriously, I’m better now. You know it just hits me hard at first, then I can adjust and focus. Warrington’s going to wish he’d never seen a child in his life by the time I’m through with him, of course, so plotting the destruction of a murdering abuser is a good distraction.”

“Of course he will. It’s why Harry threw a party in his office when he found out you were transferring to Magical Law all those years ago. If anyone can make the guilty suffer, it’s you.”

“Harry’s faith in my ability to make others suffer is something that I’m not at all sure is entirely complimentary.”

“So long as it’s directed at someone else, it is.” Ron smiles and stands up. “I’d better get back to work. I needed distance before I could focus again, though. Let me know if you need anything, yeah?”

“Always,” she promises. She stands up and gives him a hug before she kisses his cheek. “If Caroline’s back from lunch, would you ask her to come in here when you leave? And tell Teddy to go eat, since I doubt he has yet.”

“So bloody demanding,” he mutters, kissing her forehead before he nods. “Will do.”

As he leaves, she sits back down and makes a few notes of various things that have come to mind since lunch. When Caroline comes in, she asks her to get in touch with Kevin and Susan to set up a meeting at three. By then, she should have a grasp of the case and a rough outline written so she can get everyone on the same page. A soft knock draws her attention to the door. Teddy’s standing there and looks worried and sheepish both at the same time, which she isn’t sure she’s ever seen before.

“Ron said I had to go to lunch,” he says. “So, I’m running down the street for a sandwich. You want anything?”

“No thank you. Don’t run, Teddy. Take a real lunch break and enjoy your food before coming back,” she says firmly. “We have a meeting at three to discuss the latest case, and you’ll want to be focused for it.”

“It’s not like I meant to work through lunch,” he grumbles. “You don’t have to scold me like you’re my mum or have Ron treat me like a bloody kid.”

“I never told Ron to treat you any particular way, Lupin, and we established weeks ago that I wasn’t your mum,” she says patiently, though her tone is just sharp enough to warn him that she’s got little tolerance for whining today.

He frowns and shakes his head. “Sorry. I didn’t mean---it’s just, first Harry and then Ron, acting like I’m two years old and need my nappy changed or something.”

“Harry and I were discussing how we humans are such silly creatures because we get into habits of seeing something in one particular way, and we have trouble accepting when it changes. They haven’t had an opportunity yet to adjust to the fact that you’re not one of the children anymore. They will, though. I did, after all.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” He smiles slightly. “Don’t really care since you realized it, and that’s all that really matters. And, on that note, I’m heading to Pret-a-Manger. I’m craving a falafel wrap.”

“Oh, you’re going there?” She reaches for her pocketbook and removes a few pounds. “Will you bring me back a mango smoothie? That might make the afternoon tolerable.”

“Keep your money, Boss,” he says, refusing to accept the coins. “You look stressed, and it’s my duty as intern to make sure you relax.”

“Bribery won’t get you out of admin work,” she warns as she puts the coins back.

“No, but it makes you smile, so that‘s what‘s important,” he says simply before he turns and leaves, not even giving her a chance to get the last word. She scowls at the door and then laughs softly, shaking her head as she opens the file. Her smile fades when she concentrates and begins to write out notes for the afternoon meeting.