Comprehension (Worth the Risk #45)

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The conference room smells better than the one downstairs. Hermione’s glad that she managed to schedule a meeting for this one because there’s more space to be comfortable. Of course, the main reason that it was still available on short notice is because there aren’t many people inclined to have meetings on Monday morning. It’s not the best time, especially when Mondays are generally busy and hectic, but she likes the idea of going over new information since their last meeting and having tasks for the upcoming week.

She arrives in the conference room before the rest of her team. She deliberately gave herself ten minutes so that she could escape her office on time and have a few minutes alone to review the file. The Warrington case is a priority, but there seems to have been little progress made in recent weeks. They have clues and ideas to pursue, but it just takes so bloody long to get results. Studying the case is a good distraction from her personal life, though, so she focuses intently and compares her thoughts to her notes.

It’s been a couple of weeks since their last meeting, so she hopes that there is new information to analyze. Teddy has spent the morning down with Greg, so there’s a possibility that he’s made progress with the children. She hasn’t seen him yet to ask, since he went straight to Wizarding Welfare upon arriving at work for an early meeting. The weekend was alright, but she misses him. A couple of letters aren’t the same as having him with her.

When the door opens, she glances up and smiles at Kevin. “Morning.”

“Hiya, Boss,” Kevin says as he takes a seat and begins reviewing his notes. “You do realize that a meeting before lunch on a Monday is evil, don’t you?”

“Of course. It’s what you have to endure when you have a cruel boss,” she tells him matter-of-factly.

“Who has a cruel boss?” Susan asks as she enters the conference room. She puts down a messy stack of piles that has Hermione itching to organize them.

“We do.” Kevin grins. “It’s why we’re here for a meeting at this ungodly time.”

Susan shrugs. “Eh, the way I look at it is that we get to go from here to lunch, so it’s not all bad. Where’s Lupin? He’s usually here before me.”

“He’s down with Goyle in Welfare this morning. They were having another interview with the children, but he should be here soon.” She frowns at her file and makes a couple of notes to research further later. “I wanted to get our progress meeting out of the way early this week so that we can work on the case with some definite direction this week.”

“Sorry I’m late.” Teddy enters the room and closes the door behind him. He looks rushed and agitated, but he flashes a quick smile that lets her know he’s okay. He sits down and runs his hand through his hair. “Did I miss anything?”

“We decided that Boss is cruel for Monday morning meetings,” Kevin offers. “But Susan put it into perspective by mentioning lunch. Food makes most things better.”

“We just started,” Susan says. “Direction for the week and all that.”

“Do you have any information from your sessions with the children?” Hermione asks as she marks off a new section of her notes.

“Unfortunately, not much. It’s taken them a while to even speak, and Howard still doesn’t say a lot unless it’s about my faces. Beth is more curious, but she asks questions about magic and never mentions their time with Warrington, which is understandable but frustrating. We’re thinking about letting Lavender speak with them, to see if she can draw out more information.”

She mutters under her breath when he says that they’ve not made any progress with the children. She knows it takes time, especially with children who have been through traumatic events, but she wants to feel confident for the trial. They probably have enough to get a sentence already, but there’s just enough room for Warrington to possibly maneuver his way out of if he hires someone willing to do anything for the money. She wants it airtight; then she’ll be able to move on to another case without worrying about this one so much.

“Yes, that’s a good idea. She might be able to get something or, at the least, she can give you some suggestions on the best approach. They don’t need to be put through anything more than they’ve already gone through, but we have to have more if we want this to be solid for trial. I don’t want to go in and get blindsided because we don’t have enough to seal his fate.”

“I heard from Vane finally. She didn’t have anything for us, though. Everything she could find out about Warrington just confirms what we already know. Wealthy, Pureblood, donates money and time to children’s causes, and there’s nothing in his past that seems suspicious. He’s clean, so far as the public knows.”

“Bugger.” Susan says what Hermione would like to say. “How could he hide something like that? The man’s a monster. I can’t believe no one saw that regardless of how much money he gave away.”

“People like that are good at hiding,” she says. She knows that from experience. Before she can go over the next point, there’s a knock on the door. “Yes?”

Ron pokes his head in. “Oh, good. Found you.” He comes into the room and closes the door. “We just got new information that I wanted to give you before your meeting, but I missed you.”

“About Warrington?” She sits up straighter and takes the thin file from him.
“Actually, I have news about one of the kids,” Ron says. “The boy is Howard O’Connell, age nine, and he went missing five months ago from Glasgow. He’s an orphan, so there haven’t been any relatives looking for him. The appropriate paperwork was filed, and they worked under the assumption that he ran away. It’s not uncommon with orphans, it seems, so no one really looked for him. That file is all that we got from the Muggle authorities.”

“A nine year old boy running away isn’t a cause for concern?” Teddy asks, sounding as dumbfounded as she feels. “That’s ridiculous.”

“They’re Muggles.” Ron fidgets when she gives him A Look and suddenly finds the table very interesting. “I mean, maybe it happens enough that they don’t investigate properly. It’s shoddy work, whatever. They didn’t do much of anything, from what I can tell.”

She skims the file and is disgusted at how easily the police wrote the boy off as a runaway. While she can understand heavy caseloads, there’s no excuse for not giving proper attention to a case involving a child, especially one so young. “I’m going to file a complaint about this with the Muggle Liaison. It won’t really do much, but maybe it’ll make them think twice before being this lazy again.”

“Harry’s taking it to Shacklebolt in their next meeting, so something might happen.” Ron grins suddenly. “You know Harry. He hates filling out paperwork unless it’s necessary. Anyway, I’ve got to get back to work. I just wanted you to have that information ASAP.”

“Thanks, Ron. Tell Harry that I’ll make the complaint official,” she says, making a note to remind herself to fill out the forms later. “Alright, I’ll make copies of this and send them around later. Ron’s right, though. There’s really not much information here beyond location and name. Susan, I want you to go to Glasgow and look into this. See if you can spot anything that might give us an idea about what really happened.”

“Got it, Boss. I’ll head up there tomorrow morning and talk to the orphanage people. Maybe they’ll remember something helpful.” Susan frowns in thought. “I might take Summerby with me, if we can spare him. He might be useful.”

Hermione arches a brow and considers it. Summerby is brilliant with memory charms, which would be helpful when dealing with Muggles depending on what might come up during the investigation. He’s also good with interrogation, an area that Susan still isn’t exceptionally strong in. She admires the fact that Susan is aware of her weaknesses and doesn’t want to jeopardize the case out of pride. “Take him with you. He’s not in the middle of anything major at the moment.”

“What can I do?” Kevin asks. “Susan’s got the Glasgow investigation and Ted’s working with the children. Should I keep on following the interaction leads?”

“I need you to stay with Warrington. I know it’s frustrating not finding anything, but just stick with it. Give me a history of him, since he left Hogwarts, and find out his associates, whether they’re professional or just names that come up often for the charities or guest lists. We can analyze those and see if there are any indications of where to take that investigation next.”

“It is frustrating,” Kevin agrees, “but it’s necessary. Vane did give me a list of different events he attended, so I’ll start looking into those. I’m also still trying to pursue your lead about Swift Air, but whoever bought the company obviously doesn’t want to be located. Everything’s stayed with the same name, and employees are either not talking or don’t know anything.”

“Alright. I’ll take that over. You focus on Warrington. Susan, you’ve got Glasgow and Howard’s kidnapping. Teddy, keep working with the children and update me as you have been.” She looked down at her notes. “Warrington still hasn’t arranged for defense or made a plea. He’s being held at Azkaban, and I’ve been told that he’s not had any visitors at all. I don’t know how much longer he’ll wait, since it’s been three weeks already, but I prefer the knowledge that he’s in prison instead of out awaiting trial. Anyway, I think that concludes everything. Keep me in the loop, as always.”

“Sure thing, Boss.” Susan gathers her disorderly pile of files and leaves, closely followed by Kevin.

“I’ve got my report from today’s meeting with the children ready,” Teddy says after they’re alone. “Would you want to go to lunch to discuss it, Boss?”

She looks up and notices his sly grin, fully aware that discussing work is the last thing on his mind. After a moment, she nods. “We can have a working lunch, Teddy. Let me get everything put away then we’ll go. Say ten minutes?”

“Ten minutes. And that’s one swat for the day,” he murmurs as he stands up.

“Goodbye, Ted.” She stresses his name, and he winks before he goes back to his desk. She shakes her head and smiles as she finishes making notes from the meeting.

Once she finishes, she leaves the conference room and goes down the corridor to her office. Teddy’s at his desk working on something but looks up and smiles when she enters the office. She nods at him before giving Caroline the report from Ron to copy and send to the rest of the team. When she gets into her office, she puts things away and rubs the back of her neck while she considers her schedule for the week. It’s going to be busy, but she wouldn’t work in this department if she wanted a slow week.

After she gets her bag, she picks up a file and goes back into the outer office. “Ted, are you ready?”

“Sure thing, Boss.” He gets up and grabs his files before he joins her.

“Caroline, I’ll be at Finnigan’s having a working lunch if you need me. Be sure to take your full lunch today. I noticed that you took a shorter one on Friday.”

They leave the office and manage to catch the lift without waiting. It’s crowded in the lift, so she’s pushed against Teddy as more people get on at the third floor. He touches her back, but she doesn’t look at him. When his hand moves down to grip her bum, however, she steps back and makes sure that her heel lands on the front of his shoe. There’s casual touching in a crowded lift and then there’s dangerous wandering hands that can be seen by anyone.

The lift arrives at the Atrium, and she exits with him close behind. “That was just mean,” he whispers as they walk to the Floo queue. “Those heels are lethal, by the way.”

“Be glad that I was only able to reach your foot,” she mutters, “or you’d have felt it somewhere even more uncomfortable.”

“It’s probably really warped that I want to word-I-can’t-say-at-work you right now after such a threat,” he muses as they get into the queue. He opens one of the files he’s holding and shows it to her as he ducks his head down by her ear. “I missed you this weekend.”

“Ditto.” She looks down at the file and smiles when she sees the note that he’s written. “I’m not, but thank you for the compliment.” She reaches down and closes the file before anyone else can see that the note simply says ‘You’re beautiful’.

“We’ve had this conversation before. I was right then, and I’m right now,” he says simply as they arrive at the Floo.

Instead of arguing with him, she tosses in Floo powder and steps through and into Finnigan’s. He joins her, and she requests a private booth for a working lunch. Soon, they are seated in the back with charms around the area to keep their conversation confidential. She puts the file down and opens the menu as she relaxes.

“Is Rose all settled in then?” Teddy asks curiously as he reads his own menu. “Your letter mentioned some discomfort last night.”

“I think so. Ron was being paranoid for a while, but I didn’t really notice anything outright. It’s always strange to go back home after your first year away at school, I think. It takes time to get back into the habit of not being on a school schedule, so Rose is adjusting pretty well.”

“I’m glad. Did you tell her and Hugo about us?”

“Not yet.” She glances up. “It didn’t seem the best time. I will, though. I wanted to give Rose a chance to relax after a long school year.”

“Why can’t she relax while knowing about us?” His hair slowly changes from brown to dark purple. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just-I want that bit over, you know? I know you’re worried, and I am, too, and we’ll know how they take it after so we can deal. “

“I know. It’s just not something I can announce casually. I’ll tell them soon. Promise.”

“Alright.” He studies her a moment before he says, “Why didn’t you tell me about Ginny?”

“What do you mean?”

“That she’s not accepting us at all and likely being a huge bitch to you?” He sighs. “We said that we’d be honest and talk about stuff, but we’re not doing that if you’re protecting me from how people really are reacting and all.”

“I’ve mentioned that Ginny was having difficulty, haven’t I?” She honestly can’t remember now that she’s thinking about it. Maybe she didn’t tell him.

“I stopped by there last night for dinner and to see the kids, since James and Al are home now. It was…uncomfortable. Not the kids or even Harry, but she was cool to me. She’s never been that way before, and she was snappy about my breaking up with Victoire at Easter, like I did something wrong. From what I can tell, she’d been talking to Fleur, who needs to keep her nose out of Vic’s business because it was a mutual bloody decision.”

“Had she told Fleur?” She felt a moment of panic that only eased slightly when he shook his head. “Are you sure?”

“She wouldn’t have, not with Harry on our side. They seemed tense together, but not in the way that makes me think things aren’t going to resolve. I don’t know. It was just a weird time, and I realized how tough it must be for you, since you’ve known her so long and been her sister-in-law.” He shrugs. “I was hurt that you hadn’t shared it with me, let me try to make it better or something.”

“Well, there’s not really anything that you could do, Ted. I’m sorry that you had to deal with that but, really, it might be even worse than that once our relationship is widely known. Are you sure that you want to go through that? Maybe lose friends and realize how people really feel?”

She’s scared of his answer. She still worries about reactions and fears losing a lot of people close to her, but she’s resolved to give them a chance and to stop hiding if they continue their relationship. The idea of him ending it makes it difficult to breathe properly.

“Hey, none of that,” he says firmly, nudging his leg against hers. “I’m sure. I’d rather know who my real friends are, anyway. It’s just maddening, in a way, that our personal life is anyone’s business, and I hate that you’re having to go through so much just to be with me. I’m going through some stuff, too, yeah, but it’s mostly falling on you. It’s just not fair.”

“Ginny cares about you, and she’s got this inability to see things as anything but black and white. So, I’m the villain, in her eyes, and I don’t know if that will ever change. I hate that Harry’s having marital trouble because of me, but it’s not something I can control.” She makes a face. “I’m sorry that she took some of her attitude out on you, though.”

“I’m a big boy, Hermione. I can handle it.” He looks at her intently. “Understood? No protecting me or trying to deal with all this on your own. We’re in this together, and I want to share in everything, the good and the bad.”

After a moment, she nods and smiles. “Understood. Now, tell me about your weekend. I missed you.”