Congregation (Worth the Risk #53)

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“I’ll have you know that I had to call in a major favor in order to get this information,” Kevin announces as he enters the office.

“Noted,” Hermione tells him as she reaches for the thin file. “Your willingness to utilize private sources in order to gain information for a case will be remembered when it’s time for your review.”

“Brilliant.” Kevin nods at the file. “I’m not really sure how any of that ties in with Warrington, but I got what information that I could. Pureblood families are particularly close-lipped when it comes to anything scandalous, as you know.”

“Thanks, Kevin. I appreciate the effort.” He leaves the office, and she glances through the information that he’s gathered on Astoria Greengrass. There isn’t a lot there. Frustratingly, it mostly gives her more questions without providing any definite answers. She wishes that Flint had been more specific as to what she should be looking for, but she supposes that she should be glad she got a name at all.

She has a little free time in her schedule before lunch, so she gets the files for the Warrington case and opens them all on the floor by her desk. Once she has them arranged, she sits back on her heels and studies them. There are lots of pieces, some of them complete, but unrelated, and the rest missing critical bits that would give them a solid lead. She wants to avoid having to use the children to testify because that would make them suffer through everything again, so she needs enough to get a conviction without them.

As a last resort, if she can't do it any other way, she'll use them and then take their memories. That’s probably better for them in some ways anyway, but she does her best to win cases without having to delve into issues of memory. It’s a personal preference after everything with her parents, yet she also feels that it’s more challenging to win a case based on merit without pensieve testimony, whether it be from victims or the perpetrator, though she doesn’t refuse when they’re voluntarily offered. This case might be an exception to her general rule, since she knows the memories of Warrington will be enough to seal his fate if it comes to that.

The Wizengamot might not approve such an intrusive practice without enough evidence to give them reason, though. Right now, they have everything found in his home, but Corner hasn’t been able to directly link Warrington to any of the children. There was no semen or DNA left, and the blood belonged to the victims. Hermione frowns as she studies the paperwork in front of her. There’s got to be something she’s missing. No one could buy, torture and murder children while appearing sane and normal to everyone around them. She just can’t fathom it, even if she’s studied psychology during her years of training and knows it can happen.

As she studies the case, she reaches for a pen and clean piece of parchment. She begins to compile her notes and makes new flowcharts of information to join the various others that she’s created in the last few weeks regarding this case. It helps to combine various thoughts, and she taps her pen against the floor as she frowns at the parchment. Pieces of one of the puzzles are coming together, but she’s still missing information. She bites her lip and reaches for another sheet of parchment. If her suspicions are correct, then she might be able to resolve one area of the case.

When she realizes that it’s almost time for lunch, she straightens up her files and puts them back on her desk. She finishes the note that she’s writing and prepares it for the post before she gets her bag. She’s having lunch with Teddy, Harry and Ron today, which will likely require her attention, so she’ll focus back on Warrington when she returns to her office.

“Caroline, send this out for me on your way to lunch please,” she says as she enters the outer office. She’s probably going to need Caroline to rearrange part of her schedule tomorrow, but she won’t know what time until she receives a reply, so she’ll deal with that later. She thinks for a minute about whether there isn’t anything else that needs mentioning, but there's not, so she walks over to Teddy’s desk. “If you’re ready for lunch, we can go meet the boys in their offices. Closer to the lifts and all.”

“Yeah, I’m ready, Boss. Let me just finish this notation,” Teddy says as he glances up and smiles before he looks back at his desk. It doesn’t take long before he stands and stretches. “Working lunch?”

“Not this time. We’ll probably discuss work at some point, but it’s mostly a delayed celebration from my winning the case last week. Harry said to invite you along,” she tells him as they leave.

“Ah, so Harry’s the one who wants me here.” He nudges her side. “Should I be offended?”

“Not unless you’re feeling overly dramatic. After the weekend I had, feel free to decline the invitation and remain here if you are because I don’t need any more drama in my life right now,” she murmurs.

“Don’t worry. I’m a drama free zone,” he promises. “At least, I am right now. I won’t say always since I wouldn’t want to lie to you.”

“That’s commendable, and I appreciate it.” She smiles slightly as they reach Harry’s office. She nods politely at his secretary before she goes to the open door and knocks on the frame. “Oi! You ready for lunch or not?”

“Oi?” Harry looks up from a large file and shakes his head. “Don’t say that again. It sounds girly when you say it.” He stands and holds up his wand quickly. “See? Look at how fast my reflexes are. Ready to defend myself from any hex you send my way.”

“You’re lucky that I’m not in a foul mood or I’d have shown you how fast I can be when hexing a sexist git who tosses around the word ‘girly’ like it’s an insult,” she muses. “Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’ll remember your remark and decide to reprimand you via a nice hex at a later date.”

“I hate when you do that,” Harry mutters as he closes the file on his desk. “Now, I’m going to be looking over my shoulder for days until I convince myself that you’ve forgotten about it.”

“I never forget, Potter,” she says ominously before she winks at Teddy. Looking back at Harry, she smiles. “Is Ron meeting us here?”

“No, at Finnigan’s. He’s out of the office working a case, so it’s easier for him to meet us there,” Harry explains. “Hello, Godson. Planning to do some heavy reading at lunch?”

“Afternoon, Godpapa.” Teddy reaches up and removes his reading spectacles. “Forgot I still had those on. My slave driver of a boss is making me review files this week, so these help me read the messy handwriting of the Aurors.”

“You’re reviewing files so that your slave driver of a boss has a current summary of what you’ve been working on and will be able to reassign the cases before you transfer.” Hermione leads them to the lifts and pushes the button.

“Oh, that’s right. This is your last week up here, isn’t it?” Harry looks at Teddy and shakes his head. “It’s going to be strange not to have you around anymore.”

“I’ll just be downstairs. You don’t have to make it sound like I’m being sent off into space or something.” Teddy runs his fingers through his hair. “I’ll still be up here to pester you sometimes, Godpapa.”

Harry snorts as they step onto the lift. “Right. Because pestering me would be the first thing on your mind if you were up here.”

“Harry, behave,” she mutters before she elbows him lightly. She thinks that she might have preferred it when he was too bothered by her dating Teddy to tease about it. Once he and Ron pass the uncomfortable phase and reach the teasing phase, it’s never long before she’s resisting the impulse to curse them in creative ways.

Teddy snorts. “Is that even possible?”

“It’s doubtful,” she agrees, “but I live in hope.”

“See, it’s not fair when you both join forces against me,” Harry points out as the lift arrives in the Atrium.

“Who says it isn’t fair?” She smiles sweetly. “I happen to think that it is, after all.”

“You would,” Harry mutters as they stand in the shortest queue to use the Floo. “We’ll see what you say after Ron joins us and is on my side.”

“It’ll be two against two, which is a fair fight,” Teddy says.

“Just a few weeks and already whipped,” Harry says sadly as he shakes his head. Before Hermione can smack him, he steps through the Floo.

“He’s such an arse.” She rolls her eyes before she Floos to Finnigan’s. When she arrives, she smacks Harry’s shoulder immediately. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

“Bloody hell, woman. Some warning next time would be nice.” He rubs his shoulder and looks behind her as Teddy shows up. “You’re a witness when I complain to Shacklebolt about being abused by the Deputy Head of Magical Law.”

“I didn’t see anything, Auror Potter,” Teddy says innocently. He motions. “But I do see Ron over there with a table. If we don’t hurry, he might start eating the table, which wouldn’t be good.”

“Too many splinters,” Hermione adds as they make their way to Ron’s table. She sits down and watches Teddy sit across from her. She’s glad that he’s not beside her because she might have been tempted to touch. She misses him, especially after such an emotionally draining weekend. The letters they wrote were nice, but not the same as being able to snuggle against him.

“You’re staring,” Harry whispers as he sits down beside her.

“Right.” She looks away from Teddy and focuses on Ron. “Hello, Ron. I hope that you weren’t waiting long.”

“Nah, I just got here, but I’m starving already. Too much walking today. I’m ready to sit and have a pint.” He makes a face. “Not that I can yet but it’s a good goal for after work.”

“Tough case?” She opens a menu and moves her leg so that it’s just casually brushing against Teddy’s.

“Not really. Just a lot of people to interview and get statements from, which means walking all over and listening to people. My job would be much easier if it didn’t involve people,” Ron decides.

“But people are necessary for our jobs,” Teddy points out. “Hermione wouldn’t get to win so many cases without them.”

“True. Still, they talk too much,” Ron says with a shrug as he looks at his menu.

“Speaking of winning cases, this is hereby a delayed celebration of the Hawkins case, won last week by the amazing and—“

“Talented and intelligent Hermione Granger-Weasley,” Ron finishes for Harry. They both raise their hands as if they’re holding glasses and nod at her. “Well done.”

“Great job,” Harry adds before they both drink from the non-existent glasses.

She shakes her head and laughs. “You know, you could have waited for your little ritual until you actually had something to drink.” She looks at Teddy and explains, “They do this every time I win a case. It’s tradition after all these years.”

“And if she ever loses, we’ll take her out and get her pissed,” Ron declares before he knocks on the wooden table top. “But that wouldn’t become a tradition because she hates to lose.”

“Yes, she does.” Teddy nods his head in agreement. “I’ve been on her team during a pub quiz, so I speak from experience.”

“Watch it, Lupin, or I’ll make you join another team next time,” she warns as she closes her menu. She’s going to go with a burger today since the one Ron had last week looked really good.

“Sorry,” he says as his hair turns turquoise. “Of course, I might win if I’m on another team that has more Muggle knowledge.”

“Oi!” Ron shakes his head and clucks his tongue. “So young. So na´ve. You need to learn the rules, my boy.” Ron looks at Harry and sighs. “It looks like it’s up to us to teach him.”

“He must be taught the ways of survival,” Harry agrees, speaking in a serious tone even as he’s obviously fighting a smile. “Rule number one, never tell her that there might be someone more knowledgeable than her around. She won’t believe you, and it’ll just make her cross.”

“Rule number two, never ask her stupid questions in the morning until she’s had at least two cups of coffee.” Ron frowns. “Change that. Just don’t ask stupid questions ever, coffee or not.”

“Rule number three, don’t leave clothes on the floor unless you want to risk having them banished to who knows where.” Harry sighs. “I never got my favorite pair of denims back.”

“Rule number, uh, whatever, don’t ever tell her that she’s beautiful when she’s angry. She’s seen herself in the mirror during an argument, so she knows that her face turns red and she scowls in a way that isn’t adorable,” Ron confides.

“Actually, rule number one is not to listen to anything these two prats say,” Hermione interrupts, glaring at Harry and Ron before focusing her glare at Teddy when he laughs. “Something funny?”

“Not at all,” he says smoothly. He looks at Harry and Ron. “Thank you for the advice, but I think I prefer to figure out my own rules. Call it the arrogance of youth or a natural curiosity, but I’d rather learn for myself.”

“Good answer,” she says with a slight smile. She looks at Harry and Ron when they snicker. “Problem?”

“Nope. Of course not.” Harry pushes his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. “Just remembering when I used to be young and daring.”

“Ah, I remember those days well.” Ron shakes his head. “It feels like only yesterday when I was flying through the air wearing nothing but a pair of shorts on a dare.”

“That was yesterday,” Harry points out. “It was a bloody good dare, too, if you hadn’t been stubborn enough to actually do it. I’d have won the match.”

“Harry, my dear best friend, you’ll never win a chess match against me, dares or not,” Ron announces. He looks at Hermione and winks. “Tell him, Hermione. If it’s coming from you, he might actually believe it.”

“Harry, next time? Win,” she says simply.

“I’ll try my best.” Harry grins before he stands up. “I’ll go place our orders. What does everyone want?”

“I’ll help,” Teddy offers as he gets to his feet. “Not even the Harry Potter can carry four glasses without help.”

She and Ron give their orders, and she watches Teddy walk with Harry to the bar. After they reach it, she looks at Ron. They didn’t have a chance to talk after his visit last night to speak with Rose, and she’s curious to find out what happened. “Are things better with Rose now?”

“I hope so.” He shrugs. “We talked, but I don’t really understand where she’s coming from, so it’s tough. Mostly, I listened and tried not to make things worse. She takes after you too much when it comes to wanting to know everything and analyzing every little detail.”

“I think listening is pretty important. I’m trying to understand, so maybe that’ll help. She was really upset this weekend, but I think she’s going to get better about both of us moving on, even if it takes time.”

“Most things seem to take time so far as I can tell. I just can’t believe that she went to bloody Malfoy’s. I don’t know why you let her be friends with that kid,” Ron mutters.

“As if I’d try to control who she is and isn’t friends with?” She rolls her eyes. “You should know me better than that. Besides, Scorpius offered her good advice, from what I’ve been able to tell.”

“Good advice from a Malfoy is like one of those what are they called? An oxymoron?” Ron frowns as he thinks about it, and she can’t help but smile.

“Big word. It’s the right one, even if I disagree that it’s appropriate in this case.”

“I do know some big words. Like I could know you for ages and not have learned some.” He makes a face before he nods. “But, yeah, I think things are better now than they have been since she got home from school. I’m going to plan something with Mel over the weekend when they’re over and see how Rose acts. Guess time will tell.”

“That’s a good idea. Teddy’s coming over for dinner this week for the same reason,” she tells him. “Well, not just that reason, but we’ll see how things go.”

Harry and Teddy return then with drinks. She accepts her glass of pumpkin juice and takes a sip as she listens to them start discussing a recent Quidditch match. She doesn’t really care about the match, but it’s nice to see Teddy relaxed and talking to her best friends as if he’s their equal instead of a kid they helped raise. It’s not a total acceptance of everything, but it’s a good step forward.