Harry and Hermione become more comfortable with each other at work, to the chagrin of a certain snooty Weasley. Hermione discovers something disturbing about Magiczal Family Law. Harry and crew s...
Chapter 14 - Stakeout
Harry and Hermione took their children to the Burrow, ensuring they arrived at different times so as not to give the impression they were together together. The Elder Weasleys were thrilled to watch over their treasured grandchildren while the son and daughter in law were at work.
The off-the-record couple stopped by the Ministry Tea Shoppe for a morning cuppa. They enjoyed the semi-privacy of one of the tiny tables as they discussed child-minding options.
"We could enroll them in the Ministry Day Care program." Hermione suggested.
"That might not be a bad idea," Harry agreed, "It would give them a chance to socialize, y'know, spend time around other magical children their own age."
"I really wanted them to interact with non-magical children as well."
"They don't exactly fit in with ordinary children their own age."
"Ordinary?" Hermione asked, grinning.
"I don't like the word muggle. And the US equivalent, 'mundane', sounds slightly insulting." Harry explained, "Besides, if non-magical children are ordinary, that makes ours extraordinary, right?"
Hermione had to agree.
At just over two years of age, Albus and Rose were articulate, well on their way to becoming literate, more like children of four or five, and James was already reading at primary school levels. This was partly because of their magical heritage but also due to the fact that Harry and Hermione were constantly engaging the children in enriching activities, reading with them, and talking to them in ways that encouraged higher level thinking. Most of their fun and games activities involved logic and problem solving, with the occasional koan thrown in to help develop critical thinking skills.
"I could hire a nanny." Harry suggested.
"Only if I get to interview her, I've heard stories."
Harry looked at her with raised eyebrows, "Stories?"
"Young girls, of limited means, take jobs as governesses to worm their way into the hearts and minds of unsuspecting, rich patrons."
"No, Harry. There are a statistically significant number of marriages that have ended in divorce, with the husband throwing the wife over for the nanny."
"Hmmmm, a sweet young thing. . ."
Hermione swatted Harry's arm, "Prat!"
"We could engage a house elf." Harry suggested.
"Or you could be a stay-at-home dad, daddy!"
Harry's eyes seemed to glaze over at the suggestion. "A full time dad. What a concept."
"Well, why not?" Hermione asked.
"All right, Mrs. Granger-Weasley, you've got yourself a deal, just as soon as this one case is cleared up, I'm putting in for an indefinite leave of absence."
Hermione gasped, "Are you sure, Harry?"
He took both her hands in his and said,"More sure than anything, except for the one thing."
"And that is?" she asked.
"The one thing, first and foremost is, of course, I love you."
A single tear ran down her cheek, "Oh, Harry. Do you know what you do to me when you say that?"
He reached forward with a tissue to dab the tear from her face. "I think so, that's why I'll never get tired of saying it."
"Damn you, Harry, if we weren't in plain view of the whole world I'd kiss you stupid!"
Harry crossed his eyes and made a face,"Too late!"
Their shared laughter turned a few heads, but no one minded.
Sheila, the girl behind the tea bar whispered to the patron at the register, "Those two have been through enough for ten lifetimes, and deserve a bit of happiness."
The redheaded customer at the register scowled, "Their spouses aren't even cold in their graves yet and there /they/sit, are acting like a pair of hormonal school children. It's disgusting."
Percy Weasley found himself face-down in his breakfast purchase, which leaked all over the countertop.
Karl Thornton, an employee from the Department of Magical Creatures apologized profusely, "Oh! Sorry, Junior Undersecretary, this pigasus just won't stay tethered."
The pink bodied, white winged piglet flew in excited circles at head level, forcing several ministry employees to duck.
Disgruntled, Percy Weasley stormed away, leaving his ruined breakfast behind.
Upton Stebbins cheerfully dropped three silver sickles in the open palm of the trained-pigasus handler.
"Always a pleasure doing business with you, Karl."
"Anytime Upton, you want to see the fire-breathing chicken next?"
The detective smiled and said, "Later, perhaps."
As soon as Harry stepped into his office he called for Stebbins.
"I need to know everything there is to know about Cognivores, and the people who mind them."
"I'll get right on it, sir."
"Put a team together, if I'm right we'll need obliviators and legilimens - and everyone on the team will have to be atrained occlumens."
Upton raised an eyebrow at that.
"Don't worry about me, detective, I'm only using temporary shields from now on." He crossed his heart and raised his hand, "Scout's honor."
"You were never a Boy Scout, sir."
"True, but I promised Hermione."
"Fair enough, sir."
"I'd like that report before the close of day today, Upton."
Stebbins was a little shocked to hear the Lieutenant use his first name, "It'll be on your desk by lunch, sir."
The Detective was as good as his word. Harry took him to lunch.
As soon as they were seated in the ministry dining hall, Upton cast a privacy ward around the table and began his report.
"Nicholas Farkas has been the one constant throughout. He was a junior researcher when the first Cognivores came to the Department of Mysteries thirty years ago. He's the only one who's stayed with them the whole time."
"What else do we know about Mr. Farkas?
"Ninth-generation pureblood, never married."
"Married to his job?" Harry guessed.
"Looks like." Upton agreed, "He spends days at a time transferring data to and from the cogs, one of only three master legilimens in the ministry."
"What can you tell me about cognivores?"
"Well, at first blush they don't seem to need to eat, but that's not true, they don't need to very often, but they do eat." Upton explained.
"What do they eat?"
"A fatty, protein enriched broth."
"Chicken soup, sir."
"How do they eat? I don't recall seeing a mouth when I visited them a few months back." Harry said, reminiscing.
"Those ribbon-like tendrils have micro tubules; the Cognivores dip them into the broth container to absorb the nutrients."
Harry could tell Stebbins was dying to say more.
Upton smiled, "They can't be tracked or traced by their magical signature."
Harry's eyes widened in surprise, "But all magic creatures have a magical signature."
"With this one exception, according to Lyn Huan, that's the DoM head's administrative assistant, the cogs do not show up on any of our standard scans. The boys and girls in the Department of Mysteries think the reason is because the cogs are artificially created creatures."
"You said standard scans won't work, what will?"
Upton smiled, "Most scans are passive, detecting the innate potential of the magical being, but an active scan, like a pulse, should produce an echo."
"Are they as fragile as they appear?"
"They are susceptible to any of the offensive curses, bludgeoning, cutting, reducto. And something that Farkas didn't tell me."
"What's that?" Harry asked, impressed with Stebbin's initiative.
"High concentrations of soap or detergent, like dishwashing liquid or laundry detergent will reduce them to puddles of goo."
"Anything else?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, they have a sort of shared consciousness."
Harry nodded, "Mr. Farkas mentioned something like that when I spoke to him, apparently if one cognivore is destroyed, all the data in that one is saved, in part, in the remaining cogs."
The aurors finished lunch, and then headed back to Harry's office to brainstorm.
Meanwhile, Hermione was researching wizard marriage laws. No surprises here, she did not like what she'd learned.
She needed to speak to Harry.
"You want to serve papers on an employee of the Department of Mysteries?"
Harry nodded and passed the subpoena to Madame Proudfoot, the current head Auror of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
"Legally, you're on dangerously thin ice here, Lieutenant."
"I trust my gut on this one, ma'am. The autopsy on the non-magical victim in Kensington was conclusive; he'd been attacked and killed by a cognivore, several miles from the ministry building. Worse still, there have been similar attacks dating back thirteen years."
The DMLE chief signed off on the paperwork, warning, "You'd better be right about this one, Harry, or there'll be hell to pay."
When Harry returned to his office he was pleasantly surprised to see Hermione there.
"Lieutenant Potter, a word please?"
"Of course, Deputy Director." He smirked as he began to close the door, thinking, in the middle of the day, in my office?
"You can leave the door open, Lieutenant."
"It's about my daughter, my daughters, Harry."
He left the office door open and directed Hermione to the more comfortable chair.
"I'm all ears, Hermione."
She seemed to study the surface of Harry's desk, took a deep breath, let half of it out and said, "According to wizarding law, if a muggleborn widow re-marries, her children /must/remain with the father's family."
She looked up, eyes brimming with tears,"If we marry, then Rose and Emma are supposed to go to the Weasleys, any of whom can claim her as blood kin."
"Would they really do that?" Harry asked, not wanting to believe they would.
"The Weasleys are an old, pureblood family. Bill or Charlie or Percy or George could claim my daughters as their own and, legally, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on."
"What about the head of the family? Couldn't Arthur intervene for us?"
"He could, Harry. The question really is, would he, would he go against the wishes of his wife or any of his surviving sons?"
Harry looked thoughtful for a moment, then, in a move that endeared him even more to Hermione, he reached for alarge, dusty tome titled, Magical Family Law.
Flipping to the index he muttered while scanning the page, "I know I saw something about. . ."
His "eureka" smile shattered the gloom that had fallen over the couple.
Harry thumped the open page, "I thought I'd seen something, and its better than we could have hoped for, see?"
He shared the salient paragraphs with Hermione.
"Oh thank God!" then looked at Harry with adoring eyes, "The Weasleys will have to honor this, won't they?"
Harry smiled and said, "Leave that to me." Still smiling he got up and closed the door to his office, then set silencing charms around the room. A little celebration was in order.
"Tell me, Mrs. Granger-Weasley," he asked, his eyes smoldering with lust, "have you ever been interrogated?"
She sank deep into the comfortable chair as Harry knelt in front of her, one hand on each of her thighs, urging them to spread apart, revealing the treasure at their juncture.
"You have the right to remain silent,"he said, pushing her skirt up as he hooked his fingers into the elastic waistband of her knickers, "but frankly, I'm hoping you'll want to make alittle noise."
Hermione lifted her bum so that Harry could slide the undergarment off more easily.
"W-what are you going to do, Lieutenant?" she gasped as he ran his hands over her bottom, urging her to slide forward so that her legs were splayed wide at the edge of the seat cushion. She propped herself up on her elbows so that she could see his face.
"Well, Madam Deputy Director, I was thinking of giving you a good tongue-lashing."
Harry smiled and extended his tongue, which he then touched with the tip of his wand, charming his lingual muscle so that it lengthened.
Still smiling he used his 'enhancement'to touch the tip of his nose, then the bridge of his nose. When he used it to groom his eyebrows Hermione sighed and fell back into the soft cushion, saying,"Do your worst, officer, I'll never talk!"
A little over an hour later, Hermione left his office feeling much better.
Harry briefed the teams bound for Kensington that evening.
"Active scans on this one, boys and girls, passive scans won't work. If you see anything, and I mean anything resembling red ribbons, reducto first, then ask questions later. Teams of two, stay at least four paces apart, keep your partner in sight at all times.
Winston Hall raised his hand, "What if Cheryl has to use the loo?"
His partner, Cheryl Lighter gave him apoisonous glare.
"Then I recommend that both you and Auror Lighter take care of that before your shift starts, because if one of you gets taken out because the other has to have a piss then the surviving partner needn't come back."
Harry went on in a more somber vein,"This is deadly serious people, this thing has killed God only knows how many people in the past thirteen years, I don't want any of you to add yourselves to that roster."
You could have heard a pin drop.
"Call me as soon as you detect this thing, remember, it is expendable, none of you are. Be careful out there. Dismissed."
The teams nodded and portkeyed to Kensington.
Harry partnered with Upton and apparated to the common garden behind the Weasley's flat, then quickly disillusioned themselves in case anyone had heard the sounds of their arrival.
"Now we wait?" Upton asked.
"Now we wait." Harry said.
The first night no one had anything to report, neither did any of the teams on the second, third nor fourth night.
The fifth night Hall and Lighter were cursing the dark and the fog when Cheryl Lighter felt an ominous tickle on the back of her neck. She turned just in time to see the bulk of a thick bundle of red ribbon-like tendrils hovering a hand's span from her face.
She dropped, rolled and sent a flaming, cutting curse at the thickest part of the creature.
Cheryl heard what sounded like a shriek, then realized she was the one screaming.
Her partner, Winston, severed the single tendril that had stubbornly remained fixed to the back of her neck.
Cheryl's eyes rolled up in her head and she lay still.
Harry and Upton stood with Auror Hall at Cheryl Lighter's bed-side while a St. Mungo's healer shone a bright light into her patient's eyes.
"Auror Lighter, can you hear me?"
"T-too many voices." She managed to croak out.
"I didn't hear any voices, Lef' tenant."Winston Hall whispered.
Harry regarded the healer, "How much longer, Healer Jones?"
"I'd say give her another three hours, four would be better. After all, it's oh-two-hundred now, and she needs rest."
"Very well, Healer, we can come back later in the morning." Harry turned to the other veteran auror, "Hall, good on you for bringing down the cog."
"I didn't, sir, I mean, I helped, but it was Lighter who brought it down - she hit it with a flame curse before it got areally good hold on her. Bloody thing went up like a torch."
"Not surprising," Harry said, "It was made up of mostly fat."
"The smell," he said, shuddering, "like a grease fire, it was enough to put me off chips for a year."
"It didn't show up on any of your active scans?"
"No sir, we'd just finished a sweep of the high street when the fog rolled in, then all of a sudden, Cheryl is on the ground screaming with one of those bloody red ribbons stuck to her neck."
"Well the healer says she'll be fine, go home, I'll see you back here at oh seven-hundred, all right?"
"If it's all the same to you, Lef'tenant, I'll just kip here till Cheryl wakes up."
Harry nodded. He understood, if it were/his/ partner in the hospital he'd want to stay as well. Ron had been his partner, right up until Harry's promotion. After that they were still mates, but the working dynamic was gone.
"That's a good idea, Hall. Call me if she wakes up earlier and is ready to tell us what happened."
In the Department of Mysteries one cognivore levitated from the tank then floated, undetected, out of the room, then out of the building.
Harry tried to be quiet and not wake the softly snoring Hermione but as soon as he'd settled into bed she wrapped herself around him.
"Hey, you." She murmured.
"Hey, yourself." He answered back, giving her a tender kiss. "Sorry to wake you, love."
"S' okay, I was married to an auror for eight years - I know what your schedule is like. How'd it go, the stakeout, I mean?"
"Good and not so good." Harry said.
"Did you get the bad guy?"
"Yes, but one of my aurors, Lighter, was hurt."
"Will he be okay?"
"He's a she, and she's in some kind of spell induced sleep."
"So, kiss her and wake her up."
"Nope, not me - I'm spoken for. Her partner might be contemplating it right about now."
"Was it what we thought?"
"Yeah, apparently a rogue cognivore. It's dead now."
Hermione kissed him again and settling back for a nice snuggle said, "My hero."
"Thank Lighter and Hall; they're the ones who took out the thing."
"Yes, but you had the awesome responsibility of command."
He chuckled, "I'll leave that out of the commendation. I'm recommending them both for citations for courage under fire."
"You're so good at what you do, I'm proud to know you, Harry Potter."
"Go to sleep."
"Okay," she said, emphasizing her acquiescence with a prodigious yawn, "I've been wanting to go back to our old flat to pick up a few things, it's Saturday, so I can do that today and maybe take our kids to the play park in Kensington."
Harry may or may not have heard, as he was already snoring.
Later that Saturday morning, Harry stood by Auror Lighter's bedside, wishing he could be as visibly anxious as her partner, Auror Hall.
The healer rechecked her vitals and frowned, "She should be up and about by now, it's like something has attached itself to her sleep-center and told her not to wake up. See her eyes?"
Rapid eye movement, REM sleep, it means she's dreaming."
The healer double checked her vital signs, then shook her head and left.
Harry looked at the other auror in the room and asked, "Hall, um, Winston?"
Auror Hall was bleary eyed from lack of sleep; he'd stayed awake all night. "Yes sir?"
"I've got a hunch that whatever is keeping Lighter asleep would be, um, open to an invasive legilimency probe, are you okay with that?"
Winston's eyes grew wide, "Don't you need a magisterial order for that, Lef' tenant?"
"I don't think time is on our side here, Winston. A court order will take all morning, and, I've got a nagging feeling, we may not have that much time."
The veteran auror slumped in his chair and said, "If anyone asks, I was asleep the whole time, right, Lef' tenant?"
Harry smiled and nodded, then placed his hand on Auror Lighter's forehead and whispered "Legilimens."
Harry found himself in a room, teeming with people. There was a cacophony of voices, some trying desperately to be heard above all others. He looked around the room and saw a distinctive mop of red hair in the center of the throng.
Harry pushed his way through the crowded room, one man, an old derelict from the looks of him asked, "Have you seen my dog?"
"No. Sorry, mate."
Another man wandered, eyes unfocused, speaking in an eastern European dialect. Finally he found what he was looking for. Auror Lighter cowered in a corner as dozens of men and women badgered her for attention, each convinced that his or her need was greater than Cheryl's.
Harry placed two fingers in his mouth and the resulting "Fweeeeeeeeeet!" got everyone's attention.
Harry knelt down next to his DMLE officer, "Auror Lighter?"
The woman kept both hands over her ears and shook her head.
"Auror, this is your watch commander. Report!"
Cheryl removed her hands from her ears and looked at Harry, "Lef' tenant, did it get you too?"
"No, auror, it didn't. Tell me what happened."
"Well, sir, I was just finishing my active sweep of High Street when I felt a tickle at the back of my neck. Iturned and saw this, this floating brain with red ribbons trailing, just like you said, and I hit it with a flame curse."
Harry smiled, "Auror Hall said you favor that one."
"Yeah, Winston says it's because my name is Lighter."
"Tell me about it."
With a gesture, Harry prompted her to continue.
"Well, sir, I started hearing a lot of screaming, and then I realized it was voices, too many voices, all trying to talk to me at the same time, and they kept getting louder and louder and crowding closer and closer."
Harry turned to see the faces in the crowd. All of them looked expectantly back. "Have you seen my dog?" a pitiful voice asked. There were murmurs of other questions then a familiar voice called, "Harry?"
Harry looked to his right and saw Ron Weasley, looking a little lost and very desperate.
"Harry? Harry, you've got to stop him, he's after the baby!"