Cho and Hermione are busy at work. Narcissa and Bellatrix have a candid chat.
Of Investigations, Interchanges and Interviews
(Author's Note: Sorry for the delay in updating, folks. I was away over the last week and have just returned. Here is the new chapter. All criticism is welcome.
I have made a couple of assumptions here. I assumed that the Wizarding Social Services are part of DMLE - this is the closest, given the list of Departments in the Ministry (courtesy HP-Lexicon). Is anyone aware of where exactly Wizarding Social Services would fit? Also, I have always wondered why the Order never tried to get a source inside the Daily Prophet - being a newspaper, they probably hear a lot of things they do not print. It struck me as particularly that they would get sources inside Gringotts and the Ministry, but completely ignore the most powerful news source of the Wizarding World.)
---(Beginning of the Chapter)---
Ampford Corfin, a tall, stern-eyed wizard in his late thirties, was busy flipping through the files of his latest cases. His sub-department handled, among other things, the cases of child welfare in the magical world, and consequently therefore, all issues pertaining to adoption and guardianship of children. Theoretically his sub-department was subordinate to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but Amelia Bones had ensured that the various sub-departments had sufficient autonomy - something Ampford was grateful for. He was deep in his work when a quiet, slightly accented voice hailed him, "Mr. Corfin! How are you?"
"Cho! What a pleasant surprise!", he asked raising his head. Offering his hand to the pretty Asian witch, he smiled, "I'm fine. So how is Mei?" Mei Chang was an old friend of Ampford and he had a lot of respect for the law-witch.
"Mum's fine, Mr. Corfin. She sent me to check some records for her new case."
"What do you need to access?"
"Harry Potter's guardianship files."
Ampford's eyes widened at that. He questioned, "Is Harry Potter Mei's latest client?"
"Yes, and no", answered Cho cryptically. "I'm sorry, but I can't be more specific. Now about those files?"
"Ah - yes. Let me see. He walked to a filing cabinet and tapped it with his wand, muttering, "Harry Potter!" . A folder bound in red tape, and marked `Confidential' appeared on the reading desk in front. He sighed, "Sorry, Cho. It's confidential and you would need the written permission of Harry Potter's guardians or the Minister to access it."
Cho was stymied. She queried, "Is all of it confidential? Is there no way to get the information?"
"None, I am afraid, Cho"
"Okay, Mr. Corfin. What is the standard procedure for adoption?"
"Well, you see, when we get applications, we investigate the potential guardians for suitability - financial resources, ties to the child and compatibility with the child in question. Once those are completed, and the potential guardian found suitable, the child is placed in the care of the guardian."
"What if there are many applicants?"
"In that case, there is a hearing before a judge who will determine who is the best guardian of the ones who are qualified."
"And the applications for Harry's guardianship - if any exist apart from those muggles he lives with - would be in those files?"
Ampford nodded. "Exactly what information do you need, Cho?"
"A list of applicants who filed for the guardianship of Harry Potter. The reason why he was placed with those muggles."
Ampford frowned thoughtfully, "There's no way of finding the reasons why he was placed with the muggles short of reading the files. However, there may be one thing I can do. There are counterfoils of the acknowledgements of receiving the applications from potential guardians somewhere. Let me see."
He walked round to a colossal filing cabinet which had years marked on various compartments, and tapped the year 1980 with his wand, "Guardianship application acknowledgement, Harry Potter."
Two pieces of parchment popped out. The first one was an acknowledgement of the application filed by Albus Dumbledore, and the second one of the law firm of Tarnissus Surcase. "There you have it, Cho", he smiled. "You can try talking to those people and see if you can get anything out of them."
Scrutinising the dates, Cho saw that the two applications were dated in November and December 1981 respectively. "Try 1982 as well, Mr. Corfin", she spoke, without raising her head.
Ampford Corfin repeated the procedure with the year 1982 and another parchment popped out. This was filed by the law-wizard, Wilford Smethyck, in February of 1982.
Ampford spoke, "These, as you may have understood, are merely acknowledgements of the applications filed by the various people and law firms. If you want to know on whose behalf they were acting, you will have to speak to them directly. I'm sure you will find their addresses in a list of law firms."
Cho dutifully copied down those names, and spoke, "Thank you, Mr. Corfin. Mum'll be very grateful for your help."
The wizard smiled, "You're welcome, Cho. Give Mei my regards. And good luck."
Two regal women sat sipping coffee in a dimly lit, Arabian nights drawing room, illumined by two small lamps. A silver salver and a kettle of coffee, along with a small a jar of milk and a bowl of sugar lumps was set on the heavy oaken table. The first woman was dark haired and tall - though her emaciated look and haunted, deadened eyes gave her a beauty that was almost painful to look at. And the second woman, tall, queenly and blond, had a most panic-stricken and woebegone expression on her face as she moaned, with tears streaming down her face, "Bella, you've got to help! You must!"
Bellatrix's eyebrows rose at that. "How do you propose I do that?"
"You are the Dark Lord's most trusted now. You could talk to him .."
Bellatrix laughed, a cold, harsh laugh. "Are you insane, Cissy? He trusts no one now; definitely not me. And anything you have to offer should be given freely to the Dark Lord. You can't bargain with him, much less bribe him."
Narcissa dropped her cup, which fell on the soft carpet staining the pristine blue wool a deep brown. Taking no notice of the mess on the floor, Narcissa knelt before her sister, embracing Bellatrix's knees, she whispered "Please, Bella, help my son. I'll do anything .."
Bellatrix had always been accused - quite fairly, it must be admitted - of being cold-hearted, cynical and ruthless, but she was not completely immune to the suffering of her sister. She set down her cup on the table, and looked sadly at the tear-streaked face of Narcissa. Gently she helped up her sister to her feet, and half carried, and half dragged Lady Malfoy to the sofa. "Sit down, Cissy", she commanded. "Now calm yourself, and tell me what you would have me do."
"I don't know. I just want Draco safe."
"Does he want to be safe, Cissy? He thinks he can do it."
"He is too young! He has no idea what he is getting into!"
Bella nodded sorrowfully. That was true indeed. Draco had no idea how powerful that abominable old coot was. Without conceit, Bellatrix knew that she was not a woman lacking in courage, but she would not willingly face that old man if she could help it.
She spoke slowly, "Cissy, are you willing to take any risk to get Draco out of this mess?"
"Yes! Anything! Please, Bella .."
Bellatrix put her hands on her sister's shoulders and looked into her eyes. "Cissy, listen to me first - there is no easy way out of this situation. The Dark Lord will have Draco watched at all times now. This is his vengeance for Lucius' folly in the Ministry, and he expects - no, wants - Draco to be killed."
Narcissa gave a dismal groan, but Bellatrix continued, "But we have one thing on our side, for the moment. Time. No one expects Draco to do anything until Hogwarts reopens. We can use this to our advantage."
For the first time, there was the faintest hope in Narcissa's eyes as her sister persisted speaking, "We can expect no help from anyone on the side of the Dark Lord. They are all too frightened of him to aid us in any way. The only place to get help may be on the other side."
"You are suggesting that we go over to the Ministry or Dumbledore?", asked Narcissa incredulously. "They would never help us!"
"True", Bellatrix nodded. "The Ministry will just toss Draco in Azkaban - he has no way to make a deal, and with the Dark Mark, it would be enough to damn him now. Lucius' enemies in the Ministry will see to it. And going to the old man would just be trading the Dark Lord for Dumbledore. He'll put Draco under his thumb and probably force him to become his spy in the Dark Lord's ranks. There is no hope for Draco there."
"Then where ...?"
"I've an idea. Leave it to me. I'll let you know whether my plan will work in a few days. If not, we'll have to start all over again."
Bellatrix turned away from her sister, and murmured to herself, almost enviously, "How young you are, Cissy! You can still weep!"
Hermione Granger sat quietly in the Morning Lily, waiting for her guest to arrive. She was pondering over the events of the last few days. Once she heard the details of the attack on her parents and their miraculous escape, she had no doubts at all that Voldemort would likely try again. As such, she was almost relieved that her parents were leaving on a vacation the next day. Her parents had tried to insist that she come over with them, but Hermione had been adamant. Her place was beside Harry and she could not abandon him. She had told them that she could not leave and they had reluctantly accepted her suggestion - no, her insistence - that they travel for the next two months, while leaving her alone at home. She had arrived in Diagon Alley earlier, done some shopping she needed to do, and talked to Fleur Delacour at lunch in the Leaky Cauldron. The part Veela, now working at Gringotts, had agreed to keep an eye out for any Dark activity and inform her if anything arose. She had also agreed to keep her mouth shut about her mission. With all that accomplished, Hermione was at the muggle public house for the last job of the day - a distasteful one, but one nevertheless important. She had had a long chat with Harry, convincing him of the supreme importance of having his own proper sources, and he had reluctantly agreed to her proposal. So Hermione was here for her task.
A few minutes later, a blond, middle aged woman in dark grey muggle clothing appeared at the door. Seeing the muggleborn witch in a quiet corner, she hurried across, sitting down at the table, "Hello, Little Miss Perfect! What do you want now?" Rita's semblance of a smile was much worse than the snarl of most people, but Hermione ignored the other's frightening smile, Instead, she regarded the older witch coolly, remarking, "It is not what I want, but what I can do for you. I am here to offer you a deal."
"Oh! What is your munificent proposal?"
"First off, how would you like to have an exclusive interview with Harry Potter about the Ministry events of a couple of weeks ago?"
Rita gaped. There had been talk that Potter had led a group of school kids to battle Death Eaters at the Department of Mysteries. There had been a rumour that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been there and had fought Potter and Dumbledore. Her Ministry contacts had been most reticent about the events. Now here was one of the principal participants offering her a chance at an exclusive interview. But Rita knew the value of dissimulation and simply put up a cool facade, "Interesting. I suppose someone will publish an interview with Potter now. He is back in some favour, after all"
"Of course", Hermione purred. "We both know that it is about the image, rather than the truth, isn't it, Rita? So - now that Harry is the Boy-Who-Lived again, an interview with him is going to sell."
"I can make him look good, I suppose."
"Of course, but nearly anyone could and would do that. We don't need you for that."
"So what do you want, little girl?"
Hermione's smile was predatory. "How would you like routine exclusive interviews with Harry every - say - three months? Now that people know he was telling the truth, you should be able to spin the news in any direction you want. "
Rita was dumbfounded. "Why would he do that?"
"Well, it is not out of love for you. He has a use for you." Hermione reached into the pocket of her jeans and drew a small bottle. "But first, Rita - do you know what this is?"
At Rita's uncomprehending gaze, Hermione explained, "This is a truth potion - a simple one which will not force you to answer questions you do not want to answer, but will not let you lie. We need to determine some things before we proceed."
Rita stared. "What do you want to know, girl?"
Hermione produced a list of questions she proposed to ask. Most of them concerned her loyalties - specifically determining whether she, Rita, was a Death Eater in sympathies and if she was loyal to Voldemort. Rita scanned the questions, and nodded. "Alright, I'll do it."
Fifteen minutes later, Hermione had determined that Rita had no sympathies for Voldemort, was herself a half-blood, and did not share the pureblood agenda. Finished with the questioning, Hermione administered the antidote and spoke, "Good. Now, Rita, I am sure that you at the Daily Prophet hear all kinds of information about Voldemort's supporters that you don't print. Well, Harry wants you to let us know if something important - something you think is important - comes up. In return, you will have the interviews."
Rita considered the deal for a moment. Many little titbits of news came to her from her sources - sources which she had painstakingly built up over the years and here was this wretched boy asking her to share information she got. On the other hand, interviews with Harry Potter were rare as Holbeins and anyone able to publish them would be able to make her way up the corporate hierarchy very fast. Also the boy was not forcing her to give all the information she got - only what she thought was important. She could use it to her advantage. Swapping a few bits of news with the Boy-Who-Lived would not be a bad idea. Hermione noticed the struggle, and added, "If you perform well, he might even let you write his authorised biography at the end of the war. Assuming that he and you survive the war, of course."
Rita ground out, "And if I refuse?"
"Forget you ever saw me today. We have better things to do than fight you or the Daily Prophet."
Rita sighed, "Okay, I'll do it. How do I go about contacting you?"
Hermione smiled and handed her the enchanted notebook and explained its use. "Harry will expect you to contact him for the interview in the next few days." She then produced a small parchment from her pocket. "Let us agree formally", she purred. The document the muggleborn witch produced merely stated the conditions they had agreed to. Rita performed a few spells on the parchment to ensure that there were no hidden clauses." She signed, as did Hermione. With that, Rita rose and exited into muggle London. Hermione watched as the older woman disappeared into muggle London - her expression was that of a hungry crocodile that has just spotted lunch after a week. Briskly, she turned and walked in the direction of Victoria Station.