Title: Interregnum [Chapter 07]
Pairing[s]: Harry/Draco and others.
Disclaimer: JKR owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3200 words
Summary: Do what you will; this world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction. [William Blake]
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
Interregnum - Chapter 07
Neville wondered just what sorts of things Gran had said about him. "P-pleased to meet you," he said, unsure of whether to bow or offer a handshake or what. He ended up extending his hand whilst bent awkwardly at the waist, beginning to sweat. Eva barely touched the tips of his fingers -- her hand was cold -- and turned to Gran, who pointed Neville to a chair on the other side of the table.
Red-faced, he took a seat and snatched a scone from a passing tray to hide his embarrassment. Eva did not look his way, however; she addressed Gran, who had in the meantime lowered herself into a chair.
"Did you see the young man with the leaflets, outside?"
Gran shook her head and turned to Neville. "Did you?"
"No," mumbled Neville around a mouthful of scone, grateful that Eva still wasn't looking at him.
"He must have been run off by someone from the Ministry," said Eva. "Anyway, he was handing out these leaflets." She tapped a lacquered fingernail on the table, atop a piece of parchment that Neville had mistaken for one of the bright yellow napkins that lay folded at every seat.
"May I?" asked Gran.
Her expression progressed from friendliness to incredulity to outrage as she read, and it was all Neville could do not to get up and read over her shoulder. To resist the temptation -- as he knew it would earn him the mother of all lectures when they got home -- Neville pulled the nearest teacup closer. The pot in the centre of the table floated towards him. Looking at Gran might earn him a lecture for impatience, and he was terrified of looking at Eva, so he kept his eyes on the tea.
"This is ridiculous," said Gran after a few moments. Neville looked up.
"Isn't it just? They're trying to make it look like the Ministry's been doing all these things deliberately," replied Eva, motioning to the teapot.
"Trying, maybe, but certainly failing," said Gran, her tone brusque, as she pushed the leaflet aside. "The most amateur attempt at propaganda that I've seen since Dolores Umbridge's days."
"I might have even suspected her," said Eva, trilling a laugh. "Only I doubt there are quills in Azakaban."
"All this ridiculous nonsense has got to stop," said Gran as the teapot poured for her. "The last thing Kingsley Shacklebolt needs is more chaos."
"I must say he's been dealing with the fallout rather admirably," said Eva. "I think you're quite right when you say he's the best this country has seen in an age."
"Even the best can break under too much pressure," said Gran, spooning sugar into her cup.
Utterly confused, realising that the women had no intention of involving him in their conversation, Neville summoned the leaflet.
1680 - The Wizards' Council, a minor regulatory body answerable to the Wizengamot, consisting of a few dozen wizards working locally to prevent detection by Muggles, becomes the Ministry of Magic.
1692 - The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy goes into effect.
1700 - The Ministry of Magic's chief mandate becomes to uphold the Statute of Secrecy.
1703 - The Department of Magical Education is created, in response to rapidly falling educational standards that lead to Statute breaches. Students wishing to attend Hogwarts must now pay a fee.
1705 - Anonymous benefactor establishes a Gringotts vault for use by Hogwarts headmasters to pay for students who cannot afford the school's fees. Ministry's attempts to take control of the vault are met with fierce goblin resistance.
1742 - The Statute of Secrecy is breached after a vampire pretending to be a wizard purchases a wand. The Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes forms.
1750 - The International Code of Wizarding Secrecy is amended: each country's Ministry is now responsible for the concealment of magical creatures living within its borders. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is formed.
1768 - The new Department of Magical Games and Sports declares that teams now must pay a levy for the use of their own stadiums because the stadiums are under Ministry jurisdiction.
1781 - Construction of London Ministry of Magic building is completed.
1795 - The Department of Magical Law Enforcement absorbs the Wizengamot. Ministry is now answerable only to itself.
1811 - Grogan Stump creates additional subdivisions in the various Departments. Public opinion shows approval of this attempt to introduce clarity and transparency.
1862 - Department of International Magical Cooperation is formed.
1899 - Rise of the Dark Arts in Europe prompts the creation of a new subdivision in Law Enforcement: the Auror Office.
1904 - Department of Magical Transportation is created. Floo powder prices rise by 29%
1912 - Non-Ministry-sanctioned sales of Floo powder are outlawed.
1937 - During a Hogsmeade rally, Carlotta Pinkstone calls for the lifting of the Statute of Secrecy. She will be arrested and fined repeatedly over the following sixteen years. Ownership of Pinkstone's self-published propaganda is outlawed.
1945 - The Department of Mysteries is formed. Its employees answer only to the Minister for Magic. Prophecies are declared government property and confiscated.
Neville frowned and looked up at Gran and Eva, who were now watching him with interest.
"What did the bloke look like?" asked Neville.
Gran clicked her tongue. "Fellow, not bloke" she muttered, but Neville pretended not to hear her, focussing on Eva instead. From this side of the table, her beauty was not as startling, and she looked quite a bit older than he had originally thought. Still beautiful, but no longer breath-destroying.
"I didn't get a good look, I'm afraid," said Eva with a smile. "Why, do you know who might've done this?"
Neville had no idea, but he couldn't say that, not to her. "I might," he said, squaring his shoulders and deciding at that moment to find out, just so he could tell Eva Kay. "But I'll need to visit a few people."
"You're sure they won't suspect?"
"Positive," said Patrick, rolling his eyes. "Come on. Would you suspect?"
"No, but I'm not a Death Eater," said Kingsley. There was a soft thump outside the door, and they fell silent.
Patricia Vaisey glided into the room, carrying a piece of yellow parchment.
"Hello, Mother. We were just discussing my impending nuptials," said Patrick, leaning back on the sofa and smiling winningly. His mother never thought he was lying if he smiled.
"Never mind your nuptials," said Patricia. "Kingsley. Have you seen this?"
Kingsley glanced at it and sighed. "Yeah. That's just one of them, actually, there are others. They're trying to prove that the Ministry's chief function was to uphold the Statute of Secrecy."
"Wasn't it?" asked Patrick.
"Mostly, yeah, but not entirely. It did exist before the Statute; they don't deny it. Basically, because the Statute has been breached irrevocably, they're calling for the dissolution of the Ministry, the lifting of all laws passed since its inception, and the re-introduction of the Wizards' Council."
"Ambitious," said Patrick. "Anyone in particular behind it?" He knew there had been a reason Zabini was back from Switzerland, sniffing around. This was proof.
Kingsley's forehead creased for a moment. "Somebody named... Zacharias Smith."
The sun had barely cleared the edge of the ocean but it was already hot; the air stuck in Harry's throat like a wedge. He had expressed scepticism regarding housing prisoners near the equator line, but had to admit now that the extreme cold of Azkaban might've seemed a respite to anyone who had to live in this.
"We won't see it," Biggs was saying, "But Kanton is about thirty miles from here as the petrel flies."
"That's the one with the Mug-- the non-magicals?"
"The largest one. There's also Orona down south." Biggs waved towards the southeast. "Three others are down that way, too, but no one lives there save for terns and petrels. The non-magicals don't bother with this place much, not since they discovered airplanes. Whalers and shark fishers do come around sometimes, but only near enough for anchorage."
"Didn't you tell me there were divers?"
"Yeah, they hang out mostly on Kanton and Rawaki. If they do get close, we've got charms to keep them from seeing things they shouldn't."
Enderbury's lagoon was little more than a pond compared to the vast ocean surrounding the island, a tiny landmass measuring barely a mile across. They were walking towards the northern shore, fragments of coral clinking beneath their feet. As they approached a clump of kou trees, Harry saw low huts begin to rise out of the carpet of herbs and morning-glory vines. It looked more like a village than a prison, but as they walked closer, he noticed that the huts had no windows, and they stood far enough apart to deny cover to anyone trying to hide amongst them.
"Halt!" came a voice out of the ground. "State your business."
"Andrew Biggs, Colorado Subdivision Chief, and Harry Potter, an Auror from England. Here to investigate the death of Claudio Limpo, one of your former inmates."
A leathery-skinned man hobbled out towards them from the shadow of a larger hut. "Oh, right," he rasped. "Good old Auror Division, never lettin' the dogs sleep." He spoke in a bit of a drawl so that "dogs" sounded like "dawgs", in an almost perfect echo of the WWN parodies about Americans. "Claudio, sure, I remember him. Little guy, big teeth. Hanged himself with a rope o' vines, sure. What's to investigate?"
Biggs stared at the man. "And you might be?"
"Roger Mulligan, class two dash seven," came the reply. "But everyone calls me Sharky." He squinted at Harry. "England, huh? Are you all this pasty-faced?"
Harry opened his mouth to retort, but Biggs cut him off.
"Mulligan," said Biggs. "We're not a pair of inmates, and Mr Potter is a high-ranking Auror from another country. We'll have fewer wisecracks and more co-operation, unless you want me to file a complaint with the Prison Authority."
"All right, all right," whined Mulligan, grimacing. "You continent folks are so serious. Can't take a goddamn joke."
"This isn't a social visit," said Biggs. Even Harry was slightly impressed by the steely undertone of command in his voice, eliminating all semblance of friendliness.
Mulligan led them through the mishmash of huts towards a circular stone building, where a few guards milled about in the well-shaded entrance. Inside, file cabinets lined the walls, and Mulligan pulled one of the drawers open, producing a thin file. "All the paperwork I got on Limpo is here."
"We've seen the paperwork," said Biggs.
"We're interested in people he spent his time with," added Harry.
Mulligan frowned. "He didn't really. He came to South Tarawa with two friends, but they went to Gardner and McKean. Quiet guy, didn't say much. I was surprised he hanged himself -- five years ain't the end of the world."
"Why did you assume he hanged himself? How did you rule out murder?"
"Murder?" Mulligan looked outraged. "There's no way in or out of a goddamn hut without me." He held up a thin arm with a carved bracelet round the wrist. The sliver-thin vertical ridges in the bracelet turned out to be keys, hundreds of them folded together.
"Could it have been stolen from you?" asked Harry.
"It will only work for me," said Mulligan, still scowling. "While I run the joint, anyway. So unless you're going to accuse me of murdering old Limpo--"
"No one's going to accuse you of anything," interrupted Biggs. "We just wanted to be sure. We suspect that he was murdered, mind you, but we don't think anyone on the island did it."
"You mean the Imperius Curse? Impossible. No magic in the huts."
"What if I'm under the Imperius Curse before I enter the hut?" asked Harry.
"No," said Biggs. "Doesn't Britain have ways to dissolve all magic? For security?"
"Oh, yeah, we do have something like that," said Harry, feeling stupid. "But it involves water."
"The goblin way? Your goblins must really like you."
Harry said nothing. He'd never seen the magic-dissolving potion in action anywhere outside Gringotts, but he simply would not let Biggs believe that Britain was less magically advanced than America. The man already thought they were a bunch of savages for keeping house-elves.
"Look, what happened was, one night, Limpo went into his hut after the late walk. In the morning, he never came out for the round-up. The guards found him hanging off a lamp-hook in the ceiling, blue as the great Pacific. That's all we know."
"A lamp-hook," said Harry. "How did he manage that?"
"Must've been pretty determined to off himself, I guess," said Mulligan. "The vine-rope was frayed in places, like he tried many times."
Harry and Biggs headed back to their broomsticks, which they had left well outside of the prison's borders, in accordance with regulations.
"What do you think?" asked Biggs.
"I think someone definitely put him up to it," said Harry. "I just wish I knew how."
The flight to their next destination took twenty minutes. Gardner Island was no larger than Enderbury but shaped like a triangular wedge, with most of its outer rim covered by a low scrub forest. From the air, it was impossible to tell if anyone lived there, and Harry wasn't particularly surprised that he didn't see the prison huts until they were practically inside the compound.
The supervisor here was Lorenzo Fumagatti. Though friendlier than Sharky Mulligan, he was just as useless. He knew little on the subject of Marcelo Oliveira's drowning, and there was a rat in his summer robe's front pocket.
"No idea how it happened," he said as they sat in the shade of a makeshift awning decorating a prisoner's hut. "One minute he was sittin' on the reef watchin' a pair of rats hunt. The next minute, splash. I think the fall did him in. If that hadn't, the sharks would've done."
"You saw it?" asked Biggs.
"I suppose it isn't possible that he was pushed," muttered Harry.
Fumagatti glanced at him. "Why would anyone push him? Nicest guy you'd ever meet, smuggler or no smuggler."
"Could he have been trying to escape?" insisted Harry.
"Escape where?" asked Fumagatti with a scoff. "To Atlantis? 'Cause down is the only way you can go. There's no swimming away from here, 'specially not when the weather gets bad." The rat in Fumagatti's front pocket made a high-pitched squeak. "Yes, you don't like the bad weather, do you? Me neither." These last words were addressed to the rat.
Biggs exhaled slowly and rolled his shoulders. Sweat beaded his forehead.
"I can make you some toddy," offered Fumagatti, but Biggs waved him off.
"Two apparent suicides in as many days," Biggs said, folding his index finger downwards as he held up his hand. "One in a prisoner's hut, the other in full view of armed guards. Neither is an attempt to escape. Neither man had a reason to kill himself." Biggs's thumb folded across the rest of his fingers, forming a fist. "Leaves us with a big fat nothing." He brought his fist down on the table.
"Maybe it was hypnosis," said Fumagatti. "Like the non-magicals use. You know, one guy does some mind-trick on the other, and then the other guy has this... idea in his head. When he hears some key word, he does whatever this other guy wanted him to. What?"
Harry and Biggs were both staring at him: Harry with interest, Biggs with disbelief.
"Suppose it was possible to use hypnosis this powerful," murmured Biggs. "I don't believe it, but just for argument's sake. It would explain how they did it."
"Maybe it is possible," said Harry. "Something to do with technology."
"You guys sure you don't want any toddy? It's really good."
Harry and Biggs ignored him. "The last guy didn't commit suicide, though," said Biggs.
"But someone smuggled Devil's Snare onto McKean Island," said Harry.
"Oh, them," said Fumagatti. "Lax security, that's all it is."
Harry and Biggs left him to his rat and his toddy and made their way back to their brooms.
From the air, McKean Island resembled an empty plate, and Harry hoped that this was not a portent for their investigation. There were no trees here, just low-clinging bunchgrass, amid which rose the half-crumbled remains of a one-time Muggle colony. The prison complex sprawled along the island's west side, as haphazard as the ones at Enderbury and Gardner, but at least here they took Auror visitors seriously.
The prison supervisor -- a doughty, kind-faced man named Hudson -- led them straight to the main office. "The guards at Gardner told our guards you were there. Prison Authority said to give you my full co-operation, so co-operation is what I'll give you."
"Thanks," said Harry, only to receive an incredulous look.
"We've got the boy who was paired up with Avilar in the office," said Hudson. "Take all the time you need."
"I didn't do anything," said the prisoner as soon as they entered. "What do you want?"
"Just to ask you a few questions," said Biggs. "About the death of Jaime Avilar."
"I didn't kill him. The Devil's Snare did. I saw it. The guards did, too. Just ask them."
"We don't think you killed him. We wonder if you know who might have, though," said Harry.
The prisoner's grey eyes were cold as he studied Harry. "How should I know? I didn't even know what he was in for."
"He might have said something. Did he seem nervous at any point? Afraid?"
"Maybe," said the prisoner. "But he never talked about it."
Biggs leaned forward. "Did he mention any names you can remember?"
The prisoner shook his head. "No names. There was just the thing he said before he died. I heard it. I was close enough."
Harry and Biggs looked at each other. "This isn't in the report," said Biggs.
"Well, I told them about it!" said the prisoner, sitting up slightly. "I got nothing to hide. It's not my fault they never put it in a report, is it?"
"Relax," said Biggs. "Just tell us what he said. Start from the beginning."
"We were walking in pairs past the ruins. There's this one wall, about seven feet high. Avilar was taking a leak when he went down. We got there, it was too late. The thing was angry. Doesn't like the sun. It was choking Avilar already."
"And he said something then?" asked Harry.
"Yeah," said the prisoner. "He said, 'his name was not--' Croaked it. Then he croaked for real."
"Just that? Did he take a breath to say another word?" Harry pressed on.
The prisoner shrugged. "All I heard was, 'his name was not--'."
"His name was not what?" asked Biggs.
And then it hit Harry. The prisoner's words made "not" sound like "n-ah-t", but Biggs's pronunciation was clearer.
"Nott," he said. "His name was Nott."