17 October 2015

Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Five: Purchasing Power





Significant Digits, Chapter Twenty-Five: Purchasing Power


SIBERIAN SMASH: GODDESS STRIKES DOWN “RUSSIAN AZKABAN”
- Daily Prophet headline for April 21st, 1999.

WAR?  THUNDERER THREATENS THRASHING
- Daily Prophet headline for April 22nd, 1999.

MUGGLE MAGIC AS TOWER LAUNCHES SPACE
- Daily Prophet headline for April 23rd, 1999.

GODDESS GOES WINDOW SHOPPING AT B&B
- Daily Prophet headline for April 24th, 1999.

“MONSTROUS”: NEW PICTURES FROM ZEMLYA
- Daily Prophet headline for April 25th, 1999.

CONFLICT BREWING: THUNDERER CALLS CONCLAVE OF DOMOVOI
- Daily Prophet headline for April 26th, 1999.

INDEPENDENTS UNITE BEHIND RUSSIA
- Daily Prophet headline for April 27th, 1999.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic
April 28th, 1999

“No,” said Hortense Hood, frowning.  “You really can’t be in there.  Sorry.”  She didn’t sound sorry.  She sounded like a long-serving auror whose career had been in a nasty slump for years, and who blamed the Goddess for that, and who was enjoying the opportunity to get some revenge -- even if it was in the most petty way imaginable.

Hermione didn’t allow herself to sigh, and kept a pleasant smile on her face.  She’d been planning on sitting at the table across from some of the people they’d taken in last week’s raid.  She’d even dressed for the occasion -- a soft-looking old robe, homely and brown, that helped turn her aura of innocence into the maternal and welcoming look of a confidante.  But Hood was in charge of the investigation, and Hood was saying no.  

Harry forced vote after vote on the Wizengamot, and argued and pleaded and bribed to try to get a majority on his side.  We were within three votes of closing that hellhole, and everyone knew which way it was going.  You volunteered there, anyway -- you were commander! -- in exchange for quadruple the typical salary for an executive auror.  You and all the rest of them should have been sacked.  Hermione shook her head, putting a slight rueful twist on her smile.  There will be no satisfaction for you on this from me, not even the slightest bit.  You volunteered to torture people for money.  Mild disappointment, nothing more, as she crossed her arms and looked at the powerfully-built woman before her.  The middle-aged auror’s hair was a storm of black frizz, forced back into a tight bun, and she had a pleased light in her dark-lashed eyes.  

“You’re in charge, of course, Auror Hood.  I suppose it is slightly unusual, but I’ve done it many times before -- and I was there when the raid took place, with some of the beat aurors and some of those stationed at the Tower.  And of course, I went to school for a year with Margaret, and know her sister.  It might help, is all,” Hermione said.  Light, nice, and nonconfrontational.  We’re not fighting, we’re friends, I just want to help, la dee da.

“Yes… and what exactly was your role, there?  In what capacity are you going around capturing full-blooded wizards and witches, like they were stray Kneazles?” asked Hood, coolly.  “Maybe that’s something we should talk about… what do you think?”  

The stupidity on display was frustrating, and Hermione frankly couldn’t understand it.  How did you rise to auror executive level -- even if you never found another command position, anywhere, after the demise of Azkaban -- with this level of situational blindness?  Auror admission standards were notoriously high.  They’d been relaxed during the increase of the force in the past few years, of course, but they were still supposed to keep out anyone who acted like a child… and anyway, Hood had been an auror for decades.

Hermione knew other immature-seeming aurors (like that one with great expectations and little sense that she’d met at the Tower).  No screening or training program was perfect, after all.  But didn’t Hood know -- couldn’t she have figured out -- that it wasn’t a smart idea to taunt the prison-smashing, Dementor-destroying world leader who had a private militia, whom the Chief Auror had been pestering for a date, and who was best friends with the most powerful wizard on the planet?

On the other hand, thought Hermione, if she had been the smart sort, she wouldn’t have been in command of Azkaban to begin with, once the winds started to blow the other way.  I hope you like being a beat auror, Hortense, because I don’t think a promotion will be coming your way for a while.  And why?  Just pettiness.  You’d think the example of Umbridge would have taught people that you don’t have to stay stuck to your mistakes.  You can change your mind.

Should Hermione just swallow her pride and give Hood a victory?  It might end the grudge, or at least blunt it… and if there was a next time, that might help.  No one was around, and it cost Hermione nothing.

No.  She’s not going to ever forget that I ended her career -- or decide that the blame is her own.  And she’d enjoy it too much if I “begged” her not to raise a fuss.  It’d probably encourage more of this.  Frustrating.  Why don’t you know that I care about you and want to help you, too, Madame Hood?

A beat had passed, and the question hung in the air.  Hermione just kept smiling pleasantly, and shrugged in answer.  Just like rolling your shoulder away from a punch; there was no gift of impact.

Hood said nothing, waiting expectantly for an answer, trying to use the awkward silence against Hermione.  Eventually, she broke the tension, saying in a brittle tone, “Well.  I suppose we’ll have to see if anything comes of that.  But you’ll not be going in on the interrogations.”

“All right,” Hermione said, brightly.  The auror tried to stare her down for a moment longer, then, satisfied she’d made her point, Hood opened the door to the antechamber of TT-1 (Thief-Taker Room #1, what a Muggle might call an interrogation or interview room) and disappeared inside, closing the door sharply behind herself.

Well, we’re in the DMLE already -- it’ll be easy to report that someone’s career was just murdered, she thought, glancing down the corridor to where a trio of office workers were pretending to be obliviously sipping tea.  Way too many people will hear about this and try to curry favor by going after my “enemy.”

Hermione shook her head, ruefully.  She’d need to try harder to reach people like that.  She knew that some people prided themselves on their enemies: Godric Gryffindor himself had claimed that  “The Tally of mine Virtue shall be the List of my Foes.”  Harry had repeated it on occasion, approvingly.  But that was wrong, truly, and Hermione thought that some of the bullies of Hogwarts had been influenced by that false sentiment.  It was important to fight evil, yes, and defeat it.  But it was far, far better to take evil by the hand, listen to its point of view, patiently and kindly discuss things, and finally walk away, hand-in-hand.  Hood wasn’t her enemy -- she was just a friend, waiting to be made.

I wonder if there’s anything I can do for her that wouldn’t be seen as an insult or bribe.  I’d better put Susie on it.  She’s good at that.  Or Esther.

Not her, Hermione remembered.  Esther and Char are in Godric’s Hollow, getting their new place set up.  She’d almost forgotten.  How strange it was, to imagine a world without Esther by her side.  Hermione had almost given up hope that her Returned could ever really heal; maybe some of them never would.  Hyori seemed to become more grim every year, not less.  But there was hope again.

“Happy thoughts, Ms. Granger?  You look far away in some wonderful place,” came a familiar American voice.

“Councilor Hig!” said Hermione, turning around and smiling.  Reg Hig was walking down the corridor towards her, stepping around the office workers.  Two of them weren’t very circumspect in eyeing his plum nose or deep-set eyes as the squat wizard passed; the third muttered something to them -- probably along the lines of “Oy, stop your staring, that bloke is just about in charge of America.”  They averted their gazes, and spied somewhat more discreetly.

“How are you, my dear?  We have missed you in Tidewater -- you and your Returned, kicking in doors and righting wrongs -- but the papers tell me you’ve taken that performance on tour, here and in Russia.”  She offered him her hand, still grinning, and he bent slightly to plant a firm kiss on the back of it.  She’d been back in Boston twice since her first visit, when she’d exposed Tineagar in the midst of investigating Malfoy’s misdeeds, and they’d become friendly -- if not that close.  “Would you have lunch with me… if you have time?  There’s a cafeteria here, right?”

“Yes, there’s a canteen for Ministry staff.  But let’s go to Siegfried’s, instead,” said Hermione.  “You will enjoy it rather more, I promise.  Unless you need to be here for a meeting…?”  Hint, hint: why are you here?

“If you don’t mind me bringing along a friend, that will be my sincere pleasure, Ms. Granger,” said Hig.  “I have just been here to chat with a few friends.  Something to do with you, actually.  But there’s a lot to talk about.”

“Hermione, please,” prompted the Goddess -- she must have insisted on this at least four or five times, over the past few months.  To do with me, and a lot to talk about… obvious enough.  So you’re here about the Independents and Russia, and maybe also looking for another way to put the pressure on Harry for better terms.  And I wonder how long it took you to track me down, so you could “accidentally” bump into me?  She wasn’t being cynical: Hig had the reputation of a careful and methodical man, if an orator of considerable passion, and every time she’d ever spoken with him, he’d been ruthlessly charming and charmingly ruthless with his hidden agendas.

Hig looked up at her and smiled broadly.  “Hermione, then.  I’ll meet you at Diagon Alley’s Safety Pole?”

“Certainly,” she said.  As Hig bowed slightly and walked away once more, she watched the three office workers scurry away.  She was willing to wager they were off to beg for a long lunch -- so that they could go trot off to Siegfried’s, too.  

Nosy parkers, she thought fondly, and grinned again.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

The Diagon Alley Safety Pole had become something of a hospital complex of itself.  What had formerly been a white canvas tent when the Safety Pole was set up three years ago had been replaced by a baroque building of veined Swedish Green marble.  After she took a moment to bubble Hyori and tell her where she was going, Hermione Apparated in.  She lighted on the cobblestones, and stared up at the facade.  Beautiful.  And not a streak of discolouration at all.  She wondered if Diagon Alley had localized weather.  She’d never actually thought about it.

She had only a moment to herself to admire the building and think deep thoughts, however, before someone recognized her and a small crowd gathered.  She hoped that she wouldn’t have to wait long, since she wasn’t exactly dressed to the nines.  She should have popped home to change.

Not that they care, she thought, clasping a young man’s hand.  He’d been rejuvenated last year, and just wanted to tell her how much he supported her and the Tower.  She inclined her head graciously, and told him that she hoped he was doing something exciting with his new youth.  He tried to reply, but he was beginning to weep with emotion.

Hyori and Susie arrived a few minutes later.  Hermione was extremely grateful, and shot them a look of appreciation -- crowds were always a job for more than one person.  Hyori took up position a short distance away, watchful, while Susie helped take the arm of the weeping man from Hermione, soothing him as she walked him a short distance away.  “Cor,” Hermione heard her say to the man, “she’s something, isn’t she.”  Hermione smiled, and turned to the next people who wanted to speak to her: a little boy and his mother.

“My name is Hosea,” squeaked the little boy, looking up at her.  He had his mother’s robes bunched up in one hand, and he kept trying to lift them to hide his face, despite his mother’s efforts to stop him.  “Hosea Hussey.”  He was a cute little thing, with apple cheeks and enormous buck teeth that reminded Hermione of herself when she was a child.

Hermione leaned down.  “You didn’t happen to write to me ever, did you, Hosea?”

The child’s eyes grew as large as hen’s eggs.  He nodded, slowly.

She reached into her pouch and called up a copy of her Chocolate Frog card.  “Was this yours?”

It wasn’t, of course.  But she’d remembered this child’s letter, and she had the card, so why not?  

Hosea nodded again, and his mouth opened slightly.  He didn’t say anything else.  Hermione looked up at his mother, smiling.  She looked shocked, too.

“Maybe I could sign this, and give it back to you, Hosea.  If that’s all right with your mum?”

“That would be lovely,” said the woman.  “We… oh…”  She was flustered.

Hermione retrieved a biro from her robes and slashed her signature across the card.  She bent down and offered it to the child with both hands and a big smile.  “Here you go.”

By the time the woman had thanked Hermione on behalf of her stunned child four or five times, Susie was there to guide them away with a kind word.  Hermione put away the biro, and noticed that Hig had arrived.  He had another wizard with him -- a bald man with spectacles, a goatee, and a wide belly:  Per Aavik-Söderlundh-Ellingsen, a leading bureaucrat with the Norden’s Magidepartementet.  She knew Per in a vague way, but not much beyond a casual chat.

“Hello, Reg.  And Master Aavik!  A pleasure to see you again.  I hope you’re joining us?” she said, approaching them.  Hermione had to gently move through the small crowd of people, and she paused for a moment to give an older woman a hug.

“Ms. Granger,” said Per, pleasantly in his warm, unaccented basso profundo.  “Hello.  Yes, I would like that.”

“We’re just over here, then,” said Hermione.  Unasked, Susie had already walked ahead of them to arrange a table, moving briskly enough to make her chest bounce and a few heads turn.  Hyori, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen -- probably warding Hermione from some vantage point.  Sometimes Hermione felt a little silly at that whole thing, to be honest.

“You have very attentive servants,” remarked Per, noticing as they walked alongside each other along the cobblestone lane.  A few people followed them at a discreet distance, but most of the crowd just watched them go.

Hermione opened her mouth to explain, but Hig smoothly cut in.  “She does, yes.  Ms. Granger’s beauty might have much to do with it, but also she’s simply that kind of witch.  It’s a thing out of legend.”  He gave a slight shake of his head when she glanced at him from behind Per’s back, and she let it go.

The three of them had barely stepped inside of Siegfried’s bronze-filigreed door before the maître d' had appeared, silently guiding them to their table in the dining room.  He was professional and polite, and had the insuperable gift of seeming to know just what you wanted before you’d even asked.  Hermione had eaten here last week, and now she suspected the man was a seer.  It was the only explanation, even though it seemed vanishingly unlikely in a restaurant specifically dedicated to the wonders of Muggle luxuries.  Siegfried’s was decorated with buttery mahogany, comfortably warm lighting, and linens so crisply fresh that a house elf would approve.

“A pint of bitter for sir,” said the maître d', nodding to Per, “and two glasses of water, is that right?”  It was unprompted and yet exactly correct.  The server vanished without another word, pausing only to leave a slip of cardboard with each of them, on which the menu was printed.

“More than just kidneys and thick beef?” asked the Nordenman, lifting his menu.  “Did I perhaps accidentally leave Britain?”

“And end up somewhere with a decent bite?” said Hig, smiling a stubble-faced smile.  “Nor was there any antique plaster food in a window display, like a real pub.  I think we were side-alonged out to a different country at some point.”

“I would reply in kind with comments about your own national cuisines, gentlemen, but I am flummoxed by the wealth of possibilities,” said Hermione, with comical primness.  She glanced the menu over.

“You will need something bracing, Ms. Granger.  Taking charge over matters… we have read about it!  The Kalmaposten often describes your exploits,” said Per.  He resettled himself in his chair, scuffing it back and forth until he was situated.  “Very exciting.”

Hermione looked up from the menu, and saw Hig was looking at her directly, his lips pursed slightly in warning.  Servants and “taking charge”... Hig has told this man that I am a hidden ruler of Britain, in some fashion -- more than influential, but an old-style strongman leader.  To what purpose?

“You must mean the raids on Billie’s and Borgin & Burkes?  Well, it’s necessary.  The things that were going on... “  Hermione shook her head, unhappily.

“And where is it ending up?  Everyone off to Howard?” asked Hig, arranging his napkin in his lap.

A waiter arrived with their drinks, and Per eagerly took a long pull of his beer.  He smacked small lips, appreciatively.

“There are charges going around.  Not sure where it will end up, but at Billie’s there were illicit Time-Turners, a violation of the Responsible Research Act of 1959, and unlicensed production of a controlled substance.  Also one of Geoffrey Gem’s assistants -- sorry, Gem was the one brewing Euphoric -- one of his assistants had an outstanding charge of duel-fixing.”  Hermione sipped her water.  “And we found out other things, as well.”  Such as Gregor Nimue’s treachery.  I wonder if it would be unethical to begin planting Everlasting Ears on more people.  There’s no legal mechanism for that, but no law against it, either, in the feudal-style policing of Magical Britain.  Mmm…. no, definitely wrong.

They hadn’t managed to uncover much new, or find any ongoing crimes, in the more uneventful raid at Borgin & Burkes.  The Prophet had needed to run a picture of the broken picture window out front in order to hype up the affair… even though the window had been broken earlier that day by an unidentified vandal.

“This is what I say,” said Per, nodding approvingly.  “Yes, yes… Sorry, Ms. Granger, but in the Norden there is discussion about treaties, these days.  Our neighbor Russia is Independent, and we have close ties with them… their leaders are all Durmstrangen, you see.  ‘Hogwarts of the North,’ yes?”

And the thing that keeps you advocating for us is that you think there’s strength here… that’s what you value, more than the Safety Poles in Lübeck, Kanalenmark, Slottet, and Reykjavík.  She understood what Hig had been doing, earlier.  Clever man.  Okay, let’s sell it.

“Russia will soon learn their folly,” said Hermione, in a harsh tone.  She paused, and put one hand to her chest, delicately, and smiled again.  “I hope they will see the error of joining an international group that exists for the sole purpose of perpetuating infirmity and death.”  Oh my goodness what a slip, fear the great rage that dwells within the angry Goddess.

Hig smiled broadly, and his dark eyes were bright with appreciation.  “The Council is almost to the point of agreement, I must say.  I believe that we will recommend adoption of the Treaty for Health and Life very soon, in fact, if we can sort out a few last disagreements.”  Well, that was direct.  Show me your value, then name your price.  And by having this discussion in front of Per, you also emphasize that I’m a power.

“Oh?  What disagreements are there?  We here in Britain are quite proud of everything the Tower’s done for us and for everyone else in the Treaty,” she said, with a small nod towards Per, who nodded his head in agreement as he lifted his pint to his lips again.

There had been a time when she’d be getting upset at this point, thinking things like, Why are we arguing about tariffs and subsidies when there are people dying?  But she was wiser, now.  Politics was a tool to an end, and it made no sense to get angry at the shovel.

“Speaking with Mr. Potter, he has agreed that there will be an end to the restrictions on free trade, and also that Britain will compensate the Americas for the advantage it has derived over the years from Merlin’s misdeeds.  He’s agreed to endow new programs at the Russell Institute and Salem, indefinitely… including arithmancers, to help us achieve some small part of Britain’s recent prosperity.  And Britain will stop propping up Cyprus, at least for a time.  It’s unjust.  Now, if we can just meet in the middle on two other things, I think my colleagues will be happy to join with me.  Councilor Strongbound won’t have a leg to stand on, and we’ll sweep the vote.  Just a few things, and we’ve won.”

Hermione nodded, setting down her menu and sipping her water.  “Go on.”

“Goblins can’t have wands, first of all.  It’s ugly, but true.  Our American goblins aren’t as civilized as your British ones… if we gave them wands, there’d be bloodshed.  They’ve never even had wands, historically, so it’s not as though they’re missing out.  And the other issue is that we can’t open our borders to hags, vampires, or werewolves.  That’s not a matter of prejudice, it’s a matter of public health.  Even the reformed hags, like your Nutcombe hags, are a danger waiting to happen.”  Hig shrugged.  “I have fought for goblin rights, as well as Muggle rights, for many years, so you know I’m not a blood-purist or supremacist.  But there’s such a thing as going too far.”

“Are we ready to order?” asked a waiter, a slender young man with a neat uniform.  She could see the maître d' in one corner of the dining room, where he’d dispatched the waiter.  It was eerily good timing, just when she needed a moment to think.  If she hadn’t been an Occlumens and he hadn’t been a Muggle, she’d be fairly sure he was reading her mind.

“The asparagus salad,” she ordered.  “There’s no meat in the dressing?”

“No, Madame.  I will make sure.  And for sirs?”

“This cut of beef -- is it like a Chateaubriand?” asked Hig, setting down his menu.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll have that, then.”

“How would sir like it cooked?”

“What?”

“May I recommend rare, sir?”

“A rare what?  Oh, yes.  Thank you.”

“And sir?”

“The same as Councilor Hig, I think,” said Per.  “Although I should have a salad, I cannot bring myself to do so.”

“All right.  We’ll have that right out.  Please tell me if there’s anything else I can get for you,” said the waiter, and flowed away with the unobtrusive liquid grace of a professional.

“A very nice place,” said Hig.  “I’ve eaten at Muggle places before, of course -- it’s more common in the Americas than back here -- but this is a very nice place, indeed.”

“Isn’t it a bother to go to a Muggle place, though?  Not this one, it’s very easy and it’s proper, you know?” said Per, turning in his chair to look around.  “But you must plod all over the place like a goat, or else spend an hour wiping their heads -- er, minds.  A bother.”

“What is your favorite Muggle place, Reg?” asked Hermione.  She knew it was obvious she was stalling a bit, but she needed a moment more to think.  She couldn’t commit in haste.  That was another cleverness of Hig’s: bringing impressionable Per along made her feel pressured to decide where she stood, right on the spot.  The Nordenman was related to half the influential families of the Norden, and his wife was related to the other half.  His opinions would go far, and he looked to be easily swayed.  She needed to appear decisive and strong.  Norden couldn’t be allowed to waver, or given the impression that the Council of Westphalia was going to go Independent.

“The Blue Benn, I think,” said Hig.  She’d wager he was exaggerating about how often he’d gone to Muggle establishments, since Tidewater had actually seemed as insular as most magical communities, but she was still impressed he could name it off the top of his head.  “A diner a couple of hours west from Tidewater.”  He scratched at his chin.  “After your first eventful visit, we spent some time trying to track down the origins of some redcaps out in the Berkshire Mountains, and had occasion to dine there.  Charming place.  Wonderful dough-nuts.”

Per drained the rest of his beer, hiccuping when he’d finished it.  “Quite good, quite good.”

“Served warm, I bet,” said Hig, frowning.  He shook his head.  “Anyway, Hermione… with regards to the goblins being given wands, and open borders… the Tower will give dispensations, right?  I know you’re not nominally in command of it, but you are a force here.  I’m sure that Mr. Potter fears no poudre de succession, but I believe that if you gave me your word, it wou-”

“No,” said Hermione, firmly.

Hig stopped, and gave her a pointed look.  His lips were tight with surprise and displeasure.

I am capable of taking a hint, little man… but that doesn’t mean you always get to lead me around to your intended destination.

“First of all, I’m not at all sure that the Wizengamot and other legislatures would agree to either these changes in the Treaty or to a special exemption.  The behavior of our Ministry of Magic -- and it is ours, make no mistake -- is something we can control, Councilor.  But despite the idiotic propaganda of the Independents, that gaggle of squawking thugs who are just unhappy that the world is slipping out of their bloody grasp, we do not control the rest of the Treaty nations, as Per can tell you.”  Hermione said.  She was firm, but still kind.

Per seemed uncertain at the sudden change in tone of the conversation, but he was experienced enough to simply nod.

“Secondly, American goblins will get wands, one way or another.  If the Council were to recommend against the Treaty, and then American nations were to follow that recommendation -- a safe bet -- then I think you would find that wands would show up in New Mexico, anyway.”  She paused for a moment for effect.  “Not on our behalf, but surely you know that this is happening already.  The goblin nations have close ties, and Curd and Ackle are already taking wands to hand.”  As it happened, she did not know that the American goblins were getting wands from their British and Irish counterparts… but it was a safe bet.  And Hig couldn’t know differently.

“I think that the Magical Congress can keep tabs fairly well on our magical creatures, Hermione,” said Hig.  His expression was mild again.  “And all of the British tariff enforcement officials will soon have time on their hands… they would be able to keep an eye on your goblins.”

“But they won’t,” assured Hermione, again with firmness.  “I’m sorry, Reg.  I believe the terms are more than generous already.  The most we can do is increase the research stipend.”

“Always leave a way for the opponent to achieve a small victory… so long as they know it’s a victory you grant them.”  Draco had said that, quoting his father.  Good political advice.

“The stipend should already be increased, anyway, since it’s so drastically insufficient,” said Hig, clasping his hands in front of him on the table.  “If we must swallow the world’s hags and vampires at their pleasure, the monies should be triple the current value, and pegged to the cost of wheat.”

“We’ll increase it by twenty-five percent, but we’re not going to increase it every year to keep up with inflation… and especially not when the measurement of inflation is a good with a sale price that could be manipulated.”

Per watched the exchange, mouth open.

“If you won’t even raise it to an equitable level, and it will be reduced to a pittance in my lifetime, then it becomes an insult, not a gift,” said Hig, shaking his head.  “Double-and-twoscore would be possible, I suppose.  And we could use a basket of wholesale good prices as a measurement of ‘inflation.’ ”  He pronounced the last word as though it were amusing.  She knew that he read Muggle news… but maybe he’d never grasped the finer points of finance.  It was funny how much of an advantage reading the Financial Times gave one.

“Fifty percent, and you can work out the terms of a price index with the Tower.”

“Done,” said Hig, with some satisfaction.

“Your lunch, sirs and madame,” said the waiter.  He lowered his tray, and began setting plates before them.

“Thank you,” said Hermione.  “I’m famished.”  She met Hig’s eye, and smiled.

“Three pints of bitter, as well, I think,” said Hig, smiling back.  “We must drink to an agreement.”  But even as he spoke, the maître d' was stepping up behind the waiter.  He set the three drinks down on the table.

“Cheers,” said Per.  He was red-faced, and seemed altogether more anxious about what he’d just witnessed than the two principals had been.

“Cheers,” said Hermione and Hig.  They clinked their glasses.


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

Hermione Apparated directly back to the Ministry.  She still needed to pick up her mail from her P.A., and she wanted to find out if there had been any results from interrogations in the past couple of hours -- even if she would have to ask someone other than the troublesome Hortense Hood.  But she had barely walked into the high-ceilinged lobby before she saw Hood herself.  The auror was obviously waiting for her, and she approached with a brisk step.  Hood’s wand was in her hand, and she had a tense and sharp look on her face.

Hermione glanced down at it, then looked back up.  Wand out?

“Ms. Granger, you’ll need to come with me,” said Hood.  She spoke commandingly, but a touch too loudly.  Nervous.  Trying to goad me into overreaction, but probably aware that I could break her arm and put her through the wall.  She’s heard the stories: Azkaban, Lockhart, Macadam, Göreme, … and now Siberia, although the Prophet’s making rather more out of that than they should, considering there wasn’t even a fight.

Three people rescued and six Dementors destroyed -- no casualties, but the media had been making it out to be a full-scale war with Russia, hyping up the conflict.  Harry’s doing, although she couldn’t imagine why he wanted more tension with them.

So what did Hood want?

“Certainly, Auror Hood,” she answered.  A trap?  She’s certainly in Malfoy’s target demographics.  He collects the bigoted, the aggrieved, and the libertarian -- and Hood has a grudge.  Hm.  No.  I think that game’s fairly blown, and Draco must know it.  No point in trying to trap me.  Maybe the Three?  Heck, Hood could be one of the Three… if they even really exist, and it wasn’t some ruse of Tineagar’s.

Even if it was a trap, it had to be admitted that the auror posed only a small threat.  Really, Hermione should be so lucky… an attempt to trap or assassinate her would be one of the best ways to get new information.  And it was likely to backfire -- who knows how many people were swayed over to their side by the attempting bombing in Diagon Alley?

Hermione turned slightly to Hyori and Susie, who had accompanied her.  “They’ll be coming with me,” she said to Hood.  Hyori had her arms folded in front of her, one hand in her sleeve where she was concealing her own drawn wand, while Susie had her bubbler in hand.

“Fine.  This way,” said Hood, gesturing to the elevator.  “DMLE’s TT-8.”

“The very height of politeness, isn’t it?” muttered Susie, as Hermione and the Returned walked as directed.

Upon arriving at the claustrophobically low-ceilinged room, however, Hermione found only a familiar-looking older witch with thinning hair and a dark-skinned wizard with a sheaf of parchments sitting at a table.  Hood walked in behind Hermione, and closed the door behind them.

Hermione sat at the table across from the witch and wizard, and Susie and Hyori sat on either side of her.  Hood chose not to sit next to either them, nor across from them, but instead at a third side of the table.  She settled into her seat, and cleared her throat.

“Ms. Granger, this is-”

The door to the room opened, and a second auror entered.  Hermione didn’t recognize this wizard, who was extremely short and had slightly pointed ears -- goblin blood, somewhere down the line.  “Sorry, sorry,” he said, moving quickly to sit next to Hood and settling his own pile of parchment in front of him.

“Ms. Granger, this is Wilhelmina Lazenby, the proprietor of Billie’s Bobbing Bubbies.  She’s complained about the damages you did to her establishment, and we thought we’d ask you in here as a courtesy,” said Hood, indicating the woman across from Hermione.  Lazenby had an unhappy look on her face, and stared down at the table sullenly.

“I’m sure you could have told me as much, and I’d have been happy to come along, Auror Hood,” said Hermione, lightly.  She smiled, despite her irritation.  Hood had perhaps been hoping Hermione would refuse.

“Hortense, knock it off,” said the other auror.  “Mukwooru’s toe, this is Hermione Granger!”  He shook his head.  He had shaggy brown hair and a nice smile.  “I’m Auror Gerald Podrut, Ms. Granger.”

“If you’re quite done, there are things to settle.  Under what authority was Ms. Granger acting when she broke into the basement of my client’s business, doing severe damage to property in the meantime?” interrupted the wizard to Lazenby’s right.

“I was invited by the DMLE because of my special skill-set,” said Hermione.  “The DMLE’s charter permits it to request or hire the services of outside consultants, as necessary.”

“That is intended for exorcists, herbologists, and other experts -- not a one-witch wrecking crew!” objected the lawyer.  She couldn’t tell if he was really outraged, or if it was calculated.

“Even if you were right,” said Gerald, with a voice slightly higher than normal, “I think we can be realistic and say that the Wizengamot would happily pass any law Ms. Granger needed to continue to help the aurors… I understand she’s been invaluable.  Or so Mr. Diggory has said.”

“Ridiculous,” muttered the lawyer.  Hood said nothing.

“Are you going to file claims, Madame Lazenby?” asked Gerald.

Her lawyer answered for his silent client, snapping, “Of course we’ll file claims!  My client’s business has been ruined -- half the floor is torn apart!”

“And the Goddess has a deep vault, you figure, eh?” said Gerald.  He glanced over at Hermione.  “Er, sorry.”

“Quite all right, you lovely bloke,” said Susie, smiling.

“Indeed it is,” agreed Hermione.  “But I don’t think there’s any need for a hearing before a low court.”

“Or an appeal to the Wizengamot,” said Susie, pointedly.  She leaned back in her chair, and smiled.

“We can certainly come to terms,” said Hermione.  She glanced over at Hood, and thought for a long moment.  There was an opportunity, here.

Just a friend, waiting to be made.

“Could we speak for a moment, Auror Hood?  Nothing terrible, just have a quick question?”

Hood frowned.  The muscular auror rose from her chair, though, and jerked her head to indicate the hallway.  “Fine.”

Stepping out after her, Hermione closed the door behind them.  “Auror Hood, let us be frank.  Your career has gone nowhere for quite a while… ever since Azkaban.  Am I right?”

Hood didn’t reply immediately.  She crossed her arms and stared intently at Hermione.  Hermione could see that Hood was trying to figure out Hermione’s motives: if it was genuine or a trick… or even just cruelty for its own sake.  But slowly, the auror replied, “It’s been slow.”

“May I help you here, then?  Am I right in thinking that you’d like to track down the rest of Geoffrey Gem’s suppliers and vendors?  I know the DMLE made good inroads into that Euphoric Ring last month, but I bet you didn’t get half of the crooks, and you know it.”

Hood raised an eyebrow.  “ ‘Crooks?’  We got a good many of them, don’t worry, and the rest will follow.”

“If I give you a way to track down most of the people who have been supplying and selling those phials of potion, will that help you?” asked Hermione.

The response was measured again, but less hostile.  “We’ve already tried the Substantiation Charm on his ingredients, and got little we could use.”

“I have a special Muggle method,” said Hermione, smiling genuinely now.  “Don’t roll your eyes -- it’ll work.”

“You do that, and we roll up the rest of that ring…” said Hood, considering.  “Why?  You have friends enough, and there’s no favor I could do you that would matter.”

“Auror Hood, believe me when I say that what matters most to me is doing the right thing.  I know that sounds… well, phoney or hackneyed, or something.”  Hermione shrugged.  “But it’s true.”

When you had a magical unicorn aura of innocence, you could get away with a lot of naive sentiments.

“All right,” said Hood, carefully.  She cocked her head to the side, uncertain.

“Then let me tell you about something called ‘fingerprints,’ “ said Hermione, “and we can call in another expert to help you and the DMLE out.”


≡≡≡Ω≡≡≡

NOTE:  Yes, I know that Novaya Zemlya is not in Siberia.  Sloppy reporting, really.


6 comments:

  1. A note on Norden's languages.

    In the Nordic languages the word "the" for any given noun is one of three suffixes, -en, -et, (-a (Norwegian)).

    "Norden" means "the north". "Nord" means "north", and "the Norden" reads as "the the north".

    The same is true for "the Kalmaposten", which should be referred to as the Kalmapost, and "the Norden's Magidepartementet" which should be referred to as Norden's Magidepartement.

    As a Norwegian it was somewhat awkward to read about the the north's the department of magic.

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    1. I was going to comment the same thing. It is fair and sort of expected that Hermione would think of it as "the Nordens Magidepartementet", but Per would never say "the Kalmaposten".

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  2. So I've been told. I'll get to fixing things like this at the end. If it helps, I'm told Hermione's poor Greek is positively painful to read.

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  4. I don’t know if it’s something English-speaking media would do, but a Russian would never contract Новая Земля/Novaya Zemlya (literally “New Land”—quite unimaginative naming, that was) to just Земля/Zemlya (“earth”, “ground”, “land”; “Earth” when capitalized). Especially considering one’d be likely to encounter Земля Франца-Иосифа/Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa (“Franz Joseph Land”) in the same contexts.

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    1. I didn't even understand that the headline was referring to the Russian prison that used dementors, I thought that Zemlya means "the Earth" here. Especially considering that capitalization was hidden by caps lock, and that we had a Russian space rocket that could very well indeed have such a name just a chapter ago. Thus I interpreted this headline as "new pictures of the Earth from the Russian space rocket", or something like that. I indeed could never imagine that the name was referring to Novaya Zemlya.

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