Continuing Tales

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 1 of 25

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Through the whole sorry ordeal Hermione maintained that none of it was her idea in the first place.

Not that it helped, in the end.

The conclusion of the War didn't tie up as many loose ends as she'd originally hoped. So much of her time and energy had been sapped by finishing Voldemort that a messy clean-up hadn't factored much in her vision of the future. Even now, five years later, the Ministry continued to struggle with a high circulation of dark artifacts, loose killers, and—perhaps the most infuriating of all—exonerated criminals that needed watching.

There was simply not enough room in Azkaban for every sordid Voldemort-supporter that hadn't fled following the Final Battle; the ones who had come quietly and caused the least damage had been pardoned. It made Hermione's blood boil to think about, but she was consoled when she learned that, at least, they would all be kept under heavy surveillance.

She was consoled at first, anyway.

But then—after climbing up through the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and graduating to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement—the happy duty of criminal surveillance landed in her lap, and suddenly it wasn't so much a comfort as an utter nuisance.

Who better to watch the rabble, really, than Hermione-workaholic-Granger? She hadn't stopped drudging a day since she finished her N.E.W.T.'s and followed Harry into the Ministry. Her first job came to her the day after graduation, nearly automatically. Her current position in the DMLE was almost easier to attain and she hadn't even taken a day to settle in. She'd magicked her belongings to her new office early in the morning and had hardly left the place since.

At first she'd been ecstatic, working in wizarding law. Finally, after years of slogging through all the bureaucracy surrounding the regulation of magical creatures, she'd be able to tackle a few laws a little closer to her heart: the ones that stifled Muggle-borns, just like herself.

She'd be able to make real change here, do actual good for thousands of suppressed witches and wizards—she could alter the tide of history.

But she quickly realized that nobody was particularly interested in revising those old laws. In fact, everyone in the DMLE was currently preoccupied with the quarter of the population that may or may not rise up in a tsunami of Darkness again.

Really, did nobody know how to prioritize?

So, rather than bettering the world, Hermione ended up spending her first year in the DMLE keeping tabs on the likes of Jiminy Larson, an ex-Snatcher and an all-around scumbag that managed to just survive his parole before breaking into a pet shop and doing unsavory things to a rabbit. The poor creature made a full recovery but had to have a memory charm performed on it so it could go on living. Hermione made sure he went to Azkaban for the maximum possible sentence. Having watched him for a year, she'd come to really hate his stupid, cock-eyed face and was glad to see him locked away as he should've been from the start. Her other charges were shaped in the same repulsive mold.

As if sitting around monitoring the gross underbelly of the wizarding world wasn't torture enough, things in Hermione's personal life weren't going so brilliantly, either. She'd spent five fragile months engaged to Ron before she finally panicked and broke it off. They fought too much and too often, and their cohabitation made it abundantly clear that she was expected to be a surrogate mother to him, something she never wanted in a marriage.

The breakup, at first, couldn't have been uglier. But eventually Ron surprised her: after only sixteen months of angry silence they were able to have a civil conversation and reestablish a tenuous friendship. She knew Harry and Ginny were relieved that they were at least back on speaking terms, but it was still quite depressing that things would never be the same between the four of them.

No more gallivanting about as a happy quartet, no more double dates over lunch or spontaneous trips abroad…

There followed a bit of a dry spell after Ron—that being the understatement of the century. Sure, there'd been a string of blind dates courtesy of a well-meaning but terribly deluded Molly Weasley (who still treated Hermione like a daughter even though things hadn't worked with her son), but each one had gone to hell. Really, really gone to hell.

Hermione couldn't remember a time in her life when she'd eaten as much ice cream or sobbed over as many bad romance films.

One of her potential suitors had, for no apparent reason, shown up in a bright red cape and his drawers on the outside of his pants. Another had asked for a foot-massage right there in their box at the opera. Yet another had tried to convince her he was a star Quidditch player and had rolled in wearing his "professional uniform" to prove it; she might've believed him, except that Ginny actually played on the Holyhead Harpies and Hermione had met the whole team just the week before, and there still wasn't a single wizard on it. When she pointed this out, he'd made a grand exit out of the restaurant window, got jammed and had to be removed by the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.

One of the witches called to the scene recognized Hermione, and the next day the story was all over the Ministry.

It was so, so bad.

To cope, Hermione threw herself even more fiercely into her work. She had her nose in her reports first thing in the morning, looking them over while she brushed her teeth and drank her coffee. She broke away only for the occasional outing with Harry and Ginny, or Neville and Hannah, or Luna and Rolf—whichever couple felt like having a third wheel that day. She obsessed over details and had everything done weeks in advance.

She was getting tired.

Not just physically tired, either. No. At first that's all she thought it was—she assumed she needed to exercise more, keep a better watch on her diet. But even after she'd integrated a fanatical workout routine into her schedule, and cut out nearly all unhealthy foods from her life, the tiredness persisted. She started going to bed strictly at 8 o'clock every night, but sometimes she just laid awake, tossing and turning.

So she ran more, ate even healthier. Still no change—in fact the sleepless nights became even more numerous. She started taking herbal supplements to try and coax herself to bed, but nothing helped.

"Maybe you should be focusing on getting a little less sleep, if you know what I mean," Ginny said.

Hermione looked up from the parchment folder she'd been eyeing under the table (her friends forbid her from working over lunch, but sometimes they let it slip if they couldn't actually see her at it). "What do you mean?"

Ginny raised her eyebrows, her hands clasped on her huge belly. This one would be her second; James had been born only a year before, and was now slobbering happily in the highchair at her elbow. "You know," she said mischievously. "Maybe you're relying too much on those workouts to tire you out. Maybe you should try something different."

"I have been," Hermione fumed. "I told you, I've been doing those new crunches, the ones where you've got to lay on an incline with the barbells in your hands—"

"Maybe you should try getting a workout partner," Ginny said, a little louder, her eyebrows raised so far they nearly disappeared in her flaming hairline. She tilted her head forward, looking intently at Hermione.

It clicked. "Oh my God, Ginny," she huffed, going red to the roots of her frizzy hair. "That's—come on, that's the last thing on my mind right now—"

"Well, maybe it shouldn't be," Ginny said. "I can't tell you how many times a good shag has put me to sleep, even if I'd been working the pitch all day—"

"Jesus Christ, Ginny!" Hermione put her face in her hands and tried to rub the image out of her brain. It was simultaneously awkward and depressing. "Don't you think your mother's done enough damage on this front?"

"Hey, that fellow who wore the cape was supposed to be hung like a walrus," Ginny laughed. "No, I'm serious, I knew one of his ex's! Apparently he was great from behind." She raised her voice to talk over Hermione's wail of horror. "Oh come on, I'm only trying to help! Where's your sense of adventure?"

"I haven't got time for any of that," Hermione insisted. "I've got a presentation with the Minister coming up and I have to spend all day tomorrow following that sick Jacob Hanson around under the department's rubbishy Invisibility Cloak, and you don't even want to know what I witnessed him doing last week, it'd be enough to put anyone off men for years—"

"All I'm saying," Ginny cut in, talking over her, "is after you've booked Hanson for tossing off in a shopping mall, you should come join Harry, Neville and I at the Cauldron, and we'll sort out a likely candidate for you. We'll get you drunk enough that someone will look likely, anyway," she added, snickering. "Oh, come on! Don't look at me like that. It'll be boring being the only sober one again unless you're there and you let me get you plastered. That's really all that's keeping me going anymore, Hermione. Think about that."

"Thanks for your consideration and kind words of comfort, Ginny," Hermione sighed, waving for the check, "but I think I'll pass."

As Ginny shook her head and finally dropped the subject, Hermione couldn't help but feel a familiar sinking in her gut. She didn't know a thing, Ginny—pregnant and glowing and married to the man of her dreams with a perfect toddler and a perfect little home all set up in Godric's Hollow. As far as Hermione was concerned, her own romantic life was well and truly over. There wouldn't ever be that special someone for her, except books.

God, she'd been a real fool.


Hermione arrived at work the next day to a file lying in the center of her anally clean desk. This was surprising: she was always one of the first people in the office, and David Belby, her supervisor, generally didn't arrive earlier than her unless something was up. She glanced at his door and saw the blinds of his office were drawn: a sure sign he was in, and working on something.

Excited for a moment, she hurried across the room and snatched up the heavy file—only to be immediately disappointed. This was the file she'd put together three weeks ago and had assumed was completed. On the front was a sticky that read, "This is to be your top priority now," in Belby's messy scrawl.

Sighing, she flipped it open, and was confronted by three black-and-white photographs clipped to the front page of the report: one each of Draco, Narcissa, and Lucius Malfoy.

Damn Belby. Why was he pulling up this garbage now? Hadn't he read the file? Hermione often suspected he just skimmed—this confirmed it. If he'd actually read it, he would've seen that she'd checked, rechecked, and thoroughly triple-checked the Malfoys and found nothing unsavory aside from their personalities. Every property even remotely associated with the Malfoy name had been strip-searched right down to the foundations; every dangerous or Dark artifact had been seized and destroyed.

The Malfoys themselves had all been deprived of wands for nearly a year, and then, after they'd proven themselves harmless during that time, Draco and Narcissa were allowed to purchase replacements. Meanwhile Lucius was forbidden to do magic for another two years after them. When he finally did get a replacement, the Ministry was sure to place powerful monitoring charms on it for several months, to be sure he wasn't reverting. Hermione had searched through his spell history nearly five times and hadn't found anything out of the ordinary.

She scowled at the little moving figures. All the hours she'd wasted compiling this report, and now Belby wanted her to revisit the issue, as if there were anything more to the story. Draco was slouched against the picture's border, looking nearly as exhausted as Hermione felt. Narcissa looked like winter: pale and cold, her hands clasped in her lap, her chin tilted up. Lucius merely stood there, straight-backed and staring.

Hermione had seen these photographs a million times when she'd first started this case. There was hardly anything remarkable about them. She hadn't seen the subjects in real life since the Final Battle, yet their faces were permanently etched into her memory. Even after all this time, she still couldn't make sense of Lucius Malfoy's expression. The other two Malfoys looked perfectly normal, but he… She'd thought to herself one morning, when she'd first been drawing up their reports, that he looked dead. Void in the eyes. Like a gutted fish on ice… She'd always thought there was something terrible about his stoic face. Something frightening… now it was just more apparent.

Still, dead or not, he certainly wasn't the worst thing to look at. She would never say it aloud, but objectively speaking he was… handsome. Especially when she remembered is mannerisms: the way he moved, how he spoke… None of it meant anything, though. He was still evil to the point of being nonhuman and that made him ugly, not his face. Right? Right.

With a huff, Hermione slammed the folder closed. She really couldn't bear the thought of looking through those old papers again. They were dull in the extreme: the Malfoys had done a disgustingly good job at keeping their noses clean following the war. How did Belby expect her to make this her top priority?

As if on cue, Belby himself came striding into the office, carrying a small cork board dotted with colored tacks and a patchwork quilt of newspaper clippings, sticky notes and yarn. He look disheveled; his wild black hair made Hermione think of Harry.

"A breakthrough," Belby said, propping the board on a chair opposite her desk. In all the years she'd known him, Hermione never knew Belby to waste time on introductions or small talk, not when something big was on his mind. Belby took out his wand and muttered a quick spell; a small, red dot of light, like a laser-pointer, appeared on the board. He used it to circle one of the press clippings. "Remember the Svobodas?"

Hermione had to fight to keep from rolling her eyes. "Yes, Belby. They were a family of thugs and they practically owned the Dark market for generations. They came out in the open during Voldemort's second reign and were taken down after the Final Battle. What's your point?"

"I've been trying to figure out how the Dark market is still functioning as well as it is, considering the Svoboda empire's been down for years," he said, a little breathless. Hermione guessed he hadn't got much sleep last night. "They were the major distributors of Dark objects and materials. They had hundreds of people working under them—but it wasn't very well-organized, and when they were disbanded, there was barely a hiccough in the market." He pointed again at the board, this time indicating a chart, linked by red yarn to a press clipping about the Svoboda trials.

Hermione glanced from her boss to the cork board. "That looks like the artwork of a patient in an insane asylum," she said. It was too early for this. "I know all about the Svobodas, and I know the Dark market's still going strong without them. What's your point, Belby? What has this got to do with the Malfoy case?"

He grinned and went on, pointing again with his laser at the board. "Yes, well, they weren't organized enough to have operated the whole Dark market, like we originally thought, were they?" he said. "So I thought, maybe they were just a part of what was going on. Maybe they were just foot soldiers. And look—they should have been in their prime in 1996. You-Know-Who was back, and illegal trade should've been flourishing. But we don't see that." He pointed again at what looked like a table covered with numbers. "In fact, we see a distinct dropoff in the trade of Dark artifacts, especially illegal potions. It's like a wrench was thrown in the cogs. Business totally fell apart here. If the Svobodas were in charge of it all, why the sudden crash? What happened?"

Hermione paused, her eyebrows furrowed. "So you're saying someone else was behind the Dark market, and was using the Svobodas to distribute, but something happened to them in 1996." She glanced at her boss. "Well, what was it?"

Dear lord, Belby was really relishing this, wasn't he? The man positively danced as he pointed again at the board. "It just so happens that Lucius Malfoy went to prison that year." He used the beam from his wand to circle another press cutting. "And the market didn't perk up again until he broke out. Look: a month out of prison and the market's thriving again. But then it drops off again here"—he pointed—"and that's around the time the inhabitants of Malfoy Manor were confined to the house. Malfoy couldn't get out to do business, and suddenly the market goes wonky again. Coincidence?"

She followed the blue bit of yarn linking a column on the Svobodas to a cutting about Malfoy's incarceration. It was a long moment before she responded. "Correlation does not mean causation," she said matter-of-factly. "It's suspicious, to be sure, but it's not proof. We can't get him on any of this."

Belby wasn't fazed at all: in fact he seemed to have anticipated this sort of reaction from her. "That's true, but that's also why we need to focus on the Malfoy family again," he said seriously. "The Dark market is stronger than it ever was. I can't tell you how many erumpent horns we've dug up in the past month, and somehow we're still being flooded with illegal dragon eggs, and that new drug Doxie Dust that all the kids are on now—that's getting completely out of control, and we haven't got a clue about where it's coming from. None of the sellers we catch will give away their source. But there's definitely a pattern to the flux of these Dark materials, Hermione. They're being moved and delivered as if by a well-oiled business, not like a load of hooligans are out swapping things randomly in dirty alleyways."

He took a deep breath. "And Malfoy's a business man. He's the head of the most successful business in wizarding Briton. And yes," he said loudly, as Hermione opened her mouth, "we've stripped his apothecaries, both physically and financially, and every last one of them turned up clean, but that's not to say he's incapable of running another business on the side. In fact he's the ideal culprit. He's a brilliant accountant; he's financed huge operations and charities"—Hermione winced a little—"so there's no denying he could cover something like this up in the numbers. If anyone could run an underground empire, and still hide it, it would be him."

There was a moment of silence, during which Hermione stared at the cork board and Belby stood there, panting a little. Eventually Hermione picked up the Malfoys' file and began rifling through it. "If you're correct on all this," she said, "then where are we supposed to start? I drew up this report, David—if Malfoy's hiding something, he's doing an insanely good job. I haven't found a trace of criminal activity anywhere near him."

Belby picked up his board and muttered another spell; the laser-like beam vanished from the end of his wand. "That's what I need you to figure out," he said.

Then he left the room.

The Catfish

A Harry Potter Story
by Miss Dasti

Part 1 of 25

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