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Entry #6

Discussion in 'Q3 2019' started by Xiph0, Sep 10, 2019.

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  1. Xiph0

    Xiph0 Yoda Admin

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    Moonlit Death

    The Aurors found the boy’s body with half an hour to go until the clock struck twelve. An old warehouse in Northfleet had alerted the authorities by the sheer amount of magical residue saturating a region devoid of anything magical. And Ronald Weasley, who should have been at home reading to Hugo, was one of many Aurors who appeared from thin air at the scene.

    “Weasley,” Humbleton, the paunchy commander of the Auror forces, greeted him.

    “Another one?”

    Humbleton, grim-faced and pale, nodded. “Same markings. Same kind of death. He was tortured before the Killing Curse ended it.”

    “How old this time?”

    “Eight.”

    Ron closed his eyes, opened them a moment later. “Magical or Muggle?”

    “Muggle. Lived close by with his grandmother. Poor lad didn’t even know anything. Not that it makes much of a difference, mind.”

    “So there’s still no method to this, except the torture and killing.”

    “Not that we can discern, no. Random places; random kids.” It was a sweltering Summer night, the moon full-bellied. Humbleton took a cloth tissue from his breast pocket and dabbed his forehead. Putting it back, he was quick to take out his pocket watch next. “If you want a look, go on in, Weasley, but it’s gruesome sight. You have another half hour, then we’ll clean his wounds and make it appear as though he fell while exploring the area. His grandmother will have enough of a terrible shock as is, without thinking her boy was torn apart by wolves.”

    Humbleton’s pocket watch clicked shut, and he returned it to his vest before handing out orders to the other Aurors. Leaving most of the commotion behind, Ron walked into the warehouse, past quietly working trace-seekers, whose wands were giving off soft lights as they tracked the magic hovering around the warehouse like a thick, poisonous cloud. He didn’t have to walk far to find the murder site. The boy, pale, blood-specked, unmoved, lay in the middle of a circular runic inscription. Four wooden totems stood on the runic circle, demarcating a square.

    Ron knelt next to the inscription carved into concrete. The circles were the same, up to the last swivel. He couldn’t make anything of them, though; and neither the analysts nor anyone from Hogwarts had been able to decipher them. Dark magic, for sure, but which kind? Consultants on such issues were a rare breed, and usually not employed by the Ministry.

    Ron willed his attention away from the runes, to the center of the circle. The boy’s trousers and shirt were torn. Claw marks cut angrily across his body: deep as well as shallow gouges, a gruesome pattern of blood with only a small oblong space around the navel left untouched. Half of the kid’s blond hair had been savagely torn off, and now lay scattered around the body.

    Bile rising in his throat, Ron got up and stalked out of the warehouse. The bastards, whoever they were, had enjoyed their handiwork.

    While the location and the kind of victim had changed yet again, the how stayed the same: marks made by fangs and claws around a space the size of a book; a victim terrorized; a Killing Curse. Cases like this usually fell out of his purview, given that his squad was responsible for small-time crimes, but he had asked Humbleton to let him in on the investigation when it had started three months ago. These incidents proved eerily similar to one that had taken place three years ago, when Harry’s decline began.

    Ron had tried hard to find reasons for not speaking to Harry, but the more children died like this, the more apparent it became that the cases were connected, and that there was no way around it.

    Outside, Humbleton was speaking to another Auror. The man nodded, and made off in the direction of the town. Likely charming the police to find the boy come morning.

    “I’m done,” Ron said. “It’s just like all the others, and too similar to ignore it any longer. I’ll speak to Harry about this.”

    “To Potter?” Humbleton’s face was drawn in thoughtful silence, then a keen glimmer appeared behind his horn-rimmed spectacles. “You think this is connected.”

    “I do,” Ron said, observing the trace-seekers at work. “The mode is much the same. He knows more about that case than any person alive right now.”

    “Be that as it may, and I’m sorry to say this, knowing he’s your friend and all, but you won’t tell him.”

    “What? Why?”

    “Harry Potter is not an Auror anymore. He handed in his badge, and with that the right to information from murder scenes. This is our job, Weasley, not a civilian’s.”

    “He’s hardly a civilian. A civilian wouldn’t have been able to off Riddle.”

    Humbleton shuddered, then sighed. “Listen, I brought you in on this case because you asked me to, even though you’ve got other cases going on—“

    “—thievery and illegal potions,“ Ron cut in. “Nothing too important.”

    Humbleton looked put out at the interruption. “I won’t have you derail regular process by running to a civilian, Weasley. This case is sensitive. You know what the last leak did to werewolf sentiments.”

    “Harry won’t leak. He hates the press.”

    Beetle-like eyes narrowed behind glasses. “Be that as it may. Do not tell Potter. That is an order.”

    Ron gritted his teeth. “Yes, sir.”

    “Good. Then get yourself back home. Your wife’s probably worried. I know mine would be. Have nap, rest up. Tomorrow we’ll decide how to go on with this case.”

    Ron’s answer came less passionate this time. With a “Yes, sir,” he turned, gave his wand a flick, and let magic take him away.



    #


    When Ron came home, the house was drenched in darkness. A swish, and a warm light lit up the living room. Still in his dirty Auror cloak, Ron sat down in an armchair and stared at the moving portrait of Hogwarts at the opposite wall. Even in the Era of Peace, as the Daily Rag called it, there was plenty of death and depravity to see as an Auror. But children got to him, more than anything. People did horrible things if they thought it benefited them, and most of the time they didn’t need a Dark Lord for it.

    Images of the claw-marked victims crowded his mind, and he tried to be objective about them. Those gouges had been made by real claws. A beast, loosened on the victim? Perhaps. A werewolf lay much closer, though. There had been reports that some rare individuals could choose, outside of the one night where it was mandatory, whether to turn into a wolf or not, and that they even kept their mental faculties intact. The Department kept tabs on these people, but maybe there was an unregistered one? A degenerate tosser that now went around torturing children for his amusement.

    When the noise of his thoughts got to be too much for him, Ron moved over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a tumbler of Odgen’s Finest. He tipped back, refilled, tipped back again, and refilled a second time. He focused on the burn and not the memory of the boy and the other victims. Not that it had ever worked. But one of these days it might.

    “Ron?”

    Hermione, hair frizzy from bed, came down the stairs in a hurriedly tied bathrobe.

    “Did I wake you up?” Ron asked.

    “I couldn’t sleep anyway.” She joined him at the liquor cabinet, looked him over as only a wife could, and put her hand on his. “Another case?”

    “I’m fine,” he said, then grimaced. Harry had always said that. “It’s the one I was telling you about,” he elaborated. “Another kid; another sacrifice. And no one knows to what end.” His hand cramped around the tumbler. “Except fun.”

    Hermione paled. “That’s horrible, the poor children . . . what will you do now?”

    “Talk with Harry. The cases are too similar to be a coincidence, though I’m not looking forward to that conversation.”

    “Last time might’ve been one of his moody days. You know how he’s been since Teddy’s death.” Hermione took the tumbler from his hand and put it down. “You know, there’s nothing that says you’ll come to blows again. But if you want I could have a talk with him beforehand. He might listen to me. There’s still some of the old Harry in him. I know there is.”

    Ron shook his head. A moody day was one way to describe it. Harry being occupied another. The best word, though, was obsession. Bloody enough of that for Ginny to take the kids and leave the plonker. And look where that got him. He’d become a right bastard.

    But they’d been through this issue. If he started now, he wouldn’t be able to calm down for quite some time. Ron reached out, palming Hermione’s cheek. As if he’d sent her to Harry when he was in such a rotten mood. “Thank you,” Ron said, smiling at the way she leant into his touch, “but don’t, please. You know I want to keep you out of my Auror work.”

    As much as she allowed him to, anyway.

    “I know, but if you need any help . . .”

    “I’ll ask you, promise.” He pulled her over to the sofa. “Now let’s talk of something else. I’ve had enough of Auror work for tonight. How was your day?”

    “Stressful,” she said, leaning against him, “and infuriating.” Ron kept himself from telling her that he liked her indignant blushes. “The anti-werewolf sentiment has seeped into every department. Malfoy is swarming the Ministry with proposals that would restrict the rights of Werewolves everywhere in Britain.”

    “Still a toad.”

    “He is! And worse, still a toad with money. So many who talked of equality just a few years ago are now clamoring for his reforms. It’s maddening! Next Friday, there’s a Ministry hearing where he’ll make his final push. I suspect the majority will vote for him if nothing happens.” Hermione pursed her lips, reminding Ron frightfully of McGonagall. “Say nothing of these idiotic atavistic anarchists! I haven’t seen such stupidity in all my life. Calling for a return to nature, best achieved by becoming a werewolf. Can you imagine? That cult is doing nothing but pouring oil on the fire with their idiocy.”

    “A werewolf cult?”

    “Well, not a real cult, I don’t think so. More like idiots who think that lycanthropy is great. I saw one a few days ago in Diagon Alley, dressed up as a werewolf, shouting how the moon will bring him salvation. God, I pray they never find a real werewolf that could turn them.”

    Maybe they had already. There was a lot of wolf going around these days. How strange that he hadn’t heard of this cult before.

    “Since when have they appeared in Diagon?”

    “A few weeks ago, I’d say. After Malfoy started his campaign.”

    “How convenient.” Malfoy had grown a lot more subtle over the years, though. Such a direct link was a bit too much to swallow. “And they’re really not werewolves?”

    “They’re not registered, at least. And I doubt a real werewolf would go out and drape himself in pelts in the middle of Diagon Alley.”

    “I suppose not, but—“

    “Mum, Dad?”

    Ron’s eyes slid from Hermione across the living room. “Hey there,” he said softly to Hugo, who was standing at the base of the stairs in his Hogwarts pajamas. “Did we wake you up?”

    Hugo shook his head, his hair going every which way. “Rose snores. I can hear it through the wall.” He shot them a grin that was all Weasley. “I think that’s what Uncle George said, too. ‘All women are ladies until they’re in bed, then they become animals like the rest of us.’”

    The innocent delivery, the perfect mime of George’s voice, there was a lot to be admired. Hermione’s scandalized expression proved the best, though. Ron snorted. “He said that, did he? I wager he didn’t say it to you, though.”

    Again that Weasley grin. “No he didn’t.”

    “I see. Well, he’s not wrong there, technically speaking.”

    “Ronald!”

    “What? You heard it, didn’t you? Rose is snoring in bed.” Ron walked over to Hugo and picked him up in one swoop, throwing him over his shoulder. “What a beastly behavior!”

    Even as Hermione’s eyebrow rose in skepticism, her wand danced, layering a sound dampening spell over them before Hugo’s laughter woke every neighbor in a radius of two miles.

    Upstairs, Ron cast one of his own at the wall, taking care of the snoring. “Tell your mother to make this more permanent tomorrow, will you? And now off to bed. Tomorrow I’ll read to you.”

    “That’s what you said yesterday.”

    “I know. And just as you have no excuse not to sleep now anymore; I won’t have any excuse tomorrow not to read to you. Deal?”

    Hugo thought for a moment. “Only if I can have my broom,” he said with a grin. “You said you’d teach me how to fly, dad.”

    Ron hummed. “I did, didn’t I? Well, it’s a deal, then. We’ll get you your first broom soon, promise.”

    Later, Ron closed the door, smiling to himself. Rose would have argued for an hour whether she couldn’t just stay up now that half the night was already over—in fact, she’d have argued with Ron for precisely as long as was necessary until daybreak actually came, or Hermione put a stop to it.

    Speaking of Hermione . . . They had left their talk unfinished. And afterwards, a cup of coffee. The weird but strangely good one made of dried cat poo she had brought from their last vacation.


    #


    Next morning, Ron found himself in St. Mungos’ Ward for Suspicious and Inexplicable Happenings, paying his underlings Timothy and Leary a visit. The nurse was a feisty old dame with a wicked sense of humor. When he asked her how they were fairing, she said she’d seen much worse. At least it wasn’t the Magi Pox. Or the Cumberland Slow Seath. Or the myriad of afflictions she then enumerated, the names of which grew more sinister by the second.

    But they’d make it, eventually. Still, seeing them unconscious was unpleasant. Despite a breeze rustling the blinds, sweat was beading down their brows. They lay still: no moaning, no groaning, not even a twitch. And yet a feverish sheen glowed on their faces, as if they’d run laps around Hogwarts for weeks without pause.

    Ron frowned at Leary, a small man with a dirty joke for every freckle on his face. They had been his first men. Misfits, yes, but his just the same. Their task had been simple. A new form of mind-altering potions had made an appearance on the black market, and all they’d had to do was question a suspect.

    “Please inform me the moment their condition changes,” he said to the nurse without looking away from Leary. “You know how to reach me?”

    “She isn’t here anymore, Mr. Weasley. Went to the next room, I think.”

    Ron turned to Slobber Sam, the newest member of his squad, who stood closer to him than he would have liked, and whose halitosis could be smelled at a distance. “Then go and tell her. The moment they start moving, I want to know.”

    With a silly salute, Sam slouched his way out of the room. His robe didn’t fit. The shoes were too large. And while Ron usually didn’t have a problem with that, today it bothered him. Two Aurors in St. Mungos; new drugs in Britain; several kids dead. And Sam kept running around as though he belonged to a circus when he got an Auror’s pay. There was no excuse if you had the coin for a good outfit. Back in Hogwarts Ron would’ve given his wand arm for enough money to buy himself a good wardrobe.

    He told himself to breathe, just as the dear wife had taught him for when he was getting too emotional for his own good, and when Sam came back, they walked out of the ward and fell into an easy conversation about the Pysmagia Pylots, the latest up and coming Quidditch team. At the outskirts of the hospital they apparated to Diagon Alley, and from there ambled through the throngs of wizards, witches, cats and magical platypuses, until they took a turn into Ebeny Street and knocked at the door of one Harlequin Hammock.

    A man in his late fifties, wearing a striped pajama and a hat with a feather, poked his head out of the door. In the back of the flat, a parrot screeched: “Intruders! Take your wands, worms! Intruders!”

    “Good morning, Mr. Hammock,” Ron said. “I’m Senior Auror Weasley; this is Junior Auror Kabuz.”

    “Red cloaks,” Hammock said. “What’s red cloaks want to do with me again? Honest folk got no truckin’ with the law.”

    “Intruders!” the parrot went on. “Give them death. Sweet, kind death. Intruders. In the hail of afternoon—”

    “Still you, Plucky!” Hammock roared back into his flat.

    Ron put up a smile. “He’s a lively one. But I think I know those lines. War at Beltane?”

    “Aye,” Hammock said, his eyes acquiring the glimmer of a true fan. “Best damn piece I’ve ever listened to. The music is divine, as is the story . . . not one of those cheap two-Galleons productions that’s littering the channel these days like so much rubbish. And the characters! What a lady that Vesna Spiva is, eh? A voice to die for. Ah, if only I could see her meself. But the prices are mad. That blasted goblin would gouge a blind grandmother if he figured he could get away with it. Bastards, the lot of them.”

    Ron ignored the diatribe against goblins. “I see you have good taste, Mr. Hammock.” At least Hermione was thinking that, if Hammock listened to Beltane, which was currently on everyone’s mind, as the play had started a few weeks prior and posters were scattered all across Diagon Alley. “Still, I’d like to ask you some questions.”

    Hammock shifted the hat around. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather you leave me alone. I’ve nothing against red cloaks per se, see—a good man ought to follow the law, and you seem an upstanding bloke—but I’ve been talking to your colleagues already and it’s been a mighty investment of time, it has. A man’s got to live after all, and anyhow: an inch along the clock is a Galleon in your pocket, and I’m a very busy man most days. So you see . . .”

    Ron did, indeed, see. “I’ll make sure you’re properly reimbursed for your time, Mr. Hammock. A few questions, and we’ll be on our way.”

    Hammock rubbed his hands. “Well, if that’s how it is, then come in, sirs. I’ll put on a nice cuppa.”

    Hammock led them into the kitchen, where a pan was scrubbing itself above the sink. With a quick spell, Hammock sent towering stacks of old newspaper whizzing through the room, away from the table and chairs they had occupied. “Please, sirs, sit down,” he said, screwing open the lid of a coffee box and looking inside.

    “Plucky!” the roar came loud and sudden.

    “Sweet death, sweet death!”

    “Shut your beak, you! How often have I told ye not to go for the coffee? I’ll throw you out, I will, if you do that again.”

    “How the swords of night howl in delight! Oh!”

    “Stupid bird,” Hammock groaned, before turning with an apologetic expression to Ron and Sam. “Deeply sorry, sirs. I’ll get new coffee. Just give me a minute.”

    “That’s really not necessary,” Ron said.

    “But it is! I’ll not have anyone say Harlequin Hammock wasn’t a good host.”

    “We won’t—” Ron fell silent mid-word. Hammock, still pajama-clad, had already stormed off. He returned a second later, flicked his wand to fill a pot with self-boiling water, and vanished again.

    “What a strange man,” Sam said, surrounded by towers of newspaper.

    Sam, who proved more obstruction than accessory most of the time, was actually right in his assessment. Ron took the time of Hammock’s absence and looked at the newspapers: the dates went back quite a while, and covered several countries. Was Hammock searching for something? Turning to the rest of the kitchen, Ron saw that Hammock had a sense for art. The spaces between the cupboards were full of paintings. Sculptures filled his shelves, here and there nodding their heads in greeting. Ron walked over to a faded portrait near the door. The less-than-crisp appearance fell outside the norm, and he took his time observing the woman inside, whose robe was colorful enough that it would have made Dumbledore blush in embarrassment about such flagrant flamboyance. She had a mole under her right eye, and a sharply defined nose. She was laughing as though she had just heard a naughty joke. Interesting. The former wife? A younger sister? A lover, perhaps? The woman was around her mid-thirties, and had a natural beauty that struck Ron as familiar, even though he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

    When Hammock returned, Ron was sitting back at the kitchen table. Soon, the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the room.

    “Thank you, Mr. Hammock,” Ron said. “I do appreciate the effort. Now, regarding our questions—I would like to know what exactly you have been talking about with my two colleagues when they came around yesterday.”

    “Why’s that?”

    Ron tapped the rim of his cup with his finger. “They’ve taken a leave for personal reasons,” he said eventually. “Since they’re currently unavailable I’m picking up their slack.”

    “Don’t you red cloaks have files for things like that?”

    “We do, yes,” Ron said, “but you see, Mr. Hammock. I’m not much for reading files in a dusty office. I like to keep my ear on the ground. There’s nothing that beats a good conversation, and as I said, it won’t be any trouble for you.”

    “A blessing to have competent red cloaks around for once,” Mr. Hammock said with a satisfied nod.

    Was it? Hammock had changed his tune quickly.

    “They wanted to know if I’m still in contact with my old employer. Which I’m not, is what I told them.”

    “Your old employer?”

    Hammock’s expression grew uneasy. “I stopped workin’ for him some fifteen years ago now, so it’s not like I’m still there.”

    “That bad?”

    “People don’t like knowing it, and they always treat you different after.”

    “Were you in violation of the law?”

    “Of course not,” Hammock said, looking appropriately scandalized by the notion.

    Ron shot him an inviting smile. “Then you’ve got nothing to fear from me. I’m just here to do my job, that’s all. I’m not going to judge.”

    Mr. Hammock grew even tenser and was sitting rigidly on his stool, his fingers cramping around the pot handle. Ron took a sip from his cup, giving him time. Not many people could stomach silence. Ron knew that from himself. Luckily, except for when he bungled things up with Hermione, he was sitting on the other side of such a silence most of the time now.

    A moment later, Hammock sighed and went over to another cupboard out of which he took a small snuff box. He rolled himself a cigarette and sat down again. “I guess I’ve got nothing to fear, have I? It was legal work, I’m willing to take an oath on that.”

    “There’s really no need for that. I believe you.”

    Hammock took a deep drag, blew out. Smoke coiled toward the ceiling. “Borgin and Burke’s,” he said. “I brewed potions for those cook for some twenty years.”

    “We should take him in,” Sam said.

    Ron kept his face neutral and kicked Sam’s leg under the table. “Please, don’t pay him any attention. He’s still new,” Ron said, adding softly, “I can see why you’d want to keep that kind of work a secret though. So, my colleagues asked if you still got an in with Mr. Borgin, now that Burke has died? And you told them you don’t. Anything else?”

    Hammock took another drag. He was finding back to his earlier ease again, arm slung around the back of his chair. “Not much. They asked what I was doing now, and I told them I’m doing restorations of some old art pieces. Things like magic fading out of portraits and stuff like that.”

    “You do have a hand for art,” Ron said, nodding at the pictures on the wall.

    “Thank you, sir. It’s truly been a blessing, finding this job.”

    “I can imagine. You’ve been at it for long?” When Hammock raised an eyebrow, Ron grinned in embarrassment. “Just curious. I’m not much for charms myself, see, that’s always been the wife’s work. I never had the knack for it, even when old Flitwick tried cramming it all in my head. To be honest, I’m quite envious of you, Mr. Hammock. How long have you been at it? It must’ve taken a lot of time to get good enough for it to pay. It’d probably take me decades to get to a decent level.”

    Hammock beamed at them. “’s not that hard once you get the entry level stuff out of the way, Mr. Weasley. Just try it, you might find you come to like it. I know I’ve never had as much fun as when I put some real effort in those paintings. Took me maybe four years or thereabout to get where I am now, and I’ve never looked back.”

    “Four years? That’s amazing. Sadly, work’s busy these days. Lots of people complaining about nothing, see? Not the easiest thing to do, finding time, I mean. But it sounds interesting. Anyway,” Ron said, setting down the empty cup, standing, “we won’t take up any more of your time. Here”—he left five galleons on the table—“and thank you for the coffee.” Belatedly, Sam rose as well, rattling the kitchen table when his knee hit the table leg.

    “My pleasure, sirs,” Hammock said, glancing at Sam with a queer expression. Ron made nothing of that though. Most people gave Sam that look; for the most part it was deserved. Hammock showed them out, wished them a good day, and Ron enjoyed the two minutes of silence as he and Sam descended the stairs and stepped back out into Ebeny Street, where the usual bustle soon swallowed them whole.

    “Is it true, Mr. Weasley? You’re pants at charms?”

    “Not really. I know the basics and some specific ones quite well. You have to, really, in this line of work.”

    “Why’d you lie to him then?”

    “It pays to keep your cards close to your chest, Sam.”

    By the time they came back to Diagon Alley, Ron’s thoughts had returned to Hammock. Four years plus change of charms work didn’t quite add up to the fifteen years he’d been away from Borgin’s haunt. The four years was oddly specific, too, the kind of specific you mentioned when you were proud of how little time you had actually needed. Conversely, had Hammock started fifteen years ago, he likely would have said that it took a lifetime’s effort to get on his level. Boasting wasn’t done in the middle. What had kept him alive in the years in between? Odd jobs? Old friends? The woman in the picture?

    Ron tabled those questions for now. He had another house visit today, one far more uncomfortable.

    “I’ve got some business to take care of, Sam. You go back and get a start on reading Hammock’s file. I want to know more about him.”

    Sam looked perplexed. “We’ve got a file on him? But we only just visited . . .”

    “If he worked at Borgin and Burke’s, then yes, we’ve got a file on him.”

    Sam’s face betrayed his uncharitable thoughts, and Ron allowed himself an honest grin. Thank God the days of grunt work were already far behind him. He knew exactly how it felt to spend hours in a dusty, unorganized archive, rummaging through heaps of parchment and memory orbs until fingers cramped and eyes grew teary.

    Just as Sam was about to walk off, a frantic shout from the upper side of Diagon Alley made both Aurors wheel around. They ran full-tilt towards the screams, which were picked up by on-lookers now as well. The closer they came, the heavier Ron felt the residue of a curse saturate the air.

    He barreled through two wizards, ignoring their indignation, and took in the situation. An unkempt man, dressed from head to toe in pelts, lay gargling and thrashing on the floor, spit dribbling down his chin. Close to him, Draco Malfoy stood pointing his wand at the downed man. His other arm curled protectively around the shoulder of his son, who looked on in fear or confusion, it was hard to tell.

    Ron drew his wand. “Release the curse, Malfoy.”

    “I’ll do no such thing. This savage attacked my son, Weasley. He ought to pay for that, don’t you think?”

    Angry sparks coalesced around the tip of Ron’s wand. “Release it, or I’ll have you down at the Department within half a minute. Is that really how you want to spend your afternoon?”

    “As if an idiot like you could bring me in,” Malfoy said, but then clicked his tongue, gave his wand a swish, and put it back. The man on the ground stopped thrashing, and without the curse on him was left gasping for breath. Malfoy glowered first at him, then at Ron. “How good of you to come after the crime has already been perpetrated, Weasley. What a stellar addition to our Auror force you prove to be.”

    Ron pinched the bridge of his nose. Dealing with Malfoy hadn’t become any easier since Hogwarts. Then he said, “Sam, help the man,” before crouching in front of Malfoy’s son, whose bug-eyed face was taking in the scene. “Hey there, no worries, it’s all over. What’s your name? I’m Ron.”

    “Scorpio.”

    “You speak to me, Weasley, not my son.”

    Ron ignored him. “Is what your dad said true, Scorpio? Did that man attack you?”

    “Weasley.”

    “Shut up, Malfoy. This is Auror business.”

    “He did,” Scorpio said after getting a grudging nod from his father. “I was eating,” he stammered.

    “Eating?” Ron cast a quick glance at the floor; there, next to the man, lay an upturned ice-cream cone. “Ah. Which flavor?”

    “Butter mash,” Scorpio said.

    “Great choice. And what happened then?”

    “He came and talked to me while Father was inside the store, and then . . . and I didn’t know what he meant by anything . . . I really didn’t, it was all strange, with the moon and all these things, and I said ‘Leave me alone, please,’ but he wouldn’t, and he took me by the shoulder and then I screamed, and next I knew, Father came rushing out the store . . .”

    “Is that enough interrogation for you?” Malfoy cut in, pushing himself in front of his son. “Was it pleasurable having my son relive that experience? How about you actually do your bloody job and incarcerate that filthy animal over there? Or is that too much to ask of an Auror these days?”

    Ron set his jaw. “I assure you Malfoy, I took no pleasure in that, though I have to say your son seems a great deal braver than you ever were.”

    Malfoy grew still. “You talk big with that red cloak on, Weasley. But you’ll come to regret your words eventually.”

    “Going back to a dark place, are we?”

    Malfoy leaned closer and whispered, “I don’t need magic to make you rue the day you were born. First is your wife, come Friday. You better prepare to console her, because I assure you my proposals will go through. Those filthy beasts won’t have a hole to hide in in all of Britain.”

    Ron’s hand tightened around his wand, though right now he had no trouble throwing wands aside and using his fists to make a point. Then Scorpio pulled at his father’s cloak, and the tense atmosphere slackened. Ron relaxed his hand; Malfoy turned to his son. “Come, Scorpio, let’s leave the dutiful Aurors to their job. I am sure they have a lot on their minds right now.”

    Watching their retreating backs, Ron played with the idea of putting Malfoy in a cell for using a borderline dark curse, but then decided against it. Malfoy was guaranteed to step out of that cell half an hour later anyway. It just wasn’t worth the effort.

    “What now, Mr. Weasley?” Sam asked, crouching next to the downed man in his oversized, sloppy clothes.

    Ron had almost forgotten that Sam was still there. “How is he?”

    “Alive but unconscious.”

    “Then bring him in. I want to ask him some questions later. And get a start on Hammock’s file.”

    “Yes, Mr. Weasley.”

    As Ron turned away, he thought that Harry better be in a good mood today, because if not, he wouldn’t be averse to getting out some of that aggression.


    #


    Ron followed the well-trodden paths winding through the forest while keeping a steady eye on the Cairngorms whenever he spied them through the thick canopy. The afternoon sun laid out a carpet of dappled shadows to walk on, and quite a few Muggle families were enjoying the warm time out. Ron had put a concealment on himself in between apparating from Diagon Alley to Perth, and then to Kincraig, close to where he’d started this tiring hike.

    He stopped and looked at a family, listening to the childish shrieks as a sister bumped her brother into the bushes. Once that had been James, Lily and Albus, together with Hugo and Rose, playing hide and seek while their parents stayed back and talked about food, the world, and Quidditch.

    Days long gone. Ron resumed his walk, striding now. When he came into range of the elaborate wards which lay in a radius of a mile around Blàth Cottage, Ron passed through them without issue.

    Soon, the wall of trees thinned out, giving way to a field of flowers that stretched from his feet up to the cottage at the center of the glade, where Harry and Ginny had once made their home. Ron followed an overgrown, untended path across a moss-covered bridge. Inside his robe, his hand curled around his wand. The silence set him on edge. The eerie, bloody stillness of it all. This place was a colorful paradise. There ought to be laughter here, so much of it that you couldn’t get a moment of quiet anywhere.

    The door stood ajar, and Ron entered without knocking. Harry would know he was here.

    A faint sizzle of magic lay in the air, a residue of a larger spell gone off not too long ago. Ron followed the trace into the living room, and stopped short at the doorsill, his eyes widening.

    The room, all of it, from the pictures to the table, settees and sofas, and everything else that made a room personal, a place to share with family, had disappeared, giving way to the cold wooden floor, an empty fireplace, and an eerily familiar runic circle. Ron’s heart skipped a beat, but then he took in the scene fully, and his anxiety ceased. The runic shapes had a different flair, and there were three totems instead of four, demarcating a triangle and not a rectangle.

    Carefully, Ron walked farther into the room. The totems were huge and carved out of marble. When he was right in front of one, inspecting it, his breath quickened. A pensieve. Incredulous, Ron glanced at the runic setup. Three of them? Two milky white, the third clear. But why?

    “What do you want?” came Harry’s frazzled voice from the direction of the door.

    “A lot of things, but mostly asking questions,” Ron answered. Harry wore a fine robe and, contrary to the last time they had met, was not unkempt but rather fresh. “Been to a barber recently?”

    Harry palmed his clean-shaven chin. “I had places to be. Now, what do you want? I’m busy.”

    “The pensieves. Never mind how you got them—can’t exactly have been legal, I reckon. But I do want to know why.”

    Harry snorted. “You know why.”

    “Yes, Teddy . . .” Ron paused, seeing Harry’s face darken. “How does any of this help you find the bastard who did it?”

    Harry took a vial from his robe and poured a white string of memory into the clear pensieve. “How much do you know about runic setups like this?”

    “Pretty much nothing,” Ron admitted.

    “Then it would take far too long to explain it.”

    Ron gritted his teeth. “Humor me.”

    Harry paused, cocked his head, shrugged. “If that will get you off my back . . . A ritual is an exchange, that much should be clear. Usually something tangible is traded in. That’s where people get ideas about evil rituals, thinking of animal sacrifices and similar stuff. But they’re overlooking the obvious, the smallest kind of ritual.”

    “Which would be?”

    “Routine,” Harry said, voice low and focused as he knelt on the floor, using his wand to add to the runic carvings. “Magical routine, that is. You trade time, a number of attempts, and for this sacrifice you’re rewarded with a tiny groove in the fabric of magic, strengthening whatever you were doing beyond what Muggles could ever dream to do. That is why Riddle was considered a master of the Killing Curse. He etched out his expertise, and magic strengthened it beyond any of the dark rituals people usually put to his name. It’s an easy enough equation. The more often a routine is practiced, the stronger it makes its impression on magic.”

    “This looks like far more than a sacrifice of time.”

    “It is,” Harry said, his head snapping up, eyes lit, it seemed with an unnatural glow that made the hairs on Ron’s arms stand on end. “I’m almost there, Ron. Almost. After all these years, and all the doubts, I’m so close I can taste it. I’ll get that swine, and then I’ll make him pay.”

    “And how’s this circle going to help you?”

    “By combining routine with ritual, at least with that what most people consider ritual.”

    “What does that even mean? You said routine is ritual.”

    “I did,” Harry said. He was focusing on the carvings again, all the heat and momentary obsession gone from his voice. “And that’ll be the end of your questions. If you haven’t gotten it by now, I’m not inclined to explain any further. I’ve got work to do.”

    “You’re a right tosser, you know that?”

    “Maybe,” Harry said. “Would you please leave me alone now?”

    “No.” When Harry narrowed his eyes, Ron pushed on. “There’s been a murder.”

    “Then go and do your job. You’re still an Auror, right?”

    “A kid,” Ron said. “Little Muggle boy. One of many actually. He had claw marks all over his body, same as Teddy did. They all had. I think—”

    “There’s no connection.”

    “But the marks—”

    “I’m telling you, Ron, they’re not related. I know the case you’re talking about, and the details. But things don’t fit. Torn hair, claw marks, sure, but Teddy’s death wasn’t part of a dark ritual, only part of a routine.”

    “How would you even know about that?”

    “I have more than enough ways to find what I need, even without you or Humbleton,” Harry said. “The surface similarity was interesting at first; but that’s all it turned out to be, surface level.”

    “But . . .”

    “Whoever did that to those kids isn’t the one who got to Teddy. End of story.”

    Ron stood silently observing Harry. The way he had said that, so business-like . . . Hermione had been wrong. There wasn’t anything of the old Harry left. The bloke in front of him was someone else entirely. Without another word, he left Harry behind, walking as fast as he could to the edge of the wards, his arms shaking.


    #


    After Hugo had fallen asleep to the sound of his voice, Ron found himself alone in the living room, turning an empty tumbler in his hand. Things were happening too fast for his liking. Lately he hadn’t had any time to process events at all. Hammock was a dead end. Having found Sam snoring in the archive, Ron had looked for the file himself. It seemed as if Hammock had really used his talents to reinvent himself as an honest craftsman. Meanwhile, Timothy and Leary were still unconscious; Harry, sure that Teddy’s killer was different from the one who was tearing apart kids right now, had three pensieves and a ritual cooking; and Malfoy was restricting werewolf rights while a club of idiots had started speaking out for actually becoming a werewolf, shedding humanity altogether. Worse, they did it while playing dress-up. There were altogether too many aspects of wolf in this sequence of events.

    The thought of that lunatic in the cells gave Ron a blinding headache. After visiting Harry, he had gone down to the Department’s holding cells and had found the man awake, salivating and howling at the walls when he wasn’t giving off strange growling noises. Any attempt to communicate was met with a deluge of nonsensical information. The phases of the moon, the life of the wild, the thirst for sex and blood and violence: all of it expressed in a manic fervor that would make the most zealous priest feel inferior in method. Nothing useful at all; and any attempt of using a truth serum would first have to be cleared by a giant committee, which, of course, would take ages to assemble.

    Putting the tumbler away, Ron went over to the wireless. He needed something to get his mind off this mess for a while. He tuned into the first program he could find before sitting down again with another glass. An unknown band played and he relaxed into the rhythm, but after the song the program switched, announcing the start of ‘War on Beltane’. Ron groaned. Not even the wireless was leaving him alone today. Too lazy to get up, he sipped and listened as the play took its course, oddly hilarious in all its tragedy, because there was always the phantom interruption of Plucky in the back of Ron’s mind, a ghostly echo to the emotion-laden voice of Vesna Spiva.

    Maybe it would be worth it to get some tickets to the real deal? Hammock had said they were incredibly expensive, but an Auror’s pay was pretty good. Hermione for sure would like it. And after everything that Malfoy had told him today, they might need something to cheer them up soon enough.


    #


    Next morning, Ron took Hugo to Diagon Alley. He had promised him a beginner’s broom a while ago, and while Ron was busy most of the time, he wouldn’t miss his son picking out his first broom for the world. It would’ve been a full family outing if the need to stop Malfoy hadn’t chained Hermione to her work. The ferret, Ron concluded, had an undue influence on their family time.

    “Hey, champ,” Ron said, “you want to hop over to Fortescue’s first? I heard he’s got new stuff.”

    An excited shout later they were off to make a stop at Fortescue’s, and then walked towards Quality Quidditch Supplies. On the way, they passed a noisy gathering; people were fighting for places in front of the steps of a tall building, waving thin books in the air.

    “The last show in Britain, ladies and gentlemen! This Friday! Get your tickets now, you won’t regret it! And if you’re especially daring, come on up and get your own version autographed by the beautiful, the talented, the utterly dazzling Vesna Spiva!”

    Ron couldn’t see who did the talking, but that rightly didn’t matter. If this was the last iteration of the show, he had to act. “Listen, Hugo, you want to make your mum really happy?”

    Hugo nodded eagerly.

    “Great. She loves this play, you know, so we have to get some tickets. But first we need to get through all these people.” He knelt, whispering in Hugo’s ear. Then, standing: “So, are you up for a ride?”

    “Let’s do it!”

    Ron picked Hugo up and put him on his shoulders so that they were a good three heads above all others. And then, in a coordinated effort, Ron began to split the crowd in half, Hugo crying out, “Here! We need tickets for mum! Can we have some tickets for my mum please? She really wants to see the show!”

    Some of the people gave Ron a mean look, but none of them withstood Hugo’s plea, and soon the duo had made its way right to the front, where a goblin with center-parted hair was shouting the announcements.

    “Oh? What is this? A young follower of magical theatre? How rare, ladies and gentlemen, how rare indeed. But, I say, utterly predictable. For how could one not fall in love with Beltane, even as a child? Come on up, sir, and you too, lad, and get your tickets from Vesna herself. Such devotion in the young should be rewarded!”

    “Gladly,” Ron said, putting Hugo down and stepping up to the small table behind which the actress had made her kingdom. The sight did actually dazzle Ron for a fair moment; for her advanced age, Vesna was a tremendously beautiful woman, with short blond hair, a colorful robe, and an aristocratic nose, delicate but avian in nature. When she smiled at them, it was hard not to get lost in the sight.

    “Two tickets please,” Ron stammered.

    “Here you go, kind sirs,” Vesna said, leaning over the table and handing Hugo two tickets. “I hope to see you then.”

    “Yes, of course,” Ron said, handing the goblin the money. “Erm, of course we’ll come to see you; stellar performance it’ll be, I’m sure. Stellar . . .”

    With a knowing grin, the goblin took Ron by the elbow and led him to the side. “This way, sir. You’ve got your tickets now, haven’t you?”

    “What? Yes, yes, of course, I’ve got them.” Rubbing his nose in embarrassment, Ron took Hugo away from the crowd, placing the tickets in the inside of his cloak. “What a woman . . .”

    “Dad?”

    “Right, the broom. Let’s go.”

    At least, with the tickets secured, he had something to cheer up Hermione with. On their way to the store, they came by a row of magical Beltane posters. Usually he would’ve paid them no mind—they were plastered over every wall in Diaogn Alley—but this time, having just seen Vesna Spiva, he couldn’t help but stop in front of one of them, taking another look at her. And the longer he looked, the stranger it all seemed to him, as though his mind was trying to puzzle something out about her. What a sight of a woman. But so oddly familiar.

    Then it hit him like a bludger.

    The woman in Hammock’s kitchen. The faded picture. Unlike Vesna, she’d had a mole under her eye and different hair, too, but the facial structure, that fine nose and her eyes were hard to mistake.

    “Dad?”

    “Give me a minute, champ.”

    Hammock, adept at restoring aged things, had kept one picture faded, hinting at a personal attachment. The picture was, despite all changes, undoubtedly of Vesna Spiva, a high caliber actress. Hammock hadn’t dealt with Borgin and Burke’s in many years, but before that, he had been one of their potion suppliers. Hundreds of newspapers, looking for something. For Vesna? And now she was in Britain for War on Beltane. For how long? Three months, the posters said. Then they would move to Paris. Three months roughly fit the circulation of the illegal potions. They had come a smidge earlier, but only so. Hammock the former potion brewer with an obsession for Vesna, an old acquaintance. It might be a reach, but that connection felt too strong to be mere coincidence.

    Ron sighed. So much for the tickets providing Hermione some stress-relief.

    “Listen, Hugo,” he said. “Dad just found out something very important for work that needs to be taken care of. I’m really sorry, but your broom will have to wait until the next time I can take you.”

    A world collapsed in Hugo’s eyes. “I’m sorry, champ,” Ron said again, but Hugo, too polite to object loudly like Rose would have, had already fallen into a state of sullenness that smarted all the more for its quiet accusation. In a hurry, Ron took the next best flu network and brought Hugo to the Burrow. Molly, after one sweeping glance at them, immediately put on her favorite apron, inviting Hugo into the kitchen with the promise of sweet things for the rest of the day.

    Ron mouthed, “Thanks, mum,” and then apparated away from the Burrow, to the Ministry. There he took the elevator to the Department of Culture and went to Anderson, his lone contact in this part of the Ministry, asking him about the cast of War on Beltane and where they slept while far from home.

    “On site,” Anderson said. “Far as I know they’ve got their rooms in the theatre. Least the important actors do.”

    “Thanks. I’ll pay you back.”

    “Don’t worry about it, Weasley. Just make sure you’re available when we have our next pick-up game. We missed you recently.”

    “Will do,” Ron said, and was off, back to Diagon Alley, where he took a side passage to circumvent the main street, moving towards the back entrance of the theatre. There, the door next to him ajar, a lanky fellow in uniform stood leaning against the building, smoking.

    Concealing himself, Ron crept forward, keeping to the shadows. When he was close enough, he pointed his wand at a trashcan at the other end of the side-alley, took aim, whispered. A pulse of magic clashed with the trashcan. The guy’s head snapped up at the tinny sound. He took another drag, then threw the cigarette to the ground and went looking for the noise. Ron waited until the man had passed him, then snuck into the theatre.

    Inside, he heard the dulled shouts of the announcer goblin from outside the building. Glad that he was still in his normal clothes, Ron thought about where he would have put up actors in this place. At the top, probably, with a good view and away from the noisy stage itself. Ron took a rose from one of the vases lining the hallway and transfigured the flower into a grimy, deformed package. Not his best work, but then, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a ‘best work’ when it came to Transfiguration.

    He pocketed his wand and casually walked up the stairs. On the third level, he chanced upon an actor. The man had come down the stairs and held a bunch of loose papers, reading a script most likely. When he saw Ron, he was startled, “Hey you, what’re you doing here?”

    “Oi mate, I’ve got a delivery to make, special service, the boss said.” Ron held up the package, peering at a white label with Vesna’s name on it. “To some bird called Vesna, or something. Can you tell me where to find that lady? This place is a maze, I tell you.”

    The man looked impatient. “I can take it.”

    “Pardon my French, but you don’t look like no bloody Vesna. And this package only goes to her, and not in anybody else’s grubby hands, get me?”

    “Well, she’s busy right now. You’ll have to wait, then. Downstairs.”

    Ron jabbed the package angrily at the man. “Look here, I’m not waiting a minute longer than I have to, get me? So either you get that lady here right now, or you show me where her room is so I can slide a message or somesuch under her door. Then she can go and pick it up herself if she’s so busy right now.”

    For a moment it looked as though the man would argue. Then he glanced from his script to the grandfather clock at the end of the hallway, shot Ron a dirty look, and stalked over to one of the many doors. “Here. That’s her room. Now slide the message through and then get out, I’m busy.”

    Ron positioned himself at the door so that the actor couldn’t see his hands, and took out one of the Beltane tickets before sliding it under the doorsill. “There, all done. Thanks, mate,” he said with a cheeky grin and turned to leave. At the stairs, another concealment in effect, he waited until he heard a door clicking shut, then walked back into the now empty hallway.

    An Alohomora brought him inside Vesna’s room—more suite than room, actually, and quite spacious, with racks of clothes to one end and a large dressing table to the side, dozens of perfumes lining a thick-framed, oaken mirror. The bottles of perfume made Ron’s spine tingle. Some criminals, especially if they thought themselves secure and very clever, liked to hide evidence in plain sight. Who would ever dare to rummage through the toiletry of a woman like Vesna?

    Ron uncorked the first bottle, smelled, put it down. Perfume. He took the second; perfume again. A third and fourth attempt yielded no better results. Frustrated, Ron cast a look at the room. Dresser and under the bed would be too obvious. Had he been too hasty, then? No. He had followed an instinct, and his gut had yet to betray him as an Auror. But where did she— Ron’s eyes got caught by his reflection in the oval mirror, which had a mighty thick frame, more of it than was ever needed. He lifted it slightly, but there was nothing behind it. Then he gave it a little shake and heard a tinkling from inside.

    Trailing his finger along the frame, he found a nearly invisible clasp at the side, and loosened it. The mirror sprung open, revealing rows upon rows of tiny vials. He took one, sniffed, grinned. That was for sure a potion. The potion master at the Department would know more.

    He was about to send a patronus for reinforcements when the door to the room opened.

    “Who—” Vesna’s expression, frozen in surprise, thawed quickly. “The man with the little boy.” Then her eyes fell on the open mirror, grew narrow in fury, which luckily made it hard to be dazzled by her.

    “Just so,” Ron said. “And, sad to say, not that much of a fan, my apologies.”

    Vesna drew her wand, a curse on her lips, but Ron was faster. The wand flew out of her hand, into his, and while Vesna’s eyes had been tracking the arc of her wand, he had already cast another spell. As she fell immobilized to the floor, a man appeared at the door, pointing his wand at the mirror, the first syllable of a Bombarda on his lips. Ron threw himself towards the rack, giving his wand a desperate flick to get all the clothes between him and the glassy debris at his back.

    The explosion roared in Ron’s ears and blasted him sideways, sending him, draped in shard-studded costumes and leather dresses, tumbling across the floor. Coming to a stop, he threw off the clothes and clambered to his feet. Vesna wasn’t there anymore, only the lanky chap in uniform that had been smoking downstairs, joined by his mirror-shattering friend, remained.

    The duel was brief and brutal, now that they had lost the moment of surprise, and the chain of spells that flew from Ron’s wand had them lying at his feet within two minutes, tops. When he was done, Ron allowed himself a deep breath. He was experienced enough at dueling, but had never quite gotten over all the excitement and adrenalin coursing through his body. No matter how weak his opponent, his heart always threatened to pound its way out of his chest after a tussle.

    The announcer goblin and the rest of the theatre’s inhabitants were staring at him wide-eyed from the hallway.

    “Vesna?” Ron asked.

    “Gone,” the goblin said in a quaky voice.

    “I’m Senior Auror Weasley. These two are criminal suspects, as is Vesna Spiva. Do you know where she could have gone to?”

    He shook his head.

    Ron tapped one of the men at his feet with his shoe. “Then show me their rooms. And you two, keep an eye on them until my colleagues arrive,” he said, pointing at two burly men in frilly dresses with only half a face of makeup each. “If you help them escape, I’ll have you in the cells within a second.”

    He sent a patronus to the current Auror duo patrolling Diagon Alley before following the goblin into the first room.

    “Whose is it?”

    “Jesnik. The man in uniform.”

    “Alright.”

    On the surface, the room was similar to Vesna’s. A dressing table, a bed, a rack full of clothes, and . . . a chest. An Alohomora later, Ron had it open, his hands rummaging through its contents, and emerging with a very familiar set of furs. A similar one could currently be observed howling in the cells of the Department. So Vesna’s actor friends had been part of the atavistic werewolf cult? But why? Mind-altering potions for a quick buck on the side? Sure, the money motif is always a good one. But she was the last person Ron would have associated with lunatic werewolf-fanatics . . . as the string of thought unwound, his mind connected lunacy with potions, and the realization that sometimes he was a blockheaded idiot came in right behind.

    So the potions had made them lunatics, and they had bought them from Spiva. No, that couldn’t be it. The relationship between her and those two goons on the floor had looked too intimate for a simple buyer-supplier scheme. They had protected her too quickly, too ferociously, without regard for their own safety. And another thing: the potions reported of a few months ago hadn’t made people into loony werewolf-wannabes. Had they evolved, then?

    His thoughts blanked as his hand hit on something hard within the chest, having mindlessly rummaged past the fur. He unearthed the object, and soon held a wooden totem in his hand, just as the one that had been found at the ritual sites of the various murders.

    Ron leapt to his feet, wand ablaze and crackling with magic as he pointed it at the goblin and the rest of the assembled staff. “No one leaves the theatre until I or one of my colleagues has cleared them. Have I made myself understood?”

    “Yes, sir,” they said, cowering away from his wand and the sudden change in his mood. But he had no time for pleasantry. The totem changed everything, and anyone in that hallway could potentially be an accomplice.

    As soon as the reinforcements were there, they called for Humbleton and then searched every nook and cranny of the theatre, looking for similar totems. Four more rooms were implicated, one belonging to the mirror-shatterer, the other three to actors who weren’t in the house just then.

    The day ended stressfully, with the questioning taking the longest time. When Ron came back home he was knackered. And sinking into the armchair, he knew that he’d have a bastard of a time sleeping that night.

    Hermione, likewise, had reached the end of her strength, head bowed over articles, frantically paging through tomes of magical rights and laws from other countries, looking for a way to convince the people at the hearing tomorrow evening. The only point of light, and even that was bittersweet, was Hugo. Apparently, as cookies, tarts, and all manner of foods worked their magic, he’d grown markedly happier towards the end of the day. So much so that he decided he’d sleep over at the Burrow, in Ron’s old bed. Tomorrow, his mother had informed them half an hour ago via the fireplace, they’d visit Diagon Alley together, looking for a simple beginner’s broom. Nothing fancy, that’s what his dad was for after all, but at least something, so that the sorry lad could finally get to it, learning how to ride one over at the Burrow when his parents were too busy again. That last comment had smarted, but Ron reckoned his mother wasn’t exactly wrong. Work had taken up a lot of Hermione’s and his time recently. The boy needed a broom, so he’d get a broom. And even if Ron wasn’t there in person for it, at least Hugo would be happy. That was something, right?


    #


    Since the issues of potions, lunacy and ritual murder had now been irrevocably conflated, Humbleton had had no problem making Ron a primary investigator in the case. So, Friday noon, after a long briefing with Humbleton, Ron was on his way to Hammock’s flat in Ebeny Street. Given that Sam was green as grass, and Hammock had been apprehensive about involving a rookie in such an important case, Ron had left Sam at the Department, putting him in charge of collecting files for a more minor case. A colleague had kept an eye on Hammock’s place and told Ron that Hammock had left but once, to get groceries from the store down below. Then, with a tired wave, the Auror excused himself to catch up on some sleep.

    Ron was about to enter the shabby building, when a sight at the end of the street drove his heart below his beltline. The white, unstable figure of a garden gnome was carousing through the air, coming right towards him. His mother loathed the shape of her patronus, and had never practiced it much beyond the basics she had learned at the Order years ago.

    “Ron!” His mother’s voice came from the ephemeral gnome. “It’s Hugo. Oh God, I couldn’t do anything. They just took him and—my God, they looked like beasts, Ron. And they, they took Hugo! I don’t know what to do, I don’t . . .” The voice cut off at that point.

    As the gnome faded, Ron tried to get his racing thoughts under control. Vesna had kidnapped Hugo. Another boy for another ritual, this time with a personal note. Had they been intent on him from the start, or had they simply found him by chance?

    It didn’t matter.

    Immediately, a white Jack-Russel Terrier leapt from his wand. He didn’t know where exactly Humbleton was, but Sam was a different story. His patronus would order Sam to assemble backup and to be on standby for another one with a more detailed location. The words spoken, the terrier barreled through the air above the heads of the passers-by, soon moving out of sight.

    Then Ron was running up the stairs, two steps at a time, and blasted Hammock’s door right off its hinges. Plucky the parrot was shouting up a storm in its cage, while Hammock came from the direction of his bathroom.

    “Mr. Weasley, what—“

    “I have no time for pleasantries,” Ron said, pushing him into the kitchen, against the wall. Some of the newspaper stacks collapsed as Hammock bumped against them. “Vesna Spiva is accused of ritualistic murder in multiple cases, and you, Mr. Hammock, are linked to her. Now I don’t want to hear any explanation for what and why—that can wait until later. All you have to tell me now, is where she is.”

    “I don’t—“

    Ron pushed his wand against Hammock’s throat, yanking it savagely up into the aged flesh. “Where is she? Where could she be? You know her. You brewed potions for her. Where—” Ron stopped, then added, “Where did you drop them off? I don’t suppose you brought them over to the theatre, that would’ve been a tad too obvious. Speak now, Hammock, damn it, my patience is running very thin here.”

    “The hut!” Hammock squealed.

    “Which hut?” Ron roared in his face.

    “Between Prestwood and Denner Hill, a tiny stretch of forest. There’s . . . There’s a farm not too far away. Muggle farm. That’s where I brought the potions to Vesna. Please, I was—She was . . .”

    Ron cast a quick spell, putting Hammock to sleep before chaining him to the wall. Racing down the stairs, he could only hope that Hammock had spoken the truth, and that Vesna was actually hiding there. It had been a hunch, but given that this kidnapping focused on him, had become personal, it also seemed spontaneous in nature. Vesna couldn’t have planned much in advance, so likely she was making do with what she already had at her disposal.

    As Ron ran down the stairs, the image of the dead boy from Northfleet was front and center in his mind.


    #


    It had taken him a moment to find his way to the place Hammock had mentioned. From the edge of the farm he cautiously moved through the forest, until he came to the shack. It was larger than expected, rusted too, and roofed with yellowed, corrugated iron.

    He was about to sneak up to it, when Hugo’s wail pierced the air.

    Ron called up his patronus, whispered to it, and sent it straight to Sam before hurrying towards the shack. Vesna had at least three more accomplices, but his feet wanted to run so fast at the sniffling voice of his son that it was hard to keep a cool head.

    When another scream rose from the shack, Ron put caution aside and ran right towards, and then into the shack. He knew they were there—and if they wanted to duel him, he’d blast them straight to pieces.

    The scene he came upon made his insides twist. In the middle of a runic circle carved into the floor lay Hugo, writhing under the bindings that held him to the ground. Four totems crowded around him. And to his naked chest, thank God unmarked, stuck an old leathery book, oblong shaped, as though it was glued on.

    Vesna stood at the edge of the circle, her wand pointing right at Ron. “You are quick, Mr. Weasley. I had an inkling you would find me, but this is surprisingly fast.” She spoke with assuredness, a cold grace that belied her cruelty. “And for a man I have met only once, you prove to be an incredible annoyance. But soon this won’t matter anymore. We are almost done.”

    The blood in Ron’s vein, and the magic in that blood, was pulsing dangerously. He gave his wand a flick, sending the first spell at Vesna. She countered it, not to be hit twice by the same opener, but another charm was already hurling an old scythe at her that had been leaning in the corner. Under pressure, Vesna barely deflected it, edging to the side. Good. He would get her out of the shack and away from Hugo, and then he’d wring her bloody neck.

    Spell by spell, he herded her towards the forest. By the time they had reached the trees, she was huffing, her dress was torn, and her hair lay in chaotic strands across her brow. The cold grace was gone, and Ron felt a dark satisfaction at her disheveled state.

    The buzz of a curse roaring in his ear, he leaned to the side, casting a quick shield to absorb the inevitable follow up. Her helpers had arrived, two small fellows decked out in pelts and wearing wolf heads as helmets.

    Ron weaved his attacks; layered charms and botched Transfiguration; shielded, cursed, and blasted trees and earth to keep the advantage while having the picture of his bound son in his mind: the entirety of his experience as an Auror went into this fight, and slowly, step by step, he beat them back, his spells overwhelming theirs, as routine, that groove in magic as Harry had called it, did its work. One was already down, immobilized by ugly roots, his wand broken. The other would soon—

    Vesna charged, running at him full tilt, wide-armed, a cry on her lips. He pointed his wand at her feet, conjuring a crude net. Then she jumped, and suddenly it wasn’t Vesna Spiva in front of him, but a shadow, growing larger, feathered wings breaking out of its back, feet turning into claws. An avian monstrosity reared up right in front of Ron, and all he could do was try to blast it away. But the moment he flicked his wand, the third accomplice caught him unaware, his spell throwing Ron head-first into a tree.


    #


    When Ron came to, his head was pounding as if it would burst apart any moment now. Rope was biting into his wrists. A whine made it through the daze, and he blinked rapidly, trying to ignore the pain and regain control over himself. He was tied. He was—

    “Dad . . .”

    Ron’s eyes shot wide open. He was back in the shack, bound to the wall much the same way he had left Hammock in his flat. The circle was close to him, and Hugo lay still inside, and . . . Ron’s blood grew cold. Half of Hugo’s hair was gone, strewn around the circle; the skin of his head was torn in places, and on his body, too, claw marks had made their appearance.

    Vesna knelt next to Hugo, who was squirming away from her but never managed to evade her entirely because the bindings held him place. Vesna was human again, at least partially. Her right arm was still feathered, a grotesque approximation of a human arm, and its claw was about to rip into Hugo again while the two wolfmen knelt next to the circle, babbling incoherently about the moon, blood, and sacrifice.

    “Stop!” Ron shouted over Hugo’s sob, straining against the bindings. “Stop it! You won’t get away with this, Vesna. Reinforcements are already on the way.” He was desperate. He was looking for any way to make her stop. If she thought she’d be incarcerated after, maybe she’d run; maybe . . .

    “Won’t I?” Vesna said, trailing the tip of her claw almost gently across Hugo’s skin, before applying more pressure, eliciting more tears and drops of blood. Ron thrashed against the ropes, to no avail. “Can you feel it, Mr. Weasley? The sheer terror in this shack? Your presence actually helps immensely. This time it will work. This time it must. I do not care for what happens after.”

    He had to do something. Anything. The Aurors would come. He had sent the patronus, and Sam had gathered reinforcements, maybe even alerted Humbleton. Never mind that they were late already. If he couldn’t move, he just had to keep her talking, keep her from carving up his son. “The mole,” Ron shouted.

    The claw stopped. Vesna turned, her eyebrow raised. “What?”

    “The mole,” Ron said again. “Where is it gone to? You had it in the picture Hammock has of you in his kitchen. You don’t have it now.”

    Vesna snorted. “You disappoint me, Mr. Weasley. A simple removal potion.” She brushed the blood-soaked claw against her hair, leaving red traces in it. “But I think there needs to be a bit more terror in here, wouldn’t you say? Just a little, so that it will work for sure.”

    The four totems were starting to glow a deep red, as if soaking up all the blood and fear. The book above Hugo’s navel was starting to emit a foul sensation, too, like grease covering every part of the body, clogging up pores with malevolence.

    “Why the cult?” Ron said. “You’re a Veela. And these guys for sure aren’t werewolves either. You had us fooled all the time, thinking the perpetrator is a werewolf. Why would you leave such obvious clues?”

    Her lips curled in amusement. “Obvious? Did you really suspect these lunatics for one moment? Or did you, perhaps, think that Mr. Malfoy hired them? I heard he has it out for the werewolves of Britain. A bigoted man, for sure.”

    He had to keep her talking. And where the hell were the Aurors? “That can’t be all,” he said. “The potions weren’t always targeted that way. They were changed. Why werewolves specifically, then?” He looked at the babbling two wolfmen in the circle. “You needed werewolves for the ritual, or at least something close to it. They had to act the part, without knowing they were acting.” It was on the tip of his tongue. Harry had spoken of this. Ritual. Routine. Both able to be combined somehow to great effect. “The routine was the murder,” Ron said. “Again and again, the same way: torn hair, clawed bodies, children.” But what for? The book. The book on Hugo’s chest had something to do with it.

    The totems were now glowing so strongly, they drenched the whole shack in a pervasive red light and, emitting heat, began to shake on their wooden foundation; while the stream of nonsense words from the wolfmen was rising to an ever higher pitch.

    Vesna’s claw traced a red circle on Hugo’s chest, before adding little pin-prick dots of blood around it, measuring the distance between dots with a sickening sense of ease and practice. “You know, had you not come to get tickets yesterday, it would have been another child, at another date, but you did what you did, and here we are. But you are thinking too much, Mr. Weasley,” Vesna said, grinning. “Thinking too much, and fearing too little. That must be changed, I believe. A last moment of sheer terror, and it will be done. We can do that, I think, can we not? Now watch this.”

    In one savage thrust Vesna’s arm descended, five claws shaped into a single point, towards Hugo’s chest, right at the red circle.

    “No!”

    The totems, close to bursting, soaked up his cry, and a ball of white light appeared right in the middle of the runic circle, blinding Ron and pushing him hard against the wall. Teeth gritted, he squeezed his eyes shut against the light, then forced himself to open them again, ignoring the pain stabbing behind his forehead.

    Hugo was still there, and still alive, looking up at a figure looming where half a second earlier Vesna had crouched, about to deliver the final blow.

    Harry, clad in the old combat vest he had used as an Auror, stood looking around the shack, his brows drawn in confusion. “Ron? Hugo? But where is—“

    A groan interrupted him. Vesna and her accomplices were getting back on their feet, having been blasted away same as Ron.

    “Careful,” Ron called out. “She’s a full-blood Veela. Bird and all.”

    But Harry was still casting a searching look around the shack, talking to himself. “It doesn’t make any sense. They ought to be here. I did everything right, so why aren’t they here?”

    “Harry!”

    Harry’s wand shot up, and an old sheet of metal leapt in the way of a Killing Curse.

    “Is she the one killing kids?” Harry asked, then answered himself, “I suppose she is. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”

    “Please,” Ron said, his eyes fixed on Hugo, even though the mind-numbing terror was ebbing away. The totems, having been thrown out of alignment, had lost their blood-red color.

    Ron was no slouch as a fighter and duelist, but Harry was on another level, and his expertise had only grown in the years after Riddle. It took Harry two spells to leave the wolfmen incapacitated against the wall, sure to have multiple concussions. Whatever had brought Harry here, the explosive arrival had been strong enough to loosen the magical tethers binding Ron to the wall. He let himself fall sideways and robbed over to the scythe he had hurled at Vesna earlier. Once there he rubbed up against it, until the first strands of rope tore under the rusted blade.

    Vesna had fallen into fury, her voice distorted in high-pitched screams. “The ritual!” She thrust her wand forward, and as the second Killing Curse flew Harry’s way, sizzling above Hugo, Ron was halfway to the circle. He arrived, but couldn’t see any chains.

    “Dad,” Hugo whined.

    “Shh, it’s all good champ. I’ll get you out of here.”

    But that was easier said than done. He tugged at Hugo’s feet, but the body wouldn’t budge. Why wasn’t it moving? The explosion had loosened Ron’s tethers, why not Hugo’s? Above them, a dark-colored spectacle of magic unfolded, and when Ron glanced up at Harry, he saw his shadowed face puzzled, unconcerned with the duel but rather trying to figure something out. Then Harry laughed. More curses flew, and he kept laughing, a broken sound. Unable to move Hugo, Ron threw himself over him as a shield, whispering to him that everything would be alright, and that soon he’d get more treats at the Burrow and he’d learn how to fly, and that his mother would read tales to him for as long as he wanted to.

    Then there was an avian screech, and a shadow sailed over them, rearing up, feathered and violent. The claws were close to Harry, but a stab of his wand blasted large holes into Vesna’s wings, and she tumbled to the ground in front of Harry as though she was a puppet and he’d just cut her strings. Vesna, lying on the ground, wasn’t moving, not even groaning. A spell bound her tightly.

    It was over, and the shack was suddenly silent except for Hugo’s sobbing. Ron let go of Hugo for a second, searched Vesna for his wand and, having found it, put a sleeping charm on his son, looking over the wounds that had been inflicted on him. Now that the immediate danger was gone, and Ron could clearly think again, something was bothering him though. He knew that sensation, knew he’d missed something.

    Three actors, it came to him. Three wolfmen, not two.

    “There’s one missing!” Ron shouted. And Harry, with a long swish from top to bottom, called up a translucent, pyramid-shaped shield around them just as a spell came barreling their way. The curse fizzled out against the barrier, and Harry turned to the last wolfman, who had hidden, waiting for his moment, behind a strange car with only one seat but impossibly large tires. A flick, and the man was hurling towards them, dragged by the unseen force coming from Harry’s wand, soon held in place midair.

    “The ritual,” Harry asked. “What was it for?”

    The man was frothing at the mouth. “The moon. It was for the moon! And only the moon! And forever the moon!”

    “Ron,” Harry said, “if you’re here in official capacity, I reckon you might want to look away for a moment.”

    “I am,” Ron said, eyes fixed on the wolfman, whose pelts had fallen off his bare chest while Harry dragged him over, and whose wolf head sat askew on a thin, naked body. The man shivered, and started screaming. His legs whipped around as though he was strangled by an invisible hand. Blood ran down his eyes; his ears started to bleed as well. And then, just as Ron couldn’t watch any longer, it stopped; the man had fallen unconscious, and Harry lowered him to the floor.

    Legilimency was a dangerous art; one Ron had never studied, even though as an Auror it would have been quite useful to know. But the idea of rummaging in another person’s head had always made him queasy, and looking at the prone, unconscious body of the wolfman, he knew he had made the right decision.

    Harry walked over to him and Hugo; Ron stood up. “I couldn’t get him to move,” he said.

    “It’s the book,” Harry said. “As long as it stays on him, he’s bound.” Harry cast an unknown charm at the book, and then levitated it off of Hugo, who, even in his sleep, grimaced in pain. Brave boy, Ron thought. Impossibly brave after the ordeal he had just gone through.

    Once the book was gone, Ron gave Harry a meaningful look. “Thank you for helping us, Harry. How did you know where we were? Did Humbleton send you?”

    “Humbleton? Never got a word from him. My ritual brought me here.” He chuckled, then, running a hand through his hair, his chuckle soon turning to an empty laugh. “I guess I got it done a year too late. I had everything, Ron. Three pensieves. Three memories of murder sites with the exact mode that Teddy’s killer used. The right tracking circle, refined over months. Together it should’ve led me to the killer. And it did, in a way.” He picked up the blood-soaked, leathery book, paged through it, let it fall to the ground with a disgusted expression. “Fenrir Greyback’s ‘log book’,” he said. “He’s written down all the details of how he killed people, mostly children, and all the excitement he got out of it, especially from tearing out their hair. Teddy is in here, too.”

    “Greyback?” Ron said. “I thought he was in Azkaban.”

    “Apparently not, though something must have struck the bastard down after he got to Teddy, otherwise these idiots here wouldn’t have attempted such a ritual.”

    Ron pieced the rest together himself. Greyback’s logbook, soaked in sheer terror and the ritualistic, routine-dependent, killing of children—the very essence described in detail within its pages, and a runic circle and totems to give the ritual direction. “Is that even possible?” Ron asked. “To revive a man like this?”

    Harry shrugged. “Riddle’s ritual brought him back; but then, he was still alive. If Fenrir was dead, then this was more like creating a Horcrux after the fact. I don’t think that’s possible. Whatever they would’ve gotten out of it, it likely wouldn’t have been Fenrir Greyback.”

    Something still didn’t fit—Harry’s furrowed brows were evidence enough of that—but when Ron was about to ask, a slew of pops could be heard outside, and soon the shack was crowded with Aurors.

    “Where were you?” Ron asked when Humbleton entered the shack. He recognized the anger in his voice, but didn’t care to count or breathe. Hugo had come far too close to death today for him to stay calm.

    “We would have come earlier, Weasley, but Auror Kabuz. . .”

    “Sam? Did he get injured? Was there another—“

    “Nothing of the sort,” Humbleton said with an edge to his tone. “Right now, and until I know what to do with him, Sam Kabuz is sitting in a cell, thinking about his life choices to date.”

    “I don’t understand . . .”

    Humbleton sighed. “I was looking for you and found Auror Kabuz lounging in the archive, talking via the Floo. To whom I don’t know, but it seemed hush-hush so I listened in. He was asking for instructions. Apparently you had asked for backup in relation to the potion case, and he wanted to know if he should delay further, counseling that this could well bite him in the arse. I went in to take him to task, but the Floo disconnected immediately. Some questions later he told me of this place. I came as fast as I could. And Lord, I’m glad you’re well and alive, Weasley.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, shifting up his glasses. “We didn’t tell him of the recent developments, so I suspect Kabuz didn’t know that the backup was for something this important. Honestly, Weasley, the whole affair is a mess. Do you have an idea why he’d do that?”

    That was a good question, and Ron’s mind was racing accordingly. Sam Kabuz, a man barely able to get through the Academy. Actually, he corrected, a man who, from a standpoint of skill, shouldn’t have graduated at all. But Ron, always taking in the misfits, hadn’t thought too much about it back then. Sam was a pureblood, so of course someone had pulled strings to get him in.

    He looked at Humbleton. “Do you know who pulled favors to get him through the Academy?”

    “I remember having a talk with Senior Auror Tremblay about the issue,” Humbleton said. “He assured me that Kabuz was a fine young man who had fallen on hard times, and that his scores at the Academy did not reflect his actual level of skill.”

    Tremblay was a pig-headed moron. Ron had always felt lucky never having to work with him expect for the one time where his opinion of the man had irrevocably formed. But why would Tremblay put in a word for Sam Kabuz? Both were purebloods, sure, but one house was rich, and the other quite minor, and Tremblay had always struck him as the snobbish type, unlikely to associate with anyone but the rich elite.

    “What you might not know,” Humbleton said, “is that Sam Kabuz has accrued severe gambling debts with the goblins. My best guess is that the Tremblays bought up his debt and then convinced him of this scheme.”

    “Why though? I don’t particularly like Tremblay, but we never had much to do with each other.”

    “I have my suspicion,” Humbleton said. “The Tremblays, quite rich themselves, are nevertheless heavily indebted to the Malfoy family. I seem to recall that you and Mr. Malfoy aren’t the best of friends.”

    “That’s one way to put it.”

    But that only shifted the question around. Why would Malfoy put a fake Auror into his service? And then a man like Sam at that, who, at the best of times, could be called incompetent. Ron blinked. How had Sam always presented himself? Disheveled, wearing unfitting clothes; unwashed and halitosis-ridden; incapable and slow, barely managing to get by on magic. He was a caricature. He was what Malfoy believed Ron to be. Sam Kabuz, it struck Ron, was an elaborate cruel joke from a man who had too much pull and too much money, and thus figured himself invincible.

    “I will have Malfoy brought in for questioning,” Humbleton assured Ron. “Obstruction within the Department is a serious allegation. With Kabuz and Tremblay talking, we should be able to make something stick this time.”

    “It won’t,” Ron said, wearily shaking his head. “Tremblay won’t talk, not even if you threaten his job. If Malfoy really did put him in charge of this whole thing, he won’t say a word. Honestly, sir, I doubt there’s a way to really get at Malfoy through regular process. He’s too slippery for that.” Ron perked up, an idea coming to mind. “There is, however, a way we could salvage at least something from all this.”

    Humbleton nodded, the furrows between his brows darkening. “Weasley, let me be frank with you. Today a child could have died even though it was avoidable. I am absolutely livid about the incompetence and inbreeding within my department that has been brought to light by this. Therefore, assume that I have not heard anything about this not being regular process, and then tell me of your other way. I will see it done.”



    #


    From behind the oaken doors came the murmur of a hundred councilors talking across each other. Now and then, the tumult dimmed, and a single voice rose, spoke at length, and was drowned out again.

    Ron, accompanied by four Aurors, Humbleton among them, stood listening for his cue. At some point, when both sides had had their final say, the high chairs would be pushed back, and the votes would be cast, deciding the fate of werewolves in Britain.

    Ron had no doubt that Hermione had swayed a fair few of the councilors. Her preparation, her passion, the way her arguments cornered you: no way that everyone in that hall would vote for Malfoy’s proposal—there were always also a few decent people around. But Ron, knowing how self-assured Malfoy had spoken to him in Diagon Alley, also knew how strong an impression money and influence made on people. A few would surely align with Malfoy purely to stand on the side of political power; and those, Ron would take off the board soon enough, because nothing made an impression of power fade more quickly than being dragged away by Aurors, accused of criminal corroboration. That likely none of it would stick was immaterial.

    Hermione knew nothing of this, of course, since this had been an impromptu gathering of Aurors. She might even dislike it afterwards, lamenting that it hadn’t been fair play, an attack on Democracy or some such nonsense. But Ron had no such issues and wasn’t above evening the odds. If it cooked Malfoy’s goose, all the better. He’d gladly take a few hours of his wife’s discontent in return.

    Inside, chairs rattled, and a voice said, “Let’s call the vote.” With a mighty push, Ron shoved open the double doors. Ron and Humbleton at the front, the Aurors marched into the hall. Eyes were widening. Ears were peaking for scandal. Hermione looked confused, as did Malfoy.

    “What is the meaning of this intrusion?” one councilwoman asked.

    “Auror business,” Humbleton replied sharply. “Mr. Malfoy,” Humbleton called out. “Please step down to us.”

    Malfoy, clad in a resplendent black robe, banging his cane on the podium in front of him. “This is an outrage, Humbleton. A political hit job!”

    Humbleton, anchoring his thumbs at his suspenders, stayed calm. “This is no such thing, Mr. Malfoy. Everyone in this hall knows me for an honest man who keeps out of politics. No, this is Auror business, as I said. Evidence has come to light that make you a prime suspect in multiple counts of obstruction. More might be added to that list depending on your questioning at the Department.”

    “I will not have it,” Malfoy said.

    “Come down, Mr. Malfoy. Now. I am not above having you dragged out of this room, and for all our sakes I wish to spare you that humiliation.”

    Slowly, his fine-trimmed goatee quivering in rage, Malfoy stepped down the narrow stairs, coming to a stop in front of Humbleton. “I will have your job for this, Humbleton. Mark my words.”

    “Doubtful, Mr. Malfoy. Senior Auror Asymatha, add threatening an Auror to the list of Mr. Malfoy’s offenses. Now take him away.”

    “Yes, sir,” Ron said. He put both of Malfoy’s hands together and clapped them in magical manacles, before pushing Malfoy out through the door.

    “You will suffer for this, Weasley,” Malfoy said once they had left the hall. He was walking only reluctantly, and here and there Ron had to bump him forward. “I will make sure of it. You and your whole damn family.”

    The image of Hugo’s claw-marked body fresh in his mind, Ron, now in an empty hallway away from everyone, shoved Malfoy against the wall. “I thought you had changed after Riddle, which is why I left you alone all those years. But it seems you’re still the same damn squirrel shit that you have always been, Malfoy, and because of your little ploy with Sam, my son almost died in a ritual today. So you’re very wrong if you think I give a rat’s ass about your retribution. Instead, you better watch out, because from now on I’m keeping my eyes on you. One misstep. One touch with the dark, and I will be there, clapping you in irons again. How’s that sound for a change, Malfoy? You better think long and hard before you threaten me and my family again.”

    Malfoy fell into a seething silence for the rest of the way, and with a squeal, the door to his cell snapped shut soon after.

    Tomorrow, perhaps even today, Malfoy would be walking among the free again. But for the moment, Ron felt an immense sense of satisfaction as he turned away, clapping his hands to shake off imaginary dirt.


    #


    The case was closed at last. In an interrogation with Veritaserum, Vesna Spiva and her accomplices admitted to everything, though it had to be said that during the questioning, Ron had started to pity her accomplices rather than reviling them. Vesna had made full use of her charm, Vela or otherwise, and the continuous exposure to Hammock’s mind-altering potions had done the rest. By the end of it they were so queer in the head, they barely knew a Galleon from a Knut. The case itself was bizarre to the extreme, and it had started with Fenrir Greyback’s unnoticed escape during his transferal to Azkaban after the end of the war. Somewhere along the line, a remnant Riddle sympathizer—perhaps a whole group of them—must have worked to set him free; a fact that in itself opened more questions than it answered. Because if Greyback wasn’t right now rotting in Azkaban, who was the man that, during the bi-annual visit, the Ministry official recorded having seen?

    In any event, the real Greyback had made his way to the continent, where he’d kept a low profile for years, eventually getting involved with Vesna Spiva. As she said it in the hearing: his primal force, that innate werewolf strength, translated well to other areas in life, and she, having been disappointed by the inadequacy of men, had finally found one with a beastly nature to rival her own. Ron shuddered to think what lovemaking must have looked like between the two, and then decided to forget about that issue altogether.

    After years of feeling more and more secure, the killings began. They traveled the world together, she building her career, he as a bodyguard by day, a killer by night, who got her involved in his depravities very soon, and more easily than one would have thought. He recorded his killings—the little children, the way he relished their fear—in a notebook, a fact that put a disgusted expression on many at the hearing. One of those children was Teddy, though he was also the one murder Vesna hadn’t known about beforehand. That one Fenrir had planned on his own from across the Channel, perhaps out of some old remnant loyalty to his former master. But he also knew that Teddy’s death would lead to an intensive search by the Aurors, and thus decided to leave for the US with Vesna, where she finally had her breakthrough and got famous.

    Fenrir’s end came abruptly. Ron thought it was almost comical if there hadn’t been so much bloodshed following as a result. Fenrir, slowly getting back into the groove of murdering children, had found another victim, a black boy of twelve, a bit older than usual but ostensibly helpless, living alone with his grandmother in a destitute part of New York. Ron didn’t get the name, but the image Vesna painted wasn’t a pretty one. It turned out that the boy wasn’t that helpless after all, and while Fenrir played his perverse version of hide and seek with him, the brave lad got his hands around one of those gun-things, and shot Fenrir dead with it. A careless moment, heightened ecstasy from the terror of others, a simple mistake to make, thinking a kid that age helpless, and Fenrir lay dead on the ground, ironically having been shot through the head with Muggle means by a Muggle boy.

    That should have been the end of it. And in a normal fairytale, that would indeed be the end; but in the world of monsters and beasts, the only fairytales worth a damn related to death anyway. The boy’s presence of mind didn’t do much for him. Vesna massacred him in a fit of rage once she had found out about Greyback, and soon devised her mad plan to bring back the only man she ever considered her equal.

    The rest was what Ron had found out throughout the past days: a ritual to guide the spell towards Greyback’s revival, aided by the essence of Greyback in the logbook as well as the strange werewolf cult at her calling, and that combined with routine in the form of many dead children, killed the same way as all the others whose absolute fear they had relished as a pair.

    It was the most disgusting love story Ron had ever heard in his life, and though Hermione always went on about humane treatment for everyone, even she had kept her silence when he told her later that Vesna Spiva would not go to Azkaban, but rather face capital punishment for her crimes. That one, at least, had been a rare unanimous vote from the jury. The sentences for Hammock and Vesna’s accomplices proved much more difficult and were, as of yet, undecided.

    But that, Ron thought, wasn’t his problem anymore. He had done his job, and Timothy and Leary were up and about again. Apparently the twins had a rare form of magical allergy which got triggered by Plucky, the exotic parrot in Hammock’s flat. They’d be able to resume duty in a week at the latest.

    Everything was neatly tied.

    All done. All good.

    And yet, when Ron put away the case file, he knew that there was one more thing to clear up.


    #


    Blàth Cottage was silent, and the living room still empty except for the runic setup when Ron entered, gently pushing Hugo forward. Harry sat leaning against one of his pensieves, stubble covering his cheeks, a half empty bottle of Odgen’s next to him; all in all he made a sorry figure, sorry enough that Ron didn’t even have it in him to be angry any more. This was a broken man.

    “Leave me alone,” Harry said, not looking at them.

    “I don’t think we will,” Ron said.

    There was silence, then Harry let slip a brittle laugh. “I chased a ghost, Ron. A bloody ghost. No, even worse than a ghost. A ghost talks, you can make sense of it, you can even hurt it if you want. But this? I was hunting a book. All this time. All this”—he made a wild gesture at the living room—“for nothing.”

    Ron felt his veins pulse dangerously. Keeping his cool, he leaned down to Hugo. “Say, champ, would you mind doing the thing I told you about?”

    “Do I have to?”

    “It would help me a great deal right now. We’ll swing by Fortescue’s later.”

    Hugo wasn’t exactly willing but acquiesced nonetheless, putting both fingers in his ears and turning to the wall.

    Ron stood at full height again and took a step towards Harry. “You miserable daft bastard, I’m of the mind to give you a good blow on the head right now for what you just said. For nothing? You saved me; you saved my son. That’s not ‘for nothing’. Honestly, I don’t care if you’re the better duelist. If you ever say something as stupid again, I’ll knock you around until there’s sense in your head again. How could you even think to say that? Wake up, you bloody idiot. This revenge thing has done nothing but give you grief and pain. Look where you ended up! A drunken fool lying in an empty living room. Is that really how you want to live the rest of your life? Without Ginny? Without your children or friends?”

    “It was everything. For three years it was everything,” Harry said, staring at Ron. “I’ve got nothing left now.”

    “You’re a bigger moron than Goyle ever was if you think that’s true, Harry.”

    He was silent then, thinking. A sigh escaped him. “It’s too late now anyway. Ginny’s probably gone and found herself another guy—I wouldn’t blame her. And the kids . . . I haven’t seen them in three years. They won’t want to see me anymore. I told you, Ron, there’s nothing left now. And even if there were, I wouldn’t know how or where to start.”

    “Anywhere. Does it really matter? You can make small steps in every direction,” Ron said, then leaned down to Hugo. “It’s alright, champ, you can listen again. And maybe you want to say what you came here to say, eh?”

    Hugo nodded, his steps at first uncertain in the face of this disheveled wreck of a man he was walking up to; but then he grew more confident, his strides becoming longer, bolder, until he came to stand right in front of Harry, who was looking up at him in confusion.

    Hugo let himself fall down, putting both arms around Harry, squeezing, and mumbled into his shoulder, “Thank you for rescuing me, Uncle Harry. You showed that stupid bird lady alright, and you were super cool when you just came in, like boom, and there you were, with all these awesome spells to rescue me and dad.” The words came out in a hurry, as if he was afraid to forget them, but they were honest, Ron knew, because Hugo’s eyes had been shining this morning at the breakfast table when he told him that he wanted to thank his uncle Harry.

    Harry, belatedly, returned the embrace, looking helplessly over Hugo’s shoulder at Ron. After his single-minded obsession, he now seemed almost scared of human touch. “It’s alright, Hugo,” he said awkwardly. Then, looking for a way out of the hug: “Say, do you know how to ride a broom yet?”

    Hugo shook his head. “I haven’t got my broom. Those stupid wolf people got in the way.”

    “I’ve got several brooms stowed away in the second room down the left. You want to take a look at them? Choose one. I’ve got enough anyway.”

    It didn’t take much convincing, and within a second, Ron was alone with Harry in the living room. Harry slowly got to his feet, massaging his temples. He looked at Ron. “I didn’t expect that.”

    “It’s time to get you among people again, Harry. You made a sorry sight just now.”

    Harry sighed, staring at the door through which Hugo had just vanished. ”I guess I owe you an apology.”

    Ron clapped his back, a bit harder than was strictly necessary. “Not me, you plonker. You owe it the most to Ginny and your kids.”

    “You’re right . . . I’ll visit them. Once I got cleaned up, that is.”

    “That’s what I wanted to hear. Took you long enough.” There was an awkward pause in which both struggled to find words, then Ron mentioned the one thing that had bothered him. “Say, Harry, one thing . . . that ritual you did—it should have led you straight to Greyback, right?”

    Harry’s face grew uneasy. “It should have, yes.”

    “And if the person you’re looking for is dead, the ritual then swings over to his nearest possession?”

    “. . . it shouldn’t. Technically, it shouldn’t work at all if the person was dead. That was one of the conditions I built into the circle, to keep me from chasing a dead man, which I ironically did anyway.”

    “So that logbook, and all those rituals by Vesna . . . you think they worked after all?”

    “It’s the only way I can explain the situation,” Harry said. “And if I were you, I would destroy that logbook as quickly as possible, because if those rituals were really starting to work, then Vesna was somehow about to create a Horcrux for a dead person, and I don’t want to know what people could do with that kind of knowledge.”

    Ron grew very quiet. And while he heard Hugo’s excited shouts from the storey above, he knew that they had, by a hair’s breadth, dodged something incredibly dangerous, something that was better left forgotten.

    Then Hugo came storming back into the living room, bald for now, since Hermione had taken off the remaining tufts of hair, and scarred beyond what a child his age should have ever experienced, but holding up a broom with a smile that went from ear to ear. The broom was too big by far, and Ron laughed as he saw Hugo struggle with it.

    It was time to teach Hugo how to fly. The boy had well and truly earned it.



    Please place all reviews in spoiler tags ~Sorrows
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 11, 2019
  2. BTT

    BTT Viol̀e͜n̛t͝ D̶e͡li͡g҉h̛t҉s̀ ~ Prestige ~

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    This is one of the better entries so far, even if it's somewhat off at points.

    First, the central mystery. Attempting to revive someone by ritually reenacting their crimes is a novel approach. I have to say that it feels rather magical, but doesn't quite feel very Harry Potter, if that makes sense. It's more of a Dresden-ish notion, really.

    Second, the resolution to the mystery. I feel like the big action scene is somewhat dissatisfying, because Ron loses and then Harry just cleans up immediately, without any trace of effort. I also feel like the whole thing with Sam and Malfoy is just red herrings that go nowhere and don't really matter too much. The only really important part they contribute is showing general anti-werewolf prejudice and Malfoy is just kind of a dick, but they contribute very little.

    In addition, I think you might've been better off having a werewolf character involved so far. For a story which so heavily involves them, no actual werewolf appears. It's a bit of a shame, IMO.

    So basically, to summarize, I liked it but it could've been tighter by quite a bit.

    Score: 3.5/5
     
  3. Zombie

    Zombie Black Philip Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Plot & Pacing: 4/5
    I think I'm being a bit too cynical, but the ending of this fell flat. I know what you're going for. A nice happy ending to an other wise shitty chain of events. And that would be all well and fine but after all the turmoil that Ron has went through with Hugo being kidnapped, his partners being put into a coma, and his friendship with Harry having dissolved into a figment of the past, I think the ending is rather too clean.

    Plot wise, there is a story here. Unless I missed it, I would have liked a bit more subtlety in the reveal. Ron's leaps of intuition were far outside his range as a character even in his adult form. I feel like it would have been more logical if he'd been lead to his conclusions.

    I think that no matter what, Ron would have never spoken of Harry in the manner in which he did, no matter how big of a twat Harry acted like.

    I think Harry himself in the brief times we get to inspect him is fragmented. There are elements of who he is as a person, but not enough there to paint a whole picture and Ron does a rather poor job of telling us why he's that way.

    Characters: 4/5
    For the most part, Ron was on point. I'd say Harry was a poor imitation. The fake crab version of what we've come to expect of him in the future. I understand that pressure and time changes a person, but I feel like Harry was only here for plot convenience.

    Your OCs were interesting. Slobbering Sam made me laugh a bit because I was like why the fuck is he talking to a dog? Because honestly, that's the name of a dog.

    The Veela movie start and the Fenrir elements were interesting. I could have seen things ending a lot more dramatically, and for Harry to come in and pull essentially was a Dumbledore-esque move is both appropriate and inappropriate.

    It is because its an extension of his obsession, that even though he's no longer an auror or in constant conflict, his skills have only become more refined and where as Ron has had to hunt for his clues, Harry's seemingly divined them from thin air.

    The scene where he tells Ron about the Case that Ron was forbade from ever asking Harry about.


    Prompt Use: 4/5
    Very good use of the prompt. Not much more to say about it than that. I won't equate this to other comp entries, but you're one of the very few that really nailed the use of the prompt in something that was creative, atmospheric, and evocative for the amount of time you were given and the competence in your delivery.

    Other: 3/5

    I've noticed that you seem to suffer from the same thing I do in terms of phrasing. I get what you mean, and many others will, but it can often be said better. We either add to many words, or use the wrong order of building a sentence. I blame the fact that I'm technically ESL, and I dont' want to insult you and say that you're likely in the same boat, but that could be the case considering our userbase.

    There
    are a few things I might have changed if I wrote this. I like the setting, I'll be honest. I kind of wanted more grim dark in terms of story telling because it would fit the nature of the whole True Crime-esque scenario. I like the dynamic you created with Ron with his work and home life personality. His interactions with Hermione is genuine. His love for his son felt genuine. The panic, the fear, the frustrations are all very visceral and paint a clear and concise picture of him as a human being.

    You humanize someone that other people would go to no easy length to turn into some bumbling fool, and I appreciate that.

    But. I feel like there is something missing. This story is one neat package with the typical happy ending. I say its a happy ending because Hugo doesn't die, despite being traumatized for the rest of his life probably, and Ron makes an attempt to mend fences with Harry.

    Saying that, I feel like there is impetus for something more here. A further evolution of Harry's character, or even Ron's character.

    Maybe if you'd changed things and Hugo had died, the aftermath could be that Ron was no different than Harry, if not worse in his pursuit of finding who did it.

    What if the situation with the log-book had come to pass had been something more, what if it had happened and they opened up a door that no one knew they needed to keep close?

    I'm not telling you how to write the story, you did a great job. And I appreciate the effort you've put in here, you've clearly put a lot of thought into this and you've crafted a fine story.

    16/20
     
  4. Shinysavage

    Shinysavage Madman With A Box ~ Prestige ~

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    I really liked this.

    It's a strong central mystery with some interesting ideas - perhaps a few too many, the Malfoy angle is maybe a little undercooked, but what's a good mystery without a red herring or two? While I'm on the Malfoy strand, Slobbering Sam reminded me a lot of Nobby from Discworld, which is always a bonus. The ritual itself is fascinating if grim, and reminiscent of the ritual discussion in the first entry, which does make me wonder if it's the same author or just shared inspirations...

    I like the use of a Ron who's come into his own as an Auror, even without Harry to work alongside. It's different, to be sure, but believably so for me. Crucially, the relationship with Hugo landed; it it hadn't, that might have fatally scuppered the story. Hermione is a bit thin, characterisation wise, but that's more a reflection of her lack of page time than anything else. Harry, again, is obviously very different, but I could buy into it - and while I could argue that him showing up and kicking everyone's ass is...not convenient, because it obviously ties together, but not entirely satisfying with regard to Ron's journey, it was very cool, so I'm OK with it.

    I think this is probably my favourite of the entries so far. If it wasn't a timed competition piece, it could maybe stand to be expanded in some areas - the Malfoy red herring aside, once Ron starts looking into the mystery, it's solved pretty quickly - but as it stands it's very impressive. Technically solid, too; I can't recall or spot anything that really needed polishing. 5/5
     
  5. darklordmike

    darklordmike Headmaster

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    This is excellent writing. It basically uses a template for a straight-up potboiler detective thriller. The characters are fleshed out well, especially the OCs, and I was riveted from beginning to end. It's a well-told story.

    That said, it doesn't quite work as Harry Potter fanfiction as well as it could. While the characterization is great all the way around, it sometimes feels like they were stuffed into the required framework of the story. There was nothing particularly Ronnish about Ron. He was a typical lead detective with a personal interest in the case. He's drawn well, but if you had named him something else, I wouldn't have thought, 'hey, wait a minute, that sounds like Ron Weasley.' Hermione is closer to her canon self, but Harry also felt a bit mutilated by the requirements of the genre.

    The mystery itself was satisfying, if a bit too pat at the end. The red herrings were well-executed, I thought, but Greyback came as a bit too much of a surprise. Even with the crazy wolf guys running around, it would be nice to have a touch more foreshadowing, making it easier to speculate on his involvement. Guessing is half the fun of reading a mystery story. The villain is almost always someone we've already met and you did well with the foreshadowing of Vesna. Greyback sorta came out of nowhere. That might be a plus for some readers though.

    On a technical level, the story is excellent and I've got no advice. I think there might have been or two typos, but no biggie.

    I think this entry is the closest to being a well-told, complete story that fits into a traditional genre. You know what you're doing, especially with characterization. The only thing stopping it from being really great Harry Potter fanfiction is the way the characters felt stuffed into the genre.

    4.5/5
     
  6. FitzDizzyspells

    FitzDizzyspells Sixth Year DLP Supporter ⭐⭐

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    This is a novel-length story that is crammed into 17.5k words. There’s a lot of great plot in here, and the story is very clever and creative. But we go through it so fast that it makes my head spin. I’m willing to bet that the author already knows that the pacing is rushed, so I’m sorry if I’m about to make a bunch of critiques that they’re already keenly aware of.

    But, yeah. The story is very rushed. Once Hugo is captured, for example, Ron finds out where he is in exactly nine paragraphs. When I got to that part, I wrote this note: “Well, that was easy.” And we really don’t get to know Sam well enough for his betrayal to feel like a betrayal.

    Another symptom of telling a complex story in too-few words is that it needs more exposition in some places, and less exposition in other places. Well, not less exposition, per se, but the author needs to sprinkle the exposition more organically throughout the story. The reader is hit with walls of information multiple times, in the form of Ron’s epiphanies. Everything we learn about Sam at the end of the story is an example of too much information at once.

    Here’s an example of too-thin exposition:
    Does… does that mean they found three more totems? I can barely tell.
    Were they really so sure at that point?? Did the totems that Ron found look the same as the ones at the crime scene where the boy was killed?

    The issue of too-thin exposition also affects the case of the illegal potions. It was more than a little confusing that we open the story with a horrible murder and then Ron immediately begins to investigate something that, as far as he knows, is entirely unrelated. When Ron and Sam visited Harlequin Hammock, I thought at first that they were interrogating him about the murder. That’s in part because there’s no exposition whatsoever about why Ron and Sam suddenly show up at Ebeny Street.

    By the way, introducing Sam by his nickname threw me off. “Slobber Sam” also just doesn’t really work as a nickname. JKR typically takes one name and turns it into another (“Luna” into “Loony” and “Mundungus” into “Dung”). It just doesn’t feel in-universe.

    Now. On to the things I loved (there were a lot).

    Firstly, I loved Ron’s voice in this. I really enjoyed being in his head and in his life. He’s still Ron Weasley, but he’s grown up a bit in a way that’s believable. Lots of lines like these helped shape that great voice:
    • "Ron did, indeed, see. 'I’ll make sure you’re properly reimbursed for your time, Mr. Hammock.' ”
    • “I assure you Malfoy, I took no pleasure in that, though I have to say your son seems a great deal braver than you ever were.”
    • "Not many people could stomach silence. Ron knew that from himself."
    • And Ron did a great job sneaking into Vesna’s dressing room
    I knew that Hugo wouldn’t be killed in this story, but when this scene came around I wasn’t so sure anymore. Well done.
    However, Ron’s concern for Hugo does seem to fade weirdly quickly, as he begins to talk with Harry and the Aurors. That doesn’t jive with the prior characterization of a dedicated father that the author paints.

    And lastly, I really did love this plot and how everything fit together. It just needs to be drawn out more, so that the revelations feel organic and so that the reader has more time to understand and process them.

    Oh — and having Molly Weasley’s Patronus be a garden gnome is just so perfect.
     
  7. Halt

    Halt 1/3 of the Note Bros. Moderator

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    Bravo. This is easily one of the better entries this time around.

    My major issues with this are:
    • It doesn't really feel like an HP story. Everything feels too jaded, too dark. The cynicism from Harry and Ron, the dreariness of the atmosphere, the magic, all add up to this feeling. It feels more at home as a Dresden Files story than as an HP story.
    • The Greyback thing felt a bit out of left field if I'm being honest. I think it needed to be foreshadowed more. If perhaps Harry had mentioned it in the earlier scenes, it would feel more at home with the story, but the total lack of mention until it's explained close to the end makes it hard to guess how all the pieces fit together, and that hurts reader immersion.
    • Malfoy's plot point feels like it's lacking a bit something. It felt like it detracted from the story (the ending especially, the red herring aspects of it were fine). It made for a weaker ending, and gave it a feeling of being too clean (for all that Ron failed).
    What I liked:
    • The mystery. I think this was particularly well-done and the strongest aspect of the story. It kept me hooked from start to finish and I was heavily invested in figuring out who was murdering kids and why.
    • The relationship between Ron and Hugo was powerful stuff.
     
  8. Microwave

    Microwave Professor

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    It's wonderful, just feels a bit rushed.

    I won't fault you for that though there were only so many words you could fill up, and it's natural for something like this to be a bit dense when there's a limitation like that.

    I quite liked the gritty feel of the setting. Maybe it didn't really fit into the world of Harry Potter or the general characterisation of the characters, but it really introduced a kind of sense of wonder with the establishment of some sort of "hidden face" of the world. Perhaps it might not work so well on a larger scale, but I found myself a fan of the Chandler-style cynic gloom you portrayed.

    I guess my one qualm with your story is just that it goes faster than the speed of sound. Like, holy shit, one moment it feels like we've just started to discover the mystery and in the next line the entire thing is already unravelled and solved. Again, this isn't really your fault, there was a word limit after all.

    I still liked this one the most, however. You built up a nice setting and charactersations that might not be completely faithful to canon, but don't really detract from your story. The plot builds and fits together nicely, and we're left with a satisfying conclusion despite the rush.

    4.5/5 only because there isn't enough :c
     
  9. Blorcyn

    Blorcyn Chief Warlock DLP Supporter DLP Silver Supporter

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    This got that BDE.

    Hand on dick, if I had to say there was one outstanding candidate for this round it would have to be this one. It's not perfect, but it has got strengths and it has got them in bucket loads. To paraphrase the linked article it's the literary equivalent of writing a check for $10k knowing you got it in the bank account.

    Plot & Pacing:
    I'll just get the strengths out the way.

    Strong post-Hogwarts setting(+1). This is a whole-cloth new story (+1) that's well written from a copy-edit point of view (+1).
    Except for those ellipses, watch out for that (they shouldn't be spaced between full-stops, nor should they be spaced from the end of the word). It's Ron-centric (+1), with a very quickly rising mystery that feels tense and leads somewhere that makes sense(+1). It's well-structured and the beats are all appropriately placed with sensible and intelligible subtext informing plot and character actions(+1). Ok there's five points. Let's just cover a few plot confusions and missed opportunity:
    • The Malfoy-stooge. You pegged his ill-fitting clothes for his wage very early. The fact that he was not a werewolf was a missed opportunity and swinging it around that he was delaying things for coins built him up too much for too little.
    • Malfoy. An auror catches him cursing an odd man and arrests the insensate wolf-man and lets off the only one whose magic he's noted after he starts sassing him? Politics maybe, but the construction of the event seemed too odd for Malfoy to push that angle, particularly when it turns out he's not responsible for the wolf-men.
    • Harry fucking Potter. I re-read the post-climactic scene a few times to check this out. The fact that he solves Ron's problems by appearing in a flash of light at the moment of maximum tension, it's not ideal and although I love everything about Ron in this fic, it's disappointing that he didn't make the final movement or motion that led to his deliverance, that it all worked out without him. In fact that Hugo would've been saved regardless, I suppose. Maybe it's not technically an ex machina because you established his ritual earlier in the story, but if it walks like an ex-machina and talks like an ex machina...
    • Harry again, I'm afraid. The post-climatic scene where the Aurors do turn up. Nothing implies Harry's left. Nothing implies anything about Harry at all. I'm left with the image of all this conversation happening and Harry stood right between Ron and his boss being completely silent and no-one acknowledging him in any way, it's odd.
    In general, the pacing is good to a certain point but then it falls in quality quite noticeably. The build-up is progressing really well, but then suddenly in the middle you propel us into the climax - but still a lot of the work of explaining your story and your resolution is left. Malfoy is the main offender here, if you simplified his role in things to merely a red-herring I think you could rejig this to function better in the space that you've given it, and have the moment of maximum tension much closer to the resolution that comes after it. At present, like some odd LOTR-style homage your ending is four expository scenes to make it all tie together. I'm glad you did it, to be fair because I wouldn't have really understood the plot otherwise, but there must be a better way. To not have a climax and ending so far apart.

    Characters:
    Harry's the weak point here. Every interaction with Ron is the part that feels off, and the final scene in Blathe cottage is particularly egregious. Harry is more automaton than any other character in this story and that's disappointing.

    However, every other character in this story is really entertaining. You masterfully don't leave any part not to the service of the story as a whole and it's very apparent and very satisfying. It's all relevant and with a full understanding, on a second reading, that really comes through.

    Sometimes, I feel like the English is a little off when Ron or some few others speak - I'm not sure if it's an ESL thing or if it's just a characterisation thing. Still, it doesn't ultimately hurt the narrative, but there are just little occasional hiccoughs in the dialogue that you may want to look out for

    Prompt Use:
    The prompt use is the ritual magic and it's turned to something genuinely interesting in and of itself as a ritual which is cool.

    In conclusion, I think this is an excellent story.

    If you've not seen them, I think there are some useful developmental tips on JK's mystery writing that be specifically helpful in this and in similar endeavours in the future in two videos by JustWrite which are How JK Rowling writes mystery and How JK Rowling writes mystery, revisited (for after fantastic beasts CoG and that flop).

    Otherwise, I don't think I have anything else to offer. If you ever wanted to shoot the shit about something in particular, I'd be happy to try and rustle something up.
     
  10. Eilyfe

    Eilyfe Supreme Mugwump

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    Interesting story. Has its flaws, namely pacing and trying too much in too little time, but that's nothing that can't be fixed. I liked Hammock and Plucky the parrot. I suppose there's a lot more to be said, but honestly, the other reviewers have already done a fantastic job.

    LUL
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  11. Sorrows

    Sorrows Queen of the Flamingos Moderator

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    This is a very well written detective novella. The writing style is mature and the technical writing is spot on. The author knows how to craft a good story and does so. This is one of those where is is quite hard to find things to say because there is little wrong with it. They mystery is built well, the ritual aspect is a core components of the story and the visuals are excellent.

    The opening is wonderfully written, I could see it clearly in my mind's eye as I read it and I soon happily became immersed in the mystery.


    Ron I am torn on. On one hand he is a very good charecter. He feels mature and considered, he has an interesting internal life and does not fall into the many tropes his charecter is often saddled with. However he does fall flat into most of the detective tropes of the type of book you are emanating ( other than the fact he had a just about intact family, even then playing the absent father.) As such I am not sure if I buy this Ron as a logical progression in book Ron. More a well written but very typical detective archtype without any of Rons own quirks etc.

    Several other charecters feel similarly pulled out if shape, particularly Harry, though I like Hermione and Malfoy is suitably vile. I loved the fact you made him your red herring. The use of a Veela as the bad guy was a master stroke. Writing her like a horror movie monster was brilliant, I did not see that coming, it was really well done ( though I feel you could have pushed her use of her charm to more interesting places.)

    The ending felt somewhat summerised but then that is pretty common in these sort of stories. I feel like you either ran out of time or felt things were getting too long towards the end, what started out expansive felt a bit cramped.

    Over all this is very well written by all accounts. You set out to write a detective story and you wrote a good one. My only real issue is, I think, that it feels like you could have pulled out the Harry Potter setting and loose very little from the story. It feels disconnected form the HP world, it could just as easially be a Dresden story or just a stand alone piece of fiction. That does not make it bad, but it does kind of feel like you are ready to write your own stories now.
     
  12. Niez

    Niez Competition Winner CHAMPION ⭐⭐

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    This story felt like a novella crammed into a short story (likely due to the word limit). Too many plot lines were taking place for each individual one to conclude strongly. Sam being a stooge? Don’t care, barely know him. Malfoy’s vote derailed? Again, it does not seem very important. Ron tells us that Hermione cares, but two lines of dialogue are not enough to establish this. That whole thing with Hammock selling potions in the past? Meh, meh, meh. Add this to the fact that the ending flies by, with the Greyback’s reveal coming straight out of nowhere, and I think this story would have benefited from some more development time, or perhaps less clutter.

    It would have been better if at least part of Ron’s time was spent dealing with an unrelated case. Then we as a reader we would have time to breathe, and to come up with suspects and theories, making the reveal that more impactful. And you as the writer, could have added some world-building or character details, or perhaps a better red herring.

    In short, your story is composed of a strong beginning, a middle that is far too stacked up with scooby clues (the cult, the play, the new drug, etc), and a very rushed end, with Ron searching frantically for his son. It’s also too neat by half (*cough* Malfoy, *cough* Harry).

    Still, it fit the prompt beautifully, it was well written, and it was a detective story where magic actually played an important part, something that is rare to see done well. If the above were the only issues I had with it I’d declare it the likely winner and move on with my life. Unfortunately you hit a huge pet peeve of mine, almost without meaning to, and by god I will not stand for it.

    The characters.

    All your secondary (OC) characters, including the ‘paunchy’ one (lol) are interesting. That ain’t the problem. There are slight issues with Ron, Hermione and Malfoy. Ron doesn't really feel like Ron; I mean he’s fine, but he might as well have been someone else, for all that he had in common with Canon Ron. Hermione we barely see. Malfoy never worked as a suspect because of book seven (he owes Harry a life-debt as well as much, much, more). But they're not the problem either. No, the problem is actually the main man himself.

    You know there is a reason why I read Harry Potter fanfiction. Oddly enough it's not to see its main character absolutely butchered, both as a character and as a human being. I mean, not only did you kill off his godson, increasing the tragic events of his life to an absurd degree, you made him into a twisted and warped man, obsessed with drink, rituals and thoughts of revenge. When the fuck has Harry shown even the slightest inclination for any of that? Even in POA - he let Pettigrew leave and he was thirteen. And no, I don’t care that he saves Ron and his son in the end. I don’t care that he is a ‘better duellist’. Don't torture Harry Potter in your stories, don't twist him into a charicature of something he is not, or you'll have a very angery boi in your reviews.

    And this?
    Abandoning his kids? From insanely selfless and devoted to his friends Harry Potter?

    Nah. Fuck you.

    Also 4/5, should you take your time to fix the pacing issues and fill out the different plotlines.


    Cat poo. Are you being serious right now.

    EDIT: So apparently this is a thing. Go figure.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2019
  13. Dirty Puzzle

    Dirty Puzzle Seventh Year DLP Supporter

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    High Score:
    0
    I feel like I didn't get the kind of enjoyment out of this story that other's did because I'm particularly turned off by crime mysteries, but from an objective viewing, it has very close to all of the staples. It reads very well, though I personally was a bit bored, but I loved it being Ron as our POV character. The Ron & Hugo relationship was superb, and I kept reading for that alone even when the main plot didn't do much for me. The characters in general were well-written and conceived, with maybe the exception of Harry.

    Speaking of, my biggest detractor for this story is Harry. I got some ex machina vibes, and though the ritual was established, I generally dislike things that reveal the invisible hand of the author unless that is the point of using an ex machina. From a construction point of view, it's a bit cheaper to set that up as your ending when there doesn't seem to be a reason to doing it that way. To be fair, it seems to me like that was the word constraint, and if this was fleshed out as a multi-chapter fic, those issues could be resolved.

    I can see the tone turning some people off somewhat, and it reminiscent of Dresden if nothing else, but I don't have a problem with it. In fact, I think it adds to the narrative, especially since the point is that it's dealing with heavy subjects. Tone should fit plot, not necessarily canon, imo, and you've done a great job with that aspect.

    Overall, a 4/5.
     
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