featherxquill: (Default)
[personal profile] featherxquill
Title: Blindness and Stars
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 11,000
Pairing: Rita Skeeter/Amelia Bones
Summary: In the months following Voldemort’s first defeat, two women with similarly ambitious natures but very different ethics cross paths often enough that they decide to try walking together.
Warnings: Ministry politics? Abnormally large Hufflepuff population?
Author's Notes: Thanks to my fabulous beta, Katie! Written for Mcgonagallsgirl as part of the [community profile] hoggywartyxmas exchange.




January, 1982

Bellatrix blinked at her, heavy-lidded and careless on the front of the Prophet, and Rita tossed the paper aside.

Don’t look at me like that, you crazy bitch.

It was Bella’s fault that she was there, waiting in Auror Headquarters, sitting in a hard wooden chair with nothing to amuse her but news she’d read before it was even out in print. She was waiting for an interview she’d been ‘invited’ down to Headquarters to attend—one that involved them asking the questions instead of her.

It was Bella’s fault in more ways than one.

Ever since Frank and Alice Longbottom had been discovered, out of their minds from torture, the public had been baying for blood. They’d been darlings of the press, those two, and the attack had shocked everyone. What hadn’t shocked Rita was that when the attackers had been apprehended, Bellatrix was one of them.

Only a matter of time, wasn’t it, Bella?

The convictions hadn’t quieted the public furore. If anything, they’d made it worse. If Barty Crouch Junior could be a Death Eater, couldn’t anyone? And so the Aurors had thrown the net wide, hauling in everybody with even tenuous connections to known Death Eaters.

And so it was Bella’s fault both ways. Her fault for being one of those who tortured the Longbottoms, and her fault for being the reason Rita was here.

They’d been dorm-mates, sorted into Slytherin together in 1962, and vicious, competitive, sort-of-best friends for almost five years. Rita remembered the magnetism of those dark eyes, the waterfall of black hair and the tilt of the chin that, even at eleven, said I am better than you. She remembered lifting her own chin, adjusting a curl of blonde hair and thinking no, you’re not. Two alphas in one Slytherin dormitory turned allies: them against the world.

Their friendship flourished in first year, with giggling together in the dead of night and Rita braiding Bella’s hair on the Hogwarts Express so she could return home at Christmas a perfect portrait. In second, it solidified, full of secrets, when Bellatrix captured Dolores Umbridge’s cat and tortured it to death in their dormitory while Rita watched and said nothing. It turned sexual in third, when Bella pinned Rita to the wall in the girl’s bathroom and showed her this new type of power she’d learned. It survived fourth, when Rita’s little sister was sorted into Hufflepuff and Rita pulled her wand on her friend, backed her into a corner and dared her to say anything. It fell apart in fifth. Over the summer Bella’s family had introduced her to Rodolphus Lestrange, her intended, and as the year progressed and they wrote back and forth to each other, Bella began to parrot and then lecture with fanatic zeal about pureblood supremacy and the extermination of Muggles.

Fanaticism disgusted Rita, and when she’d disagreed with Bella’s opinions, the friendship had ended. Not quietly, either, as if teenage girls could ever do anything quietly. Those last two years of school hadn’t been particularly amusing.

And now Rita was a Death Eater by association anyway. Wasn’t that lovely?

*

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Amelia Bones decided that the best way to question a journalist was to get on with it.

She set her folder down and took a seat opposite the woman, hands on the table. Not an interrogation but a conversation, her body language said. Rita Skeeter smirked, leaned back in her chair, folded her arms.

“Oh, that’s fine,” she said. “I just love waiting around at Auror Headquarters. Can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.” The smirk stayed on her face and one perfectly contoured eyebrow twitched. It was a challenge from one reader of people to another. It said I will not play.

Inwardly, Amelia sighed. She’d known it was a mistake to make this one sit so long. “Thank you for coming down,” she said.

“I had a choice, did I?” Skeeter asked, eyebrow arching again.

“You’re free to leave at any time.”

Rita huffed a laugh. “And if I do, I’m presumed to have something to hide, aren’t I? No, thank you. I have work to be about and I’d rather not have the Auror department sniffing around my life. Puts the informants off. Ask your questions.”

Amelia nodded and opened the folder in front of her. Investigating this one had brought up several red flags: association with known Death Eaters, association with suspected Death Eaters, not to mention that large chunk of time spent abroad during the Reign of Terror. The Auror department had long suspected that You-Know-Who had sympathisers on the continent recruiting, and with this one’s connections, well.

Best to start at the beginning, though.

“Tell me about your relationship with Bellatrix Lestrange,” Amelia said.

Rita laughed, dropping her arms from their defensive pose and letting a hand fall onto the table, nails clacking against wood. “Merlin’s balls, you’re predictable. Here I was expecting some finesse. Bella and I were dorm-mates. We were friends, or alpha-bitches competing for the top spot. Until fifth year, when her family introduced her to Rodolphus. We haven’t seen each other since school. Next question?”

“Not since school?” Amelia asked, wetting her finger with her tongue before she leafed from one page to another in her folder. “And you graduated in...1969, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“But Bellatrix Black and Rodolphus Lestrange were married in 1972, and you attended the wedding?” She glanced up, questioning.

Rita Skeeter scowled. “Oh, please. Half of wizarding Britain attended that wedding. Andromeda got herself knocked up and disowned, so Bella’s wedding was rushed forward and Narcissa’s engagement was announced as soon as she graduated. The Blacks threw the biggest, grandest party they possibly could to distract from the scandal, and invited nearly every pureblood in the country. I would hardly call that seeing her.”

“You seem to know a lot about it, for an anonymous guest.”

“I was working for Witch Weekly at the time. It was my job to know these things.”

This was going nowhere. Amelia changed the subject. “And Ludo Bagman?”

That threw her. “What?”

“Are you aware that he’s being tried for passing information to Death Eaters?”

Rita’s eyebrows lifted toward her hairline. “You think Ludo Bagman is a Death Eater?” A disbelieving laugh. “You can’t actually be serious?”

Amelia didn’t know if Skeeter was truly surprised, or if she was trying to derail the conversation. Either way, Amelia would not argue Bagman’s guilt or innocence here. That was for the Wizengamot to decide. What mattered was that there was suspicion, and that extended to everyone he knew.

“You’ve been seen with Bagman, recently and frequently. Describe your relationship with him.”

Rita smiled. “Casual. Physical. Certainly not intellectual. He’s pretty and he’s earnest and he’s good in bed. Is that descriptive enough?”

Figured. “Pillow talk?”

“Minimal. He’s thick as a post. And he’s certainly never said anything to me that would suggest extreme views on blood purity, or questionable allegiances. Though he did once tell me he’s a Celestina Warbeck fan, which ought to be a criminal offense.”

Amelia favoured that one with a small smile, leafed to the next page in her notes. “From November ’72 until March ’77, you were in France. What were you doing there?”

Skeeter looked confused, but answered. “A journalism cadetship at L’avis, in Paris.”

“Why Paris? Why not train at the Prophet?”

Rita snorted. “You might be content to spend your entire life working in the same place, but I certainly wasn’t.”

Amelia pierced Skeeter with a stare, drummed her fingers on the table. The woman could sit here and make jokes if she wished to, but commenting on Amelia’s ambition was a step too far. She waited, not breaking eye contact and not speaking, until Skeeter relented.

“The Prophet wouldn’t have me, at the time. And my parents were...concerned for my safety.”

“Why?”

“My sister ran off with a Muggle, and they were scared what that might mean for us, considering the climate. They cut off contact with her and sent me abroad, and while I was there I was accepted into the cadet program.”

“Your sister was disowned?” Amelia asked.

Rita shook her head. “Not disowned, no. Just...” She sighed. “My parents were scared. They saw what was happening to Muggle-borns and so-called blood traitors, and then Stella met Eamon, and they thought cutting her off would be the safest thing for everyone. My parents never disliked Muggles—they always taught us to be curious about the Muggle world—but under the circumstances... I think it was a bad idea, but I was twenty-one at the time, and the idea of going to live abroad was exciting. I didn’t stick around for the fallout.”

Interesting story. She seemed earnest. But she was a Slytherin, and a reporter. She should be used to telling stories, and if she couldn’t make them convincing, she wouldn’t be very good at her job, would she?

“So you went abroad for your cadetship, but cadetships are only three years. What did you do for the rest of them?”

“Worked at L’avis. I was enjoying myself, and in England there were maniacs running around killing people. Maniacs I’d likely been at school with. I didn’t want to come home.”

“When did you learn to speak French well enough to interview and write in it?”

“After I arrived. Translation charms were fine for a little while, but they are somewhat limiting. I found a tutor. She was demanding.” A little smirk followed that statement, and Amelia wondered what it meant. She wondered if she was supposed to bite at that one.

She did. “In what way?”

“Oh, you know,” Rita smiled. “There was rather a lot of practice at getting my tongue around those French consonants. That sort of thing.”

Well, of course there would be. How else would she learn...oh. She wasn’t talking about language at all. Amelia looked up at her; Rita watched her over the top of her glasses. There was a distinct twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

Amelia was surprised. She studied Rita Skeeter for a time, from her elaborately curled hair and impeccably made-up face to the blue satin blouse that matched the shade of her eyes, and she was very surprised. Although they were hidden from view beneath the table at that moment, Amelia remembered watching her walk in in her pumps and seamed stockings, and she would have sworn that this woman dressed solely to appeal to men (although, admittedly, Amelia had appreciated the sight).

Perhaps she was guilty of misjudgment in more ways than one. Still, she had a job to do.

“You returned from the continent in July of ’77. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“But you mentioned ‘maniacs killing people’ as your main reason for not coming home after your cadetship. If anything, the killing and the terror was worse in ’77. Why come home then but not earlier?”

All of the amusement was gone. Rita Skeeter glanced down at the table for a moment, then back up at Amelia. Her voice was quiet when she spoke.

“You think he was recruiting from the continent, don’t you? And you think I was working for him. Because I’m a Slytherin? Because I go to bed with Ludo Bagman? I think I’m done here. If you want to contact someone to verify what I was doing in France, you can get in touch with my teacher. Carmilla D’Aubgine. She’s a registered animagus with the French Ministry, so she should be reliable enough for you.” She pushed her chair out. “I left because the relationship ended badly, so you can be certain she isn’t going to lie for me.”

Skeeter stood, while Amelia remained seated so as to remain unthreatening. She watched Skeeter walk to the door on those heels, watched her turn back.

“Oh, by the way. I’ll be covering the trials from here on out, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on what the Auror department is up to.” With that, she left.

Amelia sighed again. Merlin, that was unfortunate.



March, 1982

Rita watched Lucius Malfoy lie through his teeth and she wanted to laugh aloud.

Imperius curse, my arse.

It was tissue paper, his excuse—transparent and thin enough to poke a hole through with a pinkie finger—but she watched and recorded as the Wizengamot cleared him of all charges.

Rita wrote down the names of his supporters, noted their expressions, the slants of their chins. Who had been bribed, and who had been threatened? Lunch with her friend from Gringotts and it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out. Celia Ludlow, there. Bribed. Just look at that gorgeous handbag: purple leather, gold clasp shaped like a quill. Delilah Featherstone, that was, and her new line besides. Bloody expensive; Rita had checked. Celia Ludlow certainly couldn’t afford it. She didn’t work, and was married to Jakob Ludlow, who had been doing well as a potions man at Sleekeazy’s until his most recent formula was recalled for making several witches who used it go bald. He hadn’t been fired, Rita knew, but he had been demoted several times, with the expected pay cuts.

So his wife certainly could not afford a Delilah Featherstone handbag.

After the trial, Rita took the lift to Magical Law Enforcement and cornered Malfoy’s arresting Auror for an interview. Rufus Scrimgeour was a rather humourless, twitchy little lion, wasn’t he? She was fairly pleased with herself, following that, and stepped into the lift behind a woman in trousers and a waistcoat. Rita didn’t realise who the other woman was until the doors were closing them in.

Well, isn’t this interesting?

“Afternoon, Auror Bones.” She curled her fingers around the spiral binding of her notebook and held it close.

“Miss Skeeter.” A curt nod, and then the woman was looking ahead, standing straight, one thumb tucked into the pocket of her waistcoat and the other arm free. Wand arm, Rita thought. Aurors really are predictable.

“Surprising verdict today,” she said, keeping her voice light. She’d seen Auror Bones in the crowd. “I thought that the case against Lucius Malfoy was rather strong.”

“Yes, well,” said Bones, glancing sideways at Rita through her monocle. “You never know how these things will turn out.”

“Malfoy didn’t seem surprised.”

“Expected, I’d think, considering he maintained his innocence throughout the trial.”

Rita snorted. Lucius Malfoy hadn’t been innocent since his third year, when he’d discovered that Violetta Midgen in Ravenclaw would complete his Arithmancy homework for him if he bought her gifts of premium violet ink from Flourish and Blotts. He’d boasted to the entire common room, then failed his exams because he knew none of the answers. A few days later, the boy who had laughed the loudest at him for his failure took a fainting hex in the back when he was standing at the top of some stairs. Since then, Malfoy had learned cleverness, if not as much subtlety as some.

“Orson Vaisey didn’t look too happy about his pardon verdict,” Rita said. “But he has a young grandson, doesn’t he?”

Bones turned, then, to look at Rita.

“And Celia Ludlow has a lovely new 90 Galleon handbag,” she added.

“Bastard,” Bones whispered, glancing at the floor, then back up at Rita. “How do you-?”

“It’s my job to observe,” Rita answered.

“How many of them?” Bones asked. “If I can prove-”

Rita snorted again. “Prove?” she said. “If you can prove that members of the Wizengamot have taken bribes or responded to threats, the only thing you’ll be doing is reopening every trial they’ve presided over since all this began. You might get Malfoy and Yaxley, but you could lose Dolohov and Travers. Is it worth it, for them to be replaced by people who’d be equally as corrupt within a year?”

“Maybe they would be, maybe they wouldn’t,” Bones said. “But as much as I hate it, you’re right about the verdicts. So why are we having this conversation?”

Rita wasn’t sure. Why had she mentioned it? Curiosity, perhaps—to see the other woman’s reaction. Maybe for the chance to remind the Auror who had questioned her about the limits of her power. But mostly...yes, mostly that.

“Just a heads up,” she said. “There’s more than one way to hold a trial, you know.”

*

Amelia couldn’t approve of this.

LUDLOW IN SLEEKEAZY’S EMBEZZLEMENT SCANDAL

She couldn’t approve, but she couldn’t help admiring Skeeter’s boldness, either.

Amelia tucked the evening edition of the Prophet under her arm as she let herself into her flat. Home was a quiet place, small, in the heart of Islington. She enjoyed living among Muggles. Here, she wasn’t Deputy Head of Aurors, just that single woman in her fifties who lived upstairs. Here, she could pour herself a whiskey at the end of a long day and sit in her chair, listening to the hum of voices from the neighbours’ television and the traffic passing by outside. She could listen to the world moving around about her and feel connected and separate at the same time.

Well, when she actually got to come home, anyway. Being an Auror wasn’t exactly nine to five, especially not for her. Amelia set her satchel on the table by the door, took the paper with her into the kitchen and read the article as she poured herself a drink.

Clever. Sneaky and underhanded, but clever. Skeeter had found sources who spoke about Jakob Ludlow’s recent demotion and his disgruntlement with Sleekeazy’s, and different ones who spoke about the couple’s recent spending sprees. Then she carefully insinuated that the two were connected, and somehow she’d even found someone to speak to regarding anomalies in Sleekeazy’s books. It was definitely clever, attaching the scandal to the husband like that. After all, they couldn’t admit where the money had really come from, could they? And this way, Celia Ludlow was tied up in the scandal without ever being directly accused of corruption. She would be pressured to resign because of this.

Clever, and all sorts of wrong. Amelia wondered if Rita Skeeter had ever considered going into politics.


May, 1982

“Have you ever thought about politics, then?”

Amelia had spotted Rita Skeeter in the crowded Atrium during the Minister’s speech, and by the end of it had found herself standing behind the woman. Minister Elphick was newly raised, his leadership only a few months old, and today he had announced that the Death Eater trials were complete. The public could rest easy knowing that those responsible for the Reign of Terror were imprisoned, and Wizarding Britain could now move forward under his leadership.

The truth wasn’t anywhere near as simple as that, but Amelia supposed it had been a decent speech. In the moment between the polite smattering of applause and everyone up and leaving, Amelia asked her question.

Skeeter turned and smiled. It was an amused, pleased-to-see-you smile, eyes sparkling behind her glasses.

“Is that a compliment or an insult?” she asked. “Seems to me politicians just have to say the things people want to hear. Whereas I,” her fingers caught hold of the press pass that was dangling around her neck, “I get to decide what it is they want to hear.”

“Did they want to hear about Octavius Pepper’s rent boys and Malien Summerby’s pixie dust habit?”

Rita smirked. “Of course they did. They just didn’t know it until they saw it on the page.” Amelia didn’t smile. Rita arched a brow. “Oh, come on. They had it coming. I do have reliable sources, you know. Both of them had unexpected windfalls a few weeks before Malfoy’s trial.”

“What if you’re wrong?” Amelia asked.

A hair flick, a twinkle, the raising of her chin (and Merlin, her throat was long). “I’m not,” she said.

The Minister was leaving. Amelia watched him, flanked by his escort, navy robes swishing as he walked. Navy was the official colour worn by the Department of International Magical Cooperation, from which Elphick had been promoted. It galled her how quickly they had swooped in and taken over. Only a few months ago, the Minister had worn red, the colour that signified having once been a member of Magical Law Enforcement. Law Enforcement Ministers were common in times of war and strife, and Elphick’s predecessor, Barnabus Hutch, had been a highly competent man with a good deal of integrity, who had been an Auror back when Amelia was still in training. Yet barely a month after the threat of Voldemort and his Death Eaters had passed, he had been pressured into retirement by the Mugwumps of the Wizengamot. A new Minister for a more peaceful future. Was anything fair, in politics?

“Well,” said Rita. “After swallowing all that ‘moving forward’ bollocks, I think I need a drink. Care to join me?”

It was about time to go home. To her surprise, Amelia found herself accepting.

*

Amelia Bones was a Firewhiskey on ice sort of woman. Somehow, that didn’t surprise Rita at all. She ordered herself a martini and was certain that wasn’t much of a surprise either.

Why exactly were they here? She wasn’t sure. This woman who interviewed her at Auror headquarters on suspicion of being a Death Eater, then sought her out in a crowd to ask if she’d ever considered going into politics? This woman who wanted to see something done about corrupt Wizengamot members but disapproved of the way it was done? She was intriguing.

Rita approached their table, set their glasses down. Her offer, her shout, even though Amelia Bones looked much more like the one who would offer to buy a lady a drink. She was in a waistcoat again, and a crisp white shirt with an open collar. The fine gold chain attached to her monocle was pinned to the breast of her waistcoat, and just below it was the small red badge that marked her as a member of Magical Law Enforcement: the emblem of the Ministry of Magic, overlaid with two crossed wands. Amelia’s was embellished with a row of three stars at the bottom, marking her status as Deputy Head of Aurors. Her light brown hair was cropped short, shot through with salt and pepper. All in all, not at all the type Rita usually went for.

Merlin, was she going for Amelia Bones?

“So,” she said as she sat down, rattled by the thought, “have you ever thought about politics?”

That certainly wasn’t a safe topic, but then it didn’t seem like they’d ever spoken about anything that was. Didn’t seem to Rita that she had many conversations like that, except maybe when Ludo came round. They didn’t talk about much at all.

Amelia smiled wryly. “Of course. I’m two promotions away from being first in line for Minister, should the Wizengamot ever decide to promote from Law Enforcement again. I can’t afford not to think about it. I would take the position on, if it were offered to me, but I have doubts about how good I’d be at it.”

“Oh?” Rita arched a brow. Amelia sipped from her glass of whiskey, arched one right back. Just her left, in what looked like a practiced gesture. The brow that held her monocle in place stayed perfectly still.

“I have little talent for bullshit, and very strong ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong. Makes a good Auror, but it seems to me that politicians have to be more malleable.”

Rita was surprised to hear something like that—something so candid—straight up. Usually people were cautious around Rita, especially Auror types. Always thought they were on the record, as if every word they said was worth putting in the newspaper. But she supposed she and Amelia Bones had bypassed careful politeness, hadn’t they? Their first conversation, Rita had told this woman more about herself than she’d told anyone in years. Whatever the context, that made things different.

“Perhaps,” Rita said, “but I think you’re mistaking being a successful politician for being a good one. We Slytherins, we make good politicians, but we don’t make good politicians. The world needs both kinds.”

“Then why the one-woman crusade to rid the Wizengamot of corruption?”

Rita rolled a shoulder, stirred the olive in her martini. “Why not? It needs a good pruning. Someone’s got to light a fire there. It can’t be done legally without costing the Ministry and the public more than it can afford to pay, so. I’m doing the world a favour.”

Amelia gestured with her glass, making the ice clink against the sides. “See, it’s exactly that. Makes me uncomfortable. And I know you’re right, about doing it legally, but I can’t get behind the court of public opinion, either. What if you make a mistake? What about the other people implicated in the scandals, who’ve done nothing wrong? What about the danger to you, sticking your nose in places dangerous people would prefer you didn’t? There are legal means for these things for very good reasons.”

Rita chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry about me. I lived with Bella for seven years and survived. I can handle myself.”

“Most of the people I’ve heard say things like that are buried now.”

“I have a few cards up my sleeve.”

Silence, then, regarding each other for a few moments. Rita sipped her martini, Amelia her whiskey, not asking the obvious question, and Rita was glad of that, because she certainly couldn’t tell this steadfast Auror that she collected information while wearing wings. It seemed comfortable, though, not disclosing. They could manage it after all.

*

“Aren’t you going to let me in?”

Ludo Bagman stood in Rita’s doorway, all baby face and big blue eyes. His broad shoulders drooped and he wore a puppy-dog expression.

“Not tonight, Ludo,” Rita answered. “I’m not in the mood.”

“But-”

But nothing. Rita was closing the door. If she looked at that face any longer, she would let him in, and that wouldn’t be a good idea.

Why?

Because they couldn’t have a conversation, and that irritated her. Because he was far too pretty for his own good, and far too earnest, and she was a Slytherin bitch. Because she kept thinking of a woman in a waistcoat and a monocle and couldn’t decide whether she wanted her or not.

But...well. She’d just turned away Mr Casual and Physical and Thick-as-a-Post for Auror Monocle and Morals, hadn’t she? That seemed fairly definitive. She did want Amelia Bones.

Oh, bloody hell.


June, 1982

Rita Skeeter was certainly persistent. Naked, too.

And spread across the kitchen countertop with Amelia’s fingers in her cunt.

No more teasing, Amelia thought, no more debate, no more cerebral conversations. Just the afternoon sun slanting in the kitchen window, filtering gold through Rita’s hair, and the sound of her stiletto heel scraping across marble as Amelia’s fingers gripped her thigh and spread her wide.

“Fuck,” Rita breathed, hot against Amelia’s mouth and teeth nipping at her bottom lip. “And here I thought I’d be seducing you.”

“Not today,” Amelia murmured with a smile, pressing forward and bending Rita back. “Hufflepuffs don’t let others do all the hard work.” She caught a nipple between her lips, flicked it with her tongue, mouthed along the outside of Rita’s breast.

Rita’s fingers found their way into her hair. Amelia felt long nails rake her scalp, purred in delight. She loved that feeling.

“You don’t get,” Amelia’s lips trailed over Rita’s ribs, “to tease me, to pursue me for a month,” down over a belly just beginning to soften with the arrival of its owner’s fourth decade, “and then,” she nipped at the tender skin of Rita’s inner thigh, “to seduce me as well”. She breathed, hot and damp, against Rita’s pink sex, curling her fingers up inside.

“Gods,” Rita whispered, fingers clenching in Amelia’s hair. “Stop talking and lick me, will you?”

Amelia smiled, and did just that.

*

Amelia Bones was like a gift to unwrap, when she finally allowed it.

Rita wanted to rip, to tug the clothes over her head quickly (no time for questions, or declarations, no falling in love with this woman like the last one, Rita wasn’t ready for that), but the buttons and the layers made it take time, and with each layer she stripped away Rita found a new surprise.

Beneath the minimising pinstripes of the waistcoat, Rita found breasts. Not just average breasts but glorious ones, straining the shirt buttons and beautifully outlined by white cotton, voluptuous and heavy and round.

When she tugged open fly buttons and slipped her fingers beneath the waistband of Amelia’s trousers, she felt the tic of lace against her palm and smiled. Black, she knew, before the trousers even came off, because if Amelia was going to be frivolous and girly (and Rita knew all about frivolous, girly knickers), she would do it in black.

And when Rita finally had her shed of shirt and trousers, and moved behind to unclip brassiere—a sturdily constructed thing obviously worn out of necessity rather than vanity, but nonetheless embellished with embroidery and a scalloped edge—she shifted the strap down over her left shoulder and revealed a tattoo. A circle, hollow, in black ink; obviously not new, it creased where her skin did and had become as much a part of her topography as the smattering of freckles on her other shoulder. Rita pressed her lips against it and wondered if Amelia’s earlier assertiveness was what was making her so tender. Rita was usually the predator, but this time she felt thoroughly conquered.

Slow. There was something about Amelia that begged Rita to be languorous. Perhaps it was just the desire for balance (if they went quickly now, it would all be over too fast) or perhaps Rita was teasing (I’ve had my orgasm, you’ll have to sweat and shake for me before you get yours). Or perhaps it was just the sight of the plush bed coverings in Amelia’s neat, neutral toned bedroom and the feel of her full belly against Rita’s palm as she slipped an arm around from behind to cup a handful of glorious breast. She was a closet hedonist, this woman, desire all buttoned in and polished to gleaming like an Auror badge or a gold-rimmed monocle, but underneath there was someone who wore lace knickers and slept with five pillows and couldn’t resist her love of food. A woman like that wanted to be devoured.

And so Rita did. Spread her out amongst all those pillows and tasted her, nibbled and licked and stroked, drawing low, throaty moans from Amelia’s throat. Hips writhed, back arched, and then there were whispers, pleas for more.

“Not,” she whispered breathlessly, “not the nails, though. Not inside me. In the drawer, top, on the left-hand side. Pick one.”

“I am gentle, you know,” Rita said, but Amelia wasn’t the first woman to be concerned about Rita’s sharp edges, so she moved to the drawer without further comment.

Merlin. That was quite a collection of toys. Just at a glance, Rita could see a pair of silver balls, a strap-on harness with a pale pink dildo attached, a shiny black, double-ended thing, and a collection of vibrators in several shapes and sizes. Some were magical, and some had the plastic sheen of Muggle make. A hedonist, indeed.

Rita selected a purple vibrator with a curved end and moved back onto the bed. She tapped the end of it, felt it buzz against her fingers, trailed it over Amelia’s thighs.

“I don’t want you to be gentle,” Amelia whispered in a voice like gravel.

Rita just smiled. She slipped in between Amelia’s legs, positioned the toy at her entrance, then, bending over her, claimed Amelia’s mouth as she slid it home.

Murmurs. Little rumbles and moans of pleasure as Rita worked the toy in and out, as she sat back and watched the woman writhe. Amelia’s arms were spread wide, fists buried in the soft folds of the duvet and her back arched off the bed, heavy breasts straining forward and dark nipples puckered with arousal. Her head was back, throat arched, hair mussed against the sheets, and bloody hell, Rita was watching this woman just give herself away to the pleasures of her body, and it was fucking glorious.

Rita wanted more, wanted to see and hear more. She bent over Amelia again, cupping a breast and pressing her cheek against the warm mass, kissing, flicking the nipple with her tongue. She left her hand lingering there as she kissed her way down over belly to the soft inner thighs, sucking at the skin and then biting down, firm and controlled. Amelia almost jerked off the bed, and oh, Rita would have loved to have seen the expression on her face at that moment. She hummed against her, a pleased sound, and kissed the spot again.

Fuck,” Amelia hissed. “Now, gods, please.”

Oh, Rita loved to hear people beg. She relented, nuzzling closer to tongue Amelia’s clit, teasing with the tip and then curling around it, tilting the vibrator up and working it harder as she did so, humming nonsense noises into Amelia's skin.

It didn’t take Amelia long. Her hands went first, letting go their grip on the sheets and instead tangling themselves around Rita, one in her hair and the other clutching Rita’s against her breast, and then her thighs were shaking. She shuddered, curling in on herself for a moment as she came, then melting back onto the covers, boneless.

*

“Gods, I’d love a cigarette right now,” Amelia murmured, sunk in the pillows and barely able to move.

Rita made a noise from the back of her throat, shifted her head where it rested against Amelia’s thigh. Merlin, the woman had a talented tongue. Amelia supposed she shouldn’t be surprised.

“Have one, if you like,” Rita said. “I don’t mind.”

Amelia smiled. “Don’t have any. Quit two years ago. Mostly.” And for the last six months, she’d even been able to drink without wanting one, which was quite an achievement. Still couldn’t quite quell the craving for a post-orgasmic fag, though. Thankfully, her only other partner during that time hadn’t been a smoker either.

“Mostly?” Rita asked, pushing herself up to sit, then climbing over Amelia’s leg to flop down against the pillows beside her.

“Mmm,” Amelia murmured, watching her move. Lithe wasn’t quite the word—Rita was too short for that, and slightly too curvy—but she moved with the unabashed ease of someone completely comfortable in her own skin, and that confidence rendered whatever flaws she did have all but invisible.

“I think one is always in the process of quitting smoking,” Amelia said. “I don’t think it’s an urge that will ever go away entirely.”

Rita propped herself up on one elbow, raked her fingernails through curls that weren’t anywhere near as mussed as they should be. “Why bother, if you enjoy it? I mean, we all have our vices.”

Amelia laughed. Rita Skeeter didn’t look like she battled with any vices stronger than a love of glamour charms and a weakness for expensive shoes. She certainly didn’t look like someone who fought against overindulgence in food and drink or struggled to motivate herself to exercise, or who was addicted to anything more harmful than her morning coffee. But the laughter didn’t last long, because Amelia remembered the reason why she had quit, and it wasn’t a laughing matter.

“I stopped when my great-niece was born. I’m the closest thing she has to a grandmother, and she needs me around, not killing myself slowly with tobacco.”

“What happened to her grandparents?” Rita asked.

Amelia was surprised she didn’t know. The deaths of Oscar and his wife, as well as Edgar and his family, had been reported in the paper when...oh. When Rita had been in Paris.

“I lost both my brothers and their wives, and Edgar’s children, to Death Eater attacks while you were practicing your French consonants.”

Rita blinked, eyes clear and blue, but they flashed with something that might have been sympathy, just for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Amelia smiled, though it was always a sad smile when she thought of her brothers. And not just because they were gone. “They were both fighters,” she said. “Members of the resistance, such as it was—Albus Dumbledore’s little team of vigilantes. Trying to change the world all by themselves, and it got them and most of their families killed. If they’d left it to the Aurors, they’d all still be alive to watch Susie grow up. Grow up with her.”

“Who was it?” Rita asked. “Did they go to Azkaban?”

“Not for killing my family. We’ve no idea who did it.” Amelia had looked. She’d tried every possible legal means to find out, but the convicted Death Eaters wouldn’t talk without having their sentences reduced, which Amelia was not prepared to concede—better that the men who had murdered the McKinnons and the Prewett brothers stay in Azkaban forever—so all of her investigations had come to nothing.

“That must be tough,” Rita whispered.

“Of course,” Amelia answered, “but I’ve made peace with it. Nothing will bring them back, and I’m not prepared the break the law to find the answers.”


July, 1982

In between the scandalous headlines and Wizengamot resignations, they slept together. Sometimes they fucked, rough and animal up against walls, or barely removing half their clothes before they fell into bed, straddling each other’s knees. Sometimes it was gentler, slow and languid, spreading each other out and dipping in fingers and tongues and toys, but it was never lovemaking. Always, it was punctuated by discussion—personal, political or both. Rita seemed to relish having a partner who could stimulate her mind as well as her body (unsurprising, really, since she had most recently shared her bed with Ludo Bagman), and Amelia certainly enjoyed discussing and debating life with someone whose opinions of it were so very different than hers.

It wouldn’t last. Relationships like this never did, and Amelia should know, since she had formed a number of them over the years, starting early, with Minerva, when Amelia was a naive Hufflepuff fresh out of school and Minerva a woman of the world with three years, a transfiguration mastery, and an independent research grant under her belt. But that didn’t mean that Amelia wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy it while it did.

*

“Fuck,” Amelia hissed, hands fisted in Rita’s hair and strap-on cock buried to the hilt down her throat. Amelia held her there for just a moment more, then tugged her back, panting and gasping. Wizarding design, this was, so Amelia could feel, and bloody hell, she didn’t think she’d ever worn this with a bisexual woman before. It was... “Gods, Rita. Your mouth. Your filthy little mouth.”

Rita smirked, curling her hand around the base of Amelia’s cock and licking the underside, stroking up and down with a twist of the wrist. “I have been told,” she breathed, sucking the head into her mouth again for a moment, then pulling away with a plop, “that I’m a good little cocksucker. You seem to agree. More?”

“Yes,” Amelia whispered, then: “No. I mean, yes, you are, but no more. Too much.” If she came now, wearing this, it would shake her so thoroughly that the toy would go soft and be useless. Merlin, how did men stand it? Amelia dropped her hand from Rita’s hair to trail fingers over her throat.

Rita caught her hand, turned her head to press a kiss against Amelia’s wrist, then gripped her hand tight and used it for leverage as she climbed to her feet. She pressed herself close, breasts pressing together and Rita’s hand slipping between them to give Amelia’s cock another tug, and kissed her. She tasted of salt and rubber.

“Come, then,” she said, when they broke for air. “I want you to fuck me so hard I feel it for a week.”

*

“I should have known you’d live in one of these trendy, overpriced places,” said Amelia, when Rita opened her door.

“Of course I do,” Rita smiled, glancing out into the lane as she let Amelia in. Paragon Alley, off Diagon, wide and cobbled and entirely residential. “I’m chic and expensive. It suits me perfectly.” Rita couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“How’s the rent?” Amelia asked, as Rita closed the door.

“Better than you’d expect. This one backs onto Muggle homes, and I can see Shaftesbury Avenue from my bedroom window. That’s considered a flaw, but I love living right in between worlds. How’s the Ministry?”

“In uproar,” Amelia said. “What on earth were you thinking?” They climbed the stairs to the living room.

“It’s a great picture, isn’t it?” Rita asked. “It was just begging for a headline.” She smiled over her shoulder at Amelia, who didn’t appear to be amused. Rita turned back, reached the top of the stairs, rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Sometimes Amelia was positively boorish.

There was a copy of the Prophet on Rita’s coffee table. On the front page was a photograph of Minister Elphick in a rather close pose with his Junior Assistant, Dolores Umbridge—he leaned close to whisper in her ear, and she simpered in a rather nauseating but conveniently suggestive way. The headline that had been composed to go with Rita’s article read NEW MINISTER IN OFFICE ROMANCE TANGLE? Rita was rather pleased with the way it had turned out.

“Why?” Amelia asked with a resigned sigh. Rita laughed and turned to face her again. Boorish or not, at least Amelia knew her well enough by now to know there was always a why.

“She’s prepared new legislation against werewolves. It’s hateful and discriminatory, and she’s trying to push it through quietly. I thought she could do with the spotlight on her for a little while. She won’t be able to do any more sneaking any time soon.”

Amelia didn’t look appeased. “You couldn’t write an article, say, about the legislation itself? Instead of attacking her sexuality?”

Oh, her Hufflepuff. Clinging to the idea that the world was, or should be, fair. “And have it buried on page twelve? Werewolf rights aren’t front page news, but the Minister and his secretary? That is.” Rita crossed the room to the sidebar. “And I believe I attacked his sexuality, not hers. He’s the one who’s married. There’s a small but important distinction there. Drink?”

“No.” She stood there in Rita’s living room, stiff and righteous, and Rita looked at her. Really? “Oh, fine,” she answered, eventually. “Just a small one.”

Small. Right. Rita charmed ice into the glasses, then poured a generous helping of Firewhiskey into both. “I never liked Dolores Umbridge,” she said, turning back to find that Amelia had taken a seat on the edge of the settee, knees apart and elbows resting on them. Rita handed her the glass. “She was in the year above me at school. Prissy little bitch, obsessed with rules. Always ruining everyone else’s fun.”

Rita sipped her drink, Amelia arched that left eyebrow, pierced Rita with her best Auror Stare. Rita continued. “Liked to laud her power over everyone, too, once she made prefect in her fifth year. Hufflepuff, she was. She’s what happens to women like you, when they haven’t got anyone to tell them to lighten up.”

Rita watched, but Amelia didn’t react. She just stared, face impassive, and took a sip of her drink. “You finished?” she asked, moments later.

“I...” Rita stopped. She wasn’t sure quite what to say. Didn’t say anything.

Amelia watched her a moment longer. “Good.” She swirled the ice in her glass. “You won’t get rid of her, you know.”

“What?”

Amelia smiled. “Dolores.”

“Oh. I know. The article is bullshit. Made it up. Not a shred of evidence. She probably hasn’t had anything warmer than a cat in her bed for years. But at least now people will be watching her, so the legislation might fall through, or be delayed. They won’t want to make any controversial moves for a while. Clever, hm?” Rita smiled.

“Mmm,” Amelia murmured, shaking her head. “Highly immoral, but yes. Clever.”

*

Tequila. Tequila was what Rita had been drinking all night. Margaritas, they were called, like her name, but they tasted tart and salty, like Amelia. They’d been to a little Muggle bar in Islington, up the street from Amelia’s place, crowded and anonymous on a Friday night. There had been music and Amelia’s foot tapping unexpectedly under the table; dancing—Rita and a young man, up close and gyrating, under Amelia’s heated gaze (I like the music, she’d said, but I don’t dance); drinks and absolutely no talk of politics, law enforcement or the press.

And then Rita was spinning along the street on their way home (or perhaps that was just her head), clinging tight to Amelia’s arm so as not to fall off her shoes. They barely made it in the door before Amelia shoved her up against the wall and thrust a hand up her skirt.

“Wanton slut,” Amelia breathed, fingers sliding up Rita’s thigh, toeing her feet apart. “Rubbing yourself all over that boy right in front of me. Mm, and you’re wet already.”

Rita felt Amelia’s thumb press against her through her knickers, rocked her hips up into the touch. Merlin, her head was spinning. She fought to focus, fought to look at Amelia, at her eyes dark and hot, the sardonic little smile on her face. Rita had never seen her like this before.

“You’re not nearly as drunk as I am, are you?’” Rita asked, head lolling back against the wall, baring her throat.

“I’m not drunk at all,” Amelia murmured, massaging Rita’s wrist, still in her hand after the grab and shove. “Aurors don’t get drunk in public. It leaves a person-” her fingers pulled the thin fabric of Rita’s knickers aside “-far too vulnerable.”

Rita chuckled, rocking her hips again. “And now you’re going to take advantage of me, are you?”

“Yes.” Amelia pinched Rita’s thigh, a sharp jolt of pain, and Rita gasped.

Amelia pressed Rita’s hand against the wall, palm down. “The other one, like this too. You’re to keep them there until I tell you otherwise. And out of your shoes. You’re not going to be taller than me tonight.”

Merlin, she was...strict, and demanding, and speaking in a voice that brooked no nonsense. It was... Fucking hot was what it was. It made something kick inside Rita, sharp and blinding and right at her core. She did as she was told, flattening her palms against the wall and stepping out of her shoes. Flat-footed, Amelia was taller than her by only a centimetre or so, but it felt like more when Rita sank down to her heels and looked at this woman who was standing over her with that predatory gleam in her eyes.

The first thing Amelia did was tug Rita’s skirt right up to her waist, up over her stocking-tops and the pulled-aside knickers, exposing her damp sex to the cool air. The second was to pull the buttons of Rita’s blouse undone, all the way down, squeezing each breast in turn before she yanked down the fabric of bra cups to expose Rita’s nipples as well. Rita’s skin puckered instantly and Amelia flicked the hardened flesh with her index finger. Rita whimpered, disheveled and bare.

Lips against her throat, then, sucking and marking her, and fingers sliding up over her thighs to tease at her cunt. Rita’s eyes closed, her spinning head fell back and she spread her legs further, welcoming the touch, fingertips pressed hard against the wall. Touch. Those fingers slid along her slit, back and forth. The tip of one teased against her entrance but didn’t penetrate, instead slipping higher to rub small circles over her clit.

“Mmm,” Rita murmured, rocking her hips and grinding against those fingers, matching Amelia’s rhythm, luxuriating here in the darkness behind her eyelids and her steadily growing arousal. Mmm, Amelia did lovely things with her fingers.

Then slap! hard against her sex, and Rita’s eyes flew open with a cry. Amelia was smiling, amused and devilish, and Rita almost reached for her to wipe that smile off her face, but she remembered that her hands weren’t allowed to move from the wall, and never let it be said that Rita Skeeter couldn’t play.

God, but Amelia had stopped with the slap, hadn’t she, and now the heat was fading and Rita’s almost there was gone with it, leaving her hot and flustered and unsatisfied.

“More?” Rita said, but it came out a whisper, quiet and pleading, and Amelia laughed.

“When I’m good and ready,” she said.

She lowered her head to Rita’s breast, sucking a nipple into her mouth and tonguing it, the pointy tip circling then flicking then dragging over it, and oh sweet jesus on a broomstick, the feel of it and the sight of her from this angle with Rita’s tit in her mouth. It was fucking glorious, but not enough. Rita’s cunt throbbed, untouched.

The other breast, then, and this time Amelia caught it between her teeth as well and Rita nearly screamed. She wanted to bury her fingers in Amelia’s hair and force her down, but instead her nails scraped against the wall as her fingers curled.

Fingers up her thigh again and Amelia looking her in the eyes and then finally, finally sliding against slick skin and into Rita’s cunt up to the first knuckle and oh, what was this, stopping there? Rita growled in frustration, canting her hips, trying to draw Amelia’s finger in further, right in and fucking with it but no. Amelia teased, circling and wiggling that fingertip and grinding up against pelvic bone but she wouldn’t press it any deeper as Rita writhed, lifting one leg to curl it around Amelia and pull her closer. And whoah, that wasn’t good for the balance, was it? But Rita didn’t care. Her hands were firmly against the wall and she held herself steady and let that little whimpering noise that wanted to come out trickle up from her throat.

“Please,” Rita whispered, arching her hips again. “Please.”

Amelia chuckled again. “You’re a pretty little tease, but you can’t take it when it’s done to you, can you?”

“No,” Rita admitted, and nothing had ever been truer than that word was in that moment. “Can’t take any more. Please.”

“Well, I suppose you asked nicely.”

And then Amelia was sliding the finger into her, all the way, adding a second, and the thumb grinding against her clit, and Rita’s hips were rocking against her, and then everything was blindness and stars.


August, 1982

CRISPIN ALL OVER TOWN

It was a terrible headline but an effective article. Amelia was used to them by now. Apparently Duke Crispin, one of the youngest members of the Wizengamot at sixty-three, had several mistresses. Rita had found a number of sources to whisper about his comings and goings (no pun intended) from various ladies’ houses, and had even quoted one of these supposed mistresses directly. It was all over the front page, and Amelia had heard three separate whispered conversations about it on her way from the Atrium to the Auror office.

Another one down, then.

The truth about Duke Crispin was that, three days after Renton Yaxley’s trial, he’d bought himself a piece of wizarding art worth several thousand galleons, and Rita’s sources, whoever they were—Amelia didn’t want to know—had traced the money back to Yaxley’s estate.

And that, so far as Amelia knew, marked the last of the corrupt Wizengamot members on Rita’s hit list. At least until she found out that the new ones were taking bribes as well, in a few years time.

When Amelia reached her desk, she dropped the paper onto it and picked up the pile of memos that had arranged themselves in a neat pile. Interesting, the way they did that. Moody’s desk was a shambles, with files spread all over it, a collection of sneakoscopes and photographs and scrawled notes charmed to every available surface, and when memos came for him they just tossed themselves down among the debris. But on Amelia’s and Scrimgeour’s—another neat desk, though his verged on obsessive—the memos folded and piled themselves. Magic was truly fascinating, sometimes.

Taking a seat, Amelia flipped the messages open, discarded those that were unimportant and set the others aside for later. Until she came to the one near the bottom, all thick paper and emblazoned with the Mugwumps’ official seal.

Her heart, she noticed as she cracked the wax, was beating hard. Did they know, somehow, that Amelia was privy to Rita Skeeter’s plots? That she was, however inadvertently, an accomplice? Was this a formal reprimand? Calling her before them to demote her from Deputy Head? Merlin, she should never have listened to Rita. Involving herself in politics was dangerous, and those were waters she didn’t have the guile to navigate.

She opened the parchment.

Oh.

It wasn’t a disciplinary notice after all. Far from it. They were offering her a seat on the Wizengamot.

*

“Tell me you’re taking it,” Rita said that evening, when Amelia stopped by her place to tell her the news.

“I think,” Amelia said, taking a large sip of the Firewhiskey Rita had poured her, “I think I am. I think I will.” She paced the floor, then sat down, tapping her foot and looking full of nervous energy. “Sorry, I...I had to forget about it all day. We had a case to work that needed all my attention. But now...” She broke off, took another sip. “I’m fifty-three. I think I’ll be the youngest they’ve ever appointed.”

Rita smiled. Amelia Bones, unflappable captor of dark wizards, accomplished verbal jouster, all aflutter over the idea of a promotion. A promotion she’d worked hard for, no less. Even if she hadn’t expected it so soon. “What are you worried about?” she asked.

“Politics,” Amelia said, swirling her glass and staring into it. “All the unspoken rules, the implications. The kinds of things you think about and that I don’t even notice. I’ve got no talent for bullshit, remember?”

“Not for it,” Rita agreed, sitting down opposite Amelia and reaching across to steady the hand that was twirling the whiskey so fast it had started to smoke. Waited for Amelia to look up at her. “But a remarkable talent for seeing through it.”

Amelia sighed, shook her head. “I’m too rigid.”

“I’d say steadfast. Maybe obstinate, sometimes, if I were being uncharitable. But we wouldn’t be here if you were rigid. You wouldn’t be here, with me, if you weren’t at least a little bendy.”

“I can’t even find the Death Eaters that killed my brothers, because my morals won’t allow me to break laws just because it’s personal.”

Rita watched her, eyebrows furrowing. Surely... “You’ve never bent the rules, ever?” she asked. “Slapped a lesser charge on a suspect because you knew he’d done something worse, but you couldn’t prove it? Never collected evidence in a way that wasn’t entirely legally justified but was desperately needed to prove something?”

Amelia looked up at her. “Of course I have. I don’t make a habit of it, but we all have, at one time or another.”

Rita smiled. “Then you aren’t rigid, are you? You see the grey. Perhaps the reason you’re so hard on yourself about your brothers’ case is because it is personal?”

Amelia didn’t reply, clearly sunk in thought, but Rita was sure that she was right. Amelia wasn’t rigid, not really. She was fair. She looked at things from more than one angle, even if her judgment on a matter would always be weighted toward what the rules set out. She listened to other arguments, going so far as to acknowledge other viewpoints as more correct even when she disagreed with them.

Except on the matter of her brothers’ murders. Rita sipped her own drink, thinking on that. Of course breaking the law to find out who had killed your brothers and their families would feel less like being an Auror and more like revenge. And of course the knowledge that you hadn’t found them would eat away at you. Probably your colleagues would follow your lead on it, too.

But Rita wasn’t a colleague. She was a woman whose specialty was digging up information. And she’d just finished weeding out the corrupt members of the Wizengamot with scandal and gossip, and was lacking a new project.

Tracking down the names of some Death Eaters sounded like the perfect assignment to take on.


September 1982

It took Rita a month to discover that a man called Thorfinn Rowle had killed Edgar Bones and his wife and children.

She started with enquiries, with contacts and descriptions and theories about Death Eaters at large. Then she put on her wings and spied and listened, putting faces to descriptions and names to faces, learning all she could about the people she most suspected. She looked into Edgar, the public record of his death and last known movements, and the papers she got on the sly, like his Gringotts statements. In the last few weeks of his life, his account had been debited several times by the owner of The Three Broomsticks, which was everybody’s favourite haunt in Hogsmeade but didn’t seem to have been one of Edgar’s outside of those few weeks. So she took herself to Scotland and spoke to the barmaid. Rosie had been a friend of her sister Stella’s in their days at school, and she knew everything about everyone.

“I was only new here, back then,” she said when Rita asked her, “but I remember him. Came in every night for a meal, just for a few weeks, and then someone killed him and his whole family. And then his brother went a month later. I did wonder what they’d been involved in.”

“The Order of the Phoenix,” Rita said, and Rosie’s eyes widened.

“There was a woman. She lived down the street. Came in here for our broth, loads of times. She said it was the only thing that didn’t make her nauseous. She was pregnant, about four, maybe five months along? The baby’s father was a Muggle. If Edgar was a member of the Order, maybe they thought she was a target and they were trying to protect her?”

“What happened to her?” Rita asked.

“She vanished, about the time he was killed. I just thought she’d taken off because of the way things were going, but maybe they got her, too?”

Rowle. Of all the possible Death Eaters Rita had looked into, Rowle was the only one who fit. He wasn’t rich, he wasn’t well-connected, and he was big. From Rita’s eavesdropping, it had seemed fairly clear that his role was a physical one. Muscle, kidnap. If Edgar had come between him and the girl he was assigned to take, perhaps that was what had got him killed.

But if that was the case, why had he been killed in his home? And why his whole family? And how had Rowle got away with the girl?

What if he hadn’t?

*

It would be like searching for a wand in the forest, looking for a single woman in the birth records of Muggle children in late ’75 or early ’76. There were thousands of Muggles born every year, but squibs were rare, and since this woman had been a witch, it seemed likely that, had they survived, her child would be magical. There were only about twenty or thirty magical births in any given year.

Hogwarts kept a record of them.

And so Rita went there on wings through an open window, and in the dead of night she leafed through the book in Madam Pince’s office that chronicled the births of every magical child in Britain. And there was one, born at the end of December 1975 in Norwich, parents unknown.

Rita found the woman living on an estate in a dingy flat. She was a rakish thing, all bones and long brown hair, and she looked at Rita like she was someone from another life.

“He came for me. He was big, and blonde, and he killed my dog and he broke my wand and he would have killed me too, if it hadn’t been for that man. I’d seen him around, in the street and in the Broomsticks, but I’d never thought he might be... It was a woman who came to see me, the first time. She told me she was with the resistance, and they thought I might be attacked. They told me I should leave, but I wouldn’t listen. Why should I, you know? My baby had a right to grow up in the Wizarding world. But then the- I suppose he was a Death Eater, wasn’t he? He came, and he was inside my house, and then that man stunned him, but the Death Eater saw him first. He got me out, brought me here, to the city. Gave me some money, and told me to stay in the Muggle world until it was all over. He didn’t stay long, though. He had to get home, move his family, since he’d been seen. I didn’t even know he was dead. I’ve stayed a Muggle ever since.”

Rita didn’t tell Amelia, because she knew Amelia wouldn’t approve, but this was big enough to put Rowle in Azakaban. This was a witness.

She took the information to Rufus Scrimgeour. He deserved to hook one since Malfoy had slithered off so effectively.

*

ROWLE ARRESTED FOR BONES MURDER

“You went behind my back,” Amelia said, and it wasn’t just anger beating hot in her veins but sadness, and hurt, and, shamingly, fear.

She’d woken to the article, to the buzz in the air on her way to the Auror office, and Alastor had been waiting for her when she arrived.

“Scrimgeour brought him in during the night,” he’d said. “I didn’t know it was happening until I got here this morning. Bloody Prophet's got a hold of it already, though, somehow.”

“Somehow,” Amelia had echoed, quiet.

Alastor had laid a hand on her shoulder, fixed her with both eyes, which was always a sign of strong emotion with him. He didn’t abandon his vigilance for much. “You should go home. It won’t do for you to be here, not with the conflict of interest and you being on the Wizengamot and all.”

“As soon as I see him,” Amelia had whispered. The face of the man who had killed Edgar and Sally, Phoebe and Alex. And maybe Oscar and Patricia as well. Her hands had been shaking. She’d often wondered how it would feel to see him and know him for what he was.

And now Rita was looking at her like she had no idea why Amelia was upset. Or at least this upset.

“I didn’t think you’d want to know,” Rita said. “I thought it would be best if you didn’t.”

“I had to read it in the paper, Rita. The man who killed my brother. The paper.”

“I don’t suppose it makes a difference that I tried to have them hold it off until the afternoon edition, does it?”

Rita Skeeter didn’t have a face that engendered forgiveness. It was unusual, really, given the blonde hair and those big blue eyes. Several women that Amelia had known over the years with those attributes had been able to pull sympathy from even the most hardened individuals with a slightly quivering lip and a soulful look, but not Rita. Even when she was defending herself, projecting innocence either real or feigned (some of both, Amelia thought—Rita was far from innocent, but it wasn’t difficult to imagine that she hadn’t really thought about anything beyond the story), there was a sharpness to her, a brazenness in that expression that made it difficult to imagine her as anything other than calculating. It was something that Amelia found attractive in other contexts, but now...

“No,” Amelia said. “It really doesn’t.”

Rita made tea. It was mid-morning, a bizarre time for Amelia not to be working, but not unusual for Rita, who was most often at the office early for the morning edition and off home or in the field by noon. She passed Amelia a cup, and this was terribly British, wasn’t it? But it filled the silence, at least long enough for Amelia’s hurt and anger to cool into something more like disappointment.

“I thought,” Rita said eventually, “that you’d be pleased. Not with my methods, but with the outcome. You said yourself that you’ve bent the rules before, but you couldn’t when it was personal. So I thought I’d take it out of your hands.”

Merlin, damn the woman. Her logic was always so sound, even when Amelia hated the implications of it. Of course she was pleased that her brother’s murderer had been caught. But that didn’t mean she liked the way it had been done. That didn’t mean that her reputation wouldn’t suffer from the way Rita had gone about it. Rita was all about ends, whereas Amelia was about means.

“What about my career?” she asked. “It’s fairly convenient, isn’t it? My brother’s killer being captured just after I’m given a seat on the Wizengamot. What if someone makes a scandal out of that?”

Rita sipped her tea. “They’ll never trace it back to you. There’s absolutely no connection between Rowle’s arrest and you.”

“Except through you,” Amelia said.

Rita didn’t reply, just set her tea cup down. Arranged it on the saucer until the pattern matched up. Unlike her. “What does that mean, then?” she asked.

Amelia paused. What did it mean? When she’d come here, Amelia hadn’t had any plan beyond making sure Rita knew how upset and angry she was, but while it seemed that Rita understood, she didn’t seem particularly regretful, and she certainly hadn’t apologised. And now that Amelia’s initial anger had faded, mostly she just felt exhausted.

“The story is always going to be the most important thing to you, isn’t it?” she asked.

“I expect so,” Rita said. “The same way the law is, for you.”

“And for both of us, careers are always going to come first.”

“Probably, yes.”

Amelia nodded. “Then I think it means that I can’t do this anymore.” It felt strange to say it. Sad. Amelia had known all along that this relationship couldn’t last forever, but ‘not forever’ and ‘ending right now’ were quite different things.

Rita nodded, glancing at the table. Her hands had fisted in her lap, but she was otherwise unreadable. “If that’s the way you feel,” she said.

“It is.” Silence, a few moments only, but it felt like hours, and then Amelia pushed herself slowly to her feet. “I should probably go.”

“Mm.” Rita rose, too, and then they stood awkwardly for another few moments. Eventually, Amelia moved, and Rita followed her down the stairs to the door. There she paused again, because she supposed this was goodbye, wasn’t it? Oh, they would surely cross paths again somewhere down the line, but this was it, really.

She turned. Rita was watching her, leaning against the banister. She offered a wry sort of smile. “When they make you Minister,” she said, “I’ll buy you a drink.”

Amelia snorted. “Likewise, when you become editor of the Prophet.”

She opened the door and slipped out into the day. Before she shut it, she glanced inside one more time, and watched Rita watch her until the door closed between them.

From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

Profile

featherxquill: (Default)
featherxquill

January 2012

S M T W T F S
1234567
891011 121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Aug. 23rd, 2017 12:43 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios