Some flash flooding, with expected loss of property
Thanks again to all the guys n gals at The-Place-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and my beta Dave.
The Chamber of Secrets was just as grimy as I remembered. I carefully made my way into the main grotto. Salazar Slytherin’s massive bust stared down at me.
"Arrogant bastard, weren’t you?" I muttered.
My serpentine friend was not at home; probably out hunting. I made my way over to the Dark Collection, and used a desk that looked as though it had once been the property of the Marquis de Sade.
Putting the deaths I had been responsible for temporarily out of my mind, I pulled out all the papers I’d taken from the warehouse and spread them out over the desk. Carefully, I began making piles, sorting the documents. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them were orders and invoices. It appeared that the warehouse was mainly used as a sort of holding area for the importing and distribution of potion ingredients, but raw materials and manufacturing components were also stored there before being sent out. Nimbus Brooms seemed to be a customer, so unless they had a stockpile to mitigate events such as this, brand-new Nimbus brooms were probably going to be a little scarce on the market in the not-too-distant future. A company called LXM Holdings purchased nearly forty percent of all the potion ingredients and reagents that passed through the place.
Nearly half an hour later, I’d put together a reasonable view of the top customers of the warehouse. Two of them really stood out.
Melinda Bobbins’ family had used it as a distribution point for their UK-based apothecaries’ imports. They also sent all their locally harvested ingredients there to be bundled and exported.
LXM Holdings purchased nearly all the other potion ingredients that were stored there. But they paid far more than they should have, if my rough calculations were correct, based on the cost of other similar, though smaller, orders. That was odd. One thing I remember Vernon being pleased about was getting stuff cheaper by buying in bulk. Perhaps there would be more information in the safe.
"I smell a battle on you. I trust you were victorious?"
I managed to suppress my reflex to jump and whip out my wand. I suppose that as a snake, silence came naturally. "Not really. Well, I was victorious, but not as successful as I wanted," I replied, turning to face the giant serpent.
"Were you injured?"
I shook my head. "Not a scratch."
"Then you were successful, were you not?"
I almost chuckled at his medieval notions of success and failure. "Oh, I won the magical battle. But it is the battle for the hearts and minds of the public that I wanted to win today,
and that didn’t go so well."
"Hearts and minds? You are striving to become a leader of men?"
"Not exactly. I am trying to change public opinion."
That concept seemed to confuse the enormous snake. "Opinion? The opinion of the public? What does the opinion of lesser mortals matter? You have skill. You certainly have power. Simply dominate them. Force them to act as you would have them."
Perhaps â€˜medieval’ was a little too modern for this creature. The longer this conversation went the further back away from the renaissance he went. "But that tactic wouldn’t have a long term impact. I’m trying to make people effect change on themselves. That way, I don’t have to keep dominating them," I replied.
The basilisk gave that notion some thought. "Perhaps, though such a path does seem fraught with myriad variables, many of which you have no control over. No, I urge you to follow the simple solution, for its simplicity is its strength."
I rummaged through my pockets and pulled out an adamantine necklace I’d charmed the day before. "Your church tried that during the crusades. The holy land isn’t exactly the most peaceful place on the planet at the moment."
For a creature with no shoulders, it could do a remarkably eloquent shrug. "Do as you will. It makes no difference to me."
"I will keep you council in mind," I finished as diplomatically as possible. "I am trying to piece together a plan. I want to determine my enemies’ weakest point, and attack there."
"A sensible course of action. It is good to see you once again."
I smiled. "I have a gift for you."
The basilisk seemed taken aback. "A gift?"
I nodded, reaching into my backpack. "I enchanted this necklace for you."
A massive serpentine head drifted close; close enough that I could feel the cool breath on my hand. "I do not believe it will fit me, my friend," the basilisk said, followed by his odd grunting laugh.
I chuckled along. "It is adamantine. I want to use a sticking charm to attach it behind the ridge on the top of your head."
"To what purpose?"
I gestured towards the entrance to the Chamber. "The silencing charms I put up are easily broken. This is charmed to enclose a radius of seven feet in a silencing bubble if a rooster comes within the Chamber."
A metaphorical chill in the air indicated that I had said the wrong thing. "I am not some feeble beast, to be coddled and protected! I am the king of serpents!"
"I know…" I started.
"My mere gaze is the most fearsome weapon of all creatures. My venom is almost as lethal. I can crush the life from a dragon with my body. Not even a mighty nundu could stand before me!"
"And you stand before me, the mightiest of the mighty, and dare to offer yet another cowardly shield for me to hide behind?"
Bugger. This was going to take a lot of fast-talking.
Having a basilisk become enraged at your actions is the world’s best laxative, I decided as I left the Chamber. It had relented, eventually, and acquiesced to my suggestion, though not
before letting me know in no uncertain terms that it was the very last thing he would accept from me regarding his safety. With Dumbledore no doubt called away to examine the scene of the latest
attack by the new Dark Lord, I felt comfortable in making my way out of Hogwarts under my invisibility cloak. I made a mental note to try and get my map back. Once well clear of the castle, I
apparated to Dobby’s quarters, rather than into Grimmauld Place’s sitting room, as was my custom. I suspected that there would be at least one visitor at my home that I didn’t want
I was right. There were raised voices.
"Damn it, I need to know!"
Hmm, sounds like Tonks is a little upset by today’s little revelation.
"I’m telling the truth!"
Well, it didn’t sound like Blaise was too happy with Tonks either.
"Listen, Zabini, if you’re lying, I’ll have you charged with obstructing an Auror in the course of her duty."
"Grow up, Tonks. Besides Harry, his old Master, the Weasleys and Remus, there hasn’t been a wizard in this house since Shacklebolt and Dumbledore were permanently kicked out."
"He said he was the new head of the Black family. That means he has access."
"No, it doesn’t. This house was left to Harry personally, not as part of the Black family. It was his to do as he wished. Even if this new wizard wanted in, he couldn’t cross the threshold without being invited."
There was a pause, and the voices lowered enough that I could hardly make them out.
"I can’t believe this. Why would Harry pick him? Who is he? Where did he come from? What the hell kind of spells was he casting?"
"Surely you don’t think I have the answers. I told you at the reading that Harry didn’t confide in me."
"But weren’t you and Harry engaged? And what about Hermione."
Blaise’s "No we weren’t," merged with Hermione’s "None of your business."
So both girls were here. I wonder if Ron was here too.
"But he said…"
"He proposed, I turned him down."
"Again, none of your business."
"Then why would he leave this house to you?"
"Just get out, Tonks. There has been no new wizard in this house in over a year, and I don’t know who Harry picked as his heir. I have nothing else to say to you."
"Can you at least tell me where he visited in Europe? Or even who his old Master was?"
"He didn’t tell me where he went, and I can’t tell you the other. Now, out!"
"Fine. I’ll go. But listen, I can appreciate what he’s trying to do; it’s just the wrong way…"
Neither girl responded before the distinctive rush of the floo.
Time to see just how badly things had been messed up.
"All clear?" I asked, sticking my head through the doorway. I could see two figures in the room, Hermione and Blaise. Blaise, who was in the process of opening the door to the next room, turned with a small jump to face me. Through the door, I could make out Ron lying on a couch with a bandage around his head. In defiance of all literary expectations, it was not soaked in blood.
"Harry!" Hermione screeched. "Are you all right?" Her eyes were red and puffy, and her voice sounded hoarse. Her voice elicited a groan from Ron.
I nodded with a frown. "Shouldn’t I be asking that?" Ron’s groan turned into a sort of snort. "Is he alright?" I asked.
"Not too bad," Blaise replied, stepping over to my friend and waving her wand over him.
"How bad is not too bad?" I asked warily, moving to her side.
"I’ve had to treat him here," she said. "His worst injury was a pretty nasty knock to the head, but he’s safe. Taking him to St. Mungo’s with concussion wounds and polyjuice in his system right after an attack he wasn’t seen at would have set at least some alarm bells ringing.
"As for Granger and me, well, there were no major injuries. I was partially deaf for a while, but we weren’t hurt."
I slumped into a chair. "That’s a relief."
Blaise nodded, her features hard. "I think you put a few too many charms on those vases."
I winced, but shook my head in disagreement. "There was no way that explosion was the result of my charms. It was the stuff in the warehouse."
"You are a powerful wizard, Harry."
"Not that powerful. Look, the other two vases on the shops didn’t explode with that force. It wasn’t the vases."
Hermione frowned. "But the tax and customs records from Fudge’s safe didn’t show they were storing anything there that should have reacted like that!" she snapped accusingly.
"The warehouse had been enlarged way beyond the safety limits for those charms and I think it had a fair bit of unlisted contraband. The unexpected stuff must have been a bit more volatile than the rest. It was the secondary explosion that was the big one."
Blaise glanced sideways at Hermione. "Yeah, who’d have expected some people who support criminals who have some unlisted items in their warehouse? I can’t imagine."
I glanced between the two. Blaise’s tone was reminiscent of the ongoing argument the pair had after Hermione had left me. It would seem that they had been arguing prior to my arrival.
Hermione sniffed with indignation. "There’s no need to be snooty about it. I just didn’t think about it, that’s all." She looked as through she was about to burst into tears.
"To be fair, neither did I," I said, trying to stave off an imminent argument. "But I should have. I’m going to need to spend a lot more time planning than I have been, and only act when I have much more information."
Blaise raised a sculpted eyebrow. "That’s going to make your job harder."
I snorted and shrugged. "Story of my life."
She frowned, but nodded. Hermione’s expression softened a little, from diamond to merely granite. "The wireless is reporting hundreds of deaths."
I blinked. Snape’s death had set her off. If she thought hundreds of people were dead, I’m surprised that she hadn’t gone to the Aurors. "Hundreds? I counted seven."
"Seven? Are you sure?"
I gave a helpless shrug. "As sure as I can be, given I was only really doing a quick unofficial nose count. But there weren’t even fifty people in the alley when I set the explosion off."
Blaise cleared her throat. "What about inside the warehouse? You said it had been enlarged. Could there have been more people inside?"
I frowned, thinking of the orders I gave to the manager there. "I don’t think so. I compelled the wizard I found in the management office to order everyone out the front door to â€˜look at the Mudblood making a fool of herself’. I guess if there was anyone he didn’t know about they may have been left behind."
"But not hundreds?" I guess she needed confirmation.
"No way. If I had to guess, I’d say the number will be quietly revised downwards in subsequent reports. This may work to my advantage."
That seemed to calm one of the two girls down a bit. "But still…"
I nodded, and sat down rubbing a hand tiredly across my face. "Seven deaths I hadn’t planned on. I guess I have made you an accomplice to murder, Hermione."
She paled, though was acting far more accepting than I had expected. Or even dared to hope. "So what now? Are you going to stop?" she asked.
I shook my head slowly, staring straight into her eyes, gauging her reaction. "No. Our child was killed because of this government’s attitude towards non-purebloods," I reminded her, in the hope that it would mitigate her reaction.
She pursed her lips, but I could sense a small amount of relief at my proclamation. Something was going on here. Something had happened that had changed her outlook.
"What happened?" I asked her. "I expected you to be a lot less accepting."
Her eyes flicked over to Blaise before coming back to me. Tears welled in her eyes, and her shoulders began trembling.
"She had an epiphany," Blaise supplied after an uncomfortable pause. "After you disappeared, everyone who didn’t apparate away was taken to St. Mungo’s for evaluation." She looked over at Hermione, and her expression changed to one of disgust. "A Muggle-born witch was removed from her ward so that there was a private room available for Maximillian Nott."
I frowned. "I presume there was some difference in their relative conditions?"
Blaise snarled. "You could say that. The witch had acid burns to eighty percent of her body from a potions accident a few days ago. Maxi had tinnitus."
"Tinnitus. Ringing in his ears."
It was all I could do not to let my mouth hang open. "Are you fucking serious?"
Hermione almost burst into tears and began babbling. "She was naked on her bed, and they just left her in the waiting room!" she bawled. "Private rooms were given to people who had nothing wrong with them while she just lay there crying." Her voice quietened. "She just cried and cried and no one would help her," she finished in a whisper. She stood and went over to the window, trying to get under control.
Blaise took a deep breath, glaring at Hermione. "And so, since she got back, I’ve been on the receiving end of Granger’s rant about policies at my workplace which I have no control over."
"Is that really what happened?"
"It’s probably pretty close as far as it goes, but there are some details she missed. Usually, if there is a private ward free, they’ll move a public patient that needs close attention into it, even if they can’t pay. But if a private patient comes in and needs it, they’d get moved out again. I’d say that with the sudden influx of purebloods you injured, every single public patient would have been shifted out into the public wards. That specific patient would temporarily have been taken out of the ward she was in. There would have been no point in taking her to the public wing and then just moving her back again an hour later."
"But keeping her in the waiting room?"
Blaise’s eyes flashed with anger. "It wasn’t my decision! I told you that I don’t have control over those policies!"
I held my hands up placatingly. "Yes, I know." I glanced over at Hermione. She looked to be pulling herself together, and didn’t need me to point out how unwarranted her accusations had been. Instead, I turned back to Blaise. "Then perhaps it’s time for you to use your leverage?"
Blaise looked at me as though I was simple. "Harry, I’m a student healer. No matter what blackmail material I have, I can’t be on the Board until I’m qualified."
I raised an eyebrow. "I didn’t say anything about your plan of being put on the Board. You’ve got enough to end the career of the Administrator, why don’t you lean on her? Get her to begin to change the policies. That way, any backlash is on her, rather than you."
Blaise gave a soft snort and shook her head admiringly. "I love it when you think like that."
I gave her a grin before turning to Hermione, who was still trying to hold back tears. "Hermione?" I said softly.
"Hermione!" I said, rather more loudly. She jumped slightly and looked at me. "Are you okay? Are you holding yourself together?"
She swallowed, but nodded. "I, I just… Dammit, things have to change!" she said forcefully.
I blinked, taken aback. "You swore!"
"Oh bugger off. I always knew that I’d be disadvantaged because of my parentage, but we really are second-class citizens, aren’t we?"
I nodded. "Yep."
She looked down thoughtfully. "So what will you do differently?" she asked.
I took a deep breath. "I presume you mean so that no more unforseen deaths occur?" At her affirmative nod, I continued. "Mitigate. I’ve shown that I can attack in broad daylight, and escape from a large group of Aurors at will. From now on, any attack on someone not on my list will be a hit and fade at night, destroying the assets and support of certain companies."
"Companies?" Blaise asked.
I nodded. "I grabbed all the documents from the office in the warehouse. I had a quick look while I was waiting for the basilisk to get back from his hunting. A lot is pretty useless, but it supplements the papers we took from Fudge."
"They’re not going to leave sensitive documents just lying around in an office, Harry," Hermione pointed out.
I grinned at her. "I know. That’s why I took this," I replied, extracting the shrunken safe from my backpack with a flourish.
Both girls looked at the tiny metal cube in my hand with a doubtful look on my face. "What’s that? A canister?"
I snickered, but put it down on the ground and reversed the shrinking charm. "Nope. This, my gorgeous girls, is the safe from the warehouse."
Blaise’s eyes widened, but quickly turned to humour. Hermione tried to maintain her expression a little longer, but eventually settled for a wry grin.
A pair of apparition cracks echoed through the house.
I took a deep breath. "Sounds like the twins are here." I rose to my feet. "I’d better go and placate them before they get all destructive on me."
Though it took far less fast talking to placate the ginger bookends than it did the basilisk, it was still an uncomfortable conversation. In the end, it took me tempting them with the opportunity to crack a professionally charmed safe that distracted them.
I moved the safe to the basement where a couple of unobtrusive bricks sat in the corner. As the twins talked strategies, I wandered around the edges of the room, reinforcing the walls as much as I could at short notice. After ten minutes, the twins were ready to start and I’d ensured the room could take an explosion from any spell in the twins’ repertoire, and probably any accidental potion brewing mishap short of a Longbottom special. Hopefully, we wouldn’t need to test that out.
"Are you sure you got this from the warehouse?" Fred asked, a bit dubiously.
I nodded. "Of course, why?"
George glanced at his brother before answering. "This is a Burleigh Special. Short of a blood-warded safe, it’s the best on the market."
With a chuckle, I said, "And having such a secure safe for a mere distribution centre is overkill, right?"
They nodded, but in the opposite of unison. When one head bobbed down, the other went up. I had to blink to stop myself getting dizzy. "We’ve got a smaller one at the shop. How’d you manage to get it out of the place? Usually, this model Burleigh is charmed to be locked in place. A dragon couldn’t shift it."
"The manager at the warehouse took the charms off it for me. If it’s holding the sort of incriminating evidence I’m hoping for, the owners would probably want the ability to take it and run at a moment’s notice."
The pair grinned. Fred rubbed his hands together while George interlaced his fingers and extended his hands to arms length, cracking his knuckles. "Righty-ho, brother mine, let’s get to work."
It was instructive watching the would-be safe crackers. Their first plan of attack involved probing the safe’s perceived weak points first; namely, the hinges. Unfortunately, these were also the most strongly charmed. Within a minute of starting, George was jumping around shouting with his electro-shocked hand under his armpit while Fred ended up looking like a cartoon character that’d just been holding a lit stick of dynamite.
"Right," Fred said, getting to his feet and patting down his smoking hair. Even though he’d just taken an explosion at close range, he seemed even more excited than before. "I feel a somewhat different tactic is warranted, George."
"Indeed. To the storeroom!" George shouted exuberantly, pointing at the ceiling with his good hand.
The pair apparated away without another word. "Huh," I said to the now-empty room. Their theatrics were almost as amusing as their pranks.
I drew my own wand and sent a few mild hexes at the safe. The warding structure built into it was quite powerful, easily absorbing anything I threw at it. It only responded violently when I cast some damaging spells. Interesting.
Twin cracks echoed through the small enclosed room. I turned to see the twins back again, loaded down with armfuls of products from their store. Once more, I stepped back and let them work.
Conventional explosives had little effect, and despite their increasing enthusiasm, I vetoed the suggestion to scale up the munition size. In the end, I had to point out that I wanted the stuff inside the safe to be whole.
Fred’s suggestion of a dragonscale saw blade was blunted quickly, much like the blade itself, to George’s mirth. He bet his brother that a bottle of concentrated acid would have more of an effect. The acid scorched the surface of the metal, but did little to the structure itself, costing George three galleons. As each item they tried was foiled, the pair grew ever more excited. I’m quite sure that had I not been present, eventually Grimmauld Place would be a smoking hole in the ground with a still-intact safe at the epicentre.
In an effort to duplicate Ron and my feat at Gringotts, they even tried freezing the safe, hoping to make the metal brittle. The damned thing even had an inbuilt heating charm, keeping the metal room temperature. It seems that Burleigh employs some Muggle-born who know a thing or two about physics.
They eventually got me to levitate the whole safe, and then rotate it rapidly. Once it was spinning so fast it was just a blur, they tried using an unbreakable chisel to chip tiny pieces away.
Not a good idea. When an unbreakable item hits another unbreakable item, whatever is holding them gets a bit of a jolt.
As Fred took George upstairs for some medical attention on his broken hand, I stopped the safe spinning, and lowered it to the ground. I reached out and touched the surface, now marked and discoloured. Gently, I pulled through my hands, getting a tiny warmth in my arms.
I wasn’t magically drained enough. I stepped back as far away from the safe as the confines of the room would allow, and using as much control as I had, I gently pushed up under the safe.
It was the magical equivalent of trying to life a barbell with a straight arm. Almost immediately, sweat began dripping down my forehead and dripped off my nose. Though not physically difficult, it did remind me of all the effort I put into learning the Patronus Charm. Once I had the heavy safe hovering, I began trying to control the horizontal movement. Soon, I had it drifting from side to side, all while constantly pushing it up into the air.
After a few minutes, I lowered it as gently as I could to the ground. Once more, I stepped forward, placed my hands on the upper hinge, and pulled. This time, I devoured the magical power, my arms feeling as though I’d plunged them into hot water.
I moved my left hand from the hinge to the middle of the door, and continued to pull. Converting stored magical energy to my own core was proving to be enjoyable, even pleasurable. At one point, there was a sharp flash of warmth, after which the warmth I got from the safe was far less. Perhaps I’d broken the major charm?
Almost reluctantly, I stepped back, tingling with power.
I tossed a few of the spells Gred and Forge had used on the hinges. I grinned as each had the desired effect, without the offensive response. I soon had the hinges off and the door quickly after.
I stared into the safe, rather hoping that the twins wouldn’t be too upset that I’d finished the job for them; though I suspected that they’d be more upset at losing their entertainment.
"Well, you were right. There was contraband stored in the warehouse," Hermione said, pouring over a pile of parchment we’d taken from the safe.
I looked up from my counting. I was up to sixteen thousand galleons, and probably only half-way through the gold. Apparently, it was policy to keep a fair stash of coin in the safe. "Like what?"
Hermione just handed me a pair of handwritten sheets of her notes. "These are the main culprits. Honestly, keeping those things near each other without containment was asking for trouble."
I ran my eye over the sheets. I couldn’t spot what was wrong with storing the listed items together, though I did recognise some items that were very heavily regulated, if not illegal to import. "Dried warthog testicles? Pureed nundu bowel? Ugh. Such lovely images."
Hermione gave me a mock glare. "These people are idiots. Can you believe that they actually stored elemental mercury in the same building as ashwinder eggs? I’m surprised the place didn’t go up in smoke years ago."
"Ashwinder eggs? They’re legal, aren’t they?"
She nodded. "Of course, we used them in potions at Hogwarts. Er, that is, in our sixth year. You were gone by then. I was referring to how they react with each other. Even a whiff of mercury fumes causes them to undergo spontaneous combustion. Whatever idiot decided to store them in the same postcode, let alone the same building, has no concept of risk management. But they are both legal, the illegal things are listed here." She pointed to a group of things on the first sheet.
"See here? Look at it all. I mean, for goodness sake, bunyip hide! It’s illegal all over the world." At my blank look, she continued. "The first British wizards who went to Australia discovered that the hide was even better at resisting heat and acid than the best dragon skin, and infinitely easier to work with. Of course, that meant that bunyips were hunted almost to extinction within twenty years. Now, there are only about a hundred left in the wild, and they are heavily protected. The last person caught smuggling hide was imprisoned for sixty years."
"Who was getting that?" I asked.
"A company called LXM Holdings."
I blinked. "That would be why they paid far more than they should have for the legal stuff they bought."
She actually pouted at me. "I wanted to tell you that!"
I grinned at her, pleased that she was beginning to show signs of her usual self. "Do you know anything about that company?"
At Hermione’s negative response, Blaise sniggered. "You would if you’d been in Slytherin."
That caught my attention. "How so?"
"Draco was always going on about how his Daddy’s business was so profitable, and how rich the Malfoys were. LXM was started by one Lucius Xavier Malfoy, to consolidate the Malfoy family assets. St. Mungo’s buys all sorts of stuff from them. Nearly half of all the medical potions I use come from the LXM production house. We get medical equipment, beds, security guards, hell, even food for the patients from them."
I glanced down at my notes. "I don’t suppose the other half of the potions you use come from the Bobbins family?"
Blaise blinked. "That’s right! How did you know?"
I tapped the sheet in front of me. "LXM buy most of the stuff that gets imported, but Bobbins buy a heap too, as well as export a lot of potion ingredients. I figured that they’d be involved in potion production too, since they’re already supplying the raw materials."
Blaise nodded and grumbled, "Bobbins-brewed potions are better than the mass-produced gunk LXM makes, but I wouldn’t use either on any member of my family if I had the choice."
"They’re that bad?" Hermione asked. "Why would they be used at the hospital then?"
Blaise shrugged. "Because they have the supply contracts." At Hermione’s aghast look, she continued. "Don’t worry. Any patient in a critical condition gets the quality stuff." She paused. "And those wealthy enough to afford it," she added.
"The quality stuff?" I asked. "St. Mungo’s has different quality potions for different patients?"
Blaise looked at me as though I’d had a recent lobotomy. "Of course. Potions are expensive. Staying at St. Mungo’s would be out of the financial reach for most if they only used the best."
I hummed to myself, as an idea germinated. "Tell me, if LXM and Bobbins make the crap stuff, who makes the good stuff?"
"The best? There’s dozens of specialised boutique brewers out there that make individual potions, like the Wolfsbane. The ones that require specialised skills to brew. Generally they only make one or two." She shrugged. "Some potion recipes are family secrets; only certain people know how to make them."
I frowned. That wasn’t going to work. "Are there any good quality mass producers? Ones that make the same potions as LXM, but high quality?"
Hermione chipped in. "Matthias?" she suggested to Blaise.
At Blaise’s nod, I asked, "Who?"
"Matthias Potions. They make some of the best quality potions on the market, outside of specialised production houses. The hospital gets a small supply from them, to use on the most critical patients." She paused and grimaced. "And the wealthiest patients too."
I rubbed my chin in thought. "Do they make a broad range of potions?"
"Yeah." She grimaced. "As a student healer, one of my tasks is to check the potion consumption tally, and put an order request in. They make pretty much everything that LXM makes, but they don’t have a supply contract with the hospital. I don’t know who owns or runs it, but they make the best generic potions."
"Jeremy Matthias owns it," Hermione said, giving Blaise a superior smirk. "He employed me between our sixth and seventh years for some work experience."
I looked down at my notes, and began to plan. Usually, when trying to convince someone to do something, you offer a carrot and threaten with a stick. Zab however, always seemed to get far better results by making the carrot and the stick the same thing.
"Uh-oh, I’m not sure I want to know about any plan that makes you smile like that, Harry."
With a grin, I said, "Oh yes you do. Tell me, when was the next major shipment of supplies to the warehouse due?"
It took a week of intense planning, but I was eventually once again ready to turn the screws on the purebloods. I’d insisted on doing this myself, with each of my co-conspirators either at a Weasley family get-together, or on night shift at St. Mungo’s. Air-tight alibis were the go after the last episode.
Three nights ago, I’d gone to the warehouse manager’s home, and reapplied the Imperius charm. An entire month’s supply of potion ingredients and reagents was due on the docks ten hours ago, and I needed it to go to a specific place. Given my plan, I probably hadn’t even needed to use the Unforgivable to convince him.
This very moment however, I was scouting the manufacturing plants of LXM Holdings. One thing I had noticed about the Magical world, when they had to scale up any business other than retail outlets, they simply expanded their current base, rather than sourcing other locations. There was one Ministry building, while the Muggle government had dozens just in London. There was one bank, which dug deeper the more they needed room. And with LXM and Bobbins, they had one place they made potions, and just expanded it as and when needed.
It was located in an old coal plant near Newcastle. If it wasn’t for all the Muggle-repellent wards, I’d have had a heap of trouble finding it. Even at this late hour, there were still workers there. I was rather hoping that it was a late shift, and not a graveyard shift.
By midnight, I’d done three circuits of the place, and had mapped out all the entry and exit points. Still the workers slaved away inside.
Checking my watch, I decided that I needed to get a move on. Much longer, and I’d be cutting into the time it would take me to neutralize the Bobbins’ factory.
I located the ingredients storage facility, making it my first target. It was separate from the main factory floor; unsurprisingly really, since some of the stock held there was worth more than gold, weight for weight. Of course Malfoy would keep it away from the greedy hands of the great unwashed.
It was guarded by a statue, not dissimilarly to Dumbledore’s office. Still, a stone guardian is just made of stone.
I packed a small portion of the explosives that the twins had furnished me with at the base. I retired to a safe-ish distance and covered myself with a silencing charm and a shield. Set and ready, I sent a wordless hex at the package.
Though my ears were protected from the noise of the blast, the pressure wave almost buffeted me from my feet. The top part of the statue shot into the air trailing flames like an angel suffering from excessive flatulence who’d just heard about the joys of lighting your farts. The bottom part of the statue was only fit for a rockery.
With the door to the supply room now permanently open, I began cycling through my repertoire of every incendiary charm and curse I could cast silently. It only took four spells before the fires inside overwhelmed the safety charms in place, setting off every inflammatory item at once. The walls of the storehouse were flattened, and a massive fireball leapt into the air, lighting up the landscape for miles around. It was an eerie sight, especially since the fire was every damned colour you could imagine. The wash of heat on my face was quite enjoyable. Maybe I have some latent pyrophillic tendencies.
After getting their attention with the first boom and scaring them witless with the second, I pulled out the howler I’d prepared earlier, and banished it into the fast-forming crowd.
Still under my silencing charm, I couldn’t hear when the red letter began screeching dire threats to the bigots, but the effect was quite recognisable. Of the twenty or so people in the group, maybe three quarters of them apparated away in fright. The half-dozen left all ran screaming in different directions into the night.
Well, that would do.
I cancelled the silencing charm, and was immediately bombarded with my magically enhanced voice. I sent a quick "Incendio," towards the red letter, burning it to a crisp. The only noises remaining were the slowly fading screams of the panicking masses as they legged it out of there. Several spells cast at the warehouse revealed that there was no human present.
I moved over to the open door and placed my backpack on the ground. I then began (with great care) to withdraw package after package of high-grade magical explosives. The twins weren’t sure how much destructive power would be needed to bring down the factory, so they were generous in their supply, on the proviso that I ensured that there were no people in the building. Since I had other plans for the rest of the night that didn’t involve large booms, I used the entire lot. Hey, it wasn’t as though I needed to bring any home with me.
Sirius once told me that my father was so good at Transfiguration that he could turn a lump of manure into a spider, and control it well enough that he could get it to move itself to his prank target’s pillow. Not having my father’s sublime skill in that art, I played to my strengths, transfiguring the packages into snakes.
"Enter that building there," I ordered, sending wave after wave of serpentine packages of explosive death. Once the transfiguration on them wore off in a couple of minutes, it would only take a lick of flame to set them off. I pulled out more packages and repeated the process.
I was all but done before some apparition cracks echoed in the night. I finished the final pair of snakes and sent the off before packing up my backpack. I remained under my cloak. I wasn’t about to give away an advantage unless it gained me a greater one.
Two Aurors stood nearby, wands out and ready, examining the flaming ex-storeroom and ignoring the open door to the factory floor.
I glanced around, frowning. Only two? How insulting.
I was about to pull my cloak off and leisurely blast the two arse-over-tit before I had a thought. I’d instilled a great deal of fear into the powerful members of society. It’s not really likely that they’d just send a pair of Aurors to a suspected arson attack. Unless there were a great many such attacks, and I would have read about them in the paper if there had been.
No, if these two were the only ones here, then being cocky gained me nothing. If they had backup, being cocky would be disastrous.
Remaining under my cloak, I simply raised my wand and took aim at one. "Imperio."
He fought valiantly, but I was only interested in dominating him a short time. He dropped his wand, and leapt onto his partner’s back, wrestling him to the ground.
The rather amusing scene was interrupted nearly immediately by the arrival of six more Aurors, who appeared armed and ready. I pushed the entire group from their feet, then silently disapparated, appearing a good twenty metres behind them.
Before I’d even gathered my own bearings, another two groups of Aurors had appeared, one roughly where I had been initially. The other, rather alarmingly, appeared not spitting distance from where I now stood.
Well, this could be interesting. Twenty-four Aurors. Three full squads.
One of the squads moved towards the factory, and my heart leapt into my throat. The last thing I wanted was eight dead Aurors on my hands. I needed to attract their attention.
With a broad sweep of my arm, I used the same dark cutting curse Malfoy tried on me, opening up deep wounds on at least five legs of the group nearest me. The sudden screams attracted the attention of everyone in the area.
Using my tried and true tactic, I pushed the bleeding group away, and disapparated again.
Of the two dozen Aurors here, I’d inconvenienced less than a quarter. That still left way too many for me to comfortably take on. I told myself that I needed to blow the building, scare them, and leave quickly, but there were some who were still too close to the building for comfort. Dozens of spells were being tossed about; some were detection charms, others were defensive in nature. If I didn’t leave soon, I’d have a hell of a job taking them on.
I threw an Everberus curse at one unshielded wizard who was in the process of putting up an anti-apparition jinx, breaking his pelvis and thighs. Before the sound of my voice could attract more spells, I disapparated again.
"They’re disillusioned!" screamed a familiar female Auror. â€˜They’? Maybe I should take off my cloak.
Following Tonks’ proclamation, the many of the Aurors cast something on their eyes. Well, I couldn’t expect my invisibility to last forever. I tossed a conjunctivitis curse at the nearest Auror and disapparated again, to the far side of the burning storeroom.
Peeking around the corner, I noticed more Aurors moving towards the explosive-laden building. Damn it, get away from there.
Dropping my bag and putting my cloak on top, I crept around the side of the flaming building only under a disillusion spell. I needed to be able to move freely, and my cloak was cumbersome. More of the Aurors were moving towards the main factory building. Shit, I had to get them away from there.
Two Aurors stood near me, shouting out to their friends something about their status. I touched my yew wand to the ground and sent a dark curse towards the pair. The ground around them rippled momentarily, before erupting into a quartet of sharp, six inch-long spikes. They went down in a duet of screams that must have attracted the attention of every non-deaf person within a mile. I pinned them both down with same gooey hex that was used on me at my will reading.
Despite the shrieks filling the air, Auror discipline won through. I counted an entire squad checking the primed factory. Gritting my teeth, I figured that there was one way to get every Auror in the area to pay attention to me. I erected the strongest shield I could, before dispelling my disillusion. Almost instantly, my position was called out and spells angled their way towards me.
I raised my wand and slashed it down towards the ground, pushing out hard in all directions, duplicating the same tactic I’d used in Parti Alley. I wanted to make sure that all the Aurors here tonight had no doubt who it was they were fighting.
The wave rocketed out, faster and even more powerful than the last time, knocking over everyone in its path. Instantly, the spells sparking off my shield ceased.
"You’re under arrest!" one cocky youngster shouted as he scrambled to his feet.
I snorted contemptuously and pushed him as hard as I could from the side. He gave a despairing yell as he flew to his right, landing in a crumpled heap. I conjured a ball of flame as more of the Aurors rose to their feet a lot more cautiously than their colleague. Though some of them were too close to the factory for comfort, it was about as far as I was prepared to push my luck. Gritting my teeth and praying for a non-repeat of the debacle at Parti Alley, I shouted, "Do you wish to arrest me, or save the building?"
Tonks recognized the danger, instantly screaming at the team closest to the building to fall back. I tossed the fireball into the air and pushed it hard towards the factory.
Tonks screamed, "Blue squad, scatter, Green and Red squads, bring him down!"
"As you wish," I said calmly. I reinforced my shield and silenced my head as my fireball smashed through a window. I pushed out broadly in front of me, hoping to blunt the force of the explosion.
I covered my eyes as a wave of intense head washed over me. Even shielded, I was knocked backwards a few steps by the shock wave, though I managed to retain my footing.
Not a single Auror managed my feat. I looked around, noting that most were still conscious, if dazed. The few who were moving under conscious direction, I quickly stunned.
The fireball rising majestically into the air lit the scene like high noon. I was quite sure the Muggle emergency services would be here soon.
Well, having two dozen unconscious Aurors at my feet was an opportunity too good to waste. Especially since one was someone who apparently thought that my goals were worthwhile, if not my methods.
Tonks blinked herself awake, gulping with fright. For a second, her eyes flashed around, taking in her surroundings.
"Auror Tonks, so nice to meet you again."
Tonks swallowed, and slowly sat up. "Where are we?" she asked, before recognising my disguise. Her eyes widened in fright, and she stiffened.
I pointed over the dark hills. "About two kilometres from Hogsmeade. If you look closely, you can see the lights of the town and the school over there," I replied calmly.
Everything about her screamed â€˜confused’. "Why did you…" she started before I held up a hand.
"Please. I did not bring you here to answer your trivial questions."
She took a breath and steeled herself. "I won’t tell you anything, monster."
I gave her a slow nod. "Hmm, you call me a monster. Yet you work for a corrupt organisation which tolerates, if not condones, bigoted members of the public attacking, maiming and killing defenceless people. And yet I’m the monster?"
"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement does not tolerate that at all!" she shouted hotly.
I shrugged lazily. "Individual members, perhaps. But your Ministry does. In any event, you are not harmed, I am not holding you against your will, nor have you even been disarmed. Your wand is in your pocket. So why do you believe that I am a monster?"
Tonks seemed surprised at my words, especially since she confirmed their truth by drawing her wand. "Don’t move."
I rolled my eyes. "Do be civilized."
I flicked the spell away easily. "Do not try my patience, girl," I said menacingly. "You are no match for me."
The instant she began another spell, I whipped out my hand and pushed her down hard, pinning her to the ground. Against my magic, she could hardly breathe.
I snarled as I strode towards her prone form. "I do not wish to harm you, and it is beyond your capabilities to harm me. So perhaps we can begin this conversation again, without your insignificant posturing." I stepped closer, so that I was standing directly over her, one leg either side of her hips, my hand extended out over her body. Pushing with extra effort, I cut off her breathing. "But make no mistake; I do have a limited amount of patience. Do not try it."
She stared up at me, still defiant. With a small smile, I dropped my hand and stopped holding her down, stepping back to give her some room. She sat up clutching at her chest and gulped in a few deep breaths, but stayed silent.
"Good. Now, first of all, I suspect you are wondering about your colleagues. The three squads you led after me tonight."
Tonks swallowed, but nodded. "Y-yes."
I reached out my hand, chivalrously offering her help to stand. "They are all alive, though some will require medical attention. I was pleased you ordered your squad away from the factory, it cut down on the unnecessary deaths."
She looked from my hand to my eyes a couple of times, seemingly even more confused than before. Eventually, she accepted my hand, and pulled herself to her feet. "Thank you."
"You are welcome, Auror Tonks."
Still, she looked around, searching for an advantage. "If you are not going to hurt me, why did you bring me here?"
"Ah, yes. I have an offer for you."
Her eyes instantly went hard. "An offer," she said flatly.
"Indeed. You are a Black by birth, if not in name. I intend to make the Black family name the greatest of all the Noble houses."
A look of dread appeared. "What does that have to do with me?"
"I want you to help me. Harry Potter was quite fond of you; he held you in quite high esteem."
She was silent for a moment, just staring. "Where did you meet Harry?"
I waved the question away. "I do not require an answer now. Give it some thought. Be aware that I will never ask you to betray your oath to the Aurors."
Tonks frowned. "Do you honestly expect me to join you?"
I shrugged. "Honestly? No. You are a respected Auror, in so far as a member of that corps can be considered respected. You actively fought against Voldemort and his Death Eaters, something that I myself respect far more than most. Those two points alone would mean that you are very unlikely to come under my wing. But you are a member of the Order of the Flaming Peacock, and that is both the reason you are most unlikely to join me and why I am making the offer."
"Wait, because Harry told you I was an Order member, that’s why you want me to join you?"
I nodded. "Despite what you may think, I have no desire to kill."
"You threatened to kill those who supported Riddle!" she said hotly.
I grinned at her. "Indeed. And since all those who had a tattoo on their arm are now dead, that particular announcement is making a lot of people who gave him their implicit support very nervous."
"What about the people who died at Parti Alley? What were they? Collateral damage?"
I lost my smile, and took a moment to reply. "I know you are unlikely to believe me, but I did not intend anyone to die that day. My spell to damage the warehouse overloaded the expansion charms in place, which failed catastrophically. The contraband inside didn’t take too kindly to being assaulted like that, and exploded."
She looked as though she didn’t believe me, and I wasn’t really surprised. "Are Blaise Zabini and Hermione Granger under your wing too?"
I tilted my head to one side. "Now why would you think that? Because both of them were friends with Harry?"
She stayed silent.
I rubbed my chin. "No, you’d have included the youngest four Weasleys, Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom were that the case. No, you saw them together, probably at Harry’s home on Grimmauld Place." I was tempted to use Legilimency on her, but decided against it. If she detected my intrusion, it would be difficult to gain her trust, and at the moment that looked like an impossible task anyway.
"You must suspect that already, which means that you believe that I have been in contact with them. And since those two witches are hardly likely to socialise together, you think I have been inside that house."
I waited for her response, but she just stared at me, poker-faced.
I let a grin grow on my face. "Ah, I see. You think that I have been in the house, even though it still technically belongs to Harry. Auror Tonks, you know what wards are on that place, it is impossible for anyone not specifically invited to enter without tearing down the magical protections."
That didn’t seem to convince her, which meant that she didn’t suspect it, she knew it.
"Hmm, so what is it? What is it that makes you certain that I’ve been inside that house?" I wracked my brains, thinking hard. The obscuring charms meant that no one outside could see in, and I felt everyone who entered the place while there. If no one saw me there, then there must be evidence I’d taken out. What had I taken out of the house?
I blinked. "Ah, you found the remains of the vases."
Her lips tightened slightly, but she nodded. "I recognised the patterns."
I smiled lazily. "Harry did some redecorating before he left on his journey to find Voldemort’s Horcruxes. He took all the old, cursed, hexed and just plain ugly junk from the house and put it into the Black vault at Gringotts. I picked up quite a few knick-knacks while I browsed."
Tonks blinked, suddenly a little uncertain.
I sighed and looked up at the night sky. "Auror Tonks, you are the daughter of the only Black sister of the previous generation worth more than a damn. Should you wish to join me, you would be welcome. However, for now, I must depart. I am running behind schedule this evening."
That startled her. "Wait, you are going somewhere else? Where?"
"Good evening, Auror Tonks."
I apparated away, to a few different places, making it difficult for her to track me. With any luck, she’ll go back to the old LXM potions factory. If not, then her squad-mates were going to get very cold unless there was a squib among the Muggle Emergency Services.
A couple of hours behind schedule, I arrived at my second stop in the Cotswalds, between a pair of charming little villages rather amusingly named Upper and Lower Slaughter. The hamlets seemed as peaceful a place as there was on the planet, so I assume that there was a story behind the names.
I had no real beef with the Bobbins family. They were purebloods, but preferred to stay neutral on the whole blood-supremacy ideology. Hermione had apparently done some extra-credit work at Hogwarts with Melinda, who I’m told is a lovely person.
That made this part of the operation a distinct problem.
How did I remove the manufacturing capability of the Bobbins family without destroying it?
The Muggle-repellent wards around the building kept everyone in both villages from wandering too close, or from paying attention if they did. As it was almost one in the morning, there wasn’t a lot of random traffic in the area.
The building itself was not particularly notable. It straddled the stream that fed both villages with crystalline water, presumably using the water as the base for the potions produced inside. There were no other security layers besides the obscuring charms on the surrounding land; my approach would have been trivial, even had I been travelling overland.
As it was, on my Firebolt and wrapped in my cloak, I made no noise and cast no shadow. I could look through the high windows and skylights easily.
With liberal use of expanding charms, the inside of the building probably covered five acres or so. There were literally thousands of cauldrons simmering away inside, grouped by potion. Using the same charm Dumbledore used to see through invisibility cloaks, I scanned the inside, looking for any late-night workers.
There were two.
Judging from their profile, they were fast asleep in their chairs, so I assumed that they were either security guards or brewers who had to stir some potions at certain times during the night.
Well, had they been alert, their presence would have made my job a little more difficult. Hopefully, they’d snooze the next half hour or so away; if what I had in mind worked, they wouldn’t know until it was too late.
I flew slowly around the perimeter of the building three times, noting the places I would need to place the wardstones I’d brought along. Once I’d mapped out the alignment, I descended and began the painstaking work of positioning the stones. It took me nearly half an hour to get it right, hampered as I was by the darkness and having to continually scout out the snoozing guards.
Once they were in place, I took a breath and began the spell.
The Fidelius was a difficult charm to cast, but it was particularly effective.
Within ten minutes, the charm was in place, and I was the proud secret-keeper.
I packed my belongings, and stepped over the threshold. Walking boldly up to the door, I hammered on the front door, shouting at the guards inside. "Wake up, you lazy sods!"
From the sounds of it, at least one of the pair’s chairs fell over backwards. The muffled swearing was amusingly creative; at one point, I thought I’d have to take notes.
A minute or so later, the door swung open to reveal a wizard blinking the sleep out of his eyes. "Sorry sir, but Iâ€”" was as far as he got before I stunned him.
Stepping over the body, I scanned the interior of the building for the second guard. There he was, with his head in a fireplace. One more stunner later, and I was alone.
I summoned the chap who was face down in the fire and his colleague who was doing a stand-up job as a doorstop. I’d have to release them somewhere outside the new boundary of the Fidelius charm. I doused the fire, preventing any flooing visitors, and began moving around the building, looking for other fixed entrance points.
Once I was sure there were no more fires in the place, including those under the simmering cauldrons, I was ready to leave for my final stop this night. I levitated the two recumbent guards out onto the lawns of the building. Looking back one last time, I grinned at my handiwork. If my last stop didn’t go as I hoped, at least I had the facilities to make as many potions as needed.
Heh, I’d just stolen an entire building. I silently disapparated.
The brisk night air caused my breath to cloud in front of my face.
I took a deep breath, and let it out through pursed lips, creating a short-lived wispy cone. After the massive destruction and larceny I’d wrought in the past two hours, it seemed oddly inappropriate to act so childishly -- which, of course, was exactly why I did so.
Inner child indulged, I loosened my scarf from around my neck and covered the lower half of my face with it. It wouldn’t do to have a disillusioned form emit such a visible clue to its presence. I blew hard through the scarf, producing a barely visible fog. I nodded, satisfied that under normal conditions, it would prevent my breath from giving me away.
I glanced around, looking for street signs to help me get my bearings. This part of Greater London was not as densely residential as the area around Grimmauld Place, though there were still many cars lining the streets.
I pulled out a book of roadmaps Hermione had provided me, and worked out which street I needed to walk down. I scanned the area as Zab had shown me, looking for threats in an unfamiliar place. Seeing none, I began making my way down the serpentine streets. It only took a few minutes to find the address I wanted.
Compared to the other two places I’d visited this evening, it was easy to bypass the security spells and slip undetected into the office. While being able to drain the magical energy of the wards and spells made entering simple, in this instance the â€˜undetected’ bit was just as easy, since the owner had his head in the fireplace, yelling obscenities at someone. Presumably a goblin, since he sounded rather put out by the fact that he no longer had any gold in his accounts. I simply settled down into a chair and looked around the room while I waited for him to finish.
The office was not overly large, but every flat spot was used efficiently. Plants whose fragrance cleared the mind were placed on the tops shelves and other hard to reach places, while ledgers and other important looking books lined the shelves at eye level. The desk itself had two computers on it, indicating a Muggle influence.
It took some time, but eventually, the fire call ended. Swearing to himself, he rose to his feet and turned back to his desk. Plonking down in his chair, he snatched up a pen and began scribbling furiously.
"Good evening, Mr. Matthias," I said casually.
The man looked up at me with a frustrated sigh. Curious; I had expected him to jump with fright, or at least surprise. Perhaps he often received visitors at odd hours, or maybe he was expecting someone. Whoever he was expecting to see, it wasn’t me. A frown touched his forehead for about a quarter of a second before recognition struck. He leapt into action, whipping his wand out and aiming it at me in a single movement, hampered a little by his fatigue.
Too bad I already had mine out and ready.
I really was getting used to that spell.
"Put your wand down on your desk. Good, now, come over here and sit down on that chair."
He followed my instructions, though was fighting mightily. He settled down into one of the chairs he obviously reserved for his business associates. I turned another identical chair to face him, and sat down myself. I put my wand away immediately after cancelling the Imperius.
"Now, perhaps we can begin again. Good evening, Mr. Matthias."
"If you’re here to kill me, I’d prefer you just dispensed with the pleasantries," he snarled, gripping the arms of the chair with white knuckles.
I sighed. "Good evening, Mr. Matthias," I repeated, through eyes ever so slightly closed with menace.
He swallowed. "Good evening," he replied.
I gave him a smile. "Excellent. Now, forgive me for just barging in without an appointment, but I have a business proposition for you."
He blinked comically. "Excuse me?"
I kept my smile in place. "I have a business proposition for you."
He appeared momentarily speechless. "You’re not here to kill me?"
I gave him a look of polite incomprehension. "Did you support Voldemort?"
He snarled at me. "That bastard killed my parents and brother! Just because they were Muggleborn and he was a squib! I wanted nothing more than to kill him!"
"Then I have no reason to kill you. You have nothing to fear from me."
"But youâ€” Why wouldâ€” Howâ€”?"
I held up a hand. "Please, don’t believe everything you read in the papers. I have no interest in killing anyone except those who evaded justice after supporting Voldemort. While many people suffered under his reign of terror, I lost more than most. Now, if you allow me to outline my proposal, I suspect many of your questions will be answered."
His eyes started flickering around the room. "I, er, very well."
I nodded. "Splendid. Now, my proposition involves you becoming the major potion supplier to every medical facility in the country."
Not surprisingly, he snorted and leaned back in his chair. "That’s not going to happen."
His eyes narrowed. "Look, I just told you that my parents were Muggleborn. St. Mungo’s buys over ninety percent of all medical grade potions produced in the country, and that bitch Babcock gives LXM and Bobbins a stranglehold on the supply."
I grinned at him. "LXM and Bobbins being the two major potion producers in the country?"
He sneered, but nodded. "If you can call what they produce â€˜potions’. They use poor quality ingredients, sloppy brewers and all but illegal equipment. But because they are owned by purebloods, they get the supply contracts for the hospitals."
"But you do supply some potions?" I pushed.
Matthias’ eyes flickered with annoyance. "Of course. They need my potions to treat the very purebloods that produce the crap that gets shoved down the throat of everyone else who goes through the doors. But the demand is low. Not that it matters. I can’t cover my payroll this week now that the goblins have cleaned me out."
I smirked. "Imagine that."
Matthias was quick. "What did you do?" he demanded.
I gave a nonchalant shrug. "Where would you like me to start?"
He slumped lower into his chair. "You’ve ruined me."
"What would you call cleaning me out of every damn knut to my name? Those blasted goblins have accepted the note I gave to my suppliers, and took every damned coin I had in the bank as payment! And I still owe them over three thousand galleons!"
I shook my head. "You were going so well. Tell me, what did I do last week?"
His eyes narrowed. "You killed dozens of people in Parti Alley."
I shook my head. "Did I? Imagine that. I recall the first reports saying that hundreds were dead. Is it now merely dozens? I suppose that when it eventually comes out that less than ten people actually died when the illegal charms on the warehouse catastrophically failed, it will be glossed over. But enough of that, you probably won’t believe me and I don’t have the inclination to attempt to convince you otherwise. What is important is that my plan was simply to destroy the warehouse owned by the Nott family. It was the bottleneck for the vast majority of all the potion ingredients and reagents sold to suppliers in the British Isles."
He frowned. "Are you saying…"
I chuckled softly. "That there may be difficulties in storing shipments for the next month or so, yes."
"Wait a minute, is that why I have eight and a half tonnes of potion ingredients sitting in front of my warehouse?"
"Well, yes. When the entire monthly shipment arrived on the docks with no warehouse to be delivered to, it needed to be stored somewhere. I, shall we say, encouraged the inventory manager at the warehouse to adjust your monthly order, and dump the entire lot on you. He was convinced that you would need to resell back to him at a loss in a few days to remain solvent, which would give him time to arrange for secondary storage space and reduce his operational costs, enabling him to pay for the new space."
Matthias’ eyes lit up for the first time during my visit. "If I can find some storage space tonight, I can resell the product back to him at a profit! I’d make a fortune."
Maybe he wasn’t as quick as I’d thought. "No, no, no! I want you to use it. According to my sources inside St. Mungo’s, your company produces the best quality potions on the market."
He frowned at me. "Are you simple? I just told you that I don’t have the supply contract!"
I slowly let an evil smirk grow on my face. "I have it on good authority that, as of tonight, the production lines at both LXM and Bobbins are, shall we say, offline for the foreseeable future."
A tentative, though just as evil, smirk appeared on Matthias’ face. "As much as I appreciate the idea that my major competitors are temporarily out of business, I don’t have the funds to pay my employees this month, let alone ramp up production to compensate for two major production houses in the country." His tone betrayed his greed.
"If you did, can you upgrade your production?"
He snorted. "I am damned good at what I do. I can expand my facilities tonight. I have enough people bribed at the Ministry that I can make all the portkeys I need to transfer all the reagents. I can even have two dozen exceptional brewers on staff by the lunchtime tomorrow, so long as you don’t mind them being Muggleborn. But it doesn’t matter at all, because I don’t have the money, and the goblins won’t lend to me while I have an outstanding overdraft."
"Why would I mind your employees begin Muggleborn?" I asked, curiously.
He looked annoyed. "Because, er, well…" he deflated. "I guess you don’t worry about that, do you? I’ve had to for my entire business life."
"How much do you need?" I asked, hoping fervently that I had enough with me.
"Ten thousand galleons, minimum. Twelve would be better."
With a nod, I reached into my bag at my feet. I drew out a pouch holding a thousand galleons. "One thousand galleons," I said, levitating the pouch onto his desk. Again, I drew out another pouch. "Two thousand."
Matthias unconsciously licked his lips as I withdrew pouch after pouch. I counted out fifteen thousand galleons before closing my bag. It had been rather fortuitous that the warehouse kept its cash reserves in the safe, rather than at Gringotts. The naked avarice in his eyes was a sight to behold. "Three to pay off the goblins. Twelve to hire new staff and ramp up production. I want you to produce enough potions to supply St. Mungo’s entire needs by the end of the week. Can you do it?"
He tore his gaze from the gold and back to me. "Just. Barely. I mean, I have to…"
I held up a hand. "I’m not interested in whether it can be done easily, just barely, or anywhere in between. I’m only interested in the fact that you can," I emphasised.
Matthias took a deep breath and nodded slowly. Even without Legilimency, I could almost hear him calculating odds, running scenarios through his mind.
"I need an answer."
He blinked. "An answer?"
"Yes, Mr. Matthias. You have two options. One, you decline my help. If that is your answer, then I shall simply take my money and leave. You can take advantage of your competitors’ recent misfortunes as you see fit. Sell or use the excess inventory you have been lumped with, and pull your own way out of debt with the goblins.
"Two, you accept my offer, sign this receipt for fifteen thousand galleons, and finally become as successful as you deserve," I said, pulling a charmed sheet of parchment out of my robes and placing it on his desk.
There was a lengthy pause. Eventually, Jeremy Matthias nodded, picked up a quill and scribbled his name on the receipt. "All right, I’m in."
I folded the sheet of parchment, and put it in my pocket, before I gave him a very direct look. "Excellent. Be aware that should you pick the third option, your own manufacturing capabilities will be similarly… reduced."
He paled. "Third option?"
"The one you are thinking about right now. The one where you decide to keep my money, and go to the DMLE."
A lengthy pause. "I wasn’t…"
I held up a hand. "Then you’re not as devious as you need to be." I tapped the pocket with the receipt. "Regardless, since you have signed a binding magical contract, it no longer matters."
He paled even further. Hell, Dobby’s clean sheets weren’t that white. "What?" he demanded.
Heh, all that research into the Goblet of Fire actually paid off. Hermione used it to great effect for the DA. I just modified her work. You don’t need to enter them willingly; you just need your signature on a sheet of parchment. "You heard me. Breaking the contract will have… consequences."
He actually started sweating. "You realise that if it comes out that I’ve colluded with you, I’ll lose everything."
I snorted as I got to my feet. "I put you under the Imperius for a reason, Mr. Matthias. It certainly wasn’t because I was threatened by you. Good evening."
As I apparated out of there, I thought about how Zab would react to my version of his tactic. Show them the stick, and then threaten to choke them with the carrot.