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If Them's the Rules

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1941

MALFOY MURDERS - PUREBLOODS OF PROMINENCE TARGETED?

In news that shocked the world, Sir Marchosias Malfoy and his wife were found dead—

Harry felt sick. He didn't-- why on earth had the Malfoys been targeted? As far as he was aware, they'd never made moves against Grindelwald? Why would they be even considered a target?

'There's something I'm missing about this,' he thought, setting the paper down on the kitchen table and moving to make a pot of tea, while deep in thought. There was definitely something missing that the newspapers either didn't report, or simply didn't know about. The article hadn't actually explained why the Malfoys were targeted, so maybe it wasn't Grindelwald who'd wanted them dead. Maybe it was someone else - someone who worked with Grindelwald and traded favours like a typical Slytherin. Someone Malfoy hadn't seemed to particularly like. Someone he'd pretty much warned Harry about.

The question, therefore, wasn't why had Grindelwald killed the Malfoys. The question was: why had Black done so?

'Didn't they have a son?' Harry then remembered, sitting down with a cup in hand, and pulled the paper close again. He read the short article twice more, trying to find anything that could make things a bit clearer. 'Merlin, poor kid.' There wasn't much he could do, however, considering that he hadn't been able to properly reach out to Black's kids either.

Then again - he hadn't really tried. He'd wanted to keep Tom as far away as possible from these kinds of families, but was that the right thing to do, really? It wasn't as if sheltering had helped him when he had been at Hogwarts - on the contrary, he had gone out of his way and done stupid, reckless things just to find out the things other people had wanted to keep from him. He didn't think that Tom was going to be any better about being kept in the dark, which meant that... maybe Harry should properly reach out to the Blacks again.

And it wasn't— it wasn't just because he was bored. He didn't think Black would actually attack him— except, did he know that? The murder of the Malfoys had cast doubt on that belief quite thoroughly. Even so, if he did, well... Harry knew he could duel. And since everyone thought that it had been Montague who'd protected them from the would-be assassin, he might even manage to catch Black off guard if the man even thought about doing anything.

So, he'd reach out to the Blacks, somehow. Maybe through Tom? Should he reach out to the little Malfoy as well?

Was it wise? Was he just being a busybody? Was he trying to get involved in things that weren't his to get involved in?

It's just... he'd left everything back home and travelled back in time to make sure that a child would have a chance at a good life. Maybe he could extend that courtesy to other children that he could reach out to without it being weird? Besides, he did promise Melania, even if he'd pretty much neglected his end of the bargain up until now.

'I'll try,' Harry decided. 'Not with Malfoy, but the others at least. Besides, maybe having more children here can make Tom more social as well.' Maybe. Unlikely, but hopefully.

Sighing heavily and pushing the paper aside, Harry looked up from the moving pictures just in time to see an eagle arrive at his window, startling him slightly with its unexpected appearance. The bird, large with shiny feathers and a strangely aggressive demeanor, pecked at the glass hard enough for Harry to fear finding cracks. When he rushed to let it in, it merely dropped an envelope before extending its wings again, and flying away without waiting for a response.

'Is this from Trelawney?' Harry thought, picking up the envelope. It wouldn't be from Tom, as Hogwarts didn't have eagles. Trelawney had never used anything but owls, but who else could it be?

Dear Mr. Riddle—

The handwriting was unfamiliar - large, loopy and elegant.

As you may have heard, my brother Marchosias and his wife Elenor were found murdered. Before my brother left for this trip, he advised me to reach out to you should anything be amiss, or should I suspect there to be a continued danger to my life. While the circumstances under which I agreed to contact you are quite different from the ones I find myself in at present time, I have still made the decision to follow my brother's advice and trust his judgement.

I would like to meet you, as there are matters I'd like to discuss with you. I suspect you and I will be facing a common antagonist whose continued influence on our lives will be, should he remain unaddressed, detrimental. As we both have people we want to protect - I am now in custody of my nephew Abraxas, and you care for you ward Thomas - I believe addressing this problem should take priority.

I would like to ask you, therefore, to join me for brunch tomorrow. You needn't respond - I sincerely hope to see you, but should you be found absent, I will not hold it against you. I understand danger repels people, and taking action is not without risks.

I wish you well,

Madeleine Malfoy

Harry took a deep breath and skimmed through the letter again. The answer was obvious, wasn't it? He hadn't expected to be contacted by the one of the two remaining Malfoys - Merlin, for them to be so few - but he didn't mind it. In fact, it was reassuring to know that there was someone else who also knew that the real problem right now wasn't limited to Grindelwald. He didn't doubt for one second that the antagonist Madeleine Malfoy was referring to was Black.

He was going to visit her tomorrow, then. He didn't think this was a trap - and even if it was, he could fight his way out of it. He should've known that life as an observer wasn’t going to be quite enough, especially in times of great conflict such as these. Because even if he could stay in the sidelines till the end of war, frankly, he didn't want to. He did not want to.

It was wrong to feel excited, wasn't it? But Circe, he really was. Just a little bit.

He couldn't wait to put a stop to Black.

*

Princeford Pickwick the Fifth was a short, nervous man, whose hat quivered in tandem with his stutters. Looking at him, Minister Fawley could easily tell why the Daily Prophet had fallen out of the control of its current editor, and into the hands of politicians who wanted little more than meaningless drivel to distract the common people with.

This wasn’t to say that the Daily Prophet didn’t publish important pieces - the Malfoy Murders? Timely and accurate. The bit about Seer Trelawney? Unfortunate but useful. Everything else about Grindelwald? Also significant, but nowhere as plentiful as it should be. There ought to be a whole page dedicated to daily updates on Grindelwald’s activities. Make the wizard nervous with the knowledge that he was being tracked. It was upsetting that the Daily Prophet wasn’t already doing that.

Which was why he had invited Pickwick for a cup of tea in his office, intending on reaching a mutually beneficial agreement eventually.

“This is not to say that your paper would be under Ministry’s control,” Fawley said, watching as Pickwick drank his tea with loud gulps. Who the hell gulped down tea like that? “Consider it a collaborative effort, really.”

“I don’t know, Minister,” Pickwick said hesitantly, lowering the cup. “I understand where you’re coming from with this suggestion, but the Daily Prophet is not a political publication. We simply deliver daily news to the common people.”

“Exceptional times require exceptional measures,” Fawley told him. “I’ve heard that the subscriptions for the paper have decreased significantly. With people worrying over their incomes, those who think they can read the Daily Prophet at their favourite tea houses will do so, rather than spend money on purchasing their own copies. How far will that go, I wonder? At what point will this war with Grindelwald drive us to a point where only necessities must be prioritized? Why buy a newspaper if you ought to be buying a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread? Why buy a newspaper if money needs to be saved for medicine and bills?”

“It— it won’t come to that,” Pickwick said, beginning to sweat. “Our war with Grindelwald isn’t damaging us that much. I know what’s going on, Minister. Most of the injured at St. Mungo’s are from the Muggle war - a war that is none of our business, and nothing for us to worry about.”

“You are a fool if you think that,” Fawley replied, no longer bothering to hold back the disdain he felt. “You know that war has put some of our people in the hospital - you said so yourself. And yet you claim it doesn’t affect us? How else do you explain your failing finances? Your customers have other priorities now, and when that becomes even more evident, your sponsors will also depart. And yet, it is not the Muggle war that I have asked for you to report more on - I suspect that’s beyond the capabilities of your journalists. It is Grindelwald - who is a threat to our whole society—”

“Let’s say I do, right?” Pickwick cut in, a panicked gleam in his eyes. “And then what? He’ll target my journalists - maybe even me! - who’ll stop working for my paper. What will I do then? Where will I be when Grindelwald comes for my head?”

“Servicing your country as you should,” Fawley told him. Personally, he didn’t consider all deaths to be losses, as men like Pickwick were easy to replace. “Bold of you to assume that Grindelwald won’t be heading your way regardless of what you do. And if he doesn’t, I will certainly be aware of the stance you’ve chosen to take in these dire times.”

Pickwick swallowed, looking at Fawley with wide eyes, disbelief written on his face. “You can’t blackmail me!” he then sputtered. “You’re the Minister! This isn’t allowed!”

Fawley sneered, and uncrossed his legs, leaning forward in a move that made Pickwick gulp louder this time and press himself against the back of his seat. “I will not blackmail you,” Fawley said. “But if I don’t like the sound you and your newspaper are making from now on, I’ll make damn sure no one will be hearing it.”

“It’s just a fucking gossip rag,” Pickwick breathed, desperate to not be given such a responsibility. He was sweating through his shirt, wet patches visible against the light blue fabric. “Come on, Minister. We write conspiracy theories and horoscopes and all that shit. Sure, sometimes someone posts something more relevant - like a murder or something - because if we don’t do it first, our readers will go elsewhere. But we’re not a… not a… that kind of paper. We’re not one of those… one of those fancy poncy papers with small print that talk about money and politics— we gossip! The only time we talk about politics is when someone in the Ministry caught with their trousers down someplace they shouldn’t be!”

“Times change,” Fawley said. “And so should you, and the paper you run.”

Pickwick clenched his eyes shut and tugged a handkerchief from his breast pocket to wipe his face with. Like a red-faced, sweaty bullfrog, he breathed in and out heavily, cheeks jiggling with each exhale. He looked close to tears. Fawley, who didn’t like ugly things or ugly people, couldn’t muster up an ounce of sympathy for the man.

“If I do this,” Pickwick finally said, shoving his handkerchief back into one of his many pockets. “If I do this - you’ll have to help me. The Ministry will have to help me. I’ll need money - money to pay my employees enough for them to risk their lives for this shit, and money enough to run this shit show when my political sponsors who don’t want me to write about this decide to walk away.”

“Money is not a problem that my Ministry has,” Fawley replied. “You’ll be compensated—”

“No, no, not compensated,” Pickwick interrupted. “Compensated is a vague word. It implies action after the matter. I need to be paid upfront, regularly. I need to be paid money, galleons, not an equivalent in worth that cannot be cashed.”

Fawley sighed and remained silent for a few moments. Eventually, he nodded. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll make sure that you and your employees will be supported financially so long as you remain an asset to the Ministry. I’ll have my secretary set up an appointment between your accountant and mine, and they can take care of the practicalities. Does that satisfy you?”

“I don’t think my satisfaction was ever on the table here,” Pickwick replied bitterly, standing up. “But I suppose it’ll do. Good day, Minister. Let’s not do this again.”

*

When Harry arrived at the Malfoy Manor, he couldn’t help but be struck by how different it was now from the time he had been there during the war. The dark building of those days - or, was it days yet to come - was now white and filled with light, with lush greenery and gilded decorations sparkling as the sun rays hit them. The chandeliers hanging from the ceilings looked incredibly heavy and intricately made, yet from what Harry could see, not once did a pattern of engraved design repeat itself.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

Harry startled, properly exiting the fireplace from which he had emerged, and looked at the woman standing by an open doorway. “Your words were compelling,” Harry told her, surmising from the resemblance that this must have been Marchosias’s sister. “I think we could be of help to each other.”

Madeleine Malfoy smiled, though there was no joy or mirth to be found on her face. Instead she gestured for Harry to follow, and it was only when she began to move that he noticed her reliance on some wheeled contraption to proper herself forward. She didn’t appear capable of supporting her own weight without it. Was she ill? “You’re not wrong, Mr. Riddle,” the woman said. “My brother trusted you well enough to give me your name should I ever need help, and the time has certainly come for that. I believe Black has been a bit of a— he’s caused you some headache, hasn’t he?”

“You could definitely say that,” Harry agreed just as they entered a large room with a ceiling that faded into softly rustling banana leaves, and walls painted into an imitation of a jungle, with birds and animals of all kind wandering between the trees seamlessly from wall to wall. In the middle there was an oval golden table surrounded by an arrangement of dark blue couches with golden designs. A beautiful brunch had been set out for them, cups filling up with tea the moment the both of them sat down.

“I shan’t bore you with pleasantries today, Mr. Riddle,” Malfoy said. “I believe Arcturus Black murdered my brother and his wife.”

“I don’t disagree,” Harry replied easily. “And please, call me Harry.” It seemed out of line to be so formal when discussing murder.

“Madeleine,” Malfoy said, nodding sharply. “Have you arrived to a similar conclusion on your own, then?”

“There’s absolutely no reason for Grindelwald to have your brother murdered,” Harry said slowly, thinking deeply as he settled into the seat. He wasn’t sure how trustworthy Madeleine Malfoy really was but doubted that she’d be trying to do anything but avenge her brother. “However, according to the reports, it is confirmed that it was Grindelwald’s men who did it. I don’t know for sure, obviously, but I believe the reason must have come from another source. And the only person who is very likely to be involved in something like this is Arcturus Black. I just… I don’t know what’s his endgame. What’s Black aiming for?”

“What he aims for is something we can figure out later,” Madeleine said, “what we need to figure out now - or soon, at any case - is what to do about him. How much of a previous history do you have with Black, exactly?”

Harry bit his lip, thinking of how to best describe it, before he finally started with: “I was on better terms with his wife.”

Melania?” Madeleine said, visibly surprised. “Well, now - that’s a surprise. She hates half-bloods.”

“She hated her husband more,” Harry replied. “He’s the one who killed her - you know, that, right? Melania knew that something was about to happen to her, knew that he was going to kill her, and she asked me to take care of her children. I haven’t been able to, with Black standing in the way, but… yeah. That’s… she knew he wanted to kill her, and she knew he wanted to hurt me, and that’s what got us working together in the first place.”

Madeleine looked at him with narrowed eyes, before she seemed to relax and appeared to be more at ease. “Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you end up reaching out to the Orion and Lucretia Black as well. They’re both quite a bit older than your Thomas, and certainly older than Abraxas. I believe, however, that they will appreciate the presence of an adult who isn’t their father.”

“I hope so,” Harry sighed, feeling guilty for not reaching out to the two before. “Do you have a plan in mind in regard to Arcturus Black?”

“We need to be crafty,” Madeleine said. “We’ll also need the help of quite a few people - I’ll be looking into that, you needn’t worry. Arcturus is a powerful and a wealthy man, and we want to make sure he’ll face the worst and most severe consequences for everything he’s done.”

“Everything?” Harry repeated. Did she know of something else that Black had done? Not that Harry doubted it - the man’s list of crimes was likely longer than he could imagine.

“No one begins with a double murder,” Madeleine said, her voice even. “And now you told me - well, confirmed, because it’s not like we didn’t suspect it - that he also killed his wife. Someone who sees murder as an easy, ever-viable option for solving problems has most definitely resorted to other crimes to satisfy different needs.”

Well, that made sense.

“I think for both of us our priority lies in keeping our children safe,” Madeleine continued. “While they’re at Hogwarts, we needn’t worry about them. Which is why I suggest that whatever we plan, we make our moves during the school year. We plan over the upcoming summer, and begin once the children are back at Hogwarts.”

“Does he have to know that we’re the ones making the moves?” Harry asked, thinking of a possible way to begin even sooner. “If we can convince the Ministry to keep an eye on him, that’ll already be burdensome to him. We can make life as inconvenient for him as possible, so that when we do make our moves, he’ll be too distracted by those inconveniences to be able to tell that we’re even thinking of him.”

It was then that Harry saw the first genuine, satisfied smile appear on Madeleine’s face. The witch nodded, pleased. “Very good,” she said. “I have… friends working at the Ministry. I can reach out to them and work on that. How good are you at duelling? Just in case, we must be ready for him should he want to do something or come at us physically. I cannot duel. Can you?”

At this, Harry grinned. “If you’ve got a pensieve, I can show you how well.”

*

GRINDELWALD: MURDER IN TIME OF MAYHEM

MURDER OF PROMINENT WIZARDING FAMILY RAISES QUESTIONS - WHO WILL BE TARGETED NEXT?

MAPPING A MADMAN: WHERE IN EUROPE IS GRINDELWALD NOW?

“The tone has sure changed after the Malfoy Murders,” Lestrange said, squinting at the practicing Slytherin Quidditch team. “For a moment joining Grindelwald had looked like a viable option. But with that - no way would a self-respecting British family join him now.”

Tom, who had bothered to attend the practice of the Quidditch team only to maintain appearances, nodded. Watching Nott fly around the pitch was unbelievably boring, but he had come to realize - as proven by how Nott and Lestrange had both fallen in line - that it was necessary. Because should he wish to spare himself the headache of dealing with stupid people’s stupid opinions, he’d need to present himself in a way that appealed to people enough for them to take his opinions seriously and accept them without much struggle. If that meant that he had to keep his face in check, smile occasionally and feign interest every now and then, he would grit is teeth and do it as in the long run it would surely be beneficial.

“I mean, it is alarming,” Avery said. “It’s not like the Malfoys had even criticized Grindelwald publicly. Hell, didn’t people think they were already siding with him? Now people don’t know if they’re, unknowingly, guilty of whatever the Malfoys were apparently guilty of. What if all Grindelwald wanted was to weaken our ranks? That reasoning alone would make any other prominent family stepping outside of Britain an immediate target as well.

“My father cancelled his trip to Paris because of this,” Mulciber said, and Tom was surprised by him joining the conversation. “Mum finds it a great inconvenience that she can’t send him off to his mistress for a week anymore. She sent me six pages full of complaints about having to put up with him personally now. Going through those pages took nearly an hour away from my napping time.”

“Why does he have a French mistress anyway?” Avery asked, frowning.

“Mum hates the French,” Mulciber cheerfully replied. “So he’s doing it to spite her. She doesn’t care, of course. We let him have his little victories.”

“Don’t you care?” Pucey wanted to know. “If my father had his affairs so publicly, my mother would surely feel humiliated!”

“Have you met my parents?” Mulciber shot back. “The day my father somehow musters up the ability to humiliate my mum is the day Merlin rises from the dead and takes a dump of Dippet’s desk. She doesn’t care. I don’t care either, so long as no accidents happen that would threaten my inheritance.”

“You mean you won’t care until a step-brother is born,” Lestrange said. Mulciber shrugged.

“Life is temporary,” he said, and Tom felt a wave of pure approval for the implied practical solution his friend had presented.

“It’s such a bad timing for this kind of a shadow to be cast over travelling,” Pucey then sighed. “For us to worry about whether we can travel outside of Britain without getting killed. My summer plans are completely ruined if this continues. What do you think, Tom? Your guardian is a Witness, wasn’t he? Do you think he’ll be able to travel safely?”

Tom genuinely did not like to talk about Harry with his peers, unless he had to remind them of the prestigious job the man held. Harry wasn’t any of their business, and he would’ve liked nothing more than to dismiss her question – especially with Mulciber around. Except he couldn’t do that , because he was working on his image. Merlin, he was already starting to hate the whole idea.

“Harry is travelling as normal,” Tom said. “Generally, though, the whole idea that we need to stop travelling lest we get murdered by Grindelwald is pure speculation.”

“That’s true,” Prince agreed. “We don’t know what the Malfoys were involved in, after all.”

“I don’t think it’s even a matter of what the Malfoys were involved in,” Tom said. “I think the more important question to be asked is: who benefits from the Malfoys being gone?” That’s how he’d reason it, anyway. After all: what better time to murder someone than now, when there was a murderous lunatic running loose anyway?

“Practically anyone who opposes them politically,” Rosier murmured, before nodding slowly in agreement. It was the first time he had shown any kind of acknowledgement towards Tom’s presence. “So it might not even be Grindelwald.”

“Or it might be his men, but he agreed to make it happen in return for something else,” Tom said. “Who is making deals with Grindelwald, I can’t begin to guess. So, who could benefit from Malfoys disappearing?”

“That’s a long list of people,” Avery said. “Fawley, for one.”

“I promise you, Al,” Lestrange sneered, “the Minister of Magic is not working with Grindelwald to—”

“I didn’t say that, you lobcock,” Avery snapped, causing both Pucey and Prince to gasp. “Merlin, why is it that I can’t say a bloody sentence without you—”

“If you’re itching for a duel then all you had to do was tell me,” Lestrange snapped back, face now red in anger, his wand clutched tightly in his hand. Tom watched the two glare at each other, and bit his tongue to stop himself from smiling.

“Are you going to put a stop to that?” Mulciber whispered, leaning closer, just as Pucey turned to look at Tom with a pleading expression on her face. “Or will you stay back with me and watch the chaos?”

“Tom,” Pucey called before Tom said anything to Mulciber. “Put a stop to this!”

“I’m quite certain that neither Dorian nor Al need me to speak for them,” Tom replied, before he continued: “Though I do think there’re more productive ways to compete than showing such hostility in public, for all the other Houses to see. Rather than duel each other, why not pick a Quidditch team of a different house to sabotage, now that the Cup is less than a month away from starting? Whoever does it better will earn an apology from the loser. That way both of you will have a fair chance, the other Houses lose, and neither one of you will be injured.”

“Not bad,” Mulciber said, a small grin on his face. “Thoughts, lads?”

“I’m picking Ravenclaw,” Avery said. “Those pricks won’t know what’s coming to them.”

“I’ll sort out Hufflepuff, then,” Lestrange sneered. “The Gryffindors are too paranoid. We’ll see who does it better, Avery.”

“Okay, now what,” Mulciber whispered, leaning again closer to Tom, his eyes still focused on their angry classmates. “Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw lose - how will you determine the winner?”

Tom, taking the opportunity of others being occupied with the vocal hostility between Avery and Lestrange turned to Mulciber, finally allowing a small smile appear on his face. “Easy,” he said. “You and I - no one else will know about this - will help Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff win, and we sabotage Gryffindor.”

He didn’t care one bit about Quidditch, but he cared a hell of a lot about winning. And there was much to be won here.

*

Harry didn’t think he had felt this excited in a while. This excited to do something productive - something beyond travelling to places to just watch things happen, never doing anything to make the world a better place. And it wasn’t as if he was somehow overwhelmingly occupied with saving the world from itself, no. It was just that if there was something he could do, then why not do it?

When he had returned from his meeting with Madeleine Malfoy, he had found a mission assignment from Trelawney waiting for him, held in the beak of an owl that had been patiently waiting for him by the door. It was as if the universe was trying to remind him of his role here: to simply watch, observe, witness things happen. Well, he was going to be fine observing whatever he was going to sent out to Witness, because now he had something else to look forward to. Something to do to feel less like he was wasting time.

It was lucky that the summer break was going to start soon, as he’d likely need Tom’s agreement before doing much about the Black children. How soon should he send the letter to Tom? What should he say in it, exactly? Maybe if he made Tom think that it was something he could take a lead on, the boy would let it happen without resistance or scheming?

‘I’ll just try and see what happens,’ Harry decided, pulling out the mission assignment from its envelope. As far as the mission description was to be trusted, it didn’t look like something particularly time consuming. Which meant that he would have plenty of time to focus on other things, such as figure out what to tell Tom in a letter, and what kind of suggestions he could give Madeleine Malfoy regarding their future plans. The witch had been delighted after watching a few memories of him duelling, and had appeared much more energetic afterwards. Not to mention that it felt admittedly good that someone knew a bit of the things he could do in a battlefield. Flying under the radar was great, but Merlin being underestimated was so tiring.

Harry wasn’t a Seer himself – obviously. But he had a hunch that things were going to change in his life quite drastically, quite soon.

And he really couldn’t wait.