Dolohov watched Corner as he came in, his eyes raking over the young man, searching for any signs of weakness. They found the nervous twitch of Corner’s fingers, the too-careful fit of his robes. Too easy, but then, it always was with Corner. He was half-blood stock, if Dolohov’s memory was correct – and it always was – and that sort were always more emotional than the pure-bloods, who from their earliest childhood knew better than to give away anything of themselves.
“You were friendly with Ginevra Weasley at Hogwarts, Scrimgeour tells me,” Dolohov said by way of introduction, “A bit too friendly, by all accounts.”
Corner shifted slightly. “We went out for a year, yes,” he said stiffly. “This was before I knew about…you know…what her brothers were doing.”
Dolohov smiled thinly. “I’m sure it was. But your connection to the redoubtable Miss Weasley is the main reason why you were chosen for this assignment.” He stood, pacing the length of the room. “The Weasleys are a clannish lot, and they don’t trust outsiders, which means that we need someone with a pre-existing connection to the family if we want to bring them down.”
“I-” Corner swallowed. “I’ll be happy to do anything I can, sir.”
“Of course you are,” Dolohov replied, bored, and watched as Corner reached out to pick up a photograph – Ginny Weasley, in one of the few real mugshots they’d been able to get of her, a bright-eyed girl with flaming hair and a smile that promised trouble.
She was laughing out of the photograph even now, and looked like nothing so much as just another schoolgirl, concerned with boys and Quidditch and who was going to win the House Cup this year. She’d been fifteen when it was taken, and more than likely already in too deep.
“You’ll be dealing mainly with the younger generation of the Weasley family,” Dolohov said, when it became clear Corner didn’t have anything to say. “Molly and Arthur Weasley don’t mix so much with the lower-ranking members of the organisation these days, not since Fred Weasley’s imprisonment.”
“When’s he due for release?” Corner asked, frowning.
Dolohov glanced down at his papers, unnecessarily. “Next month, I believe. Hopefully it will have made enough of a mark on him to disrupt his and his brother’s operations.”
“They don’t like me much,” Corner admitted, “They were furious when it came out that Ginny and I were-” Dolohov glared at him, and he stopped, embarrassed.
“You’ll just have to work past that,” Dolohov said, “This is the best chance we have of ending the Weasleys’ operations in Britain, and if it fails…” he let the sentence tail off, watching the fear flicker across Corner’s face. He produced a file from the sheaf. “Ronald Weasley is the one you’ll be dealing with most often. He’s the youngest son, but since his brother Bill died he’s been pulling ahead in the competition to see who the family will choose as its next leader. I know he’s a bit dopey-looking, but don’t be fooled. He’s got a first-rate strategic mind behind those freckles, and he’s got a knack for finding people who are good at the sort of thing he needs. He recruited both of these next two.” The next two files made Corner sit up straight.
“Is that Hermione Granger? She was in my year – Muggle-born?” He pointed to the thinner of the two files. This time, the picture showed a bushy-haired, angry, untidy sort of girl of about fourteen or fifteen, the obligatory leaving photograph taken of every mudblood and sent to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement since the obligatory leaving age for mudbloods was brought down from seventeen to fifteen. One of Minister Riddle’s better ideas, in Dolohov’s opinion, if only because now they could watch the blight as it spread.
“Yes, that’s her. Not Muggle-born after all, it turns out.” Well, not per the paperwork, anyway. They’d looked them over so thoroughly they’d damn near scrubbed the ink clean off, but the ink had been the right age, in the right handwriting, and the right people had confirmed that Doctor Isobel Granger was indeed their Squib sister who’d had her memories modified and been given away when it became clear she was never going to have magic. Dolohov knew it was a forgery, the whole office knew it was a forgery, but they’d never be able to prove it now. He’d only ever known one forger that slick, and one forging ring that thorough, and in the end it had been one of their own men turning state’s evidence rather than any flaw in the paperwork that brought the Marauders down. “She dropped off our radar after Hogwarts, went back to her parents, back to the Muggle world.” Dolohov sneered, flipping the file over. “She seems to have kept in touch with the family, though. She’s Ronald Weasley’s fiancée now, and one of the very innermost circle. One of only two not born into the Weasley family that deep in. She seems to be their fixer, from what little we’ve been able to make out. She plans their operations, arranges meetings, makes sure things happen but doesn’t get directly involved herself. In fact, it’s probably down to her that the family’s rise to power was quite as successful as it’s been.” That was the one piece of evidence in all of this which might actually support her claims of wizarding ancestry, Dolohov thought, and it was infuriating even so.
Corner had gone white. “Merlin- I was in school with her! I thought she seemed all right! A bit uppity maybe, but not-” he shook his head. “Hang on, you said there were two? Who’s the other one?”
Dolohov smiled thinly. “That would be your successor.” It was two photographs this time, from the beginning and end of the criminal’s first stint in Azkaban. “Harry Evans. Another mudblood, but this one isn’t trying to cover it up.” There had been a bit of controversy over that, after James Potter was put away. He’d insisted the brat was his, and maybe it was, but everyone knew what mudblood women were like, whores to the last, and so the boy would be a mudblood on paper until the day he died.
The photographs were a study in contrasts. In one, a scrawny teenager with a mop of hair that looked as though it might eat any comb fool enough to come near it, the only suggestion of his criminal dealings the tattoos that worked their way down his arms, marking him out, to those in the know, as a member of the underground duelling circuit with many, many wins to his name. In the other, his hair was buzzed short to remove the lice so many prisoners caught in Azkaban, and his eyes behind their round glasses were flat and cold as green glass. In one, he looked angry and sullen and rebellious, in the other merely bored.
“My successor?” Corner repeated.
Dolohov grinned mirthlessly. “Little Ginny’s new boyfriend. He’s been mixed up with the Weasleys since he was eleven, by all accounts. Small-time stuff at first, potions and alcohol smuggling, and acting as a go-between for the Weasleys' other operations, but then he seems to have got into the underground no-holds-barred duelling circuit. Did well at it, from the number of victory tattoos, although there were stories he had some sort of magical enhancement made to the bones on one of his hands – see the runes on his knuckles? Carved into the bone, and tattooed over. It’s not an uncommon practice in those circles.” He huffed out a breath. “We finally got him on match-fixing when he was sixteen, he served six months for it. Since then he’s graduated to more serious crimes – racketeering, extortion, a few notable cases of brutality against prominent pure-bloods fool enough to owe the Weasleys money. Oh, and we think he might have been the hatchet-man for the Greyback case.”
Corner, who had been growing paler and paler throughout his little speech, turned the greyish colour of old porridge. “G-Greyback? That werewolf, the one who was murdered five years ago?
“That’d be the one, yes,” Dolohov replied grimly. “You saw it in the Prophet, I expect.”
Corner nodded. “Well, yeah, we all did – it said he’d been beaten so badly his body couldn’t be identified for almost a month. Evans did that?”
Dolohov watched, impassive, as Corner’s face twisted into the distinctive expression of a man whose ex-girlfriend was now going out with someone like that. This had been what made Dolohov think that Corner could be sent to do the job. He was young for it, one of the youngest in the Auror Office, and hardly out of training, but that wouldn’t matter, if only he could get the Weasleys to trust him. And only a blind man could have failed to see how, even all these years later, he was still hopelessly hung up on Ginny Weasley. It would be a danger to him – ‘little Ginny’ was a confidence-artist of the first water, a liar and a cheat and maybe even a killer – but if it took Corner’s death to prove anything against the Weasleys and their hangers-on, Dolohov would spend his life gladly.
And, just as he had expected, Corner swallowed guiltily, and burst out in a rush. “Listen – about Ginny. I-”
“Go on,” Dolohov said.
Corner nodded jerkily and went on, more calmly now. “I know what her record says, and I know she’s one of them, but…she’s not a crook. Not like Evans and that lot, I mean. She’s probably just- just in over her head and can’t see any way out. I mean, I heard what happened to Percy Weasley, and I’m not sure if they actually had him killed or whether he just came to his senses and made a run for it, but-but-” he swallowed again. “But Ginny doesn’t have that chance – she’s a lot further in than Percy ever was, and I’m sure that, if we just offered her protection in exchange for her testimony-”
Dolohov raised his eyebrows. “She might turn on the rest?” He considered it. “It’s possible, I suppose. We don’t have so much on Miss Weasley as the rest of the family. You would say you knew her well?”
“Very well,” Corner agreed, almost too quickly. “She’ll do it if I make the offer, I’m sure of it – who wouldn’t, in a situation like that? I’ll do anything you want to bring the Weasleys down, sir, but Ginny doesn’t deserve that!”
That, Dolohov thought, was a matter of some debate. She had been involved with her twin brothers’ duelling ring for years, and might be still, and men died every day in the ring. And a woman who could go to bed with the likes of Evans – not just a murderer but a mudblood as well, polluting her blood and the blood of any Weasleys still to come – could in no wise be called innocent. On the other hand, Ginny Weasley was the youngest of her family, and the only one to operate so much apart from the rest. Molly Weasley was by all accounts protective of her youngest, little as permitting her to involve herself with such a man as Evans supported that depiction. She might well have wanted her youngest child, her only daughter, kept innocent of the worst of her family’s crimes. And if Corner died before they could bring the Weasleys to justice, they would not be bound by any promise they had made to him, least of all one so self-serving as this. Dolohov could see the hope half-buried in Corner’s eyes, and smiled at it, inside his head where Corner could not see. Oh, he knew what Corner hoped well enough, and thought it foolish, but if it would make Corner agree to this, he would use it.
“Will you carry out this operation if I swear to do everything in my power to arrange for a lighter sentence for Miss Weasley?” he asked.
Corner looked frozen for a moment, and then nodded stiffly. “Yes, sir. That is, I think so, sir.”
“Very good.” Dolohov smiled again, coldly, “Within the year,” he said, as much to himself as to Corner, exulting, “We may see an end to the Weasleys’ activities in Britain. Don’t let this office down, Michael Corner.”
“I won’t, sir,” Corner said, his eyes shining like cheap glass buttons, all surface shine but so very, very little real brains behind them. If wit beyond measure was what Ravenclaws strove for, Dolohov didn’t see it had done Corner any good. But if he was fool enough to agree to this, it’d be a good day’s work done. Corner frowned then, under Dolohov’s eyes. “How are we going to get me an in? They knew I was going out for Auror training, I told our whole year when I got in.”
Dolohov nodded. “Leave that to us. The Weasleys don’t often go looking for new muscle, but we have reason to believe they’ll need it soon enough, and a disillusioned old school friend who dropped out of Auror training would be just what they’d be looking for. We know a few of the Weasleys’ places, drop in on a few of them, make yourself known. Once you think the hook’s been laid well enough, we can arrange a raid, and that’ll be your chance to prove you’re useful. Try and get Ginny away from the rest, if you can get her out, I expect that’ll go a long way towards mollifying her brothers.”
“You’re sure that’ll work?” Corner asked, once again displaying a remarkable lack of judgement. Dolohov glared at him, and the boy coloured, ducking his head. “Sorry, sir,” he mumbled. “Only…Ginny’s been hanging around her brothers’ places for years, it’s why we split up. Wouldn’t she know all the ways out?”
“You will just have to improvise,” Dolohov informed him coldly, “Or find some other way to make yourself useful to them.”
Corner nodded again, looking rather like a rabbit caught in the eyes of the last fox it would ever see. Dolohov smiled thinly, and looked back down at the files between them. Ginny Weasley’s lay open. In that one, long-ago photograph, she laughed. She hadn’t been laughing when it was taken, because in those days the Weasleys had not had the pull they did now, and the name of ‘Weasley’ hadn’t meant anything but a clan of blood-traitors, smugglers and thieves. But even then, she’d smiled for the picture, like she was in school, and kicked her heels until her brothers arrived to take her home. If he could have taken them all in then, he would have, but there hadn’t been enough evidence to prove even the charges against the girl. Oh, but the image of it made his mouth water, the whole row of Weasleys in cuffs, and with them dealt with, the Auror Office could sweep up the rest of their operation easily enough.
“Do you have any more questions, Corner?” he said sharply, when he saw the boy still there.
Corner flushed. “No- No, sir,” he said hastily, and showed himself out in a hurry.
Dolohov turned the last photograph over – the whole Weasley family, the only picture anyone had been able to keep of the whole clan together. Ronald Weasley was quite near the back, a gangly, freckle-faced teenager, hardly distinguishable among the massed ranks of his elder brothers. The man who had come in a week ago to pay the Creevey brothers’ bail had had the same red hair, the same freckles, the same startling height, but that was as far as the resemblance went. It might yet be that Corner would find his Ginny just as changed, and cry off the whole assignment. Or – Merlin knew Ron Weasley was a shrewd one – that the Weasleys themselves would catch on, and they would find Corner’s clothes washed up on the banks of the Thames, with no sign of his body to be found. Or, he would find all the evidence they needed, and that snake Granger would find a way to free the whole pack of them without so much as a day served in Azkaban. All of these things could happen. Dolohov stood, and crossed over to the window, which was charmed to look out over the sea, miles away above ground. Sooner or later, the Weasleys would make a mistake. All he could do was hope that it would be this time.