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Chapter 19: Aftermath
“I don’t know where to start.”
Harry wrapped his hands tightly around his mug. The tea inside was stone cold but he didn’t notice. He had no idea what time it was, or how long he had been sitting in Gawain’s office. The debriefing was difficult and painful; the events of the previous night seemed jumbled and disjointed, even though only a few hours had passed.
Gawain regarded him sympathetically. “Wherever you like. Take your time.”
Harry tried to focus, but flashes of curse fire flickered constantly though his mind, making it impossible to think. He could see the anguish in Justin’s face, hear the shouts of their attackers and and feel the punishing weight of their curses on his shield charm. Amongst it all, Ben turned, smiling at the onslaught, then crumpled to the floor, over and over again. Harry wanted to scream, or punch someone, or throw something. He wanted to step back in time and make it, somehow, to Ben’s side and help him. But instead, he just sat there, cradling a mug of cold tea and staring at his knees.
“How’s Justin?” he asked, eventually.
“Will he be okay?”
Gawain nodded. “I think so. The injury is serious, but he was at St Mungo’s quickly. The Healers are optimistic they can reverse the curse damage, given enough time.”
“That’s good news.” Harry let out a sigh of relief, but then the awful, nagging guilt assailed him again. “What a bloody mess. Five of them! We were only expecting two.”
“If Ben had known there were going to be five wizards there, then almost certainly he would have played his hand differently. But there was no evidence to suggest the gang was that large. None of you could have known that.”
“Did they all get away?”
“Yes. When the jinxes broke.”
“We hadn’t finished setting them.” Harry finally looked up at Gawain, willing him to understand. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
“Talk me through the plan for the operation,” said Gawain, very gently.
Harry took a long time answering. He had known this question would come, and it killed him to reply. “There wasn’t one,” he said finally. He felt like such a traitor; sullying Ben’s memory with the admission was a dreadful act of disloyalty.
Gawain pressed him. “Ben took all three of you out there without providing a clear course of action in advance?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“No advance surveillance, no tactical plans?”
Bloody hell! How much clearer can I be? It’s as though he’s trying to torture me, thought Harry. “Nothing at all.” He found he could no longer meet Gawain’s eyes.
Gawain was quiet for a moment, leaning on his elbows with his fingers steepled in front of him. “Did you object?”
“Yes.” Betrayal weighed heavily in that one word.
“Okay. If you raised your concerns to Ben, there isn’t anything more you could have done to prevent what happened.” Gawain looked at him shrewdly. “You do know that, don’t you Harry?”
Harry’s head snapped up. “No, I don’t know that! Of course there was more I could have done! I could have refused to go! I could have sent my own Patronus before we left! I could have made Justin stay behind!”
“Harry, any one of those things would have been gross insubordination.” Gawain spoke calmly but firmly. “As the Senior Auror in charge, Ben was responsible for last night’s operation, and he knew that. Everyone on our team has to respect the chain of command. One day, you’ll be the one with the team behind you, and you will need to know every single person will follow your instructions to the letter.”
“Fat lot of good it did us last night.”
Gawain sighed and say back in his chair. There was a long pause before he spoke again. “Harry, we don’t always play by the rules here. It’s one of the reasons why we’re so successful. We take risks, and Ben took more than anyone else. That’s partly what made him such an excellent Auror, but it’s also what got him killed last night. Staking out a wizard like Jugson in the commission of a robbery, with only one junior and one trainee for support showed very poor judgement. To do so without a real plan in place was reckless in the extreme, and Ben paid a very high price for it. Justin only survived because of your bravery, defensive skills and quick thinking. You did very well last night, Harry, and you should be proud.”
Harry shook his head fiercely, but said nothing, not trusting himself to keep what little cool he had left. How could he be proud? He had let Ben down in that garden, and now he had only compounded it here in Gawain’s office.
Watching the turmoil that played across Harry’s face, Gawain sighed again, then asked another question. “You told me at the scene you thought he tried a Relinquombrus charm just before he died. What went wrong?”
“I don’t know.” It was a question Harry had been asking himself over and over again since the moment he watched it happen. “Maybe he thought the jinxes had already broken. Or maybe he just mistimed it. Does it matter?”
Gawain shrugged. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. The more we learn about what went wrong, the better chance we have of stopping it happening again. But the brutal truth is that sometimes, in the heat of the moment, anyone can make a mistake.”
At that moment, there was a knock on the door and Hestia poked her head into the office. “Sorry to interrupt, Gawain, but I know you wanted to see me as soon as I got back.”
Gawain smiled at her. “Of course, Hestia. Come in. We can finish this when you’re next on shift, Harry.” Taking the Head Auror’s words as a dismissal, Harry made to leave, but Gawain stopped him. “No, don’t go just yet. I want you to hear this. Hestia’s been to the Muggle police station. Dave Tudor arranged for her to interview Constantino Papadakis. How did it go?” he asked, giving Hestia his full attention.
Hestia pulled up a chair next to Harry. “I didn’t get much from him, unfortunately. Jugson got chatting to him in a pub one night. He already knew who Papadakis was, although he never explained how. Papadakis was recruited to advise on the targets. It was mostly just explaining how the businesses worked - which ones handled lots of cash, when there was likely to be most cash on the premises, where the safes were likely to be, that sort of thing.”
“So Jugson has definitely been targeting the cash?”
“Yes. They weren’t after anything else.”
Gawain looked confused. “It makes no sense. We know it isn’t being exchanged through Gringotts, so what on earth are they doing with it?”
“Did Papadakis know anything about what Jugson’s doing with the money?” ventured Harry.
Hestia shook her head. “No, nothing. He just took his cut and waited to hear from Jugson again. Jugson always contacted him, never the other way around.”
Gawain looked frustrated. “Did he have the names of any of the rest of the gang?”
“No. He never saw any of the others except for the nights of the robberies, and they never used names at the scene.”
“That’s a shame, but it isn’t unexpected.” Gawain tilted his head to one side thoughtfully. “Do you think Papadakis was holding anything back?
Hestia shook her head. “No. He wanted out. He was terrified.”
“He should be,” remarked the Head Auror. “Getting in bed with Jugson is like selling your soul to the devil. Thanks Hestia, you can head home now. I’ll need you to have a fresh head on your shoulders for your next shift now that we’re a man down. You too, Harry. Go home. Try and get some sleep. I’ll see you both on Monday.”
Ron picked his way through the upturned picnic tables in the pub garden, scanning the ground for curse residue and any other evidence that might help to track down Jugson’s gang. The pink glow of dawn was beginning to melt away the darkness outside the ring of bright white Angelfyre that Jeremy had conjured to light their work. Waiting for daylight would have been preferable, but their time was limited, and there was a lot to do before the scene had to be released to the Muggle police. DCI Tudor was holding them at bay for the time being, but he couldn’t do so indefinitely, especially given what Ron knew was waiting for them inside the pub.
Elsewhere in the garden, the other Aurors who constituted the crime scene team that morning were mirroring his work. Jeremy, who was running the operation, was focused and stoical. Marcus seemed as shaken as Ron as he picked through the hedgerow on the right of the garden. The final member of the team was Terry Boot, and Ron felt dreadful for his friend. This was Terry’s first crime scene, and he looked like he might vomit any second. Ron didn’t blame him. This one was personal for all of them.
He tried to focus on the task in hand but his mind churned relentlessly through the events of the night before. He could scarcely believe that only a few hours ago, he had been toasting Percy and Audrey in the garden at The Burrow. Now he felt as though he was in some sort of waking nightmare. Over on the far left of the garden, a small team of mediwizards had draped white sheets over two bodies that were laid out on stretchers. Ron tried not to look, knowing that one of those white sheets covered the enormous bulk of Ben’s body. How could this have happened? How could Ben, with all his energy and vitality, possibly be dead? Ron’s mind simply refused to process it, still reeling from the shock.
When he had answered the summons of Ben’s Patronus, he hadn’t exactly expected to find his boss engaged in a genteel tea party, but even so, Apparating into the middle of a full-on firefight had been a shock. Although his battle-hardened combat instincts had kicked in with a vengeance the second he saw the curses flying, it had brought home to him the reality of the career he had chosen. Unlike most of the other war veterans, being an Auror meant that he would never be able to leave the battles behind him; there would always be someone out there ready to pick a fight. His eyes wandered back to the stretchers, and he wondered if he really had made the right choice two years ago in Professor McGonagall’s office. He certainly hadn’t thought about it properly at the time, and he found it disquieting to realise that.
With anguish etched into his face, he stood still and watched as the mediwizards lifted the stretchers and activated their built-in portkeys to head back to the morgue at St Mungo’s. Caught in the moment, he nearly jumped out of his skin when Jeremy placed a hand on his shoulder.
“I know it’s tough, Ron,” said the older man, “but the best thing we can do for Ben now is get the bastards before they can do this to anyone else.” Jeremy gave him an understanding smile before he raised his voice and addressed the entire team. “I don’t think there’s much more we can do out here. Let’s head inside.”
Jeremy turned and headed towards the pub door. Ron and the rest of the crime scene team following behind. As he pushed the door open, Ron mentally braced himself for what he knew he would find inside.
The unmistakable scent of stale beer hit him as he stepped inside to find the single large room in disarray. The mirrored wall behind the rustic wooden bar was smashed, as were all the spirit bottles on the counter in front of it. Most of the stools and small tables had been knocked over and many were broken, while the walls were peppered with curse burns. But the damage to the pub paled in comparison to the sight that greeted Ron in the middle of the floor; the bodies of two Muggles lying lifeless and broken on the cheap patterned carpet.
After a moment’s contemplation, Jeremy roused himself and spoke to his team. “Right, everyone. There’s a lot to do in here, and haven’t got long before we have to ship out, so let’s get organised. Marcus and Terry, I want you to collect any curse residues from the walls. When you’re finished, do a walk-through, make sure we haven’t missed anything.” Once Marcus and Terry had started working, Jeremy turned to Ron. “We’ve got the bodies. Are you okay with that?”
He spoke quietly, and he watched Ron’s face intently, waiting for a response. All Ron could think about was the awful, haunting expression of absolute terror on the faces of the dead Muggles in front of him. He swallowed hard. “Yeah. Comes with the territory, doesn’t it?” he said, trying to convince himself as much as Jeremy. “Let’s get it over with.”
Jeremy gave him an encouraging nod. “Good. Now, because they’re Muggles, we can’t recover the bodies to St Mungo’s, or retain any of their personal effects. Dave will let us have any additional autopsy findings, but this is our only chance to examine them. I want you to take notes while I check them over.” Ron fished his quill and a notebook out from his robes, relieved he would only be acting as a scribe. “If there’s any confusion about the details, we can extract my memory, but it’s easiest if we have a written record. Ready?”
Jeremy knelt by the first body. “The first victim is a man, in early middle-age; I estimate he’s in his forties. He’s wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, so my guess is that this is probably the pub landlord. His clothing shows residue from a number of curses, which we’ll collect after we’ve completed the examination. It looks like Jugson had already started their ‘entertainment’. Almost certainly, there will be residue here from a Killing Curse too, to be confirmed on analysis. There are no other visible marks and...” Jeremy patted the pockets of the man’s dressing gown. “There’s nothing in his pockets to identify him, so we’ll have to rely on Dave for a positive ID.”
“Why do you think they killed him, Jeremy?” blurted Ron. “The other victims just had their memories wiped.”
Jeremy’s mouth curled in distaste. “We’d have to ask Jugson to be sure, but if I had to guess, I think it’s probably because we surprised them. No time for memory charms. Jugson doesn’t like to leave loose ends.” His expression softened as he looked back at the landlord’s body. “I don’t think there’s any more he can tell us,” he said, moving on to the second body. “The second victim is also male. He’s older than the first, probably in his late fifties to early sixties. He’s dressed in Muggle clothing, dark coloured twill trousers and a black sweater. Unlike the first body, this one shows very little residue, probably from a single curse, this time to the centre of his back. Taken in conjunction with the orientation of his body, it suggests he was running for the door when he was struck down.” Again, Jeremy patted the man’s pockets. “He’s carrying a Muggle wallet, which contains various cards giving his name as Leonard McLaren.”
“Lennie McLaren?” asked Ron. “He’s the other Muggle in the Jugson gang, isn’t he?”
“Not any more,” said Jeremy, grimly. “If I was a betting man, I’d put money on Jugson deciding to get rid of the weak links in the chain when Ben, Harry and Justin crashed their party last night. Speaking of which, we need to make sure that Papadakis isn’t released without some serious magical protection. That man’s walking around with a target on his chest until we pick up Jugson.”
“You think Jugson will know he talked?”
“Yes, I’d say that’s pretty obvious. Given McLaren’s here, Papadakis was probably meant to show up as well. Jugson doesn’t like taking chances. And he does like killing people.” Jeremy rocked back on his knees and looked up at Ron. “Come on. Let’s collect the residues, and then we can get out of here.”
It only took a few minutes to complete the job. As the two Aurors were putting the last of the collection jars into Jeremy’s bag, Marcus and Terry returned to the main bar. Terry looked dreadful, keeping his eyes well away from the bodies. He was still so ghostly pale, Ron half expected him to be able to walk out through a wall. Marcus, though, seemed composed as he delivered his report.
“There’s no-one else on the premises,” he said, “and the only sign of any other magical activity outside this room is around the back door, which was blasted open in a similar fashion to the other robberies. We also located the safe in an office behind the bar, but it doesn’t seem to have been opened. They didn’t get any money.”
Jeremy regarded the two bodies and shook his head slowly. “What a waste.”
Ron felt anger swelling in his chest. He wasn’t sure whether the fact that the robbery had been unsuccessful should have made any difference to him, but for some reason, it did. Ben, a man he admired and respected, was dead, along with two innocent Muggles. Countless lives had been ripped apart, and for what? Absolutely nothing. It was pointless, mindless, evil violence. The doubts that had assailed him only a short time earlier fled in the face of his outrage and he knew, with stone cold certainty, that he had never made a better decision than the day he joined the Auror office. Despite the risks, despite the fear and despite the darkness, if he could do anything with his life, anything at all, it would be to hunt down scum like Jugson and watch them rot in Azkaban.
He turned to the senior Auror. “You’re absolutely right, Jeremy. Let’s get the bastards.”
Harry spent all morning in his bedroom lying on his bed, attempting to follow orders and get some sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was the flash of green light as Ben crumpled to the ground. Eyes open now, he traced every tiny crack in the ceiling, following their random, fractured path through the plaster. Sleep had never felt further away. He knew that Ginny, like Hermione, would still be at The Burrow following the previous night’s party. He thought about apparating there to see her, but he wasn’t sure what to say to her until he had managed to make sense of what had happened at the pub. All he really wanted to do was get back out there and track down Jugson, to somehow atone for his monumental failure.
Eventually, he couldn’t stand lying there a moment longer, wasting time when he knew he could be assisting with the investigation. “This is stupid,” he muttered, hauling himself out of bed and into the bathroom, where he stood under a tepid shower for a few minutes. Then he dressed in whatever clothes he could find from the collection strewn across the floor and headed out of the door. It was almost three o’clock when he arrived back at the Ministry. Other than the wizard manning the reception desk, he saw no-one as he made his way to the second floor, and it took him a moment to realise that it was still Sunday; most of the Ministry’s employees were enjoying a well-earned day off.
When he walked into the Auror office, two of the desks were occupied. Both Tarquin and Susan looked up and smiled at him, but before either could say anything, Gawain appeared at his office door.
“I thought I sent you home, Harry?”
“I’d rather be here doing something useful,” said Harry, giving the Head Auror a defiant look that dared Gawain to banish him again.
Gawain held his gaze for a moment, then shrugged. “Okay. You can stay. But you stick close to me until I’m happy you’re fit for duty, understood?”
Harry nodded. “What can I do?” he asked brusquely.
“We’re waiting for Jeremy and Ron to come back from St Mungo’s with the personal effects taken from our mystery wizard. You can help us examine them. Until then... It’s up to you.”
Gawain went back into his office, but conspicuously left the door open. Harry sat down at his desk and reached for a file. He leafed through it without really paying any attention; every time he looked at the parchment, the words seemed to writhe across it like pit of vipers. Someone put a mug of tea on his desk, but he didn’t even notice. Nothing seemed to matter except helping on the case, finding retribution for Ben.
Eventually, Jeremy walked in, followed closely by Ron. Each was carrying a cardboard box. Jeremy nodded a greeting to Harry, then went straight through to Gawain’s office. Ron hesitated in the centre of the room, before carefully and gently placing his box on Ben’s desk. Harry guessed it must contain Ben’s personal effects. Ron stared at it for a moment before he looked at Harry.
“Alright, mate?” he asked, real concern in his blue eyes.
Harry shrugged. He wasn’t actually sure how to describe how he felt. Useless. Numb. Empty. A failure. In the end he settled for, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Ron nodded. “Okay. That’s good.”
Harry could tell Ron wasn’t convinced, but knew that his friend wouldn’t push it. He was grateful for that, at least. “How was the scene? Get much?” he asked.
“Some. Curse residues, mostly from the walls and the bodies.”
Harry looked at Ron curiously. “Why were you collecting residue from the bodies? Surely we’ll be taking it off their clothing now you’ve got it back from the morgue.”
“Not those bodies, Harry,” said Ron, looking at his feet. “Hasn’t anyone told you?”
“Told me what?”
“Oh. I just assumed Gawain would’ve mentioned it.”
“Told me what, Ron?” said Harry, aware his voice was rising.
Ron took a deep breath. “There were two more bodies inside the pub. Muggles. One of them was Lennie McLaren, the other gang member. We’re not certain about the second one, but it’s probably the pub landlord.”
“They killed them both?”
Ron nodded. “Yeah. Jeremy thought... Well, Jeremy thought Jugson was tying up loose ends. Not enough time for memory charms when that alarm went off.”
Harry thought back to those two green flashes as the caterwauling charm went off, and an awful, churning sickness gripped his stomach. He had triggered that charm. He had signed the death warrant on those two Muggles. It was his fault.
There was an awkward pause, before Jeremy and Gawain came back out into the main office. Gawain looked at the box on Ben’s desk and Harry thought he saw a flicker of pain cross the Head Auror’s face before he turned back to the rest of the office.
“We need to examine our mystery wizard’s belongings,” he announced. “Could everyone please join us in the Nexus.” He led the group to the door on the other side of the room. Once they were all inside, Gawain flicked the switch to turn the outer door red, and then indicated to Jeremy to begin.
For once, the planning table was just a table. Jeremy placed the box on the centre, and drew his wand. “Diffindo.” He slit the tape securing the box and pulled the top open before lifting each of the dead wizard’s belongings out onto the table; cloak, robes, boots, socks that appeared to be hand-knitted, wand with a matching holster, a gold signet ring, leather money pouch and a very tatty looking quill.
Harry joined the rest of the team examining each item one by one. Having something practical on which to concentrate freed his mind from its turmoil, and he relished the respite, even though he knew it was only temporary. For the next hour and a half, the room buzzed with softly spoken revealing spells. First all the residues were collected for analysis, and then every item was examined and tested by at least two different people, but there was nothing unusual about any of them.
Gawain sighed. “Well, I wasn’t really expecting us to find anything incriminating. These guys are professionals, after all, and at least we have the wand; Hestia can take it to Ollivander and get him to identify it on Monday. That should get us a name at least.”
Slowly, the Aurors began to return the belongings to the box. Tarquin picked up the gold ring, and turned it over in his hands. “You know, there’s nothing magically significant about this, but there does seem to be some sort of crest engraved on it. It’s very worn, though.”
“Can you make it out?” asked Gawain.
Tarquin squinted at the ring. “Not really. I think it might be a ‘W’ with some sort of squiggles around it.”
In the far recesses of Harry’s mind, a synapse fired. Something about Tarquin’s description sounded horribly familiar. “Can I have a look at that?” he asked.
“Sure.” Tarquin tossed him the ring.
Harry looked closely at the crest, examining it carefully to be absolutely sure, but there really wasn’t any doubt. He had seen that symbol many times before; on the head of a walking stick, embossed into a satchel, worked into a wrought iron gate, and even carved into a stone dungeon wall. His eyes narrowed with distaste.
“It isn’t a W and some squiggles,” he explained. “It’s an M, surrounded by snakes. This is the Malfoy family crest.”
“You’re sure?” Gawain gave him a very hard stare.
A/N - So, sorry for the big gap between posting! Real life has been getting in the way of writing recently, but I certainly haven’t got any intention of abandoning Evolution - it’s my baby:-). Hopefully I won’t make you wait quite as long for chapter 20.
I hope you enjoy this chapter - and as usual, if you did, you need to thank CambAngst, my super beta-reader. I might have been taking a little break from writing, but he certainly hasn’t, so there is lots more of his excellent story, Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood, up on the site, ready for you to read!
If you would be prepared to take just a couple of minutes to leave me a review and let me know what you think, I would be really grateful - reviews make my day!