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Chapter 24: A Little Push
A/N: You guys are wonderful! I'm trying every day to get these reviews answered, but don't worry! I see them all, read them all, and love and appreciate all of them! I'm always open to criticism as well!
I just want to remind you readers about something very important about this story: this is NOT the climax. Don't worry about what you wish for the characters because it could very well happen - whatever your wishes may be. Anything can still happen because I'm assuming there will be at LEAST another ten chapters to this story.
Also, another very important thing I wanted to point out: this is a mystery. And yes, some questions about the murder have been answered. In some ways, I guess. But you will not know the WHOLE and TRUE story all together until the second to last chapter. You have been given pieces of information. Some of it is a lie, and some of it is truth. What you think happened is up to you, but bear in mind that you don't have all the pieces together yet. :)
And with that, happy reading! :) Please review! I love hearing everyone's suspicions!
Josh Lucas as Jimmy Peakes
stunning chapter image by laelia @ TDA
"See, madness, as you know, is like gravity: all it takes is a little push!"
-The Joker, Batman: The Dark Knight
The world seemed to fall away from me after that. I stood there in silence and in shock for quite some time. My heart was pounding inside my chest; I felt as if I could hardly breathe. My world had been fine, had been perfect, and then it had all come crashing down. Rose had been taken away from me; Rose had left me. Both in one day. She had chosen to walk away from me for what I had done, but she had also been stolen from me to a place where I couldn't even follow to fight for her love, to request for it to return. There was no fixing this.
I had lost her for good.
That thought hit me hard. My tears grew thick and heavy, and I didn't even try to hold them back. No shame. I had lost the woman I loved. I had never been this torn, this distraught over a girl. I had loved before, but when that ended I had never been this upset. It was nothing like this when it ended with Victoire. Now, I felt like a girl, crying in sadness over my lost relationship, but I found I could hardly care. Sometimes it's just not worth it to hold those tears in.
I expected to just sit on the ground or leave, to wallow alone in my sadness, but I found that I couldn't.
I hadn't noticed Ruckman and Peakes entering the atrium, but I was suddenly aware of them behind me.
John seemed sympathetic towards me. Of course he understood; he's married with two beautiful children. He asked in a small voice, unsure of how to comfort a weeping man. "You were in love with her?"
I corrected him immediately. I let my voice fill with acidity and hatred; I wanted Peakes to feel what was boiling through me. "I am in love with her."
"You were supposed to tell us if anything like that happened, Lupin. So that we could avoid it getting this bad," sighed Peakes. I don't know why he was saying it. Was he really trying to tell me what I should have done differently? At a time like this?
I whipped around in fury, and I found that I held nothing back. I let everything go. I jumped on him like I had Malfoy so long ago. I grabbed him by the collar and shook him, aggravated. "Of course I didn't tell you! I wouldn't have let you take her from me! I love her now! I would have done everything in my power to keep her safe, to keep her out of prison! To keep her with me!"
Ruckman tried not to move. He knew I was fragile in this state. He put his hands up in defense, his lips quivering as he tried to tell me to calm down. Peakes moved from beside us to interfere, but as soon as I felt his cold hands on my arms, trying to pull me away, I voluntarily let go of John only to round on Peakes.
"And you!" I shouted. "You did this! I know it's you! You had something to do with this! You could have done something, you bastard!"
I don't know what came over me next, but I hit him. I struck him with full force. My clenched fist hit him square in the nose, and he stumbled back, clutching it as blood poured down his face.
"Woah, take it easy," Ruckman encouraged, and he put both of his hands up, bravely approaching me. If I believed that he stepped out of line, I might have struck him as well.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Peakes demanded as he pulled his hand away from his face to look at the blood in his palm.
I took two large steps forward. I knew it was him; there was no denying he knew it just as well as I did. We could both feel my certainty, and his retort only pissed me off even more.
"What the hell is wrong with me?! This is all your fault, you asshole! I love her, and now you've ruined everything!"
While Ruckman was busy holding me back, I noticed the inevitable smirk that spread across his face. I hissed as we came to a mutual understanding that he had been behind it all along. That was enough to send me over the edge. I stopped trying to claw at the air and instead grabbed Ruckman again. I lifted him up and threw him aside, leaping forward after Peakes. I jumped on top of him, and we fell to the ground. My fist came down on his face again, this time repeatedly. He stopped fighting at one point and just took the beating until other Aurors that had entered the atrium due to my outbreak pulled me off of him. I went kicking and screaming as they pulled me to my feet, threatening to arrest me.
Peakes quickly acted as if he had not just given himself away to me. "It's all right," he said, a professional voice taking over. He wiped the blood from his face and came to stand in front of me and the two guards on either side of me. "Mr. Lupin is just distraught over the loss of his loved one. Release him."
They let go of me, and I only didn't attack him again because I knew they would haul me away if I did so. I smoothed out my clothes, breathing deeply and doing my best to calm myself.
I was suddenly lost as I tried to decide what would happen next. I wanted to quit. Oh, I wanted to quit right then and there if I didn't happen to get fired anyway. But was quitting the best decision? Now that I knew Peakes was behind it all - in some way, that part still foreign to me - I had to prove it. No one would trust my judgment; after my scene in the Wizengamot and here in the atrium, everyone knows of my love for Rose, how I would do anything to free her. They wouldn't accept my word simply on trust now. I had blown that opportunity. I had to get solid proof if I was to overturn Rose's sentence. This meant I had to stay close to Peakes; I had to get him to admit the truth somehow. But employed as an Auror, didn't I have a better chance of doing so? If I quit, I had no reason to be inside the Ministry. To be around Peakes at all.
I had to keep my job...
"Go on," Peakes said. He looked as if he truly didn't care, but I knew better. He waved off the two Aurors who were still standing by my side, ready to seize me again at any moment. He waved to Ruckman as well, adding, "All of you. I will handle this."
Confused and defeated, they obeyed their Acting Head Auror. I watched them leave, now knowing Peakes wanted a private word with me. He took a few bold steps forward, and I stood up straighter, showing him that I wasn't afraid. I had lost everything when I lost Rose. What more did I have to lose?
His voice was cool when he spoke to me. "You'll never speak of this, you understand? I'll be sure of that. You're lucky you aren't being fired after a scene like that, but I know better. Your god-father would have you reinstated in a heartbeat. Sondheim will be Minister, though. Even if we have to get rid of Percy Weasley. Then once Sondheim is Minister it will be goodbye for your god-father in the Auror Department and I will take over. Then we will see how long you'll last with me."
"You wouldn't fire me," I sneered. I found myself twisting my words to make him believe he needed me, to keep me close to him. "I'm too valuable to you. You will never find anyone as good as me with what I do."
"I beg to differ. Clearly there is someone better out there if you're going to continue falling in love with the suspects."
I felt my face grow hot. I wanted to strike him again.
"But we will see what happens," he added. "I know you'll keep quiet. You know why? Because when I'm Head Auror, I will have direct control of the Azkaban prisoners. If you even put a toe out of line, it's the Dementor's Kiss for your precious Rose."
I grew stiff with hatred. I clenched my fists, dug my nails into my palms, and I felt the blood begin to sink under my nails. The thought of that happening to Rose. Of her body becoming just a shell, what defines her completely gone, lost into the abyss...I hated it. I trembled as I whispered to him in fury. "You wouldn't do that to her."
"Would I?" he asked with a smirk. "Think about who you're dealing with, Lupin. You have miraculously figured out I was the one behind the murder. You may prove that you were hired as an Auror for more than just your metamorphmagus abilities, but you and I both know Rose wouldn't hurt anyone without a little push."
"You blackmailed her," I hissed, beginning to piece things together.
"Well done," Peakes grinned.
"But why?!" I asked. "What could you have possibly held over her head to make her kill the Minister of Magic?!"
He didn't answer me, and he didn't let me say anymore after that. With a proud smirk, he turned on his heels and stalked off. Still rooted to the spot, I shouted after him. "Peakes! What did you do?!"
He was gone then, and I was left to pick up the pieces of my broken demeanor and figure out where to go from here. Where did I go from here? I had lost everything, and I had to get it back. But how do I stand up to a man who knows how to break one of the strongest people I know? He had gotten Rose to kill the Minister. What had he threatened her with in order for her to do something so extravagant and something so willingly and brutally by the looks of the four holes in Jarvis Branstone's chest? One would have done the trick, if it had been in the right place. Two possibly, but Rose had stabbed him four times. I had seen the photographs of the body.
I stood still for minutes. I don't know how long I just stood there and trembled, letting my tears steadily fall. It wasn't until I heard two pairs of footsteps did I look up from the granite floor of the atrium. Harry and Ron were suddenly before me, both panting and shaking as reality hit them, reality that a girl we had all loved and thought to be so peaceful had brutally killed a man. Ron was distraught and on the verge of losing himself completely, but I could tell that Harry was the only thing keeping him together now.
Ron and I looked at one another. Our eyes met, and we both voluntarily moved towards one another. In a mess his arms enveloped around me and mine around him. We fed off of each other's pain, each other's will to get through this, for we both had one vitally important thing in common now. We had both lost a woman we so dearly loved. Ron had lost his only daughter, and I had lost the most important woman to ever walk into my life.
"I'm sorry," I apologized as I cried, and Ron patted my back to soothe me. "I'm sorry, Ron. I would have stopped her if I had known. I would never have let them take her."
"Shh," he said in my ear. I had never known Ron to be a very eloquent man or voice his thoughts very well or very often, but his words were thoughtful and consoled me even as he was a father who had lost his child. "There was nothing you could have done. She intended it to be this way, and no matter what she may have said to you, I know she loves you. I have never seen her like that. Before she knew it was you...I could see her love for you in her eyes."
"I'm sorry," I moaned again.
He hadn't even known the whole story; he hadn't even read Rose's letter to me, and yet he still knew. At least Ron was of the right mind in that courtroom. Just during the testimony, he was able
to tell that Rose had left without my knowing, that she intended to turn herself in for my sake - or for Malfoy's sake - and that she still loved me.
No matter what he said, I blamed myself. If I had woken up earlier, I could have been there before she left. Maybe she wouldn't have gone, or maybe I could have convinced her to leave with me. Or even if I had told her who I truly was before she turned herself in, she wouldn't have done it. It was my fault, and anyone could tell me differently, but I knew the truth. And now Rose's family would have to deal with the repercussions of my stupidity and poor indiscretion for the rest of their life.
I felt a separate hand on my back, and when Ron shuddered against me, I knew one had been placed on his back too. When new arms enveloped the both of us, we knew it was Harry. He pressed his forehead against ours, and silence took over the three of us. We latched onto each other's pity, each other's love, and together we mourned over what we had all lost and over what Rose would suffer through for the rest of her life. Neither one of us cared that Rose had killed someone. That seemed to be a minor detail. We all seemed to understand that it wasn't of her own doing or decision making. There was something much darker behind it, and while they didn't know what I knew, they didn't classify Rose as a murderer. She would never be a murderer in the eyes of her family or those who loved her.
Soon the world would know who killed Jarvis Branstone. The Weasleys would have to deal with the judging eyes of the witches and wizards around them for Rose's doing, and for that, I pitied them. Even Harry and his family would receive some of the reprimanding, I'm sure. Due to this, their lives would surely change.
I don't know how long we stood there for, just three men who didn't care what anyone thought, who let their guard down one time when they all otherwise held so strongly. We heard footsteps, but neither one of us reacted.
Finally John Ruckman's voice was behind me, gentle and uneasy. "Ted..." he muttered in an attempt to get my attention.
I sniffed and rubbed my wet cheeks on Ron's shoulder, turning to face him. John blinked when our eyes met, probably from the surprise of seeing my bloodshot eyes.
"I-I'm sorry," he said to me, and I believed him. I believed he was sorry for what had happened, for what Rose had said to me, and for what we had gone through. I believed that he did pity me, but I also believed that he could have done something different. Why didn't he realize that the boss he so whole-heartedly obeyed was up to no good?
I understood that he had more to say to me other than his apology, so I turned Ron into the arms of my god-father. He put an arm around his shoulder and led him from the atrium. I approached Ruckman, swiping at my eyes and sniffing so I could speak clearly. "What is it?" I asked, my voice empty.
John blinked and wondered if he should have waited to tell me what it was he had to say. He knew I was fragile, and he knew how easily I could snap. He spoke delicately to me. "A new contract has been made, between the Aurors and the Wizengamot tribunal. The tribunal has agreed to not speak of your involvement in the case, and the Auror Department is classifying your case as Restricted. No one will know."
For some reason, this soothed me. I didn't want the world to know what I had done. If people were to know I had fallen in love with Rose, I didn't want them to know how twisted I was for allowing it to happen while I was impersonating someone else. While I wanted everyone to know how screwed up Peakes was for making me do something so outrageous, I didn't want anyone to know.
I nodded, and yet he went on.
"The tribunal won't speak of what they witnessed, and neither will the department. You know that. They will - respect - your feelings. You've also been allowed a leave of absence. Ted, really, I'm so sorry," he said.
At first I wondered why I was hearing this from John. Why wasn't I hearing it from Sondheim as the Acting Minister, or Peakes for that matter while he was still the Auror in charge of the case. Then I realized I knew the answer. I knew why Peakes wouldn't come talk to me. Not after what he told me; Peakes and I would distance ourselves from one another for some time. I realized I was actually grateful John had been the one to tell me this. If I saw Jimmy Peakes again, I don't know what I would have done.
All I did was nod yet again.
"And the summer house...You're welcome to take as long as you need with taking your things. Really, no rush at all," he said kindly.
Right. I had completely forgotten that all of our things were still at the house, and they had to be taken care of it some way. And then I thought of how I would be returning to my flat now. My flat that had been empty for so long, that had probably collected dust. It would suddenly feel lonelier than ever, and I didn't want to go back. I didn't want to leave the summer house where all of my best memories had taken place.
"Can I stay there?" I found myself suddenly asking. I looked to John, hopeful that he wouldn't remove me from his summer house just yet. "Please. I...I don't want to leave. Not yet."
He seemed to understand that, in a way, I was holding on to Rose by wishing to stay there, so he nodded. Ruckman said with a kind smile, "You're welcome to stay there as long as you like."
And I did. During that delicate transition time between the Wizengamot tribunal cooling off and when the press would soon hear of the case, spreading the news worldwide, I left the Ministry. I knew Harry would take care of Ron, and they would spread the word of what had happened to the rest of their family. I wanted to be gone before the reporters would be running amuck throughout the Ministry, so I apparated back to the summer house.
It was suddenly so lonely inside those warm walls, so chilling. I looked about the kitchen where Rose's cup of coffee sat, half drunk, the mug still warm to the touch. The cottage looked as if nothing had gone amiss. A deck of cards was still scattered over the coffee table in the sitting room, the blankets strewn about the couch from when we cuddled there yesterday afternoon. I willed myself to move, and mustering what courage I could, I stepped into the small hallway that led to the bathroom and two bedrooms.
I didn't have to think twice about where I would go first. I stepped into Rose's room and took one look around. It looked as if her room was just graciously awaiting her return. The bed was unmade, as it so often was, and her clothes were either sitting in an arm chair or on top of the wardrobe, rarely in the drawers where they belonged. I walked over to the wardrobe and fingered the articles of clothing, the black dress she had worn to New York, one of my t-shirts that had slipped into the mix of her clothes that she liked to wear around the house. Then I sauntered over to her bed, touched the duvet, and I collapsed onto the soft mattress.
Weakly and pathetically I crawled under the covers. Even though it was hot with the heat of summer fading and entering autumn, I threw the covers over my head and inhaled the scent of Rose. I smiled when I realized it was still fresh, still there as if she had just left her bed a few minutes ago.
I stayed like that for the rest of the day. I didn't eat, nor did I leave her bed to do anything else. I thought about all the things I had done that made me hate myself and in turn made Rose hate me. I thought of how I had deceived her, I thought of what I could have done differently - if anything. But then I also thought of all the good. Of our first kiss, of all the laughs we had shared, the late nights in the hammock and by the water, the fun and endless card games, the many nights spent in each other's arms. I reminisced of all our times together, and I knew immediately that there was no way Rose didn't love me. She did; she loved me. She had to. I wouldn't believe a word she said. I couldn't let that get to me; I couldn't let that interfere with what I would have to do in order to get Peakes to confess. I would fight for her till the ends of the earth even if she didn't love me.
I fell asleep early into the night with tears in my eyes, and I had a restless night. I knew I tossed and turned in fits, but I slept for hours on end. When I awoke, it was well into the next day. It took me awhile to leave her bed, but when I did, I took care of myself, and with what little perseverance I could muster, I began to sort through Rose's things. I knew I couldn't stay at the summer house forever; it didn't belong to me. It was John's.
Slowly I began to filter through her belongings. The process took me almost a whole week. I packed up her toiletries, her shampoo, her conditioner, make up and all those other things, and placed them into a bag that I placed an Undetectable Extension charm on. Out of all those things, her perfume was the one thing I kept, storing it safely into my own suitcase I had slowly begun to pack up. I packed up her clothes and her shoes, and finally there was nothing of hers left in the house.
When I hadn't left a trace of Rose or myself behind, I mustered the only strength I had left and apparated back to my own flat. As I expected, it was lonely and cold, dusty with its lack of visitation. I set my stuff down and fell immediately down into my bed. I didn't know what to do with Rose's belongings. Did I force them upon her parents and remind them of their daughter who had suffered in Azkaban for a week now? Did I return them to her flat and leave it there abandoned? Did Rose even have a flat anymore, or had her parents already clear it out for leasing? I knew I would have to talk to her parents about all of this sooner or later.
For the next few weeks, I felt as if I were living in a different world. One where I didn't believe happiness was possible and one where I had forgotten what it meant to truly live. I did what Ruckman told me I was allowed; I took a leave of absence from the office. The time allotted had been declared as unforeseeable, which I was grateful for. I wasn't going to show up anyway until I was certain news of the murder and Rose's imprisonment had calmed down, though I doubted it ever would.
I spent my days doing nothing. Just sitting, staring out the window, sometimes staring at blank walls. I had no motivation to do anything else. Not yet. I didn't even have a plan yet. I tried to figure a plan out, but most of the time that just ended up in me cursing and smashing things. My living room was now an assortment of broken fixtures and shattered meaningless frames.
There was a day when there was an incessant knocking on the door of my flat for a half hour or so. I had gone to look through the peep-hole to see who the visitor was. It was Harry. In a way, I wasn't surprised. He probably wanted to talk to me, to see how I was faring, but I refused to answer the door. He knew I was inside; he must have. Yet I didn't answer. I sat on my couch, pulling at a frayed thread in a blanket until he finally gave up his constant knocking, saying before leaving. "I know you're in there, Ted. I just want to see how you're doing. You know I'm here when you're ready to talk."
Then his footsteps signaled his leave.
I kept up with the progress of the new minister campaign through the Prophet. I had diverted my owls with their delivery of the Prophet when I knew the front page would be all about Rose's sentence. When that was no longer on the front page, I started to look at the paper again. I learned that Scorpius Malfoy had been released only an hour after Rose's confession, and he was welcomed back into the Wizarding society with open and apologetic arms. The Malfoy name had never seen such good graces, and he quickly resumed his column in the Prophet. Percy Weasley had been forced to step down in his campaign as Minister for Magic. He seemed to know that he would never win the campaign after Rose's conviction. The Weasley name would be matched with that of a murderer's for quite some time, and of course no one wanted their new Minister to be involved with a killer. Not only this, but if Rose had killed the Minister and then her uncle took the position, it would appear to everyone else as Rose Weasley killing Jarvis for the sole purpose of bettering her Uncle's career.
Due to Percy stepping down, there was only one option now. Sondheim was soon elected as Minister for Magic. With this, I knew many things would change. Sondheim was buddy-buddy with Peakes, and therefore Peakes would have his way with just about everything. I could only imagine what would happen inside the Ministry now. The world was quickly changing into something I could no longer tolerate, into something I could no longer stand.
I had sworn to do my best to free Rose, and yet I had done nothing. But what was I to do? What could I do? Sondheim was Minister, and Peakes would have his way. Everything suddenly seemed as if it ended in a no-win scenario. Everything was hopeless.
I realized Peakes was right. We had so much inside of us, powers to do things we never thought we could. It's just sitting there inside of us, dormat and waiting for a trigger. Whether it be the capability to murder someone, or like me, to go insane slowly and painfully. Peakes was right. All it takes is a push.