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Author's Note: If you're looking for something serious, then this will not be the story for you. Although there will be action, espionage, and mystery, there will also be much sarcasm, parody, and general ridiculousness. Hopefully, however, you find this as fun a diversion to read as I've found it to write.
“Potter, you’ll be with Malfoy on this one.”
My boss scrunched up his features, then quickly released them, which made me remember that this wasn’t Dad I was receiving orders from, but the new guy, the deputy deputy. Dad was running after bad guys and Uncle Ron was off on leave for a few days to deal with the Rose issue, leaving me to handle Humphrey Eagerton, the eager beaver of the Auror department, on my own.
He wanted Dad’s job, I could smell it in his high-priced cologne.
“You heard me: Malfoy. You’re Aurors, not children. Get at it.”
Eager Beaver turned his chair around and glared out the window, not that there was much to see. The scene today was a ghastly fog, very suitable.
I started for the door.
“Don’t ‘aye’ me, Potter. You won’t be mollycoddled just because–”
Having heard it all before, I sharply shut out the last words with the very convenient door.
The case was of interest, but working with Malfoy? It would be a complete failure, and who would look like the idiot? Albus Severus Potter. That was all that Eager Beaver wanted.
I turned the corner into the offices of the minions. My own bolt hole was filled with pictures of Death Eaters and other villains, inspiration to push on and save the world. Or maybe it was just to have those faces leering down on anyone who dared poke their nosy noses into my work, which was so entirely... unimportant.
There were some facts that just have to be faced.
Like having to actually work with Scorpius Malfoy, the prettiest Auror in history.
“Potter. I hear it’s you and me on this one.”
Coy as ever, Malfoy sidled over; his grandfather must be glaring up at him from hell in horror at this ghastly result of careful breeding and failed reputation. Scorpius Malfoy was an Auror, which immediately placed him in the failure column for his parents, and, to boot, he was a delicate flower of manhood from his pretty golden locks to his lilywhite skin, which made him a failure among the Aurors. It was definitely something I didn’t have to worry about: none of the Potter-Weasleys had gotten away without a smattering of freckles. At least I hadn’t gotten that damned red hair because Malfoy couldn’t have resisted to make one of his slick comment on it.
Oh yes, Malfoy was slick. I turned up my nose at the smell of his cologne. He must have borrowed the Beaver’s in his quest to suck up and get promoted.
“You can go interview the witnesses, type it all up, and leave it on my desk before tomorrow.” I turned back and bent over some parchment or another.
There was a bit of silence, leading me into the false promise that Malfoy had actually gone to follow his orders. If I couldn’t feel the presence of Pretty Boy, I’d have believed that lovely false promise.
“I’m not doing all the crap work for you, Potter.”
I let out as painful a sigh as I could muster and slowly turned my chair around.
“Too afraid to go all alone?”
“No.” Malfoy winced after saying it, knowing how guilty it made him sound. He was still too green, even if he was the same age as me. Not that you would know to look at him.
“Some of the facts would be nice.” Malfoy paused, his lowered eyebrows making not a crease on his forehead. “To know, I mean.”
Ah, Malfoy was slipping already. I mentally rubbed my hands together in evil glee. Like father, like son.
In reply, I shrugged in my best imitation of Aunt Fleur. “Later.” He slipped away and down the corridor toward the door, accioing my jacket and scarf, tying the latter in a knot around my throat. Something perfect for Malfoy to throttle me with, if it came to that.
You see, Malfoy was new to the job, just out of training lessons. He’d come to the Auors rather later than me, wasting a few years in relative comfort and snobbery until his Dad really did lose everything when the market plummeted like the proverbial Irishman. That left the Malfoys out on the street and Scorpius Malfoy in search of a job. He, of course, being the contrarian he was, chose the one thing his parents would hate most: to follow the career of one Harry James Potter, ie: my father.
I’d come into this right out of Hogwarts and had been on the bottom rung of the ladder for two years before I was allowed – keyword: allowed – to step up and work with trainees instead of being the trainee myself. Dad and Uncle Ron were no help, always telling me that one had to work for it. I suppose that vanquishing Voldemort did the trick for them. There simply wasn’t a convenient Dark Lord prancing about anymore. It was really unfortunate.
For my career, that is. That’s all I meant. Really.
I was almost at the elevators before Malfoy caught me up, breathing hard. Not in good shape for an Auror, tut tut.
Nice to find out another weakness of the boy. (It was easier for me to think of him as a boy, especially compared to my overpowering masculinity.) I enjoyed listening to the sounds of his rasping breath as the elevator flew across and up to the atrium.
We passed by the statues, and like always, I couldn’t help but gaze up at their golden brilliance. The wizard’s face had been replaced, not with my Dad’s as so many had wanted, but with that of Dumbledore, while the house elf was a clear likeness of Dobby. Only the witch puzzled many, her face a cross between my grandmum and Teddy's mum's, but I always saw the nose as Old McGonagall’s, straight and narrow.
“Where are we going, Potter?” Malfoy sneered.
I pretended that I’d been doing the deep thinking of the Great Detective, sniffing in distaste at my boring Watson as I looked down my nose at him, which didn’t work all that well, since he was about my height. Damn and blast.
“You’ll see.” I turned and continued toward the apparation portals.
“Potter–” He struggled to keep up, physically and mentally.
Stopping in front of what I hoped to be the right portal (and hopefully not the one that led to that mens toilet up in the City because they always smelled funny), I let out a very long and dramatic sigh. I reached into my robes to pull out a very thin blue file. Thin meant we had a lot of work ahead of us. Blue meant all of that work was completely meaningless. I’d given up hoping for those juicy red files.
He snatched it from my hand and stuck his nose into it, flipping the first page, then the second, then the third before smacking it shut.
“Surveillance. That’s it?”
Ambition was, after all, his middle name.
“Yes,” I said despairingly. I should have already been chasing after those Dark Wizards and their Golem down in Bohemia. So much better than watching a witch who may or may not be the mistress of an illegal spell magnate.
“Well, it’s safe, at least.” Malfoy preened. Literally.
Scratch that. Coward was his middle name.
“Of a minor threat, too. This’ll be an easy one, then.” He looked pleased to be able to work in a cozy flat in Belgravia and eat well on the Auror budget.
If only he knew just what the food budget entailed...
“Will we be able to see her–”
This I could not allow.
I grabbed the file and stuffed it back into my pocket. “It’ll be incredibly boring.”
He grinned and I could almost see why all the witches batted their pretty eyes at him, though he’d have none of it.
“Didn’t you read the file, Potter?” His grin darkened with gleeful malice. “We’ll be in two different places. That alone makes it a good job.”
On this occasion, he did have a point.
Except for the fact that it would meant that I would be doing all the work. He’d just sit back and watch this witch go through her daily routine while I’d be making detailed notes that would lead absolutely nowhere and be a complete waste of time.
Before I could lash out at his smirking face, I leapt into the portal and flooed off to what I knew was the nicer of the two vantage points, the empty second-floor suite. Obviously, Malfoy hadn’t bothered to read too much into the details. He was stuck in the damp, draughty doorway, holding it open for the wealthy Muggles who frequented this place.
There were some advantages to being the superior officer, after all.
I hoped that he would enjoy this “easy” job.
After a total of three-and-a-half minutes of settling myself into a nice comfy chair, the really fatal kind of comfy chair, there was a smashing fist against the door of the suite. I tried to ignore it for a while, but he was damned persistent, his next step to burst through with some sort of spell. Couldn’t really allow that, you know, seeing that we were not only in a Muggle building, but we were also on a budget here.
I waved my wand and the door opened. He stamped in just like my sister does when she’s in one of her tempers, which is pretty much all the time.
“Potter! How. Dare. You. Give me. Such a crappy job.”
He spoke it with that rhythm, too, rushing the end words in an odd way. Maybe he was trying not to swear. People said he had a potty mouth.
It was going to be one of those discussions, so I turned to the window and brought out my dad’s old Omnioculars. Brilliant things for spying on people. I hoped that Malfoy would get the point and return to his position at the door to the building. What would those Muggles say without their doorman to let them through?
“We have work to do, Malfoy. And it’s not that cold outside today.”
I could hear his fists clench. Well, at least he wasn’t grabbing for his wand first.
“How would you know, being in here?”
His sarcasm was actually kind of cute. He was definitely a pale imitation of his father, and an even paler version of old Lucius, if the stories were true. And I’m sure they were.
“I popped out to get a mocha.” I raised the drink as proof. “And I hope you don’t think that I apparated into the middle of a Starbucks at this time of day.” After a moment of his steaming silence, I added out of pure malice, “Would you have liked one?”
I just had to look back to see his reaction, and I was more than satisfied by his bulging eyes and reddening face and tensed shoulders. He did seem to have a problem with holding his emotions in check, and I wondered how the hell he had passed Disguise when he was so damned emotional. Malfoy wasn’t effeminate or anything, but sometimes he really, really reminded me of my sister. It was downright disturbing.
“I want to be inside,” he said slowly, tilting his head. “Not out in this sh–”
“Language, Malfoy.” I shook my head, then waved a hand to another chair. “If the boss complains about you disobeying his orders–”
“He’ll blame you, of course.”
My eyes shut and I grimaced as much as every other overworked and underpaid under-Auror. We get a lot of practise with it.
“Don’t expect me to go down there instead.” Someone reliable had to be up here.
He crossed his arms and turned to the window. We both stared at it for some time, in which cars passed by, parked and stared off again, dropped people off and picked them up on their way to somewhere. I slurped on my mocha. He huffed and sniffed and said nothing.
All in all, we were quite enjoying ourselves.
There was little action in the girl’s flat. She got up at eleven, then ate breakfast before wandering to the bathroom, turning lights off and on as she went about her business. I don’t exactly know what her business was, but it couldn’t have been much, especially since she spent hours at yoga and even more watching telly. It was unfortunate that the screen was at the wrong angle, otherwise, I’d happily join her at the latter.
Malfoy sat pouting, sniffing and snarling to himself, though I couldn’t figure out why. He had insinuated himself onto the other chair rather than ushering in Muggles from the cold street, and now had the nerve to complain about it. Typical Malfoy. Bet he expected to be running after Dark Wizards in the wilds of... well... somewhere other than here.
Dammit. That’s what I wanted, too.
When he sniffed so loud that I thought his brains were rearranging themselves, I couldn’t remain silent any longer.
“Got a cold, Malfoy? You weren’t out there long enough for that.”
He glared, but rather than achieving death-glare status, he merely looked like a child who’d been denied candy.
“Muggles are dirty.”
Not this again. I thought we’d gotten over those old prejudices in this great modern age.
“That’s a very general sort of generalisation.”
He did not dignify me with a response.
I raised the Omnioculars and stared blankly into her flat. There was a flicker of light from the television that reflected off the pictures on her wall. It turned off an hour later, and she rose, stretching, before wandering over to the kitchen for lunch.
My stomach growled at the thought of lunch.
“What in Merlin’s name was that?” Malfoy leapt up, wand in hand. “Someone trying to get in?” He looked this way and that, but heard nor saw anything move.
Glancing over my shoulder, I told him, “Since you’re standing, you might as well go fetch us some lunch.”
“You mean that was your stomach?”
I blinked. “Yes. I’m sure such a bodily function disgusts you.”
“Really? Your stomach?”
“I didn’t eat enough for breakfast, I suppose....”
He waved his wand in my direction, his face much resembling my sister’s fish. When I think of it, the fish’s nice shade of yellow did add to the resemblance....
“It’s unnatural,” he affirmed, crossing his arms. Well, at least he wasn’t waving that stick in my face anymore. “Not to mention disgusting. And I’m not your slave, Potter.” He sniffed again, raising his chin like the pampered little pout of a boy he was.
I sniffed, too, but could detect nothing suspicious.
His inability to work beneath me was a waste of my professional time. Once this job was over, I could happily squash him beneath my superior boot heel.
The light coming in the window was just right now. I saw Malfoy’s reflection in the glass, his face all scrunched with fury and his wand pointed toward me once again. He was more than a bit wild with the thing, and I’d have to take him to task for that.
After lunch, that is.
He did go, of course, getting me some mediocre slices of meat between whole wheat bread while he, having dished out his own coins to fund such a meal, brandished a very large, very gourmet sandwich. It was a status thing, for certain, but I was above those things and munched on mine in contented silence.
My silence, that is. He crunched and chewed and swallowed with gusto, one particular slurp (what could possibly require slurping in a sandwich, even one of such grandeur?) made me wince and wish I’d brought ear plugs.
When I really thought about it, the answer was simple.
Wand out, mouth shut, I caught him with a silencio when he was too busy staring down at a mustard stain on his trousers. His head lifted, slowly, his eyes appearing first, their irises colourless, nearly lifeless except for the potent scowl that rose from their depths, growing stronger as he opened his mouth and no sound emerged. I could see that the words he mouthed weren’t ones I wanted to hear anyway, so I happily filled the silence with my own, far more melodious tones.
“You eat so loud that I’m sure she can hear you from across the street. Stop eating like a caveman, you dolt.”
He was reaching for his wand.
“Hit me with a spell and even the Beaver won’t be able to save you.”
His mouth opened as though he thought the spell would wear off that soon. After another scowl, he tilted his head at me, eyes narrowed.
So he believed that nothing would happen to him at the office if he smashed me to bits. Little did he know that even the Beaver snickered behind his well-tailored back, and that he’d only been taken on because there was a lull in new recruits. It was at the point where anyone who could manage some good spell-work and was nimble could join the Aurors.
There just weren’t that many truly dark wizards about these days.
Instead, we got to watch the potential girlfriend of a wizarding mobster from Bulgaria. The man himself would have been more interesting. A student of Durmstrang and once a prominent Quidditch player, he had gone flabby a bit before forty and had retired to a convenient life of crime, taking over his uncle’s... or was it a distant cousin’s?... “business”. That kind of word could mean anything from dirty money to smuggling dragon parts, but this guy was far, far worse by most accounts.
I didn’t actually know what he dealt in. I didn’t know what kind of things one could deal in these days at all, seeing that the market was always pretty crowded. Why, one step into Knockturn Alley and–
Ah. I’m forgetting myself.
Pretend I never started that sentence.
It wasn’t until Malfoy tossed his sandwich wrapper at my head that I heard the knocking on the door. When I didn’t move right away, he stood up and stamped over to it, mouthing curses the whole way. By the time he got there, I had risen on shaking legs.
No one was supposed to know we were here. The Muggles believed that this room was closed for renovations, yellow tape across the door in a large X to warn them of impending doom, or just a lot of dust.
Malfoy opened the door.
“Why are you spying on me?” came the impertinent question from the girl on the other side. “Are you creepers or something?”
Little did she know.
Malfoy was unable to answer. This was only in part due to my silencing spell, the rest of the problem being his low-hanging jaw. He was beyond the stage of looking like a fish, instead merely appearing unhinged. The girl paid no attention to him, though, her glaring eyes fixated upon my throat, not only because that was the portion of my anatomy at her eye-line, but it also suggested that she could envision her hands squeezing the life out of me.
A very disturbing image, but it was one that suited her general appearance.
She was dangerous from head to toe, the kind of girl no right-in-his-mind detective would want to see strutting into his office, her hair dyed black, the tips a ghastly white, her eyes encircled with black, her lipstick like blood on a vampire’s lips.
No swooning pretty girl here. Not even an eye-batting dame. She was femme fatale all over and it scared me to death.
I opened my mouth, suave answer in mind, but nothing came out.
The girl looked back and forth at us both. “What are you? Mutes?”
I was going to shoot back something witty and charming, but the words died on my lips before they could emerge. The only alternative had come to mind. Two young men, both decent-looking, in a hotel suite, alone, eating lunch. No luggage. No nothing.
I was willing to admit that it looked just a little suspicious, and I certainly didn’t want anyone to think that Malfoy and I were... ugh. Perish the thought.
Not that I had anything against it in itself, but anyone who even remotely imagined a relationship with Malfoy would have to be touched in the head, off their rocker, on the road to Bedlam. He was a conceited little cad who spent his days at Hogwarts seducing anything in a skirt, including a large majority of my cousins, not to mention my sister, and he continued his conquests both in and out of the Ministry, but as he preferred to conquer the female sex, I was assured that, even could he, at that moment, speak, he would be more adamant than myself that we would prefer to be creepers than anything else.
That was a rather long rant, wasn’t it? What’s it that quote by that Shakespeare fellow? The lady doth protest too much?
So I’m just going to stop now and continue with the story.
Regard the above paragraph as exposition, a way of learning about Malfoy’s true character. Now I have to hope that it didn’t reveal too much about my humble self....
“Wait, wait, I get it. You silencio-ed each other, didn’t you?” Her voice had risen an octave, the kind of voice that girls use to talk to children and immature male specimens.
She pointed her wand at me.
“Not me!” So much for being the one in charge. Even a Hufflepuff had more guts. “He’s the only silenced one, and I tell you, it’s for a good reason.”
Malfoy had turned an explosive cherry red, but she regarded him with the same raised eyebrow and unamused lips that she’d given me. She had rather nice eyes beneath all of the eyeliner and eyeshadow, a darker shade of blue that, without the makeup, I think would have been known as cornflower. Highly cliched, but hey, I liked that.
“I prefer to make my own decisions.” She shot the counter-curse at Malfoy with a bit too much relish, and he promptly fell over, his mouth unfortunately opening with a tirade of words so rude that I refuse to make a record them.
She looked at me and we had a moment. Yes, a moment.
After a second she nodded. “Have to say that I agree with you on this one. Silencio!”
He threw a pillow in my direction (idiot), and I ducked just in time. It smacked into the door with a louder thump than I thought possible from something filled with feathers.
“Hey! I so did not do it that time, Malfoy.” I crossed my arms, knowing full well that I was puffed like a peacock. “You should know better than to talk like that in front of a lady.”
She looked impressed, but not at me. This was not to be borne.
“Malfoy? Not that Scorpius kid.”
He stopped raging to look at her. I mean, really look at her, his eyes moving up and down and left and right and even diagonally. It was disgusting.
“The same,” I supplied, kicking at the hassock before going over to the window, hands deep in my pockets, staring down into the street. No activity. Of course not. The activity was all in here.
“You looked older on the cover of Witch Weekly.”
I hadn’t even known that he’d been featured, though it didn’t surprise me.
He was anything but pleased with her comment, which was, in all reality, anything but a compliment. She seemed to be a bit older than us, not that I could recall her age from the file. It hadn’t seemed important at the time. Now, however....
“I’m glad that you can’t reply. I don’t think I want to hear it.”
If I wasn’t so bothered by the fact that she was the subject of our now-failed surveillance, I might have been more amused by her treatment of Malfoy. It was his fault that this was happening. Had he remained by the door, she never would have gotten in and compromised our mission. Now what was I supposed to do? I was supposed to be in charge here, but first Malfoy, then this girl, were snatching any control I may have had away.
It was just like being at home again, wedged between a Greek god of an older brother and a perfect (perfectly spoilt, that is) little sister. I couldn’t help being tossed into the shallow end of the gene pool when it came to looks. At least I had Dad’s green eyes. It gave me someway to charm the ladies, who always loved to gaze lovingly into a pair of emeralds.
But again, I digress. This was how traumatic the situation was for my beleaguered brain. First Malfoy, now this, and seeing that everything comes in threes, I could safely expect another disaster to come strolling in.
“Who does that make you, then? You do look familiar.”
She had turned to me at last after having stared Malfoy down, leaving him a sulking pile of ooze. Wish I could do that.
“There’s no point in me saying if you have to ask.” Point for me. I was finally able to release my inner Cary Grant. “I might just have one of those faces.”
Something twitched in her face; I can’t say that it was only her mouth. It seemed to start there, then moved up across her cheeks to finally reach her eyes, which glittered with a frighteningly malicious amusement, but then it passed on to her eyebrows and even her ears got involved. There aren’t many people in the world who can wiggle their ears.
“I should have seen it sooner,” she said with great relish. “Bogey has your dad’s picture on his wall. He can never forgive Harry Potter for the scar on his arse.”
Bogey?! For all that this was becoming more of a serious matter by the minute– no, the second – any reference to old movies made my skin tingle – who can resist the classics? – but the fact that this gangster fellow had fashioned himself after the Master Gumshoe was nothing short of absolute scandal. I could never watch The Big Sleep again. Not with the image of a big, bad Bulgarian in the way. And this girl was definitely no Bacall.
It was a bloody upsetting sort of thing.
“He thinks it’s funny that your dad’s got the scar on his forehead while he’s got his–”
“Yes, yes, whatever.” I waved her away, turning back to the window. “You shouldn’t even be here. What if your... Bogey caught you with a pair of Aurors?”
“Why in Hades’s name should I be worried about that? He’d probably think it worth a good laugh, especially with you here, Potter.”
I was going to bestow my best glare on her when something across the street caught my eye. A car pulling up to the curb in front of her building. A very nice car, black with chrome in all the right places. Damned if I knew what make it was, but I could still admire it.
“He may be having that laugh sooner than you think.” When I looked back at her, it was only to nod toward the window. “Take a look.”
After hardly a glance, she shrugged. “That’s not him.” She went to amuse herself with Malfoy’s helplessness.
I continued to watch, standing a little behind the curtain, the Omnioculars in hand. A black-clad man whisked out of the front passenger side and into the entryway, which was by this time, conveniently for him, in full shadow. There was nothing that said they were on the lookout for the girl, even less that they were anything but Muggles, but I’d learned from the best, and the best were always wary.
The man reappeared, his face hidden by the wide brim of his fedora and sunglasses. Very cliched, but effective all the same. He leaned into the car window before returning to the front door, something now in his hands. A box.
I could have sworn that Muggle delivery men drove little brown lorries printed with the letters UPS. They did not wear black suits and drive fancy cars.
For a moment, I thought about releasing Malfoy from the curse.
Only for a moment.
He would be too loud, still peeved that both of us had seen fit to rudely revoke his freedom of speech. It would take too long for him to calm down for him to be useful. She, of course, could not be allowed to be useful, not in the present circumstances.
That left me on my own. A lone wolf. Finally in control of things.
Until the bomb went off.
Note: the line by "that Shakespeare fellow" is from Hamlet III.iii.230. And "Bogey" was the nickname of the one and only Humphrey Bogart. I recently came to an understanding regarding the similarities between "a bogey" (meaning poltergeist), a "boggart", and Humphrey Bogart, which will lead to some more playing on words. :P
With thanks to RonsGirlFriday for the inspiration of her story "Hardboiled", and also to those who have supported the writing of this story.
Author's Note: Many thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this story so far! I'm sorry for the long wait in updating - hopefully once the term is over, I'll have more time for regular updates. Please let me know if there are issues in plot and/or pacing here, as something seems off to me, but I can't put my finger on what.
The glass shattered before me, and I barely had enough time to shield the three of us from the sparkling shards as they ripped across the room. The girl cried out, but she wasn’t the screaming sort, so it didn’t hurt the ears. Not that we’d be able to hear for a while after that thick boom had torn through our eardrums.
Wand still in hand, I released Malfoy from the spell to be thanked by his loud curses. They were echoed by the screams in the street and in the surrounding buildings, people pouring out to view the damage.
The girl made a move to flee, but I grabbed her arm, roughly dragging her back.
“Don’t think about it,” I roared, clearly mouthing the words in case she’d gone deaf. “They think you were in there.”
Malfoy stumbled over to the window and thrust out his head, the breeze wafting his hair against his forehead. Sirens wailed closer and closer. I wouldn’t have much time.
I pushed the girl in his direction and made for the door. “Look after her.”
I slammed the door shut behind me.
Muggles were hiding behind their mobiles in the lobby, the concierge wiping his sweating forehead as he tried to console the more nervy ones. They must remember the terrorist attacks too well, their nightmares filled with leering foreign faces and inexplicable blasts. How different was this, after all, except for the fact that those attacks had been performed by Muggles against Muggles; wizards were totally out of things.
Those men had been wizards. I was certain of it.
In the street was more panic, people running amok, others standing about pointing at the wreckage of the girl’s flat, now open wide for all to see, its outside wall now limited to a couple of bricks hanging by threads of mortar.
“Did you see it?” a Muggle boy asked, plucking at my sleeve.
I looked down. He hadn’t noticed that a piece of shrapnel had cut his cheek, nor that his hands were scraped from falling.
“Where’s your mum?” I wondered how many more, worse, victims there were.
He pointed to the building. My heart sunk.
But a woman came running out of nowhere and scooped up the child in her arms, chastising him for wandering off for the millionth time. I let out a long breath and moved as close to the building as I could before the authorities arrived. The local bobby was already there, but I steered well away from him, sacrificing a good view for obscurity.
There were tire marks on the street. I couldn’t be sure if they were from the getaway car, but I whipped out my own mobile (a handy Muggle instrument that my colleagues frequently laughed at) to snap a few shots before helping an old lady wobble across the street. The constable only saw me then, nothing more than a good Samaritan.
“Thank you, sir.”
When he was distracted by the screech of black sedans entering the street - the spooks had arrived at last – and the old lady was safely out of the way, I crept back into the crowd, snapping more photos of the gaping building before slipping back into the hotel.
“It took you long enough.” Malfoy stood at the door, arms crossed. He sounded too much like my grandmother.
I pushed past him. “I had to check for evidence.”
“And?” He shut the door with his foot and leaned against it.
“Some tire marks. Everything else was–” I looked toward the girl. She was at the window, staring across at the ruin of her flat, remarkably calm, which was a bad sign. Any moment now, she’d burst like a volcano.
“Gone?” Malfoy had no such reservations.
She took in a deep breath, and I looked toward the door, wondering how to make a clean getaway with Malfoy in the way. This room was blocked from apparation, for our safely, of course. No one had thought that we’d be infiltrated within minutes of arrival, nor had anyone bothered to think that something like this would happen. It was supposed to be a dull, quiet job, a training exercise in surveillance.
My report would end up in a large red file labelled “fail”.
“The spooks are here. We better clear out.”
Malfoy raised an eyebrow and wandered over to the window. Well, he tried to wander, but his footsteps brought him there with rather too much eagerness. He leaned out from behind the billowing curtains.
“They don’t look very spooky.”
The girl glared in his direction. “Do you know anything?”
“He’s one of those people who is as stupid as he looks,” I supplied, listening at the door. They might have seen us watching from below. Maybe the constable had a more watchful gaze than I’d thought. We couldn’t be too careful. What was it that Dad was always telling me? Constant vigilance.
Malfoy was about to say something, but I cut him off. “We don’t even know your name...” Sweetheart wouldn’t do for her. She’d probably smash me in the face with her rather muscular fist. “Miss.”
She had to be kidding.
A little smirk appeared on her face as she watched my expression.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty silly name. That’s what Bogey always says.” She was talking pretty quickly now, her hands clenching and unclenching. Probably a smoker from the stains on her front teeth, she was aching for a taste of nicotine.
“I don’t think so,” I said quietly. “There was a great movie villain called Lime.”
“Really?” She didn’t sound all that interested, hands fumbling as she reached into her jacket pockets for a cigarette and lighter.
Malfoy turned up his nose and remained by the window.
“What’s a spook? Not one of us?”
I shook my head. “Muggle government agency. They clean up stuff like this.”
He looked toward the girl and asked his first intelligent question. “Did you have a lot of magical objects in your flat? Anything dangerous?”
She was taking deep drags from her cigarette, releasing them in a single, large puff that circled around our heads. I held my breath, not wanting to cough like a naive weakling.
“Does it look like much is left in my flat, Malfoy?”
“Then you don’t need to worry.”
She threw down the wasted cigarette, squashed it flat beneath her heel, probably wishing that it was one, or both, of us. When she reached for the door handle, though, I had to put an end to her escape.
“Don’t think about leaving, hon– Phyllis. You’re coming with us to the Ministry. For your own protection, of course.”
When she turned, she looked mildly impressed.
“But first you’re going to call your boyfriend and let him know that you’re still alive. The last thing we need in this city is a gang war.” I’d taken out my wand for emphasis, gesturing at Malfoy with a nod of my head to do the same and face her off. If she wouldn’t come quietly, we’d have to take measures.
This was really getting to be more exciting than I’d have thought this morning.
Those men, they’d been trying to kill her, probably to get at her boyfriend, and if they found out that she was still alive, then they’d be after her in a second. We were still working on this surveillance job, but the stakes had changed; we were guard dogs now, too.
There was still a chance to keep my report out of that pile of failed cases.
She took her time making her decision, watching us with more amusement than I thought was appropriate for the situation. Her eyes did keep wandering to the scene across the street, and I wondered just how much she had lost in the blast. Or was it all of Bogey’s stuff that’d been lost instead? She was a hard one to read. I felt sorry for the guy at the office they’d chose to interrogate her; he’d get nowhere fast.
“It’d be nice to see the old Ministry again. I’ve been out of the country for so long.” She was still smiling, but she reached into her other pocket for her mobile.
After hearing her opening “I’m alright, Bogey-Wogey,” I made sure to tune her out. Not the work of a good detective, but I just couldn’t handle all that mush. My stomach was already in a deplorable state.
So I turned to Malfoy. His forehead was as furrowed as an Idaho potato farm. So much thinking would do nothing for his sculptured brow.
“What do you think, Malfoy? Can we handle this?”
He looked at me, a long, curious look that had crumbled the hearts of girls across Britain.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
We both watched the girl finish her call.
“Not at all, Potter. I’m looking forward to watching you fail.”
“Fat chance.” I couldn’t let him have the last word, immature as it made me feel.
Then he smiled that smile which had struck terror into the hearts of parents across Britain.
The First Set-Back
So there I was, the only force for good in the room. Somehow, I had to get both the girl and my anti-partner to the Ministry without losing either or losing to either. The second of these was the far more likely option. As much as I prided myself on spell-work and Defence Against the Dark Arts, I wouldn’t be able to inflict harm upon either without invoking some great consequence. The Beaver would be all-too-happy to watch me fall.
My hands were figuratively tied.
Therefore, when Malfoy gave me that smarmy smile, I smiled back.
In response, his lips visibly wavered, his eyes flickering away.
He was worried too. I suppose that I couldn’t blame him. We were in more than a bit of a pickle, the situation growing bleaker by the minute, and both of our necks were on the line for this, not just mine. If I went down, I’d sure as Merlin bring him down with me.
Wasn’t this just the best start to a beautiful friendship? I thought so.
Phyllis finished murmuring sweet nothings into her mobile, hitting the end call button with a surprising level of force.
“If you don’t find who did this in the next forty-eight hours, Bogey will come down on the city.” Her voice was oddly harsh. “I convinced him out of giving you only twenty-four, so be happy.”
I blinked. Had I been a Malfoy, I probably would have squeaked too.
“That’s not enough time,” I said at last.
She shrugged, but there was the slightest amount of tension in the set of her jaw and the twitch of her right pinkie finger. Nervous ticks: we all have them, but most people don’t take the time to bother noticing them. Who wouldn’t have twitchy nerves after their flat had been blown to smithereens? She was human beneath that mask of vampiric makeup, and right now, she was downright terrified.
“So can we get moving, or do you prefer being hexed to bits?”
She just wasn’t the damsel in distress sort of girl. I could admire that.
I glanced toward Scorpius, who was watching her as though she’d turned into a dragon, or worse, his grandmother. I couldn’t – and wouldn’t dare – guess at what was going on in that strange little mind of his.
But it was, as usual, nothing compared to what was going on in mine.
“You’re really one for alliteration, aren’t you, Phyllis?” It came out sounding nothing like what had gone through my head a second before.
She shot me the kind of glare I deserved.
Both equally emasculated, Scorpius and I took up positions on either side of her, and she, much to my chagrin, looked far too pleased with herself. Girls, they were all the same, in the end. A load of trouble and strife, to use the Cockney term. I couldn’t get into their heads at all. Even Malfoy made more sense.
The only thing that made sense about Phyllis was that she was the one in control, and she had been since appearing at the door.
There was something going on that still lay just beyond my comprehension. It worried me. I’d never say that it scared me. Not at all. There was nothing to be scared of. Really. Only the potential of being blown up by person or persons unknown, physically destroyed by an intimidating gangster, or (and I’m limiting myself to three options here, for sanity’s sake) being permanently transferred to the welcome desk, a Potter on display for the magical masses.
“Today would be nice.”
They looked at me with equal parts derision and impatience. As the officer in charge (if only in title and not in fact), I latched onto Phyllis’s arm and nodded for Malfoy to follow suit. Once he had, I initiated the larger-scale apparition spell that launched us deep into the bowels of the Ministry of Magic where the darkest secrets of the wizarding world are kept under lock and key for all time.
“The Atrium? That’s the best you can do?”
I never claimed to being capable of better. My clearance access was little more than that of the nearest Muggle.
“As soon as we’ve left you in custody, Miss Lime.” I hammed up my language to impress the onlookers, none of whom seemed to have previously come across a girl who looked like Phyllis. Until today, neither had I. “We’ll have to return to the scene.”
“What for?” She had shaken off our hands easily enough and now stood rebelliously a step away with crossed arms, loudly chewing some Drooble’s Best. “Like I told you, nothing there. It was a Muggle place, just temporary.”
So Malfoy was capable of contribution after all. He swept back a stray curl that had fallen over his forehead with all the dramatic fire of a leading lady.
I was in no mood for this. I’d seen a bomb go off in the middle of London and had walked among the wreckage, feeling the blood dripping from my hands... in a purely metaphorical way, of course. In a way – in many ways – we were to blame. We hadn’t been able to put a stop to it. We hadn’t seen the signs. Weren’t there supposed to be Unspeakables collecting all the necessary intell on these assignments before we were sent out to deal with them? Whichever Unspeakable had gotten this job had surely failed and we had ended up right in the middle of a great, bloody mess.
My name echoed through the Atrium with an ominous note that turned Malfoy and the girl pale. That was saying something, seeing how light-skinned they already were. I’ll admit that I felt a little tingle down my spine at the sound of the Beaver’s fury.
“What. Is. This?”
He was so out-of-breath that the question emerged in fragmentary form. Whether his shortness of breath was from running through the corridors in search of me or the sheer volume of his bellow I couldn’t be sure. It could also have been the smoking, though I wasn’t supposed to know about that little habit of it (or the other habits, but I won’t mention those until a real emergency arises).
I stepped aside to gesture toward Phyllis. “This is Miss Lime whose flat you requested that we... um... survey.... I mean watch.” Any cool attitude I may have had was quickly melted away by the raging temper of my unfortunate superior.
The unfortunate bit being that he was my superior in the first place.
“We brought her in for her own safety, sir.” Malfoy weaselled his way over in the typical Malfoy way. “I’m sure by now you are aware of the situation.”
I mouthed a big “no” in Malfoy’s direction, but he was being too much of a brown-noser to realize that, instead of impressing the Beaver with his efficient coolness, he was in fact sending the cauldron of fury to a critical boiling point.
“And our assessment was that it would be best to bring the subject of our surveillance here to the Ministry for safe-keeping and interrogation so that we can properly ascertain the identities of the assailants in this case.”
After completing this long-winded formal statement, Malfoy discretely gasped for breath.
I was reasonably impressed by his grasp of language and his way of emitting absolute applesauce when the time came to be a political pickpocket, but the fact was that I didn’t even need to think about the ways in which I could have said it better. The fact was that I would never have said it at all.
The Beaver’s announcement of our arrival via the bellowing of my name had already attracted a sizable crowd of employees skiving off work and visitors who would be lost anyway and therefore were happy to find some point of familiarity, and a Potter was definitely a point of familiarity if there was one. Now, as the Beaver let loose another very unprofessional roar, I half-expected some of these onlookers to summon bowls of popcorn and sweets as though they were set to enjoy the latest comic film.
Yes, this was certainly a screwball comedy. For all that it contained bombs, gangsters, and Aurors, it contained far too much of the ridiculous and not at all enough of the sublime.
And through the whole thing, Phyllis stood to one side, arms crossed, looking more like one of the crowd than a central player. If I was her, I would have slipped away a long time before. It would have been easy, with this crowd and this spectacle, but for some impossible reason, she had remained, chewing her gum and looking bored.
“There. Is. No. Case.” The Beaver sucked in a deep, terrifying breath and was thereby able to emit more than one syllable at a time. “Not for you two. Upstairs. Now!”
Malfoy was now turning red at having been shot down without any regard for his family name or the thousands of galleons his father and grandfather had donated to the Ministry for atonement of the family sins. He had been the darling of Beaver’s eyes for too long, but having gotten himself embroiled in the botch-up of a routine surveillance, he was now tainted with the brush of Potter in the shade of Albus Severus.
“But what about...?” He tried for one final act of repentance, but the words died on his lips when he looked in the direction of Phyllis.
Or rather, shall I say, the Phyllis that was no longer there.
The crowd was too thick for us to catch any sight of her, but she had easily enough found a way of melting into it. I would have thought her presence was noticeable, yet neither the Beaver nor anyone else could remember her face. Her clothes, yes. Her makeup, yes. Her legs, certainly. Her actual appearance, not so much.
The alarm went out. Hit wizards began sweeping the area. The floo portals were temporarily shut down.
But it was all too late. We’d lost the girl, lost the trail, and worst of all, lost the case.
A good case, the kind of really interesting case that Aurors have been known to kill for, finally lands within my grasp, and then it’s torn away with a bellow and a healthy swat back into the drudgery of desk work, probably for the rest of my meagre existence.
Though such things never stopped a Potter before, did they?
The game was on.