Chapter 1 : Constant Vigilance
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Author’s note: This was written in response to reherring’s “The World of Work“ challenge. A big thank you to my Beta Katie (Elodie Triste) who helped in making this story better. :]
Knock, knock, knock.
Alastor Moody was awoken in the dead of the night by a rhythmic and extremely annoying knocking on his bedroom window. It was a good night for a Dark wizard to attack; the raging storm outside could easily muffle the noise of the protective charms coming off and cover the sound of his criminal steps towards the house. But why knock on his window when he could easily kill him in his sleep? To make fun of him? It could be the typical kind of sadistic humour dark wizards seemed to possess.
With a throaty growl, Alastor drew out his wand at once and cast his electric-blue curtains aside, wondering which of the dark wizards he was investigating at the moment would be lurking outside.
Apparently, none. Outside his window there was a quite wet, extremely shabby grey owl which he recognized immediately. The bird's wings were ruffled by the wind and when the umpteenth lightning flashed in the sky it almost fell off the window ledge out of fear.
Ignoring the imploring pecking of the animal for coming in, Alastor followed the Auror Standard Protocol for Unexpected Visits (“Five spells might make you waste two minutes, but might save several parts of your body, not excepted your life”) and cast three counter-curses for common jinxes, a spell for detecting dark items, another one to search for Transfigured objects and, out of inspiration, a last one to reveal Animagi. All of them gave negative results, and so he opened the window to the exhausted bird.
Alastor took the purple parchment attached to its legs and opened it, while the grey owl fell asleep on his bedside table. Why he insists on keeping this old bird, I don’t know, he thought.
The letter read:
“Tomorrow morning, please go to the market and buy apples, carrots, some dragon liver and, please, my darling, drop by Flourish and Blott’s to pick up my new copy of Advanced Transfiguration for Busy Housewives.
And try not to be late for lunch, pumpkin!
The message was definitely ciphered - something that his Auror partner Rudolph Jones was a master at. He always dropped the key word to decipher his coded messages in normal conversation during the day, just in case he would need to send a top-secret letter the following night. He was scrupulous like that.
Alastor quickly ran over the day’s conversation: they had talked about Grindelwald, the upcoming meeting of the Law Enforcement Squad, the new nose the Prime Minister had gotten himself after that ugly accident with sticky fog on the First Level, the whereabouts of Devlin, the one who forced a girl into marriage using an Unforgivable, Pumpkin Juice, Quidditch, paperwork, more Quidditch and Chudley Cannons... Aha! He found it!
He muttered the words hitting the parchment twice with his wand: after a few seconds, the letters melted into a unique puddle of boiling ink. Alastor waited until, with a final burp, a different message appeared on the paper.
“Suspect meetings have been going on down my street: wizards Apparating at the most unusual hours of the night. Apparently, there's Dark magic involved - my sensors are going crazy. Apparate here immediately. Help needed.
Mum. Rudolph always used that silly nickname during operations; he'd even tried to convince him to pick Dad to go along, request which he'd firmly refused. Alastor muttered insults in Rudolph's direction while he got dressed with the first robe he found. He conjured some water from the kitchen for Hercules, Rudolph's owl, and then vanished with a pop! moments before Apparating in a dark and dirty London alleyway.
“Merlin's slimy boots, it's pouring! Impervius!” Alastor muttered under his voice as he turned the corner, knocked on a bottle green door that looked centuries old, gave his name, his reason for being there, three different passwords in Latin, answered two personal questions (How many O.W.L.s did you get? What did I say to you the first time we met?) and finally heard the clicking of the lock.
He entered and climbed a rusty spiral staircase to the first floor, where he was greeted by a dozen metallic instruments hooting at the same time. Rudolph was semi-covered by a golden curtain.
Alastor signalled his presence clearing his throat.
“Finally, it took you ages to come up! The sensors for Apparition I put in the alleyway buzzed years ago!” Rudolph's voice came, considerably muffled, from the heavy drapery he was hiding under.
“I would have taken less if your guards weren't so meticulous in searching for some impostor, “ Alastor brusquely answered and then added, “So, what is it that is going to blow up the whole Ministry and could not wait for tomorrow morning?”
“I'm going to tell the boss tomorrow, but I wanted you to see first. There is some suspect activity going on in that building down the street. And for activity I mean magical activity. Come and see with your own eyes.” Rudolph drew open the heavy curtain and revealed the presence of a big golden spy glass.
Alastor walked over to the window, took a look and didn't like what he saw. Rudolph was right: the purple stains he could see on the quadrant displayed a strong concentration of dark manifestions, something incredibly unusual for a Muggle neighbourhood where there wasn't supposed to be a magical settlement within miles. Alastor smiled: it had been months since their last mission. Some action, finally, he thought.
“Did you count them? How many people did you see going in and out?” he asked.
“I didn’t have a chance to verify their number: they Apparate directly inside. But I sent a Sensor Spell to try to listen to their conversations: before it was fought back by Protective Spells I could hear at least five different voices. One sounded like Lestrange... do you remember Althusius?”
Alastor remembered. The man left him a bad scar on his chest with a well-placed Sectumsempra and escaped capture by a whisker. He had spent two days in St Mungo's taking Blood-Replenishing Potion after their little rendez-vous. He ground his teeth. “Of course I remember him.”
“The peak in the use of dark magic, or in the presence of dark manifests, is between ten o' clock and midnight. An hour ago my Dark Detectors went crazy for ten minutes, as if something big had happened - that's when I decided to send you an owl - and then the activity turned back to normal.” Rudolph's eyes were darting across a piece of parchment where he had taken notes about the suspect movements.
“Did you manage to hear any coherent sentences with you sensor before it was blown by their spells?” Alastor asked, looking out of the window, wondering what Althusius Lestrange had in mind this time. He didn't even know he had come back to England: last time the Auror Department almost tracked him down he had been hiding in Switzerland. There must have been a valid - and extremely evil - reason why he had come back and was risking spending the rest of his life in Azkaban.
“They talked about an attack... didn't have the time to hear anything else... something incoherent... the word Muggle and then my thirty Galleons-worth sensor was blown away. Shame.” Rudolph was evidently disappointed.
Alastor listened intently. “Well, I think we have enough material to propose an action at tomorrow morning’s meeting. There's nothing that we can do right now, without the boss's authorization“ - Rudolph looked even more disappointed at these words - “so we'd better keep an eye on what's going on and try to get some sleep. I will sleep first. Wake me in three hours.”
Rudolph pointed to him the direction of his bedroom and got back to looking into his golden spy glass. The sensors in his living room hadn't stopped whistling quietly for a moment.
The night passed uneventfully. At four o' clock Alastor took Rudolph's place at the spy glass and at seven they were both ready to go to work, with heavy blue bags under their eyes.
The meeting of the Law Enforcement Squad was to start at eight o' clock sharp and they took the time to write a report and search in the archive the file of Althusius Lestrange and others of his possible associates.
Gradually the room filled with funny looking people, even for wizarding standards. The chief of the Auror Department came in at eight and immediately started barking orders. “Smith, Jameson, get those papers over here now! And tell me about last week's search in Knockturn Alley, what did you find out?”
Jameson, a guy who looked a lot like a gorilla, stood up. “Well, nothing remarkable. We were hoping to find the wizard or witch who sold a lot of extremely nasty curses lately, but all we got was some contradicting information. We questioned three people and each one of them gave a different description of the person. One said he was quite tall, redhead, quite young; another told us it was an old hunchbacked witch; the last said it was a man who looked incredibly similar to you, boss.” Auror Jameson nervously cleared his throat and became suddenly interested in his old dragon boots. “We believe it was just one man or woman who sold the curses and Unspeakable Russell confirmed that there was a traceable signature in the spells we were able to collect-”
“In other words, you have nothing! I am not satisfied with you, Jameson, and with you, Smith! I want results! I want them in Azkaban!”
Jameson sat down, mumbling incoherent excuses, much like a First Year caught late for class by McGonagall. Desmond O’Connell, Chief of the Auror Department, could be positively scaring. That was why he was the boss.
After another half an hour of barked questions, unsatisfying answers, one ‘good job, McKinnon’. The meeting was running to its ending when O’Connell asked, “So, anything new around?” Rudolph stood up. “Here, sir.”
O’Connell lifted an eyebrow, that in Auror language meant, ‘talk, and pray you have a good reason for doing so.’
“So, there are strange movements in an unused warehouse nearby my home. I live in a Muggle neighbourhood and there isn't supposed to be a magical building in miles, but my Obscure Sensors revealed the presence of Dark Magic. I monitored the activity of these people and they seem to gather at night. I also sent a Detecting Sensor to try to listen to their conversation and, before it was blown up by Protective Charms I am quite sure that I heard Althusius Lestrange's voice pronouncing the words ‘attack’ and ‘Muggle’. I think we should get inside there and try to catch as many as possible before they act. Moody here agrees with me. He saw the situation himself.” Rudolph took a deep breath and sat back down.
O’Connell didn't say anything for an extremely long minute, a frown growing on his forehead; Alastor observed the Chief of the Auror Department reflecting hard on something. He knew he wanted to catch Lestrange as much as the whole Department did: he was the most wanted wizard in England and had to pay for his heinous crimes serving a life sentence in Azkaban.
Finally, O’Connell talked. “A re-organization of assignments is in order. We go into action tonight, there's no time to waste with these people. Smith, Jameson, Diggle, McKinnon, Campbell, O'Flaherty, Paltrow, forget what you were going to do, you'll work on this today. I'll be in chief of this operation myself.”
“Meeting is over for everyone else. Moody, Jones and the others I called; come to my office.”
The operation was to start at ten o'clock. It was nine thirty and Alastor and Rudolph were waiting alone in Rudolph's living room, keeping an eye on the golden spy glass. The level of magical activity in the abandoned warehouse was as expected; the sensors in the room were quietly buzzing and the other Aurors were arriving in five minutes.
Suddenly, the Butterbeers they were drinking went down the wrong way as the sensors exploded, sending dangerous fragments of glass all over the room.
“Alastor, something's happening inside there. We must go, we can't wait!” Rudolph shouted, casting a Repulsive Spell on his body.
“Rudolph, there could be twenty of them inside there! It's too dangerous, we must wait for backup!” Alastor tried to keep him from Apparating, but was only dragged in side-along.
He found himself a moment later outside the warehouse. The old door was coming off and there was a dark deeper than night coming out from the inside. It looked unnatural. It was unnatural.
He glimpsed at Rudolph and decided he would shout at him later for being so childish and impatient. He put on himself all the Protective Spells he could remember and made a motion towards the door. Rudolph drew him back and glanced at the big window above it. They could not talk, but they understood each other well enough.
They Levitated each other through the broken glass of the window and found themselves in a large empty space with a hole in the floor in the centre. Light was filtering from downstairs. The building was enveloped in utter silence.
Rudolph went ahead, whilst Alastor covered his back. They looked down from the hole in the floor - no one was visible. Rudolph cast a Mirror Charm which gave a panoramic view of the room downstairs, no one in sight. They had to be in another room.
They jumped, their fall muffled by the Silencing Charms on their boots. The lack of noise started to become suffocating, but then, it was broken.
“CRUCIO!” Red sparkles flew by Alastor’s right ear. He bowed to avoid them, and when he lifted his eyes, there were ten people in the room, wands drawn in their direction. They had fallen into an ambush, like a pair of stupid rabbits. Althusius Lestrange was smirking in front of them.
“Expelliarmus!” roared Alastor, echoed by Rudolph's Impedimenta.
That was enough to start the battle. Curses flew in every direction, hitting the walls, causing cracks and falls of rubble. The air became electric and vibrant with magic. Alastor and Rudolph were duelling with five wizards at a time, the movements of their arms almost impossible to follow.
Alastor managed to stun two of them, while Rudolph was duelling furiously with Lestrange behind his back, Protegoing himself from the nastiest curses and trying to block him and deprive him of his wand.
Lestrange hadn't stopped grinning for a moment. He trampled on the unmoving bodies of three of his comrades, casting curses against Rudolph, who reacted with equal strength and power. Alastor wanted to turn and help him, but he was too busy with a tall blond wizard with a particularly fast wand. He managed to Petrify him when he felt Rudolph's body collapsing against his back.
Alastor cast a last Protego and then, grabbing Rudolph's arm, Apparated, just when seven pops of other Apparitions broke the noise of the battle.
A strong pain to his leg overwhelmed Alastor's senses and made him almost forget the destination of his Apparition. When he touched a white marble floor and saw a familiar environment around him his legs gave a more intense twinge and he could not stand up anymore. He fell on the ground beside Rudolph.
He woke up some time later. He didn't know exactly how long it had been since he'd fallen in the hall of St Mungo's. He looked at the pretty young Healer who was bustling about the potions on his bedside table and tried to ask, “How's Rudolph?” It didn't sound quite right, like his voice hadn't been used in a while.
The Healer became sad. “He didn't... he didn't make it, Mr Moody, and... I'm sorry for your leg. We tried to save it, but sometimes there's no charm good enough.” She looked down to her feet.
“My leg?” He asked. He lifted his left one: everything was right, just a little sore; he tried the same operation with his right leg, but under the knee there was nothing to lift. Oh, my leg.
He closed his eyes and took in the news. His first serious battle and he lost his partner out of impatience and carelessness.
“Auror O'Connell visited you yesterday, Mr Moody. He left the Daily Prophet; it says you caught ten dark wizards. Althusius Lestrange is now in Azkaban, and he's going to stay there for the rest of his life. The others will go under trial very soon,” she told him. “And he left you a note; here it is.”
Alastor took a little purple card in his hands, opened it and read: “Constant vigilance. Now you will remember.”
He closed his eyes. He was sure that, if he slept long enough, he would wake up and see Rudolph sitting beside his bed, eating a Chocolate Frog and going through some files, ready for another adventure together.
At least, he hoped so.
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