Straight after the hasty Order meeting, he was walking quickly through Knockturn Alley, fighting the urge to glance down at his watch. He really was cutting it fine today - and he knew his client wouldn’t like it if he was late. Punctuality was always a must, for both parties. Slipping past a wizard advertising a tray of ‘Curse-Rebounding Charms’, he tried not to scoff at his products, and made his way to the front door of the pub.
Opening the door, he stepped inside. Scrimmer glanced up at him briefly, taking in his appearance, but didn’t stop wiping down his bar. Without saying a word to the barkeep, making sure his hood was covering the top half of his face as was the custom, he slid into a seat at an empty table and waited.
He didn’t have to wait long, proving that he had, indeed, been only just on time.
Evan Rosier pushed the door open, a dark cloak making it impossible to see his face. Caradoc didn’t need to see his face - the swirl clasp on his cloak identified him easily enough. Rosier acknowledged him with a formal nod, exchanging a few words with Scrimmer. As soon as Rosier had disappeared into the back of the pub, Caradoc stood and followed him through, spotting his cloak vanishing into one of the small rooms that lined the corridor.
Once he was inside, he took the seat opposite him, although he didn’t push his hood back and neither did Rosier.
“So?” Evan didn’t bother with formalities, jumping straight into business. “Have you got it?”
Caradoc pulled an inch-high velvet box from his pocket, the cover slightly curved to give a flattened dome. Placing it on the table, he slid it across, knowing the other man was suspicious. Nevertheless, Rosier reached out a hand and lifted up the lid, revealing the diamond and pearl necklace lying within. Light bounced off every facet of the diamonds, making them shine like tiny disco balls. Rosier’s eyes gleamed.
A second later, the top snapped back down.
“Excellent,” he said, and he sounded like he meant it too, which was a rare thing. “Really, really excellent. How much do I owe you?”
“Fifty galleons, sir,” Caradoc supplied instantly, watching as he took a large bag out of his pocket, sealed shut by spelled rope (and he would bet his entire fortune and his home that the spells on that weren’t entirely legal), and began to count out the fifty galleons in handfuls. When all fifty coins were on the table, he pushed them towards Caradoc, allowing him to scoop them into an almost identical bag at the other end.
“Now, I need a few things - simple items this time,” Evan Rosier handed him a slip of parchment on which four things were written in a neat, bold hand. “I’ll need them by the tenth. Can you get them by then?” Such a simple question, he thought briefly, but it was so loaded with threat and force.
“Of course,” Caradoc nodded, glancing down the list again. “It should be no problem.” As a matter of fact, he knew exactly who would have such things at this very moment. Part of him wondered why Rosier didn’t know that, but he supposed that knowing the right people for such things was his job - it wasn’t Rosier’s.
“Good,” Rosier nodded. “I’ll see you then - same time, same place. Oh, and remember, I only eat haddock.” For a moment, he frowned, confused as to why he was telling him about fish - they certainly hadn’t ever discussed fish according to his memory - but then it clicked: the new watchword.
Rosier rolled his eyes when he nodded, at least ten seconds after the last sentence had been spoken and strolled out of the room. He stayed there for another couple of minutes, sorting bits and pieces out in his head, taking advantage of the peace and quiet offered to him, before he followed Rosier’s example.
On his way out, he gave Scrimmer a brief nod, making sure to close the door behind him. Heaving a sigh, he headed back to his flat, his mind filled with thoughts. He hadn’t seen Edgar yet - he wondered if anyone had, other than Dumbledore. Perhaps Benjy had - the two had been only a couple of years apart in school, after all - or Emmeline, who had known Victoria. A part of his mind told him that he should go, that he should offer his condolences - it was the polite thing to do, after all, seeing as he worked alongside him. He shook his head. No, it wasn’t his place to say such things, not when he’d barely known his wife. Besides, he thought absently, there’s a lot to do at the moment - meetings to organise, things to purchase, owls to send. Time was a rare commodity at the moment.
As he rationalised it to himself, a small voice in the back of his mind whispered maliciously:
Reaching the apparition point, he glanced about himself, eying the man-shaped heap of rags in the corner as one hand curled around the handle of his wand in his pocket, and turned sharply on his heel. A second later, he appeared in the dingy little shed as usual, thankfully this time with both feet either side of the bucket.
He wondered sometimes if there was a reason that whenever he was tired and busy and not in the mood to converse with anyone (wizard or muggle) people would undoubtedly be in his way, holding him back and want to talk to him. The muggles had a name for it, he thought - Murphy’s Law. Sod’s Law to some. Nevertheless, he dutifully exchanged a few words with Mrs Jenkins, clutching an orange plastic bag full of shopping, informed her that he had been chosen for a part in Richard III, hence the odd clothes - period dress, he assured her. Luckily, Mrs Cartwright didn’t appear to be home that evening and he let himself into his flat without much trouble.
Shutting the door, he leaned against it for a brief moment, his eyes closed, before he set to work, flinging his cloak in the general direction of the pegs by the door. It missed by at least eight inches. He pulled out his diary, settling himself down in his home office - which was blissfully fuchsia-free - and began to swing from side-to-side on his chair as he annotated the pages for the next few days.
Once he’d finished, he sighed, glancing over it again and committing it to memory. It was going to be a busy week so far: he had to go and pick up the things for Rosier tomorrow morning, have a meeting with Mulciber about the Acromantula venom he’d managed to acquire, sell those cursed necklaces off as quickly as possible, have another meeting with Rosier, try and find information for the Order, attend Order meetings whenever possible. In between all of that he had to somehow remember to eat and sleep. He’d given up hope of relaxing years ago.
Things were muddled. Colours flashed through his mind, pictures vanishing after only a fleeting glimpse, leaving him with a vague feeling of loss. His eyes felt heavy, weighed down by something; his senses were dulled, but even they weren’t dulled enough to ignore the fact that someone was shaking his shoulder, hissing his name into the darkness.
“Wha’s up?” he mumbled, opening his eyes slowly, blinking rapidly as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light.
“There’s been another attack,” Frank whispered, stepping back as Caradoc immediately flung back his covers, grabbing his wand. As he continued speaking, he ducked the shirt and trousers zooming towards his friend, “Not one of ours, thank Merlin - a small mixed village in Dorset. Reputed to be quite charming, apparently.”
He chuckled, although there was nothing remotely funny about the situation.
“It won’t be once the Death Eaters are finished with it,” he commented, yanking the zip of his trousers up. “Has it been going on for long?”
“I don’t know,” Frank shrugged, handing him a pair of shoes. “Alice and I got the message from Moody about ten minutes ago - I came straight here to get you after fire-calling Benjy, and Alice is fire-calling Emmeline and Marlene.”
“Do we need to contact any others?” Caradoc asked, tying his shoelaces with a quick, silent spell.
“No, you’re the last I had to do,” he shook his head, following him out of the dark room, into the sitting room and over to the fireplace.
Caradoc just nodded, swinging a cloak over his shoulders and taking a handful of Floo powder after Frank had.
“Where are we going to?” he asked, as Frank stepped into the grate, his fingertips running over the smooth grain in his fist.
“Moody’s house,” Frank told him before vanishing in a flash of green flames as he called out the address. A minute later, Caradoc followed him, stepping neatly out of the fireplace into the small kitchen.
“Dearborn, Longbottom, glad you’re here,” Moody grunted, shifting his chair at the head of the table. “We’ll wait for a couple more and then we’ll get going.”
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Caradoc glanced around the room. Emmeline and Benjy were there, standing next to Sturgis Podmore who looked ill albeit determined. He understood completely - only a few years older than Sirius and company, this would be his third fight.
The flames shot up in the grate, causing Sturgis to go for his wand and Emmeline to jump. James Potter appeared in it, revolving abnormally fast. Stumbling, he half-fell out of the fireplace and Caradoc grabbed his shoulder to steady him. No need to make the kid more nervous than he already was by letting him embarrass himself in front of everyone. Behind him, Sirius Black appeared, his wand already in his hand.
“Right, now that we’re here, let’s get going,” Moody stood up, clapping his hands abruptly. “Emmeline, you stay behind - let the others know where we’ve gone. Don’t let people go on their own, send them in pairs or small groups. Dumbledore should be here soon.”
Emmeline nodded, her hands trembling slightly as she played with the edges of her cloak. He could understand perfectly why Moody had left Emmeline, out of all of them, behind: she was by far the most skittish. Victoria’s death had shaken her - he didn’t want her becoming a liability in battle.
Stepping forwards, they all crowded around the kitchen table, grasping hold of a rusty silver spoon. The light reflected off James’ glasses, making them gleam gold. Without any warning, they were whisked away, spinning relentlessly through the air, tossed and turned about. He wished they could just have apparated instead.
The shock when they hit land again nearly sent him to his knees; he straightened up quickly, pulling his wand from his cloak pocket just in case. Frank, James and Moody were already standing straight, alert and tense.
It was silent.
That was the first thing that hit him. The second was that silence was never good - silence didn’t mean torture or threats or duels, it meant deaths. Around them, bushes and moonlit pavements revealed nothing. Blank windows in houses revealed nothing. There was, simply, nothing.
A scream pierced the air, sending them all spinning round to face down the road. Faint laughter could be heard, accompanied by echoing footsteps.
An explosion of light - red, blue, yellow - came from just round the bend. Moody signalled to them and they began to move forwards, careful not to make a noise.
A woman sprinted round the corner, sobbing uncontrollably. Her feet were bare, her chest heaving with the force of each gasp, tears flying down and off her face. As she got closer, they could see her lips were moving quickly, muttering things beneath her breath. A burn wrapped itself around one wrist, cuts littering the side of her face.
A violent green curse slammed into the ground less than a foot away from her. She uttered a soft scream but kept running towards them, her tears doubling. James Potter leaped forwards as a group of three Death Eaters rounded the corner. Their jeering cries carried up to them easily.
“Keep crying, baby!”
“Run away, you filthy little muggle - you won’t escape!”
“We just want to talk, darling! Come back!” Ribald laughter followed the last, but it was silenced soon as the trio regarded the Order members.
“Well, well, well, finally decided to show your faces?” the last man, tall and thin, drawled. His voice seemed familiar to Caradoc, but he couldn’t place it at all - they were using Voice Changing Charms, no doubt.
None of them replied, used to the taunting from them and their colleagues. Taking advantage of the sudden stalemate, James Potter pulled the muggle woman towards him, leading her over to them.
It wasn’t a wise move.
Instantly, curses flew from the Death Eaters’ wands as their prey escaped. Moody flung up a quick Shield Charm, the jets of light bouncing off in all directions.
“Dearborn, Longbottom, Black - get past their line, head into the centre. I’ll send more along once we’re finished with these three,” he growled at them out of the corner of his mouth. Frank and Caradoc nodded, the latter glancing at the youngest of them. Sirius didn’t look at all worried at the prospect of charging past three Death Eaters into Merlin-alone-knows-what. He looked coolly grim, a defiant light gleaming in his eyes.
For a brief moment, they stood there. In a small opening in the salvo, they ran down the road, ducking and dodging curses thrown at them. Caradoc ignored him; Frank was past; Sirius flung a single Stunning Spell at him, the Death Eater deflecting a curse from Sturgis Podmore, sending him crashing to the ground. He gave a satisfied smirk as he caught up.
“Let’s keep going,” Frank rolled his eyes.
They kept going, eyes darting from side to side, searching continuously for hidden Death Eaters. A streetlamp spluttered, flickering orange, the glass around the bulb shattered by a stray curse. It was the only thing out of place, the only thing which gave away what this sleepy little village was facing.
Ahead of them, a green ball shot up into the sky, exploding. A skull, a mottled snake slithering out of its mouth, filled the sky, glowering down on them. Frank cursed and sped up; Caradoc kept pace with him, gripping his wand tighter. Inside his mind, a cynical voice asked if it was worth the effort to keep running - the Dark Mark meant that someone had died. Maybe there wouldn’t be anyone left to save.
The Death Eaters were getting better at raids - it was a simple fact they couldn’t do anything about - with each one they performed, and they, the stretched band of companions, had to try to pick up the slack, had to try to have better intelligence, quicker responses, better plans. So far, they’d just about managed. A small part of him, however, was predicting the arrival of a day when they couldn’t keep up, but he hoped it would never happen. They had Dumbledore, after all, that had to count for something.
At the end of that street, they turned round the corner, following the Dark Mark like a kind of ghastly, demonic star. They crossed a road and another and finally burst out onto the main road of the village.
It was chaos. Bodies were strewn everywhere: some in cars, some on the street, others by their front doors. Flames were leaking out of the window of one house, shooting up towards the sky, crowing with victory. One tongue leaped over to the house beside it, arching gracefully through the air.
“Well, lookie here,” a Death Eater sneered, kicking a muggle man lying on the ground back down as he tried to stand. “It’s the Order of the Phoenix. Bit late, aren’t you?” He’d barely finished speaking before Frank’s curse zoomed towards him. Deflecting it, the Death Eater sent one back, yelling a warning to his companions: “The Order’s here! Playtime’s over!”
Four more black-robed figures burst out of houses, wands in hand. A couple were laughing. Caradoc didn’t think twice about sending a stream of Stunning Spells at the nearest Death Eater as he ran down the garden path of a house. This was no time to be gentlemanly and have a formal duel.
The first two missed, the third was deflected, but the fourth hit the man in the knee and he fell to the floor in a heap. Something whizzed over his head, ruffling his hair. Behind him, a curse slammed into a wall, bricks cascading down. Half-hidden by the shadows, a tall Death Eater raised his wand again.
Caradoc jumped to one side, the Killing Curse missing him by a foot. He shot a Full Body-Bind in return. The Death Eater countered it with a lazy flick of his wand.
“Crucio!” the scream came from his left and he turned his head slightly to see Sirius dodging a constant barrage. As he was distracted, he almost missed the purple jet of light headed his way.
“Protego!” a new voice shouted, clearer and stronger. Both he and the Death Eater paused, glancing sideways to see Edgar Bones running towards them, his face moulded into fury, leading a group of Order members. Edgar gave him a curt nod, which he returned.
Without warning, the Death Eater vanished, black smoke swirling around him. In seconds, the others followed suit.
Sirius Black strolled over to him, looking perfectly at ease with the situation. “Does that count as a win?” he asked. Caradoc just stared at him before blinking and shaking his head.
“We don’t label things as ‘wins’ or ‘losses’,” he responded quietly. “It just doesn’t work that way.”
The boy frowned, confused. “Then how do you know who’s winning if you’re not keeping score?”
“We don’t think about it,” he replied shortly. What had Dumbledore been thinking, recruiting children just out of school? They didn’t understand the situation at all; they treated it like a joke, some kind of blasé adventure. The fact that people were being murdered every day, often tortured to death, whooshed straight over their heads.
Sirius opened his mouth, his grey eyes unreadable, and Caradoc wondered, briefly, if he was going to contradict him or perhaps tell him that he should think about it - that winning is what this whole war is about, isn’t it? Looking aside, he glanced about at the scene, searching for a niche to help in.
Rubble was scattered around from where the Death Eater had blasted the wall behind him. A brick lay close to his foot. Marlene and Emmeline and Lily Evans were going round, seeing to the wounded and closing the eyes of the dead. Moody and Frank were talking quietly in a corner, sharing the same grim, wooden expression. Alice walked with Lily, ready with a comforting hug.
“Listen up!” Frank called, his voice echoing in the street. “Anyone who’s not an Auror needs to get out of here - and that includes Aurors-in-training,” James Potter looked crestfallen. “You can’t be caught here.”
Caradoc nodded to Frank, who returned it, and, without waiting any longer, turned on his heel and disapparated into the shed by the block of flats. Mechanically, he felt his legs walk him up the stairs, into his flat, his bedroom, somehow losing his robes and shoes, and fell into bed.
As always, he didn’t dream.
He was so used to waking up perfectly on time without the need of an alarm that he didn’t realise he was three hours behind until halfway through his second bowl of cereal. Squinting at the clock on the wall, as though if he did so the hands would spin to a more amiable position, he swore loudly, throwing his spoon down into the bowl.
Jumping up from his seat at the table, he summoned the papers he needed for the day from his office, forcing them into a rough pile before shoving them into his bag, flipping the clasps down. He yawned once as he stood there, hands resting on the briefcase, before snapping back into action: he grabbed his cloak from the pegs as he passed them on the way to the door. A quick check that all the wards were still up (they were) and he slipped out into the corridor.
Thankfully, no one was about, so he took a minute to pull on his cloak, yanking it down to cover his face, holding his briefcase under one arm. Glancing about himself quickly, he took the chance, turned on his heel and disapparated.
The alley was less crowded today, he mused as he made his way down the street, stopping off at his office to drop off his briefcase, receive a dazed smile from Trisha, take two letters from owls sitting not-so-patiently on the windowsill, and get grunted at by Johnny. He supposed it could be worse - he could have a secretary who did her job, after all, and told him off when he was late.
Spotting the shop he wanted, he slipped out of the road and pushed open the door. Above it, an adder nailed there hissed down at him, although he suspected the warning wasn’t for him. Sure enough, he hadn’t gone more than two paces into the premises when the shopkeeper appeared.
“What can I do for you, sir?” he asked, carrying a dead runespoor in his arms and dumping it unceremoniously in a basket with a tag that read ‘price on request, per ounce or in parts’.
Caradoc pulled the list Rosier had given to him out of his pocket, laying it flat on the counter for the man to see.
“I need these things,” he replied curtly. Something about this shop always made him nervous. He wasn’t sure whether it was the adder over the door, the way the shopkeeper eyed you up as though working out how much you were worth by the pound or all the animal pieces displayed proudly around. The stench of blood and sweat didn’t add much to the general ambiance either.
“I’ve got ‘em all here,” the shopkeeper told him after a long pause. “But it won’t be cheap. Got another customer who wants some of this - he’s offered me twenty-five galleons for the lot.”
“Let’s say I offered twenty-eight for what he wants, how much would that be overall?” he asked, thinking that three galleons was probably enough to seal the deal. Five would be pushing it - and would make him look much richer than he was, which never helped anyone at all. Certainly, it wouldn’t help him.
“Erm… well, the eggs are expensive, hard bringing ‘em in from the Continent these days, bloody Ministry being everywhere, so prob’ly round about sixty galleons? I’ll knock off the knut since you’re a regular,” the shopkeeper gave him a grin that was about as cheerful as a two-year-old who had their ice-cream stolen.
“Sixty it is, then,” Caradoc agreed with a wry smile. Really, considering that he was a ‘regular’ he thought a knut off was perhaps too little, but didn’t dare say anything. Unconsciously, he imagined the man before him in a Death Eater robe and mask. Shaking his head, he pulled the leather pouch out of his pocket and counted out the sixty galleons, mentally berating himself for carrying around that much money. He really should get round to splitting it up into smaller bags and putting them in different pockets, he mused, preferably before someone mugged him.
“Mornin’ Jasper,” a voice sounded from behind him, drowning out the sibilant hiss of the adder. A drop of blood fell from its scales onto the floor; everyone ignored it. “You got them things I asked for?”
“Just sold ‘em, actually,” the shopkeeper - Jasper, apparently - grinned again. “You’re a bit too late, my friend. This good man,” he clapped Caradoc on the shoulder; Caradoc winced at the force. “Topped your offer, he did. Better luck next time.”
Caradoc noticed that the other man - undoubtedly the twenty-five galleons man - was glaring at him, despite being quite a bit shorter. For someone hanging around Knockturn Alley, he didn’t dress like it; the gold chain around his neck sparkling merrily.
“I need to be on my way,” he cleared his throat. “I’ll see you next time,” he added, giving a nod to ‘Jasper’ as he went.
“How much do you want?”
The man had followed him, he realised, out into the street. He was lucky there was no one around to hear him otherwise they could both be in trouble.
“How much for what?” he raised an eyebrow, even though the other man couldn’t see it.
“Them things I asked for,” the man replied, giving an impatient sigh. “Look, I really need them, alright? I even paid the damn deposit he asked for!” Caradoc couldn’t help a chuckle - he was clearly a rookie. Everyone knew that if someone asked for a deposit you never paid it because, chances were, they’d sell it to someone else and keep the deposit.
“I can’t give them to you,” he shrugged. “Besides, I’m only picking them up for a client.”
The man’s eyes narrowed with suspicion and he stepped closer, his voice lowering and his eyes darting nervously around them.
“I can give you the money, honest,” he spoke quickly, almost reaching out for the bag in Caradoc’s hand. “If you give me them things now, I’ll bring you the money tomorrer mornin’ and be out of your hair. Deal?”
He regarded him for a moment, wondering how in Merlin’s name this man could be so obviously dim and foolish and yet survive down in a place like this. Part of him, a part he’d thought had died long ago, was tempted to trick him, transfigure something out of sight into the items he wanted and send him on his merry way. It would be pointless though, he reasoned, seeing as he doubted he would ever get the money or see the little man again.
“Oh, right, you one of them types that wants to shake on it?” the man nodded in understanding, holding out his hand. “Mundungus Fletcher, at your service.”
Bemused and moderately amused, Caradoc shook it briefly.
“Caradoc Dearborn,” he returned quietly, having no intention of shouting his name out.
“So, what do you say to doin’ that deal, then?” Mundungus looked up at him, his face practically screaming deceit.
“I don’t think so - my client is waiting,” he refused curtly, sweeping along the alleyway, back towards his office. He wasn’t quite paranoid enough yet to check over his shoulder every three paces to see if Mundungus was following him, but he did check a couple of times.
Maybe Moody was wearing off on him, after all. The old man would be delighted. He’d let him know at the next meeting.