He came at about eleven in the morning, exactly a day after she left. He came with one of those powerful black sedans that were government issue and could climb a hill with a sixty degree inclination. He wore a shiny black suit without any discomfort in the morning’s heat, which led me to believe that the suit was one of those latest products of technology that had it’s own thermostat and air conditioner. His hair was jet-black and slick, combed back in shiny, greasy perfection. His eyes were hard and deductive, that of a hunter. His nose was sharp, his jaw squared and his physique very fit. And yet, he was not nearly good-looking. His features were too sharp, too unpleasant, his physique also too sharp, too gaunt. He had a bureaucratic air to him that reminded me of the tight-arsed government people I had to deal with in my days as a police officer.
He had two escorts with him in the backseat of the car. One was a tall and burly man with sandy hair. The other was an equally tall woman with unpleasantly sharp features and a cruel mouth. They were both in dark suits and walked on either side of their boss until they stopped by my front door and stood there, letting the leader enter the cottage but refusing to do so themselves.
I let him sit on the newly repaired couch, sent Louis to get some tea and excused myself and entered the kitchen before the man could start talking. Inside the kitchen, I chose an appropriate angle that hid us from the stranger’s view and called Louis and whispered in his ear, “If you choose to tell this man anything he wants to know, Louis, I shall be very upset. Do you understand me, Louis? If you tell him anything, our friendship is over and you may no longer call yourself my faithful servant. Do you understand?”
Louis understood that I was begging rather than threatening but he seemed to agree. I gave him a grateful look and went to humour my guest, sitting on a couch adjacent to the one he claimed.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked after letting the man annoy me with his silence for a few minutes.
“Inspector Rupert Miller,” he had a softer voice than I would have imagined. It floated across the air like swishing silk, eternally unpleasant. “My name is Richard Evergreen. I work for the Department of Paranormal Security in the Ministry of Defence. Before that I was an officer in Scotland Yard. You were quite a legend.”
I laughed, ignored his compliment and said instead, “So the government finally established a Department of Paranormal Security? Did the sky watchers finally get through to you? How many UFOs have you caught?”
Evergreen ignored my remarks. “Why did you retire?” he asked.
I showed him my fingers and demonstrated just how far I can bend or straighten them.
“You could still have been there,” he said. “You may not have been able to look at crime scenes or whatnot, but you’re expertise goes beyond that, doesn’t it? Your consult would still be highly valued in Scotland Yard, I imagine.”
“I decided to give the young a chance at glory,” I winked. “Who’s running the Yard now, I wonder?”
“That would be the tall, creepy bloke, wouldn’t it? Isn’t he a bit too young for this. I mean, I have worked with him when he was a boy, and he is quite talented, I must admit, but…”
“He’s forty years old.”
“So that’s what counts as a mature age these days.”
“He’s not you, sir,” Evergreen said, meaning it.
“Thank you,” This time, I accepted his compliment. “How can I help you, Mr Evergreen?”
Evergreen took a deep breath and suddenly looked serious. “Inspector, how many visitors have you had lately?”
“Please, I’m no longer an Inspector,” I waved my hands. “As to you’re question, I think you can see that I live in complete isolation. The last visitor I had was my nephew. That was nearly six months ago.”
“Who have you been in contact with, then?”
“On the telephone? Well - ”
“Louis, of course. He knocks on my door every morning and gives me a sponge bath.”
Evergreen sighed again. “Mr Miller, are you sure you haven’t come - ”
“If you’re looking for a specific person, Mr Evergreen, say so now. I was never an interrogator who beat around the bush and I despise those who do. So, I ask again, what do you want?”
He looked at me for a moment and explained. “We have been in pursuit of a certain individual for a few months, now. We’ve chased her all the way to France and back and every time we get close, she slips through our fingers. You see, the last time we got close to her was in Hampshire. We almost had her, but before we could turn on our EMP device that would trap her, she disapparated. We tried to find out where she went, got the whiz kids in the Ministry to track her and found that she had landed somewhere in a hundred mile radius of Tinworth.” He paused for what seemed like dramatic effect. “Since then,” he continued. “We have interrogated every house in this area and came up with nothing. Nobody has come in contact with her here. So, naturally, we assumed she was dead.”
He suddenly looked uncomfortable. “It’s just that… the last time we saw her, she was under tremendous trauma. It was sure that she would not survive another day if she didn’t get help. It is a complicated matter and one I am not at liberty to discuss it with you. I’m sorry.”
“If you assumed she was dead, why are you here?”
“Because we just found out that she’s not. We got info form the whiz kids that they’re seeing some activity. So we double checked every house we’ve been through which left the one place we haven’t been through.”
“What?” Evergreen was startled to find himself suddenly at the opposite end of the interrogation table.
“If you’ve been to every house near Tinworth, why did you never come here the first time round?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the man said. “Because of you, of course. And because of him.” He jerked his chin in the direction of the kitchen, where Louis still dwelled.
I nodded. “Because whoever you’ve been hunting is surely a witch or wizard and me and my Hunter friend would surely never associate with magical scum.”
“Also because,” he continued. “When this place was under a magical family, it had various enchantments that allowed it to stay invisible to unwanted intruders. Most of it’s protective enchantments wore off when the owner sold it to you, but some stayed. One of those that stayed was an enchantment that prohibited apparition in its perimeter.”
“That was awfully sloppy of you,” I said. I guessed that they had no idea as to who Dominique was or what she had been in her previous life. In fact, I doubted they even knew her last name. If they had, her old home would have been the first place they would have searched. “Awfully sloppy.”
He kept his gaze. “We had no reason to believe that she’d be here, in between a retired senior officer and a legendary Hunter. But it’s not just that.” He sighed and hesitated, wanting to defend himself but unsure on how. “We wouldn’t have been able to come here even if we wanted too.”
“What do you mean?”
“This cottage used to be under the Fidelious Charm.”
“It’s a protective enchantment that made it impossible to be seen, let alone entered by an unauthorized person. No one can be sure that the place even exists unless they are told about it by the Secret Keeper of the house. In this case, you.”
“And this Whatnot Charm still works?”
“No. Well, yes. It’s complicated.” The man sighed, unsure on how to explain this to me. “We didn’t think it worked. People were able to see this place for years. But sometime in the past few weeks the charm started working again. Our men noticed it, of course, but when we conferred with experts on the matter, they explained it as a residual effect. They said magic left traces and sometimes an old charm that has worn off my return for a short period of time.”
“Is the Charm working now?”
“When did it break?”
“At approximately four in the morning. This morning.”
I stared at him, baffled by the mistakes of the supposedly idolized department. They witness the retriggering of an extinct charm at just about the same time one of their fugitives entered this ground and they treat it as a coincidence? “And you still didn’t care enough to check this place?” I exclaimed in disbelief before I could stop myself.
“So she was here.” The man concluded and I cursed myself.
“That still doesn’t answer as to why you are a lousy cop.”
“Please,” he was smiling, satisfied. “I’m not a cop.” Louis finally brought the tea, placed it on the coffee table and left for the upstairs with the excuse of making a bed. Evergreen continued his speech without missing a beat, not caring if Louis heard or not. “Besides, we couldn’t have paid you a visit even if we wanted to. As I told you, the charm would make it impossible for us to come within a mile’s distance of this place. As we don’t have the technology to break the charm, we could do nothing but wait until the charm gave out.”
I felt my teeth clench and started breathing heavily through my nose. I had given her away already. Truthfully, it really didn’t matter - they were already sure that she’d been staying here - but it didn’t stop me from feeling terrible. I felt outsmarted, like he’d interrogated the information out of me by his own skill rather than by my own impulse.
Evergreen took a sip from his sweet tea and smiled. “Mr Miller,” he said. “Let’s talk.”
“Is she still here?” Evergreen said suddenly, as if he’d never considered the possibility before. He was leaning forward, his face flushing and his eyes sparkling in excitement. “Somewhere upstairs? Is she?”
I chose no to say anything.
“Lee,” he called. “Saint. Come inside.” His two escorts entered and stood over us like twenty feet high Greek nudes. “Go upstairs and look around. See if you can find anything.”
“They most certainly will not!” I glared at him and the two large people stopped. “Do you have permission to search my house?”
“I have jurisdiction - ”
“And I still have influence,” I bluffed. “If you still want to be able to buy grease for your hair by this time next year, I suggest you get your goons out of my house.”
The excitement in his eyes flickered. “You can’t do that.”
“You can’t search my house. I don’t care for whatever little circus you work for. Searching my house without my invitation or without a court order is a crime. I will not allow you to do that.”
“Take your goons outside.”
He stared at me for a moment and sighed. “I have to remind you, Mr Miller, that if you are harbouring and aiding a known fugitive, and one that might pose danger to national security, you will be committing a very serious offence against the law.”
“Should there be no one upstairs and you decide to raid the house of a senior officer, a veteran who has served Queen and Country for a quarter of a century, the offence will be yours.”
He stared. “Very well. You can wait outside,” he told his escorts.
“What’s her name, anyway?” I asked, pinning him on the examination chair of the interrogation room again. It was the only thing I had left, my ability to make people feel like control was slipping out of their hands.
“She didn’t tell you?”
“If she is, as you say, a known fugitive, I doubt she’d give me her real name.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “She is known around the country as Veela.”
I stared. “And is that her name?”
“Of course not. It’s a codename we use in the office. She has shown incredible enticing skills and can charm and seduce her way out of any mess. Hence, codename Veela. Veela are magical creature that are known for their incredible beauty and drug-like seduction.”
“And her name?”
“We don’t know. We know her followers call her a handful of things, some of which include Boudica, Blenda, Camilla. What name did she give you?”
“Followers? You speak of her as if she was a terrorist. What did she do? What do you want with her? Is she an activist? A revolutionary?”
“I don’t think you have the privilege for that information, Mr Miller. I have a few questions to ask you, if that’s fine with you,” he said and continued before I could speak. “The first one being, is she still here?”
“No, of course, not. Why - ”
“What did she tell you? Mr Miller? Tell me. What did she tell you?”
“I’m sorry,” I said through gritted teeth. Anger was filling me up, trying to combat the sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. “But that’s privileged information.”
“What did she say to you?”
“Why do you want her?”
Yet another standoff. I stared down at him, my nose flaring, having no intention of giving in, until he raised his hands in defeat.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll tell you why we want her. But in exchange for that I want your word that you will cooperate fully with me afterwards.”
I said nothing. He gave up waiting expectantly for my word about two minutes into our stare off, by which time he raised his hands again, his face flushed in frustration. I could live without knowing why they wanted Dominique but whatever information I could give him right now was the only lead he had on her. The only way he could get it out of me is if he indulged my thirst for information. He could only roll the dice, and hope whatever numbers came up convinced me to give him what he wanted.
“You know what,” he said, as I knew he would. “I’ll tell you anyway.
“Do you remember that little explosion in London about a year ago? We suspected it has something to do with the magicians because there was no chemical residue of any explosive nature found in the area afterwards. What shattered a four-story concrete building like it was made out of glass was a teapot. A seemingly ordinary, albeit antique, teapot. We dug around, of course, brought in a few specialist. They asked around themselves, did their hocus pocus and tracked the teapot to the person who sold it. He was a non-magical, like us, and confessed to having sold the once ordinary teapot to a very beautiful young lady by the name of Camilla.
“That was just one example of many. Over the past three years there has been half a dozen explosions all connected in some way or another to three female figures: Camilla, Boudica, or Blenda. Of course, it didn’t take us long to figure out that all three women were one. Boudica, Camilla, Blenda, Veela. The young girl you’ve been aiding for the past three weeks.”
My mouth was so dry that I feared I had permanently lost my ability to swallow. I heard what the sleek young man was saying and was terrified to find that I was starting to believe him. He wasn’t lying.
“Over the past four months,” Evergreen continued. “Many senior officers of the Ministry of Defence suddenly dropped dead without warning. At first, their deaths were credited to strokes, heart attacks, those kinds of things. But later we learned that there were no sign of heart attacks or even of any physical trouble on any of the dead officers, which led us to believe that their deaths were not natural, or unnatural, but magical. It took us incredible man power, but we finally caught a would-be assassin before he killed the Minister for Defence himself. However, as soon as one of our men came in contact with him, the man collapsed. He’d been jinxed. The first contact he had with one of our agents closed his throat and choked him. Our specialists were able to release him from the jinx before he died but by then he’d had severe brain damage and couldn’t answer any of our questions. All he could do was speak a string of nonsensical words and phrases.
“Some of which included, ’Long live Potter’, ’war’, and ’Camilla’.”
“Yes, Mr Miller. The woman you have been aiding is wanted on charges of terrorism and murder of the first degree.”
“Murder of the first…?”
Evergreen chuckled. “The first crime Veela ever committed happened here, right outside this house. She was in her very early teens when she walked across the hill and killed a young wizard boy, aged ten, right outside this cottage, on that patch of grass.” He pointed at the wall in the direction of the elf’s grave. “Her motivations for that one aren’t very clear, but our sources confirmed… What? What is it?”
I had started laughing so hard that I was having difficulty breathing. I hadn’t felt more relieved in my whole life. I hadn’t been more terrified in my whole life. Not because, if what he said was true, it would mean I had committed a serious offence, but because it would mean that I had lost the thing I valued most: my intellect. If I didn’t have that, I didn’t have a reason to live. Never mind if my career was already over. If I couldn’t pass proper judgment on a twenty-year-old girl, I didn’t have anything to live for anymore. But that didn’t matter because what he just said could not be true, even if he believed it. He -
“ - Have the wrong girl,” I gasped. My sides were hurting from laughing so hard. “You have… the wrong girl.”
Evergreen looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“You have the wrong girl! You think I would have kept a complete stranger in my house without asking her a few questions myself? She’s not who you’re looking for because Dominique wasn’t the one who murdered the boy. The girl who came here was the boy’s sister. She wasn’t his murderer, she was his family.”
Evergreen frowned for a long time and finally said, “Tell me everything.”
And I did. It didn’t matter anymore because Dominique wasn’t Veela. Dominique was innocent.
I told him what Dominique told me in her room before she left, expecting him to interrupt me and apologize at any moment, expecting him to accept his mistake and begging pardon for the inconvenience, leave my house and never come back. I expected him to look defeated.
He simply looked curious. He let me finish the story before he spoke.
“Dominique Weasely,” he sighed, leaning back on his couch. “So we finally have a name.”
“I guess we can now put a motive beside her name, too. Good old-fashioned - ”
“Are you not listening to me? She didn’t kill the boy! He was her brother!”
“Exactly. I’m listening to you, Mr Miller. You’re the one who’s not listening to yourself. Now we know the reason behind her extremism. When she was fourteen, her younger brother was killed by a Hunter raid. An intelligent girl who endured a tragedy at such a young age - ”
“No, no! I’ve talked to her. She’s not a killer! Not a terrorist!”
“She’s also a Weasley,” Evergreen continued, much to himself. “Do you know the Weasely family, Mr Miller? They are the one family that have the closest ties to the Potters. I bet she has close ties with him, with James. They’re cousins. Probably best friends.”
“What?” I gasped. “James Potter?”
“She’s his right hand, his general. You said she used to disapparate at a very young age. The art of apparition is very difficult to master and could be disastrous, even fatal, if not performed exactly right. But with the help of James Potter, she could probably do it at the age of two. He’s a genius, Potter. It also explains why her own ministry didn’t catch up with her because of underage magic. If anybody can find loopholes in the Trace, it’s Potter.”
“Stop. Stop! You’re not making any sense! I’ve talked to this girl. She’s nothing to do with James Potter and his cause. Do you think I can’t detect the truth out of a person after twenty years of experience? Do you think I couldn’t tell if she was lying?”
“But that’s the beauty of it. She didn’t lie to you. She told you just enough truth to take you on her side. I think I told you why we call her Veela.”
“No! No! You are blinded by prejudice! By stereotypes! She’s a sympathetic and very sad girl. You don’t have to turn her into a murderer just because she’s a witch!”
“Oh, please,” Evergreen sneered, every shred of respect he‘d shown so far disappearing like smoke. “Don’t give me that humanist crap. You think this little Cold War we have against the Wizards is because we’re scared of them? Of course, not. We’re hunting because there’s an actual credible threat!
“Do you think James Potter is just a propaganda? Do you think the killing of half a dozen officials of the Ministry of Defence in less than four months is just a coincidence? No. James Potter is very real and he’s sitting in a castle somewhere, scheming! I will bet my hat on it, Mr Miller, this little Cold War we have right now will soon turn very, very hot!”
I stared at him and waited for him to cool down. When he finally did, I spoke slowly, “I think our conversation is over, Mr Evergreen.”
“Not until you tell me where the girl is.”
“As it happens,” I said. “I don’t know. I’m afraid your trip here was a waste of time.”
“Don’t give in to her Mr Miller. She’s a manipulator. As I’ve told you she can seduce and charm her way - ”
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare insult my intelligence! This conversation is over. Please take your goons and leave my property!”
Evergreen stood up, looking like he’d finally given up, nodded at me and walked away.
Something tall and burly and wearing white shot past me and headed for the door. I struggled to my feet in panic and stepped out of the house to see Louis, in his loose white shirt, running after the black sedan that had started moving. He banged on one window and when the car stopped, spoke rapidly to whoever was at the wheel.
I screamed and screamed, panicked, trying to call him back, screamed, “Louis! Louis! Louis! Lou - !”
He came only after he finished speaking. When he came he didn’t have a shred of shame in him. He was walking tall and proud. He was holding a piece of yellow paper in his hands.
I got angry. “What did you tell him?”
“All that I know. What she’s planning, where she’s likely to be found.”
“How? But you don’t know that!”
He said nothing and gave me the yellow paper, which turned out to be not paper at all, but parchment. Written on it was a letter.
Without a word, Louis walked away from me.
I started reading the letter.
Dear Mr Miller,
I want you to know that whatever happens, I am absolutely grateful for your hospitality. It may seem worthless to you after reading this letter, but I do realize that you’ve saved my life and for that I am forever in your debt. Unfortunately, I cannot repay that debt anytime soon. In this letter, I may give you more reason to hate me and to feel betrayed by me, but, as you’ve agreed, one cannot leave with memories and fears of one’s past forever. One must learn to move forward and take action.
Mr Miller, when I was young girl, my little brother was taken from me. Since then, I have sworn that whoever was responsible would pay. I haven’t told this story to a lot of people but I suppose there is no harm in you knowing. I know you’ll probably tell it to the first Witch Hunter you encounter, but I don’t much care. The time is close now, and there’s not much they can do.
Firstly, I want to assure you that the circumstances under which we met were purely coincidental and not at all designed in any way. I had been running away from a few Witch Hunters and they were gaining at me. I had been attacked and lost a lot of blood. I escaped, but only just, and when I disapparated the first thing on my mind was my old family home. That’s why you found me by Dobby’s grave, because that particular spot is weak on anti-apparition enchantments.
However, now that I am here and I know what I know, I simply can’t go about my business as if nothing has happened.
La Bete is a man we had been trying to find for a long time. He is responsible for countless bloodshed and must pay. As you’re reading this, men are already gaining on Shell Cottage. There will be no means of escape for La Bete, even if he has the ability to disapparate to the moon.
I am sorry for taking away your caretaker, but I cannot simply let him be.
James Potter is a dear friend of mine and I would like to tell you that, despite what you might hear, he is a good man. James Potter never did anything horrible that wasn’t justified by a great deal of good.
For months now James has been telling me there will come a war between Wizards and Muggles. The organisation has been preparing strenuously for this upcoming war. So, my final word is a warning. The battle will start within the next few weeks; it is inevitable. During war, whichever side wins, there will be collateral damage, so if possible, you should leave the country. If not, take as many precautions as you can because a muggle soldier can be just as dangerous as a wizard to innocent bystanders.
You may hate me after reading this. You may despise me. You may curse my name and tell everything you know about me to the first Hunter you encounter. I don’t care. We must do what we must and what we believe in, even if it might seem illogical, or irrelevant. Because in the end that will be all we have, when peaceful, the world lays us down. Therefore, by writing this letter, I have done what my conscious compelled me to do - because I found you to be a good man - and I am done.