Chapter 4 : Four
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Victoire stared into Dunmore’s bedroom mirror, pressing her fingertips against her face and feeling her flesh boil up beneath the surface of her skin. She watched, entranced, as the structure of her body shifted. Her hair and eyes darkened in color; her hair grew in volume; her eyes shrank slightly and became less round. And then it all smoothed out, and Victoire was Diana Wade.
Lance, who had been watching from Dunmore’s bed, smiled wanly. “Weird.”
“Yeah,” agreed Victoire shakily. “Well, at least I’ve only got to do it every day for about a month.”
Lance’s face fell. “I didn’t think Dunmore would choose you for this assignment. It’s almost like he’s testing you.”
Victoire frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well, by inserting you into a case that you have a personal attachment to…” Lance raked his fingers through the hair that framed his tired face. Victoire watched curiously – she could never decide whether his hair was very dark blond or very light brown. “It’s like he’s testing you to see how you’ll take it – and whether you’ll crack up.”
He certainly doesn’t sugar-coat things, thought Victoire. She looked contemplatively at him, taking in the serious, blue-gray eyes, and the square jaw.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, walking over to the bed, where Dunmore had set out a variety of Dark Detectors, potions, and other gadgets, which were all charmed to look like makeup to anybody who didn’t know their true nature. She undid her robes and began to stuff these into her pockets, smirking slightly as Lance looked away.
Surprisingly, it didn’t feel strange to be in somebody’s else’s body.
When she went home or visited her old Hogwarts friends, she was often asked what was the most challenging part about becoming and Auror. The answer was simple – you started to lose yourself after a while. After all the violence that you saw and heard about, you began to feel more and more alienated from the rest of the world. Like you were only a silent guardian – watchful, but unclean, unfit to interact with regular people.
"How do you know each other, exactly?" asked Lance, still staring at his shoes. Victoire didn’t see why – she was in someone else’s skin, after all. "You and Lupin. If you don't mind me asking."
Victoire stuffed her spare wand into the concealed sheath on her thigh. She didn’t respond to Lance - because she figured that her silence would answer the question that he was really asking.
“You don’t have to do this,” said Lance for the hundredth time, looking back up only once Victoire’s robes were securely fastened.
Victoire wasn’t sure why she was doing it. In part, she was glad to be working on an aspect of the case that didn’t involve Teddy and wouldn’t relegate her to some dingy office. And then, the idea of undercover work had always intrigued her: becoming another person; taking on a new face and identity. It was fascinating. And terrifying.
“So you’ve said,” replied Victoire, smiling. “But I want to. Anyway, I’ve already come this far.”
Lance nodded, still looking troubled. “Just...don't get hurt.”
“Don’t worry,” said Victoire, wondering what it would be like to reach out and squeeze his large, rough hand. Then she turned on the spot, and was gone.
Victoire – as Diana Wade – sipped on a Gillywater, glancing over her shoulder every so often. She was fairly confident that Astoreth would show up here at some point tonight (this was rumored to be his favorite place to spend a Saturday evening), but if he didn’t, she would simply move on to the next bar or pub on her list of Astoreth’s favorite haunts. He was bound to be at one of them. If not, she’d try again next week.
She wasn’t much for Astoreth’s taste. For a start, the pub was in Knockturn alley. The lights were awfully dim, and the bartender looked like he might have had some troll blood in him.
Victoire’s plan was simple: she didn't have a plan. Because the cover company for the Underworld operated through the mail, Dunmore and Lance had yet to track down its base, or any of its employees. The whole operation was essentially Auror-proof, which was why Dunmore had chosen for Victoire to approach Rimmon Astoreth on a social front rather than a business one. “We’ll see where it goes,” he had told Victoire. She had never known Dunmore to be so sporadic.
Or maybe desperate was a better word.
A few seats down from Victoire sat a very tall, balding man wearing a set of bright orange robes who kept shooting her furtive looks. After several minutes, he leaned across the bar to talk to her.
“’Lo,” he said, serenely drunk. “Come here often?”
“Um, no,” said Victoire in a smooth American accent, and turned decisively away. She didn't want to attract attention – and she didn't want to miss an opportunity to talk to Astoreth, if he happened to enter. It was important that she stayed completely alert and focused.
“Oho,” cried the man enthusiastically. “An American!”
Victoire turned back to him, frustrated. “Yes.”
“Oho,” repeated the man. “I've heard about Americans! Looking for someone to take you home, love? What’s your name?”
Victoire wished she could put a curse on the bastard. “I’m not interested, thanks.”
“I've got a flat in the city,” said the man as if this were a great incentive. “I know how to take care’f a woman.”
“She’s not interested,” said another voice before Victoire could reply.
The man in orange seemed to shrink back, staring up at somebody behind Victoire. Victoire turned around quickly – and her heart jumped practically into her throat.
“American, eh?” said Rimmon Astoreth, flashing Victoire a large grin. His teeth were very white. “Mind if I join you?”
Victoire pretended to consider it.
From everything that Dunmore and Lance had told her, Victoire knew that she was playing with fire. Rimmon Astoreth was a very dangerous man. He had been accused of murder several times, but during his trials, the witnesses were always too afraid to speak, and incriminating evidence was often tampered with. He had a cool, feline face and empty eyes. He smiled at her, and it was the smile of a killer, thought Victoire shrewdly – the smile of someone who could kill in utterly cold blood, without a second thought. Definitely dangerous.
And possibly fatal.
“Please do,” said Victoire finally, and Astoreth sat down beside her.
“The usual,” he told the bartender, and turned to Victoire. “Now, what’s a pretty thing like you doing away from home? Did you run off?”
Victoire smiled. “Nothing that exciting. I’m on vacation.”
“I see,” said Astoreth smoothly. “Not a bad place for it – we have plenty of history. And if you’re interested in Quidditch, you’re welcome to share my box while you’re here.”
“Thank you,” said Victoire, glad that she had thoroughly read Astoreth’s file. “I’m a Wasps fan, actually.”
“Good girl,” said Astoreth approvingly. “What’s your name?”
“Diana,” said Victoire. The lie didn't feel strange at all – it rolled smoothly off of her tongue. Victoire was surprised again at how easily she could give her own identity up to Diana Wade.
“I like it,” said Astoreth, with a wide grin that accentuated his catlike features and sent shivers down Victoire's spine. “I’m Rimmon."
They talked for twenty minutes or so - or rather, Rimmon asked her questions about everything from her family to her work to her hobbies, and Victoire answered carefully from her script. Her mother was dead and her father didn't travel, but he had made a fortune selling detergent and had the money to send her anywhere she pleased.
“Detergent?” said Rimmon, raising his eyebrows elegantly.
“It’s a sort of soapy liquid that Muggles use to get stains out of their clothes,” explained Victoire. “Except – well, my father charmed it so it’d really get them out.”
Rimmon chuckled. “I believe selling magically manufactured goods to Muggles is illegal – even in your country.”
Victoire shrugged, flashing Rimmon what she hoped was a tantalizing smile.
As for hobbies, she liked to go places. She told Rimmon about her travels in Egypt, amazed at how easy it was to tell stories about places she had never been to and people who didn't exist – even more amazed that she was telling it all to a potential murderous crime lord.
Finally, as the crowd in the pub began to thicken and the noise grew near deafening, Rimmon leaned forward and said "Why don’t we take this some place more private, Diana?”
“I don’t have much time,” said Victoire truthfully – she only had about thirty minutes until the potion wore off. Besides, she was definitely not prepared to be alone with him. “I’m meeting a friend at the Three Broomsticks. Do you know where it is?”
“That’s here in Hogsmeade,” said Rimmon. “I’ll show you the way – if you’d like me to, that is.”
Rimmon walked very close to her through the bustling streets of Hogsmeade. Victoire spotted several Hogwarts uniforms and smiled, remembering all the times she and Teddy had sneaked into the village in the dead of night. She barely noticed when Rimmon slipped an arm around her waist.
“You smell nice,” he told her.
Victoire blushed, caught off guard. “Thank you… The village is so beautiful.”
“It is,” agreed Rimmon. “It must seem very quaint to you. I grew up around here, you know. I went to school at Hogwarts.”
“That must have been nice,” said Victoire. “Hogwarts is fascinating.”
“Yeah,” said Rimmon. “What about you? Where did you go to school?”
“I went to school at the Salem Witches Academy,” lied Victoire.
“That’s girls-only, isn't it?” said Rimmon. “No wonder you dealt with that man so badly.”
“Men are not my forte,” admitted Victoire, telling the truth for the first time since she'd met him.
Rimmon smirked, squeezing Victoire’s waist as they came to a stop in front of the Three Broomsticks. “We can fix that.”
Victoire took a deliberate step away from Rimmon, and stared up at him, speechless with anger. She couldn't imagine Teddy working with this man, even having a conversation with him. He had always been respectful and sweet, and had had enormous contempt for men who saw women only as women, and not as human beings. Rimmon seemed to be exactly this sort of man.
Maybe the true difficulty of this assignment wouldn't like in seamlessly taking on another identity, but in fighting the constant urge to punch Rimmon in the nose.
“Where are you staying?” asked Rimmon.
“With a friend – the friend I’m meeting now, actually,” said Victoire quickly.
“I see,” said Rimmon, looking disappointed. “Well, send me an owl if you’d like to go to a Quidditch game – the Wasps are playing two weeks from now. How long are you in town?”
“About a month,” said Victoire.
“Good,” said Rimmon. “Then… I’ll be seeing you?”
“Yes,” said Victoire, trying to sound eager when she felt disgusted.
Rimmon grinned, gave Victoire a quick kiss on the cheek, and Disapparated. Victoire hurried into the Three Broomsticks and sank into a chair at the first empty table that she saw.
Her knees were shaking.
“Hi, Vic,” said Dominique Weasley, hugging her sister.
“Hi,” said Victoire, smiling sincerely for the first time in days. “Is Lorcan home?”
“Nope,” sighed Dominique, leading Victoire inside of her home. “He’s out shopping for Christmas.”
Dominique had gotten engaged to Lorcan Scamander almost six months ago. The wedding date was set for Spring, Dominique’s favorite season. Victoire had always been surprised that Dominique had gotten engaged so early on – but then, Dominique was carefree and trusting in a way that Victoire would never understand, and was occasionally jealous of. Victoire was a chronic overthinker, always analyzing every detail of a situation until the romance was completely gone. That was why she had liked Teddy so much: she had never needed to analyze him. With Teddy, she had been able to relax and stop thinking so much, and trust somebody for a change.
Of course, that trust had been destroyed when Teddy had vanished.
“Bless his heart,” chuckled Victoire. “Have you spoken to mum recently?”
“I see her every Sunday,” said Dominique. “She still wants you to spend Christmas at Shell Cottage with us.”
Victoire shrugged. “I’m busy.”
“Oh, come on, Vic,” pleaded Dominique. “You haven’t seen her or dad in ages! Even Louis is coming!”
“I want to, Dom,” said Victoire earnestly. “But I’m on an assignment right now and… well, I’ll be busy.”
“Oooh!” gasped Dominique, who was always interested in Victoire’s work. “What’s your assignment?”
Victoire laughed. “Nothing too exciting – just some undercover stuff.”
She hadn't told her family about her encounter with Teddy, yet, and she didn't plan to. Everybody loved Teddy, and missed him, and was comforted by the fact that he must be living a very glamorous life. They all remembered him as he had been in his Hogwarts days, and Victoire didn't want to spoil that image for them. Her uncle Harry, most of all, would be heartbroken if he found out that Teddy was a suspect in such a serious case.
“Well, I’ll tell them you’ll come around for Easter,” sighed Dominique, disappearing into the kitchen and returning with a platter of strange, unidentifiable food. Dominique had inherited her mother’s good looks, but not her cooking skills. “And you’d better, okay? They miss you.”
“I know,” said Victoire, hesitantly taking what looked like a shriveled, black cherry and popping it into her mouth. “I miss them too. It’s just… not easy.”
“You should quit,” suggested Dominique. “And marry someone. You could move in near us – there’s a house going up for sale down the end of the row.”
Victoire laughed. “Sorry, Dom, I couldn't do that.”
Dominique shrugged. “Just a suggestion. Speaking of which – remember that friend of Lorcan’s that we introduced you to? Derek? He’s interested.”
“Oh.” Victoire could only vaguely discern Derek from the jumble of other men that Dominique had tried to set her up with. “I’m not really… I just can’t right now, Dom. Sorry.”
“Okay, Vic,” said Dominique, frowning. “But if you don’t start dating someone soon, I won’t give you a choice. It’s time to get over Teddy – it’s been years.”
“It’s not about Teddy!” said Victoire quickly.
Dominique raised her eyebrows. “Who, then?”
“Er, a bloke from work,” improvised Victoire. “Lance. You've probably never heard of him.”
Dominique relaxed, apparently satisfied.
“I’ll be checking that,” she said ominously.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed it! Rimmon will be very heavily involved in the story over the next few chapters. As always, I appreciate your reviews, etc, etc!
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