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Chapter 1 : Autumn Leaves
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Chilled in the crisp autumn air, there was a moment or two when last breath was suspended, a fog in the air even as life left the body beneath it. For that moment, the wizard’s life extended just a beat before a breeze swept it on. A single leaf, already brown as the season dictated, continued calmly on its path to the ground, landing not in a pile of red autumn leaves as one might expect, but rather in a pile of red blood. Des Walmsley’s blood.
Des Walmsley may have died with his eyes open, but they did not register the crowd that quickly gathered, nor did his ears recognise the crunching of leaves under boots as residents rushed to and fro, or the piercing screams of the more fragile members of the suburban community. No, Des Walmsley was dead, and the waking residents of Sweet Rose Lane were not equipped to deal with such a shocking image.
“Sod off, Wendy.”
Victoire Weasley heralded the new morning with just as much charm as she showed every day; that was to say, none at all. Shoving a twig-thin intern out of her way with her hip, the Auror did not stop to consider how she might have appeared to those around her. Hovering somewhere above the age of twenty-eight but not yet at thirty-five (Godric knew she wouldn’t say exactly where she hovered), Victoire was at what she liked to call the prime of her career. That meant, of course, that there was no time for niceties.
“But – Weasley-“
The intern, apparently hell-bent on catching the attention of her superior and passing on whatever message was clutched in her fist, followed the blonde to her desk much to Victoire’s dismay. Victoire, scrunching her nose in a rather unladylike expression – not that she cared for her appearance, of course – sunk into her spindly desk chair and span in a circle as it adjusted to her balance, defiantly ignoring the twenty year old and her perky attitude.
“Anything new yet, Roland?” Those words were instead addressed to her partner, a smiling young man who had only just hit the age of twenty-five. Victoire, as jaded as she was, hadn’t liked being paired with a younger man one bit. Of course, it did help that he appeared to hang on her every word – and even if that was simply because she was a Weasley, the witch was willing to accept it.
“Not yet, Vic,” the man replied cheerfully from the opposite desk, his eyes briefly flickering to the intern, still prattling on beside the blonde woman.
“Victo - I mean, Auror Weasley – I was given this memo-”
Victoire refused to listen. There was no doubt in her mind that the intern had been sent by a family member. Which family member was a little harder to discern, but nevertheless the blonde had every intention to keep on ignoring her. Her family, as loving as they may have been, was numerous and more than a little smothering. It could easily have been Rose, up in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, or Uncle Harry, secure in his office around the corner as Head Auror – or even her cousin Molly, from Magical Transportation, or Aunt Hermione, as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Half the Weasley (and various other related surnames) family worked in the Ministry. It was mightily annoying for a witch who had once prided herself on being determined to branch out on her own, an individual blonde in a family of redheads, but these things could not be helped.
“I don’t care which of my family members gave you that memo, dear,” the witch offered, careful to stress the last word in an attempt to make her politeness sarcastic – she couldn’t risk being sweet, as that would ruin her image as a tough Auror, an image she’d worked hard to build. “Just go away.”
Thankfully, she was saved from having to beg by a sudden flare of red to her left. The Auror Offices were equipped with fireplaces, both for the quick transportation required from the employees, and for use for emergency floo calls. The floo powder, charmed to reflect the seriousness of the emergency, had varying degrees of emergency. Red – the highest level.
“Murder! Someone’s been murdered!” The shrieking woman in the fireplace was evidently not an official of any kind, and Victoire winced at the hysterics. Thankfully, before the blonde could move from her place another Auror had calmed the woman enough to extract the details – Sweet Rose Lane, Ottery St. Catchpole – and the shrieking had quieted.
“Looks like we’ve got something now, Vic,” a soft mumble from the man opposite her clarified the situation.
Turning for a moment to grin at her partner, Victoire stood up. “We’ve got it,” the witch announced confidently, snatching the parchment containing the preliminary details from the Auror’s hand without waiting for assent. With that, the witch turned on the spot in a flurry of blonde hair, wand in one hand and parchment in the other.
Ottery St. Catchpole was not too far from her family’s home of the Burrow. Of course, Victoire had never called the place home herself – having been brought up in Shell Cottage, and consequently acquiring a strange affinity for the sea. Nevertheless, the territory wasn’t unfamiliar to the blonde, who cast a rather wrinkle-nosed glance at the crowd that had formed.
“We should get some of the rank and file down here to deal with that crowd,” the blonde commented to her partner as she made her way through, side-stepping a woman clad in a gaudily pink dressing gown.
The ‘rank and file; (or more correctly titled, junior Aurors) were Aurors who were still in the first two years of their employment. After that, the department deemed them fit for the more ‘serious’ work – a rank that eventually afforded them freedom of dress, as the typical Auror robes were no longer required, and usually came with a desk, too.
“Excuse me, Auror here, let me through-”
Victoire’s stream of commands blurred together, simply the prattle that she rolled off at every crime scene. Elbowing her way to the body, the witch hadn’t expected to be surprised, not one bit. Bodies weren’t a shock; she wasn’t cold, nor was she morbid. It was simply the nature of her job. The pool of blood? Practically assumed. The cuts, clearly the work of Sectumsempra? A little nasty, but nothing too extreme.
The man kneeling next to the body, however? That one was completely unexpected.
Victoire, coming to a sudden, swaying halt at the sight of a mop of brown hair she’d last seen five years prior, wasn’t the one to voice concerns. Instead, she stood mute as Roland spoke up.
“Excuse me,” the man began, his voice every inch as the authority officer, “this is our crime scene, Auror Carlisle and Auror Weasley here,” Victoire flinched, “so I must ask you to step back, Sir.”
She could practically hear Roland’s incredulity. Teddy Lupin had walked – no, fled – her life five years previously, and it was no one’s fault but her own. Victoire thrust her chin in the air, determined to stare at the body before her, blood glinting in the sun, and not the man she’d known since childhood. Despite both being in Gryffindor, Teddy Lupin had turned out to be far more of a coward than she; at the first hint of trouble, the man had run – and until now, Victoire hadn’t had any idea as to where he’d gone.
Apparently, wherever that was, he had now returned.
“Lupin,” she replied stiffly. “I thought you were overseas, chasing a cold one.” Despite her stiffness, Victoire managed to kneel beside the body, on the opposite side to Teddy. It was her firm opinion that the man had no need - or, more importantly, jurisdiction - to interfere with her crime scene. Yet, she was careful not to start a full-blown argument with him in front of a crowd. That would only lead to a stern talking to from Uncle Harry, and given that Teddy was back and and always been Harry’s favourite, Victoire was certain that wouldn’t end in her favour.
“Still am chasing that cold one,” Teddy returned, his gaze fixed solely on her, rather than the body. “This,” he waved his hand to the scene between them, “is part of my case, Victoire.”
Curling her lip, Victoire held up a hand. “That may be so, Lupin,” his last name felt foreign on her lips as though even after all these years, her body instinctively wanted to call him by more affectionate names. It was a horrifying realisation - and she squashed it with narrowed eyes and a low, yet threatening tone. “It’s still my case until you can prove it. See,” she waved the file in her hand, “I’ve got the paperwork.”
Teddy went to snatch it, and she quickly pulled it from his grasp, thrusting her chin into the air again. She couldn’t read his expression, the glimmer in his eyes could have spoken of many things - many of which she didn’t want to contemplate. Yet clearly he was about to contest. That much was clear just from his posture.
“Roland, escort Mr Lupin out, will you?” She ordered, sending her deadpanned order her partner’s way without so much as an apologetic smile.
“Oi, Auror Lupin, you mean-“ Teddy interjected, looking indignant, which Victoire ignored. Instead, she added:
Waiting patiently as Roland stared back at her, evidently confused, Victoire simply remained silent, her brows raised in expectation.
“Victoire—“ Teddy tried to intervene, but she turned her back.
“Not until you have proof, Lupin.” Her tone was firm; those were the rules, after all. This was her crime scene, as law dictated, as she had the preliminary case file. Until he could take it out of her hands - a jurisdictional battle between her division and his - his investigation, whatever it was, would have to work around hers.
That suited her just fine.
Within moments the air was cleared and Victoire busied herself with collecting the basic information from the medical laboratory wizards on the scene. The victim, Des Walmsley, was forty-two, an employee of Gringott’s Bank according to his uniform, and had quite clearly been killed using dark magic. The time of death was as she expected; the middle of the night, the usual time for such affairs.
Satisfied that she’d collected all that she needed, Victoire apparated back to her desk, with a significantly thicker file in hand and a murder to investigate.
“So, Vic, who’s Lupin?”
Roland’s questions started as soon as she sank into her chair (spinning in a circle as she did so), and Victoire’s answering scowl wasn’t far behind.
“Family friend,” was her reply - which wasn’t a lie, and she quickly attempted to divert her partner’s attention by slamming her file down on his adjacent desk.
"Really?" Roland, clearly, wasn't buying her attempt at diversion.
Victoire cast him a sideways glance, narrowing her eyes in what she hoped was an expression of irritation. "Drop it, Roland. We've got a case, remember?" If anyone had looked closely, however, they might have notice a slight quiver to her bottom lip.
Roland, if he noticed it, chose not to comment.
“Here’s everything I’ve got on the victim so far,” Victoire continued, flicking her wand at the files, duplicating them in one movement, and then sending them up to the blank stretch of wall in front of their desks. It was their workspace, their thinking space, and their mind map. While some might have preferred to decorate their workspace with pictures of loved ones and in the more dedicated workers, flyers of the mugshots of criminals they were trying to apprehend, Victoire kept things clean. It was her philosophy that a blank workspace provided her with a clear head - and it also had the added bonus of giving her and Roland a great place to lay out their cases.
Unlike Carper in the row over; he liked to lie his cases out on the floor. It was a nightmare for anyone in the vicinity.
“We should probably contact his family,” she murmured, though that much was obvious. It was easily her least favourite part of her job - and usually something she tried to make Roland do, until the wizard had caught on and asked her why this was the case. “Then move onto co-workers at the bank, and see what we come up with.”
TIlting her head, Victoire considered the rest of the files hung up before her. She’d created a handy layout, with the basics of the victim laid out in larger font under the picture they’d captured, complete with a leaf that had blown across the lens as they’d taken it - an unfortunate byproduct of magical film. The rest she’d had to magnify a little in order to read properly, but Victoire was well practiced. This was a ritual for Roland and herself; their case spread was practically department legend.
She liked to think it contributed to their excellent case success rate, too.
“‘Kay,” Roland responded, pushing back his chair and standing with a little bit of flair. Victoire snorted, grabbed her wand, and they were off.
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