Victoire couldn't keep the smile off her face as she stepped into the lift. She only realized she was doing it when two men, already inside, exhibited a what-was-I-just-saying conversation lull followed by a straightening of their department robes and eager smiles of their own. She should possibly have taken Grant up on his offer to escort her out of the Ministry. Instead, she'd extended their lunch together, in his shoebox office, to the point he had to rush off for a meeting. She'd almost forgotten to take the books on the fairy realm that had been her excuse to interrupt him mid-workday in the first place.
No, she wouldn't regret a minute alone with him, even if the cost was being awkwardly alone in close quarters with enthusiastic strangers.
She gave the men a polite nod and crossed her arms around the books, bringing them closer in front of her as a disembodied voice announced their approach to level five. Abstract reflections in the lift's metal door showed the men engaged in some form of sign language behind her, but before any real words were spoken the door split open with a woosh.
A well-groomed witch wearing a sleek yellow hat waited behind a rush of notes emblazoned with Department of International Magical Cooperation seals on the front. Looking up from a parchment long enough to take a step in, she halted and gaped at Victoire. Her head cocked in what amounted to a very good impression of a canary.
"Oh, dear, the Welcome Witch send you here?" The woman grabbed Victoire's arm, pulling her out of the lift and saying, "We can't get involved just yet. There are channels."
"Erm, no one sent me." Victoire extracted herself from the grip but not in time to stop the lift doors from shutting without her. "I'm on my way out."
"Down," the woman corrected. "They've been looking for you."
Victoire blinked, eliciting a sigh from the woman who proceeded to punch the down button four times in quick succession. "MLE. I'm taking you now. We can't move on our part until they've done theirs."
"But what's my part?" Victoire asked. People mistaking her for someone else never happed. Victoire had no doubt this woman was talking about her, she simply had no clue what the woman assumed she'd already been told.
The woman gave a tight lipped shake of her head when the doors opened, killing the conversation. Victoire dutifully squeezed into the lift. They dropped further down into the Ministry. Past level four, where she'd come, and onto level two. The logos of the various offices in Magical Law Enforcement lined the wall across from the lift access.
"Oh, yes, I see now," Victoire said to the woman with a grateful smile. She didn't really. What she did see was Owen at the end of a hall by the turn in the corridor. His back was to her as he talked to someone she couldn't see around the corner. He couldn't be on this floor by coincidence, and she'd rather hear what happened to him before she was pulled anywhere else.
Her escort, however, didn't return to the lift. "I'll just tell them you're here."
Owen pivoted at the squeak of the woman's shoes on her approach, letting her by and giving Victoire a concerned once over. "What's kept you?"
The appearance of Teddy, stepping around the corner, hindered her ability to respond. The door behind them opening up and producing a self-satisfied Iska sealed her throat entirely. The brunette sidled up and put a hand on Victoire's sleeve.
"They found you. Good, we were getting worried." She gave Victoire's arm a reassuring squeeze before turning a smug smile on Teddy. "I believe you owe me lunch, love."
He looked at her with awe and an inkling of pride, or at least that's what reflected in his expression when his eyes met Owen's guarded ones. "Unbelievable, what did you learn?"
Iska glanced quickly back around the corner, to the office area where clerical staff serviced the various law enforcement departments, tucked further behind paneled doors. " The pair weren't Aurors, they were Unspeakables." She informed them. "No one can say exactly what their involvement means."
"The boat's not normal." Owen dismissed her statement. "We know that."
The thought skittered across Victoire's mind, and something obviously moved across her face. They all caught it. She was a ruddy open book today, only she seemed the sole person who hadn't read the latest chapter.
"Why are we here?" Victoire's words came in a rush as her attention was drawn behind them.
A buzz of voices emerged from a door on the back wall. A group led by the canary lady started making their way closer, through a maze of administrative desks.
"You don't know?" Iska asked.
"One minute!" Owen's clipped tone fell harsh in contrast to Teddy's concern. He had also spotted the group over Teddy and Iska's shoulders. He half-turned his back on the couple, focusing on Victoire. "I have a few blanks I need filled in. About the boat that night."
Victoire pressed her lips together. She hadn't made sense of the events herself and trying to explain anything with what amounted to wild guesses only made a person sound stupid. She had no interest in sounding stupid. Not in this crowd.
The yellow hat was getting closer.
"The boat… protected us." It was all she could think to say.
"There was a woman. Could she have been Micah?" Owen persisted.
"No. Micah Apparated when she couldn't find me. The woman was someone else. "Victoire stopped short of naming LeFay. Had no one but Owen been around to hear, she would have.
Owen all but blocked Victoire from the rest of the room, but she didn't feel safe. Not with the intensity in which he questioned her. "How do you know?"
"The voice," she said, quite sure she bordered on sounding stupid. "I recognized her voice. She recognized me -and you- like the fairies did. She helped us."
Victoire scanned the progress of the canary's group and caught Teddy's eyes dropping to the books loosely clutched, almost forgotten, against her side.
"Describe her." Owen's agitation grew as the group drew near.
"Old, mostly, but youthful." With such a fountain of stupidity now springing from her, she raked her hair back in a loose fist, trying to stop the flow. "Different every time I'd seen her."
"Every time?" Iska asked, picking up on the fairy comment -or maybe the books- and giving Victoire a concerned look. "A fairy in human form simply reflects what the humans around them would expect, not question. They can't be trusted."
Victoire dropped her hand from her hair. "They trusted us."
The sympathy emanating from Iska's mirror-perfect face bordered too close to patronizing. Victoire tensed up, even before she heard what the other woman intended to say. "They used you-"
Teddy took the slightest step between the women. "We're here to help."
"No one needs this help." Owen interrupted, his head swiveling back toward Teddy. "I'm not confused. We didn't sink the damn boat in Australia. It left without us."
"There were no fairies on that boat," Teddy reminded him. "You're memories are combining the incidents. You said so-"
"I don't think so anymore." Owen shook his head. "The boat only looked different on the outside. The bridge was exact. Think about it," he urged Teddy.
Teddy's stance of reassurance faltered. His eyes flickered to their old color briefly, the merest hint of a memory. "We never made it to the bridge."
"Ehem." The canary-woman and her flock had arrived and were stalled near the door Iska had emerged from earlier.
Teddy's head came up with purpose. "We'll stall." He linked his arm with Iska's to steer her toward the group. "Tell. Her." He insisted over his shoulder.
Owen further blocked Victoire from direct view while Teddy and Iska approached the group with a confidence that could not be bypassed, keeping the Ministry officials just beyond the corner.
"You didn't get the letter to come here?" He didn't wait for her confirmation. "They requested us, but they took Micah."
"It's not only the boat." Victoire opened her mouth, but he pressed two quick fingers against her lips, leaning close to her ear. "Michael Morgan is an American student no one's seen since Bimas approved his application."
"They'll interrogate you on everything again, this time about her. I don't trust my memories or your . . . objectivity." He straightened up, out of time. "Be careful."
"She send you for it?" The question emerged from the dark as soon as Victoire had Apparated.
The shock of another person in the secluded back yard stole a moment from Victoire's reaction. A ghostly silhouette of Phineas shone against the wall of the immersion house. She breathed a sigh of relief. He was exactly the person she wanted to see, but she stalled at his comment.
"Diogy?" she asked. Right. Obviously. Someone needed to step up and take care of the dog. What if they impounded him? Why hadn't she thought about that.
Phineas' comment brought her a step closer, where she could distinguish his face in the shadows. Diogy was cowering at his feet.
"I found where she hid it," he stated. His unfocused gaze rested on a random point in the cold, dead ground of the yard. "No one noticed."
Victoire approached, petting the dog on the back of the neck and sensing tension underneath the fur she stroked. The same agitation echoed beneath her skin, knotted in its own tight bundles of stress. She longed to take a flight -to escape and trade her clenched muscles for ones that carried instinct rather than emotions- but she feared her head wasn't clear enough.
Not after the interrogations and accusations she'd endured. The strain drained her, yet her body hummed with an uneasy excess of tightly controlled adrenalin.
Micah hadn't been the one to torch the boat. No possible way. Victoire remembered vividly the same unbelieving fear in the other woman's eyes when they had both realized what was coming toward them. She argued that point for hours, answering questions about every second Micah had been in her company since they'd introduced themselves on the dock last summer.
Had she told them about the dog? She couldn't remember.
They wouldn't take him away.
Or maybe they they would.
Micah had been charged with stealing Michael Morgan's identity and his prepaid Bimas fees. The Department of International Magical Cooperation launched a joint investigation to prove she killed him for them. Micah, at the center of the scrutiny, wasn't offering anything helpful to prove otherwise. Uncle Harry tried to intervene, but she wasn't accepting any help either.
She didn't seem to care about herself, but Micah cared about the dog.
Victoire needed to get Diogy and move him somewhere. Not to her family. Harry would eventually find out, and she couldn't risk the outcome of any dilemma he might have over official obligations. Surely, the Hedge would have ample room for a dog to fade into the background, and if they hurried, they'd get this done before anything else unraveled.
But, Phineas was unmoving. "She never used the wand from the case."
Victoire stopped. "I thought that was why the name was wrong-"
"The relative was a story. A lie she contrived to fool Andy."
"She's not…" Victoire couldn't remember the name on the label. They'd talked about it the night they discovered that Owen was carrying Alphard Black's wand, but the detail was lost to that more urgent pursuit. Another change of context, another shift in the world as she knew it.
Phineas stood and stalked through the house leaving Victoire staring after his rigid back before she hurried to catch up, now a little angry herself. Micah needed help. She needed Phineas to take the dog to the estate he called a home so the pet wouldn't be quarantined or deported.
Micah wasn't getting out of this without rational thinking and an intelligent plan, and Phineas was being pissy. So what if things didn't quite fit right now? They got the wrong person. Victoire was sure of that, and Phineas had to know that too.
He needed to bloody get over it! There was work to be done.
She caught up to him in front of the wand cabinet, rounding on him, ready to unleash her pent up frustration, but he beat her to it.
Pointing a angry finger at the glass he spun on her. "What the hell is that?"
Her own tirade died on her lips when she glanced, against her better judgment, to the wand cabinet. The wand she vaguely recalled from Ollivander's shop that summer rested against the velvet background of the interior. The smooth laurel nestled between Victoire's British wand, left in the case since her disastrous visit to Hogwarts, and Phineas' own reddish-brown mahogany wand. The French fairydust wand Victoire had been using over the holiday landed precisely on the other side of his.
"What do you see?"
There was no name on the label for the wand Phineas found hidden in the courtyard. Nothing. It was blank. Her thoughts stalled. "Th-that's not the one she had before-"
"Marie Lanier? Any idea who she is, because she's not the woman who's been sleeping here. She doesn't have one. How are we supposed to trust someone who hasn't got a name!"
"She. Has. A. Name." Victoire recouped and stepped up to him, but his rigid stature intimidated her from getting too close. She hadn't expected that amount of resistance from him.
"Not a sound argument considering you don't actually know what it is."
"Aaaahhhh!" She unloaded every bit of excess energy on him. He was no better than the papers, calling Micah every name they could sensationalize without the benefit of knowing she even existed a day ago. The ministry had several career criminals in those same holding cells, missing out on their hard earned recognition while Micah was crucified over what had to be clerical misunderstanding. "You know what? She's Micah! Not Michael. Not Detainee Six or whatever the hell the Ministry and the Prophet want to tag her. She's Micah."
Phineas turned and walked away. "I don't think I can call her that when it's not actually true."
"Teddy has always been Teddy, but you call him Theo,
" Victoire called after him. An irrational argument; she hated the name Theo. She'd wanted Teddy to remain Teddy, and she wanted Micah to be who she was before all … all this. Why couldn't people just stay who they were?
Diogy hesitated before beginning to follow Phineas up the stairs.
"Stay!" Victoire commanded the dog. His ears went back with a low, uneasy whine and his dark tail uncurled to drop between his legs.
Phineas faltered in his march up the stairs. He turned back as Victoire grabbed the dog's collar.
"He can't stay here, and I'm not sure right now if I want him anywhere near you."
Phineas stared down the half flight distance between them, stubborn hurt etched in his features. Victoire needed to make this right, but she wasn't going to give in. He couldn't have Diogy if he wasn't going to support Micah.
She slumped against the wall as soon as she heard the footsteps resume and the loud shutting of a door on the third floor. Her eyelids squeezed tight for a long moment, until a wet nose nudged her hand. Bringing her head up, she faced the wand cabinet. The ministry had confiscated the wand Micah had in the house when they took her. Marie Claire's wand. That wand never cast the spell for Fiendfyre, and Victoire was certain that this wand Phineas found didn't either.
But this wand had something to say. She couldn't get it out of the case, but maybe she didn't need to. She'd gotten quite good at following wands, and she knew where to start with this one.
Before she went anywhere, though, she needed a shower. She urged the dog upstairs and Diogy responded quickly, bounding up until the third floor landing where he stopped in front of Phineas and Micah's door. A parchment with a log of officers and what they'd signed out of the room was wedged awkwardly between the door and the message board nailed to it. Any other day, the idea of Magical Law Enforcement improvising a search and seizure without so much as a sticking charm would have been highly entertaining.
There was nothing entertaining about the worried sniffs the dog made around the door. Diogy required persuasion to move further and the effort to pull him away wrenched at Victoire's chest.
He didn't understand, he couldn't.
Obedience won out. The dog eventually followed her up the narrow attic stairs to her room, stale and dusty from being unoccupied while she hid from Teddy. Her post tournament fit seemed a little pathetic now. Who was she to harbor a grudge against Teddy for deciding on his own happiness? All of those things she believed to be real, to be mutual, were really nothing more than him clearing up his own doubts when challenged by her confusion.
Understanding made it better. Grant made it better.
Could Grant take Diogy?
For a split second she considered the thought, but no, not unless they allowed pets into the Ministry. He worked an insane amount of hours, even without the frequent shifts at St. Mungo's to maintain his Healer certification. She'd had to make an appointment to see him today. He needed a reason to go home, but she wasn't convinced he was ready for one.
Early streaks of moonlight filtered past the fine swirl of dust she disturbed entering the room. Victoire nudged the dog inside, closed the door behind him, and crossed to turn on the desk lamp. The weight of every minute of that day pressed on her at once. She exhaled and cradled her head, an attempt to fend off the first pulses of throbbing at her temples.
Diogy didn't come far enough into the room to touch the rug. He planted his furry bottom on the wood floor in front of the door and whined up at her.
"He's being unreasonable." She dropped her hands from her temples and grabbed a bowl to fill with water. Placing it down by the desk and straightening up, she waved a hand at the offering. "Go on."
The dog continued to stare; his throat still emitting low staccato complaints.
"What's the point of a Roommate Code if it crumbles at the first sign of an international incident!"
He turned and scratched at the door. She turned and headed for the shower.
Thanks to everyone reading and leaving reviews. There are a lot of moving parts in this story, but they all have their place, and that will hopefully become clear as the characters figure it out themselves. :-)
At least that's the plan.