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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 5 : Bright Young Things
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1

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‘We should do this more often.’


‘It’s good that we have. We get to talk. Properly talk, you know?’

‘Mmph? Mmph!’

‘We’re sharing.’

Tanith swallowed quickly as Tobias reached across the café table for her pastries. ‘Touch my danish and you die, Grey.’

He withdrew his hand, chuckling. ‘Just making sure you’re paying attention.’

‘Yes. Nice times. Sharing.’ Tanith’s expression twisted guiltily. ‘I’m sorry. I’m glad you made time for this, I really am. We should make this our compromise when we can’t manage dinner. This way the day hasn’t had the chance to make us run late. But this isn’t the best day.’

Tobias shifted his weight uncomfortably and her guilt increased. ‘When is it ever the best day?’

‘I mean it - I’ve got a brand new case, and a trio of FNGs to teach. I’ve got to do this right.’

‘I didn’t realise the Auror Office was in the practice of doing things wrong,’ Tobias pointed out, munching absently on a croissant. ‘What’s an FNG?’

‘Fucking New Guy,’ she growled. ‘Weasley I could cope with. Bell I could... hold my nose through. But I get Potter? This is just going to be a nightmare, for me and the media.’

‘I’m sorry to say it’s already over the papers.’ Tobias set the day’s issue of the Daily Prophet on the table with a lopsided smile.

‘Let me guess,’ she said, reaching for it. ‘Under the headline it says “Boy-Who-Lived Harry Potter is being taught by accomplished Auror Tabitha Cale?’

‘Actually, you’re not mentioned, it’s just about Potter entering the field...’ Something glinted in Tobias’ eyes as he watched her, and he leant forward. ‘That bugs you!’

‘No, it doesn’t -’

‘Yes, it does.’ He caught her hand as she went for another pastry, and she was so surprised she didn’t stop him from kissing her fingertips lightly. Then he’d done it and she didn’t care so much if she couldn’t go for a pastry, just spent a second grinning like an idiot. ‘You want the attention.’

‘Well.’ Tanith rolled the word around her mouth. ‘Maybe a little. I don’t want no attention while still having to deal with the fuss, you know?’

‘I do know.’ Tobias gave his own silly grin. ‘Just take my word for it - whenever you get the chance? Dodge the press. It’s not worth it and they will piss you off.’

‘I know how to keep my cool.’

‘The soul of self-control that you are?’ But he was still grinning and so it was impossible to be angry with him. ‘I know you’ll be fine. I’m just saying it’s not worth it.’

‘Press or no press, I’ve got to go,’ she sighed, pulling her hand back reluctantly. ‘I can’t arrive at the scene after the trainees. That just looks bad.’

He watched her get up with wistful reluctance, pulling a file out of his bag and setting it on the table. He’d mentioned he had some reading to do before he made it into the office; she felt briefly guilty she’d consumed his busy time by making him sit with her while she stuffed her face with pastries, but pushed that guilt away. It was all too rare that they got to sit together doing nothing. ‘I’ll drop an owl by your flat next time there’s a gap in my schedule,’ he promised.

‘With trainees to take care of I can’t guarantee there’s going to be a gap in mine,’ she said, going over to plant a light kiss on his lips in farewell. ‘But you never know, you might find yourself in a serendipitous romantic appointment with Cal.’

‘It’s not like that between us. Well. Maybe that one time.’ Tobias smirked. ‘Let’s try breakfast, at the least. I like seeing you in the mornings.’

She managed to mumble something coherent and affectionate and not at all awkward before stumbling out of the café into Diagon Alley, and then off to her destination, a fine place with whirling, not unpleasant but certainly diverting thoughts in her head: a crime scene.

I like seeing you in the mornings...

* *

‘Really? We’re getting transferred out of the training squad to get some field experience, and it’s for a case which belongs on an Enforcer’s desk?’ Ron Weasley scowled at the house the three of them stood in front of, fiddling uncomfortably with his newly-allocated Auror’s coat. He’d been fitted for it at the beginning of training five months ago. Since then he’d gone from being on the run for the better part of a year to getting three square meals a day, not to mention a solid workout routine, and he was definitely wider.

At the shoulders, Ron would maintain. But that didn’t make the coat fit any better.

‘We weren’t going to get anything too exciting, Ron. We are just out of training.’ Harry peered up and down the winding country road they’d apparated beside. Bart Mulready’s home was isolated, as most wizarding abodes were, and the dozen or so members of the MLE crawling all over the house as they secured the crime scene were probably the most activity the sleepy country house had seen in years.

‘I thought there’d at least be hunting a dark wizard involved,’ Ron grumbled. ‘You know, we’re Aurors. Dark Wizard Hunters. It’s kind of in the name.’

‘Mulready was a Death Eater,’ piped up Katie Bell, who’d been stood a little distance away from the duo. ‘He joined the MLE when Thicknesse took over.’

Ron peered at her. ‘How’d you know?’

‘He was on Thanatos Brynmor’s team, hunting down the Lions. Come on, we won’t get any answers staring at the house, and it’s going to rain, I just know it.’ Katie jerked her head, and the three of them crunched down the winding path to the ramshackle house, their arrival getting a little more attention from the Enforcers than they would have expected.

Enforcers did usually pay attention when the investigating Aurors made it to the crime scene. Just normally that attention was an acknowledgement and then begrudging disinterest as they got back to their security work.

When one of the investigating Aurors was the Boy Who Lived, attention was a little more focused.

‘If he was in Brynmor’s team,’ said Harry, clearly trying to ignore the probing eyes and concentrate on the matter at hand, ‘then why wasn’t he arrested?’

‘He got drummed out and abandoned. I don’t know, maybe he made some plea-bargain and gave information on a bigger fish. Maybe the Aurors were watching him with the hope he’d join up with Avery and give them a lead. It’s more complicated than we’d like.’ Katie reached up to push the front door open and duck into the gloomy house. ‘Besides. Being on Brynmor’s team isn’t a one-way ticket to Azkaban. After all, our trainer was in Brynmor’s team.’

Ron made a face. ‘You’re kidding.’

‘She’s really not.’

The three of them turned to see a woman not in the dark-green coat of the Auror Office, but a grey, rather baggy trenchcoat coming down the stairs into the hallway of Mulready’s house. The building smelled of mould and damp, and the wooden floorboards creaked underfoot. Decorations were sparse, just a portrait here and there of some ancestor, and it looked like a family home which had been neglected by the last scion of the lineage.

But Ron’s focus was most of all on the new arrival. ‘Oh, no,’ he groaned. ‘That Cole.’

‘Yeah, Weasley, that Cole,’ growled their Auror trainer as she gestured for them to follow into the living room. ‘Glad the three of you could make it on time.’

Harry elbowed Ron as they followed. ‘Dawlish had some last-minute paperwork we needed to fill in. Paperwork he neglected to, you know, have us deal with yesterday so we could transfer teams in peace.’

The living room of the Mulready house was lit only by the overcast sky outside, and Tanith crossed the room to pull some shutters open so they could enjoy the full glory of musty sofas and dated, faded photographs and paintings. ‘Lucky for you, you don’t answer to Dawlish any more. Forget everything he taught you. First lesson from me is this: John Dawlish is an idiot.’

‘I’d figured that one out for myself a few years ago, thanks,’ said Harry coolly.

Tanith paused, that clearly not having been the response she’d anticipated, and she fiddled with her sleeve. ‘Right. How come Bell here knows about Mulready and you two don’t? Did you skip the reading?’

‘Oh, there wasn’t any reading,’ offered Katie helpfully from where she was examining some of the pictures along the mantelpiece. ‘All we got told yesterday was his name. I just knew he was, you know, part of the jackbooted brigade chasing us last year.’

‘But you knew about how he’d been drummed out of the MLE.’

‘I just asked Jen, she had all his records and I wanted to be ready. Gabe says “hi”, by the way, and you and Toby are invited for dinner some time. I get to be the fifth wheel unless I can win over that pretty girl down in admin...’

Ron flashed Harry a grin as Tanith’s second effort to put the boot down went awry, and this time Harry returned the smirk a bit. They’d run the gauntlet over the past few months on how veteran Aurors would treat them - their trainer was falling into the classic pit-traps of acting superior and then tripping up, on this occasion in record time.

‘...that’s great, Bell.’ Tanith ran a hand through her hair and took a deep breath, visibly gathering herself as her gaze swept across the other two of the Training Unit. ‘I suppose you two know me, anyway. Tanith Cole. I joined the Auror Office last year, right before the Thicknesse administration. I was in active service all that time, yes, in the MLE under Yaxley’s control. If either one of you has a problem with it, I invite you to A) Go to hell, and B) Know I managed to get myself locked in Azkaban by the end.’

‘And totally fed us pretty handy information,’ said Katie. ‘She’s one of the good guys.’

Tanith looked a mixture of frustrated and pleased at being vouched for, but Harry lifted a hand. ‘We understand that a lot of the Auror Office stayed on the job when Voldemort was in charge. We understand a lot of people didn’t have a choice. I’m here to learn, and to get down to business.’

She nodded brusquely. ‘Some people did have a choice. Bart Mulready was one of those people. Bell’s right; he was a low-level Death Eater who was brought in by Yaxley to Brynmor’s office. What she didn’t mention was that he was an Enforcer until about ten years ago, kicked out for brutality, and it took an evil overlord in charge before he was given a badge again, then in the Auror Office. He was an unpleasant son of a bitch whom I personally witnessed torture and brutalise suspects and witnesses to achieve his goals. If you want a bit of context, Bell, he was in Lestrange’s team at the Wilson house.’

Ron didn’t have a clue what this was in reference to, but the face Katie made in reaction told him enough. ‘So he’s not one of those people in a complicated situation. Why are we worrying about how he’s dead, then?’

‘Because he’s still been murdered, and so far as we’ve been aware, he wasn’t involved in the Remnant. Since he was drummed out he lived here and stayed quiet. It’s likely the Prosecution Office would have got around to bringing charges against him, especially now the Nott case is over and done with, but he wasn’t exactly top of the priority list.’ Tanith clasped her hands behind her back and began to pace, voice rather less tense, rather less harsh, and now she was all business, reeling off the details with cool professionalism. ‘This is on the Auror Office desk because there’s a chance it’s connected with the Remnant, and he was an Auror and a Death Eater. Old Man Vaughn thinks it’s best for us to keep this in-house.

‘He also thinks this is going to be something you trainees can cut your teeth on. So I’m prepared to let you show me what you’ve got, show me what bright ideas you have, and let you run with them. I’ll be here to point you in the right direction, and here to help you follow the process Dawlish allegedly taught you about.’

Ron wrinkled his nose. ‘Point us in the right direction? You’re acting like you’ve already solved this case.’

She shook her head. ‘No, not even close. But I’ve got my ideas of where to start.’ Tanith reached into her coat to pull out a file, which she tossed onto the coffee table in the middle of the living room. ‘In there’s everything we’ve got about Mulready, and everything about the body itself. The house hasn’t been touched or interfered with, save the Enforcers securing the location and me conducting my own search. He was found in the bedroom upstairs, second on your right. Everything else is pretty much as-is; pictures are in there of the house when we found it if you want to be pernickety.’

Katie looked up from the pictures on the mantelpiece. ‘I didn’t get that much of a breakdown from Jen,’ she admitted. ‘Have we gone to his family?’

‘They’ve been informed,’ said Tanith with a nod.

She jerked a thumb at one of the small photos on top of a bookshelf. ‘Have they been questioned?’

Tanith gave a wry smile. ‘Some preliminary questions. I’m sure we’ll need to go see them soon enough.’

Ron had picked up some sheets from the folder, flicking through them. ‘Says here that he’s divorced,’ he said. ‘Ex-wife lives on her own in Winchester. No children. They split up ten years ago and there’s a note here about her having made domestic abuse accusations against him around the time - and then dropped them.’

‘It wasn’t a happy break-up,’ Tanith confirmed.

‘And it gets better,’ said Ron, though his gut was twisting unpleasantly. The sarcasm helped. ‘There are several notes of her going to the Enforcers about him harassing her afterwards. Each time they dropped him a visit, each time he’d leave her alone for a few months, maybe even a few years. The last note was about a month before Voldemort took over.’

Katie made a face. ‘And I bet the Enforcer office was just thrilled to help her out once Yaxley was at the top of it. Oh, and what time-frame do we have on him being kicked out of the MLE the first time around, and her divorcing him?’

Tanith nodded approvingly while Ron shuffled papers on the search. ‘Good catch. She filed for divorce a week after he was dismissed.’

‘And funnily enough there’s no indication of any criminal investigation into domestic violence when he was an Enforcer. When it would have been his colleagues who would have done the investigating.’ Ron made a face. ‘If this adds up the way I think it does, this is vile.’

‘I’m sorry to say that the MLE wasn’t sunshine and perfection before Yaxley’s rule, and we’re still working on our daily dose of puppies even now,’ said Tanith, but her sarcasm sounded more judging of the system than judging of his discomfort.

‘I still want to read the rest of the files and take a look at the crime scene itself,’ said Ron, looking up at Tanith, ‘but I think we’re really going to need to have a talk with the ex-Mrs Mulready.’

‘The Enforcers are confirming her last known address as we speak.’ Tanith looked at Harry, who had rummaged through some other papers from the folder. ‘Anything to add to this, Potter?’

‘Hm?’ Harry looked up, and ran a hand through his perpetually-messy hair. ‘Oh. The body’s been taken down to the morgue?’

‘That’s right.’

‘So the time of death, we reckon, is about six in the morning yesterday. Looks like someone broke in through the window to his bedroom, which woke him up, and there are signs of a struggle but we don’t think Mulready got to his wand before he was cursed and killed,’ Harry reeled off, looking at Ron and Katie.

‘It’s the going theory.’

‘Except that whoever did it didn’t use the Killing Curse.’ Harry’s brow furrowed.

Tanith sighed. ‘You’re going to learn a few things,’ she said, ‘now you’re not fighting the finest of the Death Eaters. The Killing Curse? Is a real bitch to use. You’ve got to be seriously messed up, seriously powerful, and seriously full of hate to wield it. It doesn’t get used in fights much because it takes a lot of concentration, and unlike other spells, if you don’t pull it off right you don’t get a weaker hit, like you would with a Stun - you get nothing. So it’s often not tactically sound to use the Killing Curse, even if you’re capable of it, in the middle of a frantic fight. If this had gone into a short brawl, which it looks like it did, and the murderer had a chance to get a spell off, they could have picked several dozen potentially-lethal alternatives to the Killing Curse.’

‘Which they did.’ Harry tapped a picture. ‘A slashing curse to the chest, which we reckon incapacitated him and dropped him from blood loss. Do we know which specific slashing curse was used?’

Tanith picked at some lint on her coat. ‘No. No, the body’s not been analysed for that yet.’

Harry slid the papers back in the folder. ‘I think we should find out. There are a lot of different slashing curses and different wizards use different techniques and spells. We might get something useful out of it.’ He watched her curiously. ‘You don’t look convinced.’

‘Oh, you might well be right. But I’ll tell you what, Potter? I’ll show you how to write up the research request for the arithmancers down in the morgue. And you can go wrangle with them to see if they’ll fit it into their schedule.’

Harry looked nonplussed. ‘I’m sure I can manage.’

Tanith snorted. ‘Bolder Aurors than you have tried. Getting requests like that processed is, I’m pretty sure, one of the layers of hell. But upon your head be it.’ She clapped her hands together. ‘Enough yapping, though. The scene’s only had my eyes and the glance of some Enforcers on it. You’re meant to be bright young things; if you can’t give me answers, get me more questions.’

* *

But the Enforcers, when they tracked down Annabelle Mulready’s home in Winchester, reported to find nothing more than darkened windows, closed shutters, and an unanswered doorbell. Any hopes the trainee Aurors might have had of bringing in the only family member on record and the closest thing to a suspect in the first day were thoroughly dashed. Katie had volunteered to check the area for traces of recent apparitions or Portkeys, but Tanith had instead dispatched them to question the street of grimy terraced houses in what she described as “proper” police work.

Katie had rounded it off with some of her charms, but aside from the comings and goings of the other local wizards, she’d not found anything to counter what the interviews had suggested: Annabelle Mulready hadn’t been seen since she’d left her house the evening before her ex-husband’s murder.

‘What’s the next step, Chief?’ Katie had asked, forcing some bounce into her voice at the less-than-thrilling prospects of their first day properly on the job. ‘We get to trace all the recent transport activity and see if the trail of any of it leads us to Mulready’s house?’

‘Except we’ve got no Portkey traces from that evening, and we can’t trace apparitions from that far back,’ Tanith had said on the way back to Canary Wharf. ‘So you can check the Floo network for anything notable, though there was no entry to Mulready’s house by Floo.’

‘Then how do we find if she went there?’ Harry had grumbled.

‘You’re putting the theory before the evidence again. All we want to do is find her, right now. The rest comes later. And to find her we want to check the Knight Bus movements and records and see if she’s shown up in Saint Mungo’s. Also check local Muggle hospitals.’

‘You think something’s happened to her?’ said Katie.

‘I think that she apparated away and so we’re going to need a really good lead to find her. On the plus side, innocent people don’t tend to run. On the down side, we can’t pin everything in this case on her.’ Tanith had turned to them as they stood in the back yard at Annabelle Mulready’s home, gathering before they apparated back to Canary Wharf. ‘So I have an important job for you three.’

That turned out to be going through the transcripts and records of all of Bart Mulready’s cases and incidents in the MLE - both times he’d been in the Department. The man had been specifically targeted by someone who’d broken into his home; there was little doubt that this had been personally motivated. Until they got a spot of luck with finding his ex-wife, they were forced to see if there were other leads.

And they were still pursuing these possible other leads at nine o’ clock, the lights in their bullpen in Canary Wharf low, amongst the very few people still in the building at this time of night.

‘The problem with this guy,’ grumbled Katie as she turned the page of one of the old case folders, ‘is finding someone who doesn’t have motive to kill him.’

‘He’s certainly an unpleasant character,’ agreed Harry, head in his hands as he stared at the latest folder in his own pile. ‘This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.’

‘I’m seriously considering,’ she said sombrely, ‘getting tea fed directly into my veins.’

Ron made a noise of discontent and reached for the next file. ‘How come Cole’s not down here with us?’

‘She gets to follow the breadcrumb trail after the ex-wife. She’ll have the contacts to do it far quicker than us,’ said Harry, understanding but clearly not happy about it. ‘While any monkey can go through old cases to see if any familiar names or particular motives for murder pop up.’

‘Hey, we’re Aurors. That makes us elite monkeys,’ said Katie.

Harry scowled. ‘How’d you two know Cole, anyway?’

‘She was in my year. Didn’t have much to do with her at school but I knew her by sight. Liked to make out she was Slytherin’s biggest bitch, though that said more about her competition than her. Mostly I remembered her being petty and vindictive.’

‘A Slytherin?’ Ron’s voice went mocking. ‘Say it’s not so...’

‘But you recognised her.’ Harry nodded at him.

‘Well, yeah, she was a prefect, weren’t she.’ He shrugged. ‘Can’t say I cared much for her one way or the other. But she was friends with Grey, you know, the other prefect, Head Boy, now one of Kingsley’s staff, guy who wrote that resistance newspaper? And he was one of the few people whose eyes didn’t do that glazing-over thing when Hermione wanted to talk about studies. So we’d get dragged into the outskirts of that particular sucking whirlpool...’

‘She still clearly wants to be top dog. I’ve had quite enough,’ said Harry slowly, ‘of Ministry officials on a power-trip...’

‘I dunno, I mean, Katie, you said she was one of the good guys?’

‘But that’s a whole world away from nice. I don’t think that word features in her vocabulary. She definitely wasn’t on Thicknesse’s side, and she’s got high profile family that could have been easily targeted.’ Katie shrugged. ‘I guess we just have to trust the Auror Office to not put us under the tuition of someone really unsuitable?’

‘I’d believe that,’ said Harry, ‘if Dawlish didn’t run the training -’

‘I assure you, Dawlish couldn’t train a paper bag to be buffeted by the wind. I, on the other hand, do a real job in this office.’

Harry fought a wince as he looked around to see Tanith herself sauntering into the dimly-lit bullpen, a few rolls of parchment under her arm. ‘Oh, er, did you get -’

‘Nothing from the hospitals. I’ve spoken to a couple of Knight Bus drivers, but the guy I really want’s on shift and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow before I can pin him down. Ooh, tea.’ Tanith reached out to pour herself a mug from the teapot, magically kept warm, in the middle of the desks the trainees had shoved together. ‘Anything?’

Everything,’ Harry said flatly.

‘Mulready. Real charmer.’ Katie made a circle with her thumb and index finger. ‘Women loved him, men wanted to be him.’

‘Hey, you didn’t have to work with him. Stellar personality on top of all that.’ Tanith looked across at them. ‘I know, today’s not been glamorous. I hate to burst your bubble after all the hunting of super-evil dark wizards or striking blows against oppressive governments. But this really is what a huge chunk of this job’s all about.’

‘So you’re foisting it on to us,’ Ron observed.

‘Delegation is the key to success. Just, you know. My success. Not yours.’ She shrugged and smirked a superior smirk. ‘All I’m saying is -’

‘Cole, got a minute?’

‘Oh, hey, other people in the Ministry do work as late hours as we do!’ Katie said with little enthusiasm as they looked around to see Jennifer Riley walking in, folder under one arm. Plodding behind him, ever her shadow, was the stout shape of Tom Everard, bearing even more paperwork on her behalf.

‘How many nights out of the last seven did you make it to bed, Katie?’ Jen sniped back. ‘I know it was more than five, and you got a lie-in yesterday, so I’m getting that world’s smallest violin out for you any time soon.’

Katie smirked, leaning across to her fellow trainees with a conspiratorial wink. ‘Someone’s cranky because they don’t have a kettle in her office, and I stole the one from home,’ she said in a stage whisper, before going to protectively shift the teapot in the middle of the desks out of Jen’s reach.

Jen looked at her housemate, before rolling her eyes and fixing her attention on Tanith. ‘I need to talk before you shoot off.’

‘Shoot off. That’s totally what I do of an evening,’ Tanith said dryly, but she perched on the nearest desk anyway. ‘What do you need?’

‘I want to push ahead with the Lackardy case. This is not someone I want to see get bail, this is not an incident I want to see get pushed down on the priority list. Savage conducted all of the interviews with him, but you were the investigating officer before the arrest.’

‘Normally I’d be spitting on you, Riley, for trying to make me give evidence in court,’ said Tanith with a groan. ‘But for this bastard, just name the day.’

‘I will once I’ve set it. I need a few odds and ends from you first, though.’ Jen pulled out a pen, and took a pad of paper passed to her by Tom. ‘Like who else was on the arrest team.’

Tanith’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are you joking, Riley?’

Jen looked bewildered. ‘What?’

‘The arrest team was me, and Jacob.’ Tanith had straightened, gaze flashing. ‘Unless you were planning on holding a seance in the middle of the damn -’

‘Lackardy said there were more.’ Jen lifted a hand to forestall the onslaught of fury. ‘He said he was attacked in his flat and he fled downstairs to run into you and Van Roden. That’s what I wanted to ask, there were no records of anyone else on duty...’

Now Tanith’s fury had faded for her own bewilderment. ‘There was nobody else on that arrest team, Riley. We didn’t send anyone in. We were staking him out, we wanted it to be a quiet takedown!’

Something shifted in Jen’s expression, and she threw her folder down on the desk in irritation. ‘...this is becoming bloody amateur hour here and at the Prosecution Office.’ Beside her, Tom looked grouchy and set about gathering up the folder.

Tanith had stood, crossing over to her. ‘Why, what did Lackardy say, who else was there that evening?’

‘I don’t know - he thought they were other Aurors, and because Savage was processing him and not you, that little detail slipped through the cracks.’ Jen pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘See, this is ridiculous. If these people had an even halfway competent defence team, brigades of them would be walking.’

‘Then let’s be glad they don’t have a competent defence team, and you’re the competent prosecution.’ She jerked a finger at Jen.

‘Yeah, that’s the way to a free and just society,’ Jen muttered. ‘What I wanted originally, anyway, were your file notes from before you arrested him. I’d like to make some charges other than murder stick.’

‘I’ll get the files shipped down to you,’ Tanith said, ‘as soon as I find them.’ She eyed the other woman dubiously. ‘What’re you going to do about this other assailant thing?’

‘I need to pin it down. As any defender with half a whiff of talent could use this to unravel the whole case.’

Tanith did sober at that. ‘Then anything you need, I’ll get for you. This bastard needs to be looking at Azkaban walls for the rest of his life, if there’s any justice in the world. I’ll get all of mine and Jacob’s files out of storage and have them for you by morning.’

‘Appreciate it, Cole.’ Jen looked at Katie. ‘I’ve got to get back to the office. If you’re home before I am, can you tell Gabe -’

‘I’ll tell him you’re working late - like he won’t have guessed. I’m not passing on sordid sexy messages,’ said Katie, and Tanith made a face that unironically mimicked hers.

Tom Everard gave the gathered a wan smile which was returned by the rest; Tanith was suddenly struck with the unpleasant awareness that she was the outcast amongst a group who had been, if not friends, then civil at school. ‘How’s the case going?’

‘Mulready? Fuck that guy,’ Tanith responded before they could. ‘Not sorry he’s dead.’

Tom gave Jen a pointed look. ‘See, I can say these things, the Auror office agree-’

‘But they still have to find his murderer. And when they do, we still have to prosecute them,’ Jen growled, then she nodded to the Aurors. ‘We’ll leave you to your work.’

Ron looked up from having pretended to still be reading his folders once Jen and Tom had left the bullpen. ‘Who’s this Lackardy?’

Tanith’s expression pinched up, pained. ‘He was my last case,’ she said. ‘We arrested him and he’ll be on trial soon enough. Another one of Yaxley’s boys, only we think he was actually working with Avery.’

‘Who’d he murder?’ Harry’s voice was light, cautious.

‘Jacob Van Roden. My old training officer. My partner.’ Tanith ran a hand through her hair. ‘You know what? You’re going to be too wiped to make the right connections going through those files at this time. Take off. Get some sleep. Bright and early back here tomorrow, and you never know, I might have a lead on Annabelle Mulready.’

Ron looked a little defensive. ‘We could do a little longer -’

‘Don’t you have someone waiting for you back home, Weasley?’ said Tanith. ‘Trust me. When your superior tells you to go home around here, go home. It’s not an order you’ll hear a lot, and make the most of it. And the time you’ll get.’

They didn’t argue, gathering their things and sloping off, though Katie lingered a little longer as she retrieved her coat. ‘You’re not going to get some rest, Chief?’

‘You can save the “Chiefs” for the old man, Bell,’ said Tanith, who had sat herself down at her desk. The one pushed opposite it, Jacob Van Roden’s old desk, remained empty, his affairs cleared away, no replacement yet assigned to it.

‘Nice dodge.’

‘Thanks. I practice.’

Katie quirked an eyebrow. ‘But, seriously.’

Tanith pulled a folder out of a drawer. ‘Why do you care?’

‘Because... well, I didn’t, much, I was just making chit-chat, but then you went from zero to hyper-defensive in a third of a second and aren’t we, I don’t know, supposed to bond? Band together?’

‘I’m your Training Officer. Leave your bonding for the Boy Who Lived and his sidekick.’

‘I know them. I played Quidditch with them. We’re pretty well bonded.’ Katie sighed. ‘You know I live not just with Jen, but with Gabe. I’m not oblivious to the scuttlebutt that says your fairy tale ending wasn’t so fairy tale.’

‘Fairy tale.’ Tanith scoffed. ‘I appreciate your concern, Bell. But I really do want to get these files found and down to Riley, and I do want to have us with something to pursue tomorrow. I might want to shake the hand of whoever killed Mulready, but I want them found, too.’ She glanced up from her rummaging around her desk. ‘I didn’t expect to see you here. In the Auror Office.’

‘Yeah. Well.’ Katie rolled a shoulder. ‘I could say some guff about being cursed with an evil necklace gave me a drive to take responsibility for the bad things in the world so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. But after last year? Working with the Lions? Seeing and doing all I did? I don’t think I could go back to nine-to-five office work. The world might be going back to normal, but I don’t know if I am.’

‘Normal.’ Another scoff. ‘It’s overrated.’

‘It does get you home on time, though. Good luck with your hunting, Chief. I’ll see you in the morning.’

And, not wishing to press the issue any more, Katie pulled on her uniform coat and slunk out of the office, leaving the only person in the Investigation Department as Tanith, sat alone at her desk in the gloom, going through the records and details on the man who killed her partner.

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