The next morning, the entire Auror office met in Dunmore’s flat.
Everyone looked very grim as they packed into the kitchen, some still finishing up bits of breakfast, others pulling quills and scrolls of parchment out of their robes to take notes on the meeting. Macario sat on a counter, nibbling on a piece of bacon and skimming over the front page of the Daily Prophet, which was being passed around. Lance stood at an opposite counter, pouring himself a cup of tea. A few people spoke in low voices; most were silent.
After several minutes of dramatic tension, Dunmore emerged from his bedroom wearing plain black robes as usual, and pushed his way to the center of the room. Those who had been speaking fell silent, waiting.
“Now.” said Dunmore gravely. “I assume you’ve all heard about the Gringotts break-in last night. This only makes our situation more serious – it doesn’t say so in the Prophet, but several goblins were killed in that attack, and it looks like it was done by one or more werewolves.”
Victoire’s stomach clenched.
“We already have people looking into the Gringotts situation. But as we move on with our investigation, it is vital that we determine the involvement of werewolves in this criminal organization,” said Dunmore. “Lance’s investigation has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that these murders, and now this break in, have been the work of organization we’re currently trying to infiltrate. There is some connection to werewolves – Lupin, one of the organization’s founders, is a werewolf. And the styles of all the murders have resembled werewolf attacks. But why?”
Nobody had an answer.
“In any case, we’re going to be running a very delicate operation tonight,” said Dunmore, a dark look crossing his face. “Rimmon Astoreth will be holding a gathering of his and Lupin’s associates, presumably in celebration of the break-in. All three of our undercover Aurors will be attending. This will be a good opportunity to get an idea of Ministry workers who are involved in the organization. Of course, just because somebody shows up doesn’t mean we can arrest them. Still, keep your eyes open. Now, undercovers, are you clear on each other’s names and roles?”
Lizbeth cleared her throat. “I’m Lindsay Fein, a small-time Ministry worker who’s unsatisfied with the political state of things. Macario is Winston Krall, a pub-owner who wants to make some money on the side. Victoire is Diana Wade, an American tourist who’s seeing Astoreth.”
Victoire wondered vaguely why Macario had chosen the name Winston.
“Good,” said Dunmore. “Try to keep an eye on each other but don’t ever let on that you know each other. If they catch on to one of you, the other two must do nothing. If you try to save someone they know is a rat, they’ll know you’re one too. If it comes down to it, you’ll stand by and placidly watch your coworker die. Can you handle that?”
Victoire, Lizbeth, and Macario glanced at each other, all wondering the same thing. They had known each other for years. How could they stand aside and watch a coworker be murdered?
“Yes, sir.” they replied dutifully.
In the body of Diana Wade, Victoire slipped into a set of beaded crimson dress robes reminiscent of the 1920s. Considering that she was going to a party for a criminal organization, the outfit felt appropriate. She brushed her hair out with straightening potion, rubbed dark red lipstick over her lips, curled her eyelashes, and took a step back from the mirror.
Diana Wade was beautiful, with her dark velvety hair and thick lashes.
Victoire wondered who this body was in real life. Most of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s store of Polyjuice Potion was prepared using hairs from Muggles. Victoire stared at the stranger’s face in the mirror, and wondered the woman she had become was a Muggle. She wondered whether she was married, what kind of job she had, where she lived. She imagined how strange it would be to walk past her on the street.
She shook her head, slipped some bracelets onto her wrists, and clasped a necklace around her neck. She needed to clear her mind. Tonight was going to be extremely dangerous, and she would need to keep a level head if she wanted to make it to tomorrow morning alive.
She ran over a quick checklist in her mind, taking deep breaths.
I am Diana Wade.
I am an American. I am twenty-six. I went to school at the Salem Witches’ Academy.
I have never worked a day in my life. I inherited my parent’s fortune and use it to travel. I am constantly on vacation. I have no worries.
I am playful. I am carefree.
I do not know the name Teddy Lupin.
So, thought Victoire. This is the Underworld.
Rimmon’s house was brimming with all kinds of people, from well-dressed Ministry workers to ragged, tired-faced people who looked like they may have wandered in off the streets. Under the flickering candlelight of the house’s crystal chandeliers, they all spoke to each other freely, despite their different appearances, and the atmosphere in the room was relaxed and informal – even celebratory. Rimmon paraded Victoire around the room like a show-dog, introducing her to people. He was wearing a set of dark green robes that looked extremely expensive.
Victoire had met two Ministry workers already. She started a list of them in her head, repeating the names over and over to herself. There were also several faces that Victoire recognized from the Ministry, but couldn’t put names to.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Rimmon into Victoire’s ear, as they navigated through the milling clusters of people. “This is the future, Diana.”
“What do you mean?” said Victoire.
Rimmon gazed proudly around the room with his catlike eyes. “All the people in this room share a vision of a new kind of Britain – a new kind of world. A world in which people will be judged by their merit – what they have to offer to the world – and not for circumstances beyond their control. We’re going to create that world.”
“What is it you do, exactly?” asked Victoire.
“We clear the way for a new era,” said Rimmon, his eyes flashing.
Victoire raised her eyebrows. “Sounds like fluff to me.”
“It’s not fluff if you know how to go about it,” said Rimmon. “Oi- Ted! Man of the hour!”
Victoire breathed deeply as Teddy fought his way over through the crowd. He was wearing black robes (well made, but not flashy like Rimmon’s) and had on the same face and hair that Victoire had seen him in the previous day. As he quietly greeted Rimmon, Victoire couldn’t help but wonder if the Teddy Lupin she had known was really behind that mask.
“Someone, get me a drink,” said Rimmon boisterously, clapping an arm around Teddy’s shoulders. “I’ve got to make a toast.”
Teddy shook his head, trying to extricate himself from Rimmon’s grasp. “I’d rather you didn’t–”
But Rimmon had already snatched up a drink from someone. It was a thick, smoking black liquid that looked totally inedible. Rimmon held it into the air with a grin. “Esteemed colleagues,” he said, using his wand to magnify his voice. The room went silent, and everyone in it turned their attention to Rimmon.
“We’ve gathered here today to celebrate our success and to celebrate each other,” said Rimmon’s booming, yet still somehow silky, voice. “But what we should really be celebrating is Ted – without him, none of this would exist.”
Victoire glanced at Teddy, who was staring at the ground with his hands in his pockets, looking mollified.
“We may all come from different places,” continued Rimmon, “different families, different professions. But our souls are one, and under the full moon we are one.”
Victoire looked around at Rimmon’s spellbound audience, eyes widening. Could he mean…?
“To Ted,” said Rimmon.
“To Ted,” echoed the room, raising their glasses.
“And to we, the fallen,” said Rimmon.
“We who will rise.” chorused the room.
Victoire felt like a guest at some foreign religious service. As everyone drank to Teddy, the whole house was completely silent, and the cryptic words she had heard still rang in her ears. Then conversations began to take root and branch out through the room, and the atmosphere was suddenly jovial again, as if nothing had happened.
“Thanks, Rimmon,” said Teddy quietly.
“Thank you, Ted,” said Rimmon with a wide grin. “Thanks to your brilliance, we have all the funds we – Well, better not to talk about business. It’s a party, after all.”
“Right.” Teddy looked around with an unreadable expression. “Well, I’ll be upstairs, if you need me.”
“You’re not going up so soon?” Rimmon’s grin faltered. “Relax, Ted. Give yourself a break – get a drink, find a woman.”
Teddy’s face was suddenly stony. “I’m not interested in women. You know that.”
“Have it your way, then.” Rimmon rolled his eyes as Teddy disappeared into the crowd. “He’s brilliant, Ted is, but a bit reclusive.”
“He’s foreboding,” observed Victoire. “Seems more like a statue than a person.”
Rimmon laughed. “Most people are statues – Teddy’s flesh and blood. He doesn’t have a family, apparently. I imagine that’s why he keeps to himself.”
Rimmon offered Victoire a hand. She took it, and, as he escorted her outside to the gardens, she glanced over her shoulder at the huge gothic house, and caught a glimpse of a tall, dark figure in one of the top windows. Teddy. He must have been staring out the window, deep in thought. Maybe he was thinking about Victoire, wondering where she was and what she was doing.
There was a fountain at the center of the garden. Rimmon sat down on its edge, and Victoire sat beside him. She looked down into the water that reflected the black sky, and thought of Teddy’s black eyes, and wondered what it all meant.
“You said something in your speech that I didn’t understand,” said Victoire. “’We’re all the same under the full moon.’”
“Diana…” said Rimmon, taking her hand in his cool, lithe ones. “I suppose you have a right to know this if we’re going to keep seeing each other. I’m a werewolf.”
Victoire was not surprised. She looked around at the rosebushes, which were faded and tired. The fountain gurgled as if choking on the reflection of the crescent moon, and the trees in the distant forest creaked back and forth.
“I don’t mind,” she said, looking back up at Rimmon, whose eyes suddenly became very soft, not like a cat’s at all. He took her into his arms and kissed her, and she let him do it, and she even pressed herself closer into the warmth of his body, because it was growing cold and dark. She did not move her lips against the hot pressure of his mouth. Eventually, he drew away from her.
“So then, they’re all werewolves?” said Victoire. “Everyone who’s here tonight?”
“Most of them.”
“I didn’t think there were so many in Britain.”
“Many are unregistered,” said Rimmon. “They try to avoid notice for as long as they can, because once they register as werewolves their lives become much harder.”
Victoire nodded. “So, this whole thing is sort of a werewolves’ rights movement?”
“I suppose you could call it that,” said Rimmon. “But, enough about werewolves. We’ve been talking too much, and drinking far too little.”
Victoire’s heart skipped a beat. “I’m not going to sleep with you tonight, Rimmon.”
Rimmon’s eyebrows furrowed. “Do you mean that you don’t want to because–”
“It’s not because you’re a werewolf,” interrupted Victoire.
“Right,” said Rimmon, looking relieved. “You can’t imagine the number of people who claim not to be prejudiced, but shudder at a werewolf’s touch.”
“It must be difficult.” Victoire said, thinking of Rimmon’s cool, impersonal attitude toward women. Maybe this explained it.
“You get used to it – it makes you bitter, though,” admitted Rimmon. “I don’t blame Ted for hiding away like he does. Sometimes I really hate people, too.”
Victoire put her hand on Rimmon’s.
“I was bitten when I was fifteen,” said Rimmon, leaning into her and resting his head on hers. “My best mate found out and his parents made a big fuss, went to the school board and everything, and I was expelled. I continued my studies at a special school for werewolves in Siberia, but the Wizarding Examinations Authority wouldn’t come around to oversee our OWLs or NEWTs, so I haven’t technically finished school. I had always dreamed of working in the Ministry, but without NEWT grades I had no chance, unless I wanted to go into sanitation.”
“What did you want to do in the Ministry?” asked Victoire.
Rimmon laughed bitterly. “I wanted to be a Hit-Wizard. Maybe even an Auror if I could pass the Examination.”
“What House were you in at Hogwarts?” asked Victoire on a sudden suspicion.
“I was a Gryffindor,” said Rimmon, as Victoire had suspected. She wondered what Rimmon had been like in his Hogwarts days, before his pain and anger had transformed him beyond recognition, turning him into the person who sat beside her now.
He told her about his time in Siberia. He’d been isolated with six other teenagers and two professors, all of whom were werewolves. They had lived all alone in a large, run-down old house in a sea of snow. Decades ago, it had been owned by a family of Muggle hunters who’d made a fortune on fur. They were taught to make Wolfsbane Potion, so that each month when the full moon rose to ornament the sky, the nine of them could transform together and roam as a pack through the snow.
“We were happy,” said Rimmon nostalgically. “Sometimes I think I should’ve gone back there, as a teacher. I could have happily spent my whole life in that house, with people like me.”
“Why didn’t you?” asked Victoire.
Rimmon stroked her hair with one hand, staring off in the direction of the forest. Victoire knew that he was looking far beyond the forest, into the past. His forehead creased, he stared into the past for a long time, almost seeming to forget that Victorie was there.
“I bit someone,” he said finally. “I’d been looking for a job for some time, unsuccessfully. It was stressful. There was one month when I lost track of the calendar, and the full moon caught me by surprise. When I came to my senses the next morning, there was a young man lying beside me, his arm a bloody mess.
“It’s funny. Up until that moment, I had always – somewhere in the back of my mind – hated the woman who bit me. But when I woke up that morning, I realized how stupid I’d been to hate her. It was beyond her control. And now, this boy I’d sunk my teeth into… Well, that had been out of my control, too. I couldn’t help biting him, I wasn’t myself at the time. But when the sun rose again I returned to myself, and I knew that I had control again. I had a choice to make: I could walk away from that boy and let him hate me for the remainder of his life. Each time he was denied a job or a table at a restaurant, he would think of me and his blood would run hot. Or I could try to help him.
“I vowed to do whatever it would take to secure that boy a life just as good as – or even, better than – the one he would have had if he had never run into me on that moonlit night. And I’ve been taking care of him ever since.”
“Rimmon,” said Victoire, sitting up. “Was that boy…?”
“Ted?” said Rimmon, laughing. “No, I met Ted a few years later. But that’s a story for another night.”
Victoire nodded, feeling confused and conflicted, like her brain was tied up in a knot. Rimmon was a criminal, to be sure. He and Teddy had almost certainly been responsible for deaths of the Ministry officials and for the Gringotts break-in. But when you took into account the pain that Rimmon had suffered…
Does this man deserve to go to Azkaban? Victoire wondered. Would that be justice?
Rimmon got to his feet, and helped Victoire onto hers. An hour, maybe longer, had gone by since they had sat down together. Their drinks had been forgotten on the ground.
“You know, I’m glad you decided not to sleep with me tonight,” said Rimmon, still holding Victoire’s hand. “I have to admit that before tonight, I thought you were just like all the others. But you’re not. You’re special, Diana, and I’d like to keep seeing you.”
Victoire was at a loss for words. Rimmon moved close to her, so that his chest was touching hers, and kissed her hair.
“Thank you for listening to me tonight,” said Rimmon. “Are you all right to Apparate?”
“Well, then, I’ll be getting back to my associates,” said Rimmon, stepping back. “Good night, Diana.”
“Good night,” said Victoire.
Thinking of home, she turned sharply on her heel. As she was swept away toward her kitchen, she caught one last glimpse of Rimmon, who was smiling, and of the dark silhouette that was still standing in the window of the Lestrange house.