Last night she had stumbled into her bedroom feeling confused and agitated. Rimmon was a criminal mastermind. Rimmon was almost certainly a killer. And yet, after hearing his story with all its painful twists and turns…after hearing about the neglect, the isolation, the pain of it all… Victoire couldn’t condemn him. Everything that he was, he had been made by years of internalized torture. In a desperate effort to shake off the thoughts and get some rest, Victoire had rummaged around in her closet, eventually coming up with a small bottle full of a dark purple liquid, which she used sometimes when thoughts of Teddy were keeping her up. A spoonful of it had eased her into a deep and dreamless sleep.
But now she was awake, again. She wanted desperately to take another spoonful of potion and hide away from life for a few more hours – but she had a meeting to attend.
Victoire dragged herself dutifully out of bed, picked up a crumpled set of robes from the floor, and threw it on. As she passed by her bedroom mirror on her way to the kitchen, she caught a glimpse of the ghost she had become overnight. Her complexion looked rather pale, and there were shadows under her eyes. In her Hogwarts days, Victoire would have stopped to examine her reflection, maybe even put on some makeup to cover the dark circles. But her appearance didn’t matter anymore.
Lorelei, dressed in a men’s button-down shirt that fell down to her knees, greeted Victoire in the kitchen. She was sitting on the granite counter, her legs swinging cheerfully back and forth as she kept tabs on the pancakes sizzling on the stove. Her dark hair was tied up in a large knot above her head, and she was humming.
Victoire raised her eyebrows. “Nice shirt.”
“His name’s Levi, and he’s in my bedroom,” whispered Lorelei, grinning. “You’d better get out of here before he wakes – he’s a Muggle. He’ll think you’re mad if he sees you in those robes.”
“A Muggle?” Victoire couldn’t help but be surprised. “Where’d you meet?”
“He lives in the next building,” explained Lorelei. “I came home yesterday and I was so frazzled from work that I tried to get into the wrong building, and he kindly directed me to the right one. And then we got to talking and…other things.”
Victoire laughed. “It’s a shame I can’t meet him. The only time I ever spoke to a Muggle was when I was eleven, and I got lost at King’s Cross.”
“Maybe one day,” said Lorelei with a shrug, turning to flip a pancake off of the stove, and onto the enormous pile she had created on the counter. “He seems promising.”
“Well, keep me posted,” said Victoire, grabbing a couple pancakes off the top of the stack. “I’m off to work – see you later.”
Victoire hated to leave the kitchen, with Lorelei’s optimistic smile and the comforting smell of pancakes cooking. Her work-life seemed so clouded and dark at the moment; the kitchen was much brighter. For a moment, Victoire wished she could be like Lorelei, sweet and cheerful and carefree.
But she brushed the thought aside – she had work to do.
Dunmore’s kitchen was becoming a regular meeting-place for the Auror Office. They gathered around the kitchen table, where Dunmore was creating a list of names of the people that Victoire, Macario, and Lizbeth had met at Rimmon’s party. Several people had brought chairs of their own. Adamina Moffat was handing out steaming hot cups of tea.
“Honestly, Dun,” said Ian Oakley, leaning over Dunmore’s shoulder, “I don’t see why we can’t do this at the Ministry.”
“Because,” growled Dunmore, ripping the parchment off of the table and brandishing it in front of Ian’s face, “these people could have our office bugged, you dimwit.”
Ian scowled and moved away from Dunmore.
Dunmore looked over the list. “You sure this is all you remember?”
Victoire, Lizbeth, and Macario nodded.
“Right, then,” said Dunmore, slamming the parchment back down onto the wooden table, which had several dents in it – probably souvenirs of Dunmore’s fury. “There are five names on this list – that’s five people inside the Ministry who have something to do with the Underworld. Five traitors. My question for you bums is, how do we get to them? We have no evidence on which to arrest them outright.”
The room was silent.
“We could have their houses searched,” suggested Lance, who was standing directly behind Victoire’s chair. Her eyes widened as she turned to look up at him – Lance looked even more tired than usual. He was unshaven and his hair was a scraggly mess. The dark circles under Victoire’s eyes were nothing compared to the ones under Lance’s.
“No offense,” said Macario snidely, “but I doubt any of these people are stupid enough to leave great big signs saying ‘I’m a murderer, arrest me’ lying around in their homes.”
“Do you have a better idea?” snapped Victoire. Now wasn’t the time for Macario to pull an attitude - they were trying to bring five murder accomplices to justice.
Macario crossed his arms.
“We’re not looking for any great big signs,” said Lance irritably. “If we can get our hands on even the tiniest bit of evidence, we can detain them. Besides, there’s always a chance that when we show up, they’ll panic and try to fight or run. That’d be a great excuse to arrest the bastards.”
“That’s good, Lance,” said Dunmore thoughtfully. “It’s a start, anyway. Anyone have another idea?”
“Right, well then,” said Dunmore, scribbling something illegible on the corner of the parchment. “I’ll have a word with the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to clear the search. Next order of business – Weasley, what’d you get out of Astoreth last night besides those names?”
Victoire hesitated. Repeating what Rimmon had told her last night to this room full of Aurors was a complete betrayal. It seemed like a crime to expose him to Macario and Ian and all the others.
Rimmon is the criminal, Victoire reminded herself firmly, and looked up into Dunmore’s hard eyes.
“Astoreth is a werewolf,” she said. “So are most of the members of the Underground.”
The whole room erupted in voices – some horrified, others disbelieving.
“How is that possible?” said Lance loudly over the other mutterings. “He didn’t come up on our list of registered werewolves.”
“He must be unregistered,” said Victoire. “He told me that most of the others are, because it’s easier to get work that way. But, come to think of it, he said he was bitten when he was fifteen, and that the whole Hogwarts school board found out, and that he was expelled. So he must have been registered.”
“Maybe somebody from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures erased him from the registry,” said Lizbeth.
“The new head of the Beings Division is on our list,” confirmed Dunmore.
“But Teddy Lupin’s registered,” argued Lance. “Why would Astoreth’s registry be erased, but not Lupin’s?”
“Good point,” said Dunmore.
“What if Rimmon Astoreth isn’t his real name?” suggested Macario. “What if he changed it after he was expelled from Hogwarts, so no one would know he was a werewolf?”
Everyone considered this.
“I hate to admit it, but that’s not a bad thought,” said Lance. “Victoire, what did Astoreth do after he left Hogwarts?”
“He went to a small boarding school for werewolves in Siberia,” continued Victoire, “but the Wizarding Examinations Authority refused to oversee his OWLS and NEWTS, so he felt that no legitimate careers were open to him.”
“There – he probably changed his name while he was off in Siberia,” said Macario triumphantly.
The room dissolved into muttering again. Dunmore made another note on his piece of parchment, and Lance scribbled something in his leather-bound notebook.
“Adamina,” said Dunmore, looking around the room. “Adamina, where the hell – oh, there you are. Some time today, get over to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and look over their list of registered werewolves. See if you can find someone who was bitten at the age of fifteen, and hasn’t been heard from since.”
“Will do, boss,” said Adamina.
“So, now that we know he’s a werewolf,” said Dunmore, “what do we think the motives for his organization are?”
“I think he wants to take care of his own,” said Victoire somberly. “I think he was inspired to work outside the law after he bit a kid by accident. And I think they want to make their voices heard.”
Lizbeth nodded in agreement. “Did you remember that thing they all said at the end of Astoreth’s toast? ‘To we, the fallen. We who will rise.’”
The words sent chills down Victoire’s spine, and silenced the room completely.
“’We who will rise…’” repeated Joel Caesar softly. “It’s ominous.”
“Stating the obvious is not in your job description, Caesar,” barked Dunmore. “Weasley, did you get anything else out of him? Anything about Lupin’s involvement?”
Victoire shook her head. “It seemed clear from the toast Astoreth gave that Lupin was behind the Gringotts break-in, but that’s all that I found out.”
“Not bad,” said Dunmore, scribbling down yet another not. “Right. I think everyone will agree that our three undercover agents have earned themselves a break. Take the day to recover while I push through this search idea. If I can get it through, I’ll send you a message via owl.”
“Sounds good, bossman,” said Macario, standing up and stretching. “Want to get some breakfast together, Victoire? We can bring along that cute little roommate of yours.”
“I already ate,” said Victoire, rolling her eyes. “And Lorelei’s seeing someone.”
Macario grumbled something indecipherable and stalked off to the fireplace. Victoire followed him, grabbing a pinch of Floo powder from the jar on the mantelpiece as Macario whirled out of sight. After waiting for him to fully disappear, she threw the powder into the fire and was about to climb in when somebody grabbed her arm.
It was Lance.
“I know you said you already had breakfast,” he said, “but would you mind joining me for a drink? I’d like a word.”
“I don’t mind,” said Victoire. “Come on.”
She clambered into the fireplace with Lance at her side. Their bodies brushed awkwardly against each other in the small space before they were whisked away from Dunmore’s flat in a whirl of heatless green flame.
Victoire had never seen Lance’s flat before, but it looked exactly the way she would have guessed. The lounge room and kitchen were decorated in varying shades of green, blue, and tan. There were several world maps and Asian-style paintings of shrubs hanging on the walls, and the floor was made of dark, lacquered wood. Not a pillow was out of place. Lance invited Victoire to have a seat in the lounge room while he fixed drinks in the kitchen.
He returned a minute later bearing two odd, spiraling glasses, both filled with a light green concoction that looked like algae but tasted, to Victoire’s surprise, quite good.
“It’s imported from Japan,” said Lance, smiling at the look on her face. “They call it Midori Shinju, which I believe means ‘green pearl.’”
“I didn’t know you were such a traveler,” said Victoire, taking another sip.
“I’m not,” said Lance with a laugh. “I’d like to be, but our line of work doesn’t leave much time for anything else. My younger brother plays for the Applebee Arrows, and he sends things back for me when he travels.”
“Oh – well, I didn’t know you had a brother, either,” said Victoire. “I guess there’s a lot I don’t know about you.”
Lance shrugged. “I don’t like to mix work with my personal life. Not that I have much of a personal life, but that’s beside the point.”
Victoire smiled, because she could relate. Sometimes she wondered what she and Lance would think of each other, if they had met under different circumstances; in another life. They were the same in so many ways.
“Anyway,” she said, “what did you want to talk about?”
Lance swirled around the green liquid in his glass, staring at it contemplatively, before he spoke. “Dunmore called me to his flat early this morning. Said he wanted a word with me before all the others arrived.”
“Why? What did he want?” asked Victoire curiously.
Lance sighed, looking more tired than ever. “Apparently, the Ministry’s putting a lot of pressure on him to retire. These recent murders were bad enough for publicity, but when you add the second Gringotts break-in in history…well, there’s a lot of talk that Dunmore’s getting too old to handle things.”
“But that’s ridiculous!” said Victoire, almost spilling her drink. “It’s not Dunmore’s fault our progress on this case’s been slow. It’s because–”
“I know, Victoire,” said Lance, “and I’m as upset as you are, but there’s nothing we can do about it, especially with the alarmist load of bullocks the Prophet’s been spouting. Dunmore told me about all this because–”
“He wants you to be the new Head of the Auror Office,” interrupted Victoire, her eyes widening with sudden comprehension.
Lance blinked. “How do you know that?”
“It’s obvious,” said Victoire with a smile. “You’re clearly the most deserving.”
“Well, thanks,” said Lance modestly, “but I always thought that if it ever came to it, he’d pick you to succeed him.”
“Oh, stop pretending to be humble,” joked Victoire.
Lance laughed. “I’m being serious, though. I was shocked when Dunmore told me. And then he told me that when the day comes for me to step up as Head of the Office, I should do what he’s done and pick a sort of second-in-command. And so, even though Dun’s not going anywhere for a little while, I wanted to ask you if you’d be my right hand, er, woman.”
Victoire raised her eyebrows. “You’re serious?”
“Yes, I am,” said Lance firmly. “I’m so serious that I went and looked up your results on your Auror Examination, which I wasn’t surprised to find were spectacular. Even if they weren’t, I’d want you at my side. You’re a superb Auror on and off the field, and we make a good team. I’ve even thought sometimes that….well, if things were different I might be interested in you in a different way.”
“Sorry,” said Lance after a moment. “That last bit was inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have said it. But what do you think, Victoire?”
“It sounds great,” said Victoire honestly. “Not that I’m the power-hungry type, or anything, but I’ll always be at your side.”
Lance grinned. “You mean it?”
“Yeah,” said Victoire, raising her glass. “A toast to the future Head of the Auror Office. May his feet grow gnarled and hairy enough to fill Dunmore’s shoes.”
Lance laughed and clinked his glass against hers, and they both drank.
“Thank you,” he said earnestly. “It means a lot.”
Victoire smiled at him, wondering exactly how much it did mean. Like she’d said, she’d never been the power-hungry type. Then again, maybe that was what made her a good Auror – she didn’t think of winning herself any fancy titles or accolades. She just decided what she wanted to stand for and fought for it wholeheartedly.
“And now,” said Lance, getting to his feet, “I should really be getting over to the Ministry. You enjoy your day off – hopefully we’ll get the go-ahead for this search, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Victoire nodded, handing Lance her empty glass. “Thanks for the…whatever it was called.”
Lance laughed. “You’re very welcome.”
Minutes later, Victoire was back in her pajamas, curled up on her sofa with a cup of tea and one of Lorelei’s sappy romance novels. It had been a long time since she had gotten a whole day off to relax, and she wasn’t going to waste it.