Chapter 8 : Eight
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Dunmore’s barn owl arrived at three in the morning, and sat on the windowsill pecking at the glass until Victoire woke up. She stumbled over to the window, yanked it open, and was greeted by a harsh blast of cold air. It was dark outside, but in the faint glow of distant streetlights, Victoire could see that it was snowing.
The owl pecked at Victoire’s fingers as she tried to untie the scroll of parchment from its leg.
“I can see why Dunmore likes you,” grumbled Victoire, grappling with it for a minute until the note came loose. The owl flew away, and Victoire was in the process of closing the window (she could never get the hang of all the latches and cranks and things that Muggles put on their furniture) when another one hurtled toward her out of the darkness. This one was a handsome eagle owl, which swooped by Victoire’s window, dropping a letter neatly onto the windowsill, and continued off in the other direction.
Victoire waited a minute to make sure there weren’t any others on their way. Then she slid the window shut and fell back onto the sofa where she had fallen asleep, surrounded by several of Lorelei’s romance novels and china teacups. She had gone through one after another of the novels, reading through twenty or so pages of each before she became frustrated with the main character’s stupidity and threw it aside, resolving to send a strongly worded letter to the author.
With a flick of her wand, Victoire sent the books zooming back into a neat row on Lorelei’s bookshelf (which contained mostly cookbooks and books of household spells). Then she unraveled the scroll from Dunmore.
Weasley, it said. Permission to search granted. Report to kitchen in twenty minutes. Get some rest. Dunmore.
Victoire snorted at the scratchy handwriting, wondering how exactly Dunmore thought she was going to “get some rest” if he sent an owl to harass her in the ungodly hours of the morning. Her smirk faded as she opened the second letter, which was written in dark red, elegant script. She could guess who the handwriting belonged to without reading what it said.
Diana, said shiny ink. The Toyohashi Tengu are playing Pride of Portree tomorrow afternoon. It would be an honor if you would be my guest. Regards, Rimmon.
Enclosed was a ticket. Victoire crumpled the parchment in her fists, frowning. She had been hoping that Rimmon wouldn’t try to contact her until she’d had some time to get her thoughts together. Though she’d told Dunmore and the Auror Office everything she’d found out at the party, Victoire felt a uncomfortable about the undercover operation. Still, she knew she’d have to go to the match with him. Diana Wade’s month in London was almost up; Victoire needed to maximize her time with Rimmon and get as much information out of him as possible.
Victoire sighed, rubbing her fingers into her ice-cold cheeks.
“Tergeo,” she said lazily, sweeping her wand over the collection of teacups she’d accumulated on the table and floor, which became sparklingly clean. Victoire returned the cups to their proper place in the kitchen, and was about to have a look around the pantry for something to eat when she heard voices coming from Lorelei’s bedroom.
“…don’t think she’s home,” Lorelei was saying. “She’s always working, Vic is. What are you hungry for?”
“You,” said a deep, male voice, making Lorelei giggle and Victoire grimace.
She picked up her letters off the sofa and darted into her bedroom, swinging the door quietly shut just as Lorelei swung hers open. She could hear more giggling and conversation coming from the kitchen, which meant Lorelei and her new suitor, Levi, were having an early breakfast together.
Why the hell are they up so early? wondered Victoire. Then she realized that she had a more pressing problem: Levi was in the kitchen, and therefore had a clear view of the fireplace in the lounge room. There was no way Victoire could Floo over to Dunmore’s flat. Worse yet, she had left her wand in the lounge room, so she couldn’t Apparate out, either.
And Levi might see it.
“Damn,” muttered Victoire. She’d have to go back out there, and somehow have Lorelei get Levi out of the kitchen, so she could grab her wand and Floo out. Cursing the Statute of Secrecy, Victoire packed a bag with a set of spare robes and glanced at herself in her bedroom mirror. She looked even worse than she had yesterday – the circles under her eyes were more pronounced, and her hair was a knotted mess. She swept it up into a knot above her head, which would at least keep it contained. Then she walked hesitantly back to the kitchen.
Lorelei was standing at the counter, chopping a large melon into neat slices. A tall man with a square, brown hairstyle was standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist.
“Er…” said Victoire, and they both turned around.
“Morning, Vic,” said Lorelei cheerfully. “This is Levi. Levi, this is my roommate, Victoire.”
“Nice to meet you,” said the man. He was good-looking, with a nice strong jaw and an uncommonly straight nose. To Victoire’s relief, he looked soft and safe and kind, if a bit bland. Not so attractive or fit that he came off as the philandering type.
“Hi, Levi,” said Victoire with a small smile. “Lori, would you mind stepping out for a minute? I’ve lost my, er, watch. Would you just give me a minute to look for it?”
“You’re wearing your watch,” pointed out Levi.
“Let’s step out anyway,” said Lorelei quickly, winking at Victoire. “I want to have a shower before breakfast.”
“Okay.” Levi grinned and followed Lorelei eagerly back to her bedroom.
Victoire sniggered, darting into the lounge room. She stuck her wand into the waistband of her flannel pajamas, threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fire, and was off to Dunmore’s flat – only five minutes late. She fought her way through the flat – which was packed full of Hit-Wizards as well as Aurors – and into the kitchen. Dunmore and Lance were sitting over the kitchen table, sorting through pages of blueprints.
“Morning, sir,” said Victoire.
“Morning, Weasley,” said Dunmore, glancing up at her. “What the hell are you wearing?”
“I had to sneak out of my flat – my roommate has a Muggle over,” explained Victoire. “I brought some robes though. Mind if I change in your room?”
“Please do,” said Dunmore, and returned to the blueprints. “And take a shower while you’re at it – you look terrible.”
“Thanks, Dun,” grumbled Victoire.
One hour later, Victoire, Lance, and Macario were marching up to the doorstep of a charming country estate, followed by a team of five Hit-Wizards. They had been assigned to search the home of Farrah Dawkins, a middle-aged witch who was a distinguished member of the Wizengamot, thought to be in line for the Chief Warlock position.
“How much do they pay the Wizengamot?” asked Macario.
“More than they pay us,” said Victoire. Her Auror’s salary wasn’t half bad – she had plenty of money saved away in Gringotts, and could easily afford to move into her own flat. But she definitely couldn’t afford this level of luxury. The house was probably five stories tall.
“Well, it’s good to know our taxes are going to a worthy cause,” said Macario sarcastically, eyeing the large marble hippogriffs that flanked the steps to the front door.
“If our suspicions are correct, her Ministry paycheck isn’t her only source of income,” Lance reminded them, reaching out to knock on the door.
“Wait,” said Victoire suddenly, “I’ve just thought of something. If Rimmon’s people just broke into Gringotts, they’ve got a load of money. Why aren’t we keeping track of people who are suddenly making large purchases?”
“Yeah…” said Lance slowly. “We could send some people out to Diagon Alley, ask the shopkeepers if anyone’s just taken on the latest Firebolt or a solid gold telescope. And we can ask realtors if they’ve made any huge sales.”
“That’s great,” said Macario impatiently, rapping on the door with his fist. “Really brilliant. But right now, we’re standing at Farrah Dawkins’ front door.”
For a moment, everything was still outside the country house. It was too still – it was making Victoire nervous. She tapped her foot against the floor, running through Dunmore’s instructions in her head. They would greet Farrah Dawkins politely, enter the house, and conduct the search room-by-room, never letting Farrah out of their sight. If she ran, they would follow. If she tried to Disapparate, they would grab onto her like a pack of pitbulls.
The door swung open.
Farrah Dawkins was in her forties. She was tall, thin, and somehow sharp. Her dark hair was cut into a sleek bob that accentuated her high cheekbones, and she wore a set of tight-fitting, high-collared purple robes. As she gazed down at her visitors, she reminded Victoire of a vulture gazing down at its prey.
“Yes?” she said.
“Good morning, Ms. Dawkins,” said Lance, jumping forward to shake his hand. “My name’s Lance Arkwright, and these are my colleagues.”
Farrah did not take his hand. “What do you want?”
“We’re here to search your house,” said Macario concisely.
“Oh,” said Farah slowly, sizing the three Aurors up with her eyes. “All right, then.”
She retreated into the house, and Victoire, Lance, and Macario followed. The inside was even more luxurious than Victoire had expected. Several antique tapestries hung on the walls of the entrance, depicting in brutal detail the failed attempts of Rupert the Rash to slay a chimaera. In one corner of the room stood a gilded wooden table, which displayed a single photograph of a young blond boy. Victoire remembered vaguely Farrah had had a nasty divorce a few years back, and that she’d lost her son to her rich German ex-husband.
“I don’t remember receiving notice about this search,” said Farrah, leaning casually back against one of the tapestries. There wasn’t a lot to search in this room – the tapestries were stuck to the wall with a Permanent Sticking Charm, so it was impossible to look behind them. There was nothing on the table but the photograph of Farrah’s son.
“What did you want, a ‘save the date’ card?” said Macario, apparently forgetting that he was speaking to an extremely influential Ministry official. “If we’d told you we were coming, there would’ve been no point.”
“Hmm,” said Farrah.
Later, Victoire would realize that what Farrah did then should have been a clear warning. Pushing herself off the tapestry, Farrah crossed the room in several small, prim steps, and picked the photograph of the blond boy up off the table. Her small, hard eyes softened as she looked down at the photograph, and she smiled, slipping it into her pocket. Then she turned back to the Aurors, still smiling.
“Shall we move on to the lounge room?”
Victoire, Lance, and Macario followed Farrah toward the marble archway that gave way to a dimly lit corridor, which presumably led into the heart of the house. Just as Victoire was about to step under the archway, Macario yelped loudly and grabbed her waist, pulling her back into his chest just as the archway collapsed. Marble fell to the ground in great big blocks, denting the floor. Victoire stumbled backward against Macario, narrowly avoiding being crushed into a pancake.
“She’s making a break for it!” yelled Macario, letting go of Victoire and dashing over the rubble of the archway.
“Are you okay?” said Lance, reaching out a hand to steady Victoire.
Victoire ignored the hand and the question, and followed Macario over the pieces of broken marble. She ran down the corridor with Lance at her heels, skidding to a stop when the passage suddenly split in two. She squinted down each end, but it was too dark to tell which way Farrah or Macario had gone.
Lance nodded and sprinted down the corridor that led right; Victoire turned left and hurtled down the passage, not sure how she would find Farrah in this monstrosity of a house. She passed several empty rooms – a lounge room, a library, a dining room. Then she hit a narrow staircase, which she barreled up without thinking twice, heading straight for the top floor.
Victoire was immensely glad for her Auror training as she mounted flight after flight of stairs at breakneck speed. If she hadn’t had to put up with Dunmore’s weeks of physical and magical drills on entering the Auror Office, she would probably have had to stop and breathe about six times.
The top floor was pitch-black. Victoire tried to light her wand, but it made no difference. Farrah must have used some kind of atmospheric spell or instant darkness powder. Victoire couldn’t even see her own waist.
She stumbled down the corridor, trailing her fingers along the walls, feeling the smooth marble surface occasionally interrupted by a portrait or tapestry, until she came to a doorway on one side. The handle wouldn’t budge. Victoire unlocked it using magic, and burst inside.
It was a bedroom, evidently Farrah’s, and it was in shambles. Robes in dark shades of purple, green, and red were strewn about the room. Most were plain work robes, but some were elaborately beaded or jeweled. In a corner of the room beside Farrah’s enormous bed, a large chest of drawers had been overturned, and was lying on its side. On the floor where the chest of drawers had been standing before it was toppled over, there was a faint outline of a square, apparently carved into the wood. Looking surreptitiously over her shoulder, Victoire knelt down over the square, tracing over it with her fingers. It was raised above the rest of the floor.
“Deprimo,” she said, pointing her wand at the square – which flew aside, revealing a hidden pocket in the floor. Victoire stuck her hand inside, and found that the inside of the pocket was much larger than it looked. She felt around until her fingers connected with something cold and hard and small. It was a single, golden Galleon.
Farrah had taken her cut of the Gringotts money and run.
“Lance!” called Victoire, standing up. “Lance?”
She darted back into the hallway. The air was still black and opaque. What had happened to Lance and Macario? Had they caught up with Farrah, or managed to Apparate with her? Could they be in danger? Victoire started toward the staircase, but ran abruptly into a strong, muscular chest.
“Lance?” she said, squinting up at the tall figure. “Macario? Is that y-?”
Victoire’s wand flew out of her fingers and clattered onto the floor somewhere down the corridor. She cursed herself for letting her guard down.
Suddenly, she was being pinned back against the corridor wall by a hand on her waist. The man’s body was close, very close. He was warm against her and his breath was hot on her face. Victoire’s heart fluttered – she felt like a bird in a cage.
“Stop being an Auror.” said Teddy Lupin’s voice. "Victoire. Stop being an Auror."
Teddy was breathing hard. The darkness began to clear, and Victoire could see that he was wearing the same face he’d worn to Rimmon’s party, with the white-blond hair and the stupid little goatee. What is he doing here? Is he - Victoire’s body went rigid as he leaned down and pressed his mouth against hers, the hair on his chin scratching her face.
For a moment everything was still. Teddy did not move. Victoire did not move. In the grey haze all she knew for certain was the pressure of the wall at her back, and the pressure of Teddy’s hand at her waist, and the pressure of his slightly-open mouth against her closed one.
And then she knew something else - she knew fury as she had never known it before. It was racing through her, so fast and hot that her body couldn't contain it.
So Victoire did the only reasonable thing that there was to do: she pushed Teddy hard in the chest, and punched him even harder in the face. She hadn’t punched anything since her brief training session on hand-to-hand combat, and she hurt her thumb – but it was still satisfying to see Teddy stagger backward into the wall. He groaned, clutching his face in the hand that had been holding Victoire’s waist. Through the thinning greyness Victoire could see a trickle of dark liquid running out of his nostril.
Teddy turned to Disapparate. Victoire lunged forward without thinking, pouncing on him right before he vanished.
They landed with a crash, overturning a table and sending trays of spindly silver instruments clattering to the floor. Teddy pushed Victoire aside and took off toward the door of the shop they had Apparated into.
Victoire pulled her robes up to her thighs and unsheathed her concealed spare wand. It didn’t work as well as her usual one, but she would have to do her best. She scrambled to her feet – only to be blasted down again by a spell from Teddy. Victoire didn’t know what the spell was, but it hurt, like fire in her ribs. With a strangled yell and a flick of her wand, she sent Teddy flying into an old bookshelf. Its contents toppled over him, hitting his body and the floor with a round of dull thuds.
And then she knew something even deeper than the rage.
She knew that she hated him.
As she approached Teddy, the books came flying up off his body – and sailed toward Victoire, changing from books to daggers and midair, gathering speed. Victoire dropped to her feet and rolled behind another bookshelf, narrowly avoiding the flying blades. She crouched behind the bookshelf, panting – and when she burst out from behind it, Teddy was already out the door. Victoire charged out after him, and found herself in the middle of Diagon Alley, which was packed with bustling shoppers travelling every which way. Even if Teddy didn’t have the ability to change his appearance at will, she could never find him in this crowd.
The rage became unbearable and Victoire screamed, ignoring the stares of passing shoppers. They didn't matter. All that mattered was Teddy, and Teddy's kiss, and Teddy's black eyes. Teddy who tried to kill her and kissed her and tried to kill her again.
Did he seriously think that she would quit being an Auror, just because he asked her to? Victoire's hands curled into fists. Did he think that he could kiss her and everything would be okay, she would fall head over heels for him again and do whatever he asked? She hated him. She hated him. And she would never stop hunting him.
Victoire returned to the shop – Alarick’s Antiques – where the quavering old shopkeeper was putting things back in order. Victoire hadn’t even noticed him before. She had been so taken over by adrenaline that she hadn't noticed anything about the shop. It was nice on the inside - cozy, despite the fact that most everything was covered in dust.
"Sorry about that," she told the old man, showing him her Auror badge. "Ministry business."
Victoire helped Alarick to set the shop right, and paid for what couldn’t be mended, trying to put off her return to Dunmore’s for as long as possible.
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