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Chapter 6 : The inquest
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They passed by so slowly that I could almost hear them: the seconds, dragging their feet as they moved forwards; the minutes, reluctantly going in the same direction; the never-ending ticking of time passing by. How long had it been since I had seen her face, since they had taken me away from the sweet haven that was simply her presence in my life? I had lost track of time, but I couldn’t stop counting the minutes.
There was one thought that wouldn’t leave me alone, that held onto me even when I tried my best to push it out of my mind: they had her now. She was in their grip, their control, and I couldn’t save her from them. She was mine – she was supposed to be just mine – but it was them who had her now.
The shattering sound of glass breaking rang through Teddy’s ears as he stepped through the door that lead into the Auror Department the following morning. His eyes moved quickly around the room as he registered everything that went on. A group of trainee Aurors stood further down the hall, squeezed together up against the steady stonewall outside one of the classrooms, with identic frightened looks on their faces. It seemed that every Auror in the entire department had left their office to see what was happening, and they had now formed a circle around two people in the middle of the large, open area, blocking Teddy’s sight and preventing him from seeing what was going on. However, the two angry voices that echoed under the high ceiling and the swishing sound of spells being cast gave him a pretty good idea: there was a duel going on – here! Right in front of the eyes of the best Aurors in Great Britain!
Balancing on his toes, Teddy stretched his neck to get a better view of the scene. Just as one of the men raised his voice, the back of the other man’s head became visible. His hair was grey, and even from where he was standing, Teddy could see the veins in his thick neck pulsating and throbbing.
“What’s going on?” Teddy asked the Auror standing the closest to him – a tall man who could easily see over the top of the heads of those blocking Teddy’s view.
The man, Marwick, turned his head to meet his eyes. “It’s Finnigan,” he mumbled. “I don’t know what has gotten into him, but he went completely mental this morning, stormed into Barrett’s office and started throwing curses at him. This”, he made a gesture towards the middle of the room, “has been going on for about twenty minutes. Barrett won’t let us interfere.”
“He probably wants to prove himself.”
The words slipped out of Teddy’s mouth before he could stop them, but his colleague simply raised one eyebrow and nodded. “But this is not a good place to discuss that, my friend,” he began, and before he could continue, Seamus Finnigan’s voice interrupted him.
“You’re a joke!” he yelled. “You’re a joke and you’re off your rocker! I’m not going to just sit back and let you-“
“Shut up!” Barrett spat. “Silencio!”
Noticing a gap between two women closer to the middle, Teddy hurried over there. When he lifted his head to really get a look at the scene, Barrett waved his wand again. Spell after spell flew in Seamus’ direction, but he skilfully averted every single one of them. His face became progressively redder, and his eyes seemed to darken more with each spell that Barrett cast at him.
“You don’t want them to know, do you?” Seamus yelled. “You don’t want the people here to know what you’re up to, because you know that they would react the same way I do! If it was their cousin, and not Fergus…” Murmur rose among the Aurors and the trainees, and Seamus smiled triumphantly as he continued: “But guess what, boss? You can’t stop me from…”
Everyone fell silent; Teddy didn’t even dare to breath. Seamus screamed in pain as he fell to the floor, and his voice spread in waves that bounced off the stonewalls, his agony evincing twice as it echoed through the room once again.
Next to Teddy, an Auror pulled out her wand. Her hand was shaking when she pointed it at Barrett, took a deep breath and yelled:
“Stop it! Stop it or I’ll hex you right now!”
Barrett’s eyes flew over to her. For a brief second, his gaze lingered on Teddy. Then he turned his full attention to the young woman, whose lips trembled as she met his eyes with a defiant look on her pretty face.
Seamus seized the opportunity. Before Barrett had even realised, he jumped to his feet and waved his wand while yelling something that Teddy couldn’t distinguish. Barrett turned his head back to his opponent just as the crystal chandelier hanging above their heads exploded. Each crystal left its place in the giant crown, and shot through the room like bullets out of a gun barrel. The woman next to Teddy let out a shriek when one of them hit her forehead, and a fraction of a second later, blood was flowing from an open wound above her eyes; it poured into them and down her cheeks. Teddy was just about to bend down and help her when Barrett began yelling and caught his attention again.
“Don’t just stand there!” the older man roared as his eyes swept over his subjects. “Help me!”
A buxom man, wearing a robe in forest green that looked like it was about to burst at the seams, stepped forward. For a short second, Teddy was filled with hope. Then he saw the man’s face – it was O’Hagan. Teddy didn’t know much about him, but he was sure of one thing: this was a man that would never go against Barrett, not even when he had used an unforgivable curse on one of his Aurors.
In the same moment that O’Hagan lifted his wand, Seamus, whose face was black with soot and arms scraped with wounds, started running. Both Barrett and O’Hagan shot spell after spell at him, and both of them missed each time. When Seamus reached the back door next to the group of trainee Aurors, O’Hagan stopped in the middle of his movement and called:
“Terrance! Stop him!”
Teddy squinted, trying to see through the cloud of dust that was still hovering over the place where the chandelier had hit the floor. One of the young boys, whom Teddy recognized as O’Hagan’s son, took a step forward. But instead of pulling out his wand or blocking Seamus’ way, he jumped to the side. On his way past him, Seamus leaned in and whispered something before bursting the door open and disapparating. Then he was gone, free. And neither one of the two men who had chased after him could do anything about it.
As he made his way back to his office a short while later, Teddy overheard only fragments of conversations playing out around him. Still standing in the middle of the room where the duel had taken place, two Aurors were talking to the woman who had tried to stop Barrett from torturing Seamus. Fresh, pink skin covered the spot on her forehead from which blood had been flowing just a few minutes earlier, but she looked very pale. One of the other Aurors, an elderly man who looked like he should have retired ages ago, grabbed her arm and started pulling her towards his office.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he repeated, over and over. “Barrett is not pleased. You shouldn’t have done that.”
The other one, a woman whom Teddy had worked with during Auror Training, sighed. “He’ll have you arrested, Celia. It’s because of you that Finnigan could escape… he’s going to…”
The rest of her sentence was drowned out by Mr O’Hagan’s voice as he scolded his son, right in front of the other trainees.
“What were you thinking?” he howled. “Do you realise what it is you have done? You purposely let a criminal who attacked the Head Auror run off, when you could have stopped him! Do you understand how this makes me look? How it makes you look? You might as well go home, Terrance. I thought you could become an Auror like me, but you clearly don’t have it in you.”
His voice was dripping with disappointment, and Teddy shot the boy a sympathising look before turning around to see where Barrett had gone. Catching a glimpse of the back of his head as he rounded the corner, Teddy hurried after him.
“Barrett!” he called. “Sir,” he then added reluctantly.
His boss stopped and turned around on the spot. “Lupin! Exactly the man I was looking-“
“What was that about?” Teddy said. “What was he talking about?”
Barrett hesitated. For a moment, he seemed to consider whether or not he should explain anything to Teddy. Then he shrugged, reached out his left hand and pulled Teddy into the Head Auror’s office just a few doors away.
“Let’s just say that Finnigan’s reaction wasn’t what I had hoped for,” Barrett said with a cryptic smile. “Yours was a lot better.”
“Mine? Are you saying…?”
“I am saying that Finnigan just bought himself a ticket to Azkaban,” Barrett said. “I’m putting a price on his head. Attacking me like that, completely unprovoked… he’s a danger to civilians, that’s what he is!” Without paying Teddy’s confusion any further attention, he lifted one of his eyebrows and added: “Well, what are you doing in here anyway? You have got work to do."
The interrogation room was coldly designed; its walls were high and bare, clothed in hopelessness. A table was symmetrically placed in the middle of the room, and a glowing ball floated above it, casting a cold, blue light over the room that added to the already chilly atmosphere. Ben and Teddy sat down across from each other at the table. Teddy noticed that his brother-in-law was twisting his fingers restlessly as his eyes swept over the empty walls. For a moment, his gaze fixed on the ball of light. Its next stop was Teddy’s face; Ben’s features looked rougher than ever as his lips curled into a smile.
“Can they hear us in here?” he asked.
“If they want to.”
Teddy tried to gather his thoughts. It was difficult to sort them out – the ones of Seamus’ strange behaviour and Barrett’s outburst didn’t belong in this room. Teddy shivered; he felt like the hopelessness of the empty walls had already begun to wear off on him. The interrogation room was just another thing that had changed since his Uncle Harry’s retkrement. When he had still been Head Auror, it had been nothing but a regular room, but since Barrett had taken over, stepping over the threshold was like facing a milder version of a Dementor – it was yet another way of breaking the suspects down and forcing them to cooperate.
“What are we going to do?” Ben said. “How… how is Dom doing?”
“I wouldn’t know,” replied Teddy and shrugged. “She won’t talk to me. And here’s what we’re going to do for now: you’re going to tell me everything I need to know about your relationship. Is there anything that could make you want to… hurt her? Something that makes you really angry to just think about?”
Ben snorted. “Are you asking me why I would kill her? I never would, Teddy! I love her, and I’d never do anything to harm her! Never.”
“Just work with me here, mate,” Teddy tried. “Let’s not call it a reason why you’d want to kill her, just something that would make you really angry… something that could set you off…”
“No!” Ben roared, making Teddy place a hand near the pocket in which he kept his wand, just in case. “I’m not going to say anything that you’ll be able to use against me! This whole thing is just insane, and you know it!”
Both men jumped when the door behind Teddy opened. Mr O’Hagan stepped into the room, closed the door and leaned against the wall. Ben’s eyes narrowed.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Why are you here?”
O’Hagan smiled. “Just to ensure my fellow colleague’s safety, Mr Howells. We heard that the tone in your voice was getting quite… aggressive. And we wouldn’t want to take any risks now, would we?”
“I’ll be fine,” said Teddy sternly. “You don’t have to-”
“Barrett’s order,” interrupted Mr O’Hagan and crossed his arms over his chest, as if to indicate that the discussion was over.
A shadow fell over Ben’s face. “Teddy,” he mumbled. “Can I… can I just see her? I need to talk to her, I really do.”
“Well, I… I will see what I can do.”
“There’s no point, Lupin,” O’Hagan said. “You see, Mr Howells… your wife doesn’t want to see you. She’s afraid to. Who wouldn’t be afraid to face the person who’s plotting to kill them?”
Ben’s facial expression must have been a reflection of Teddy’s – both of their jaws dropped to the floor, Ben’s large eyes seemed larger than ever, and he furrowed his thick, dark eyebrows as he leaned forward, his hands clenching the edge of the table so tightly that his knuckles went white. Then, as if by magic – Teddy actually cast a suspicious glance over his shoulder to make sure that O’Hagan hadn’t hexed him – Ben relaxed, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He looked like he was sleeping until his mouth opened:
“She believes it? She really thinks that I’m going to kill her?”
“Of course she does,” O’Hagan nodded. “Crystal balls don’t lie, Howells. I think that you know it too, deep down. You have even planned it, haven’t you? How were you going to do it? Would you prefer something simpler, like Avada Kedavra, or perhaps something more brutal, something more barbaric?”
Ben opened his eyes. “I think that this interrogation is over,” he said. “You already have my statements, and I stick to them.”
As he ushered him back to the gaol, Teddy tried to read Ben’s face; he tried to see something more than just movements in the way he walked, but it seemed his eyes and his mind were not in the mood to work with each other.
“Just answer this,” he finally said. “Answer this, and I’ll believe you. Have you ever… did you ever think about killing Dominique?”
Ben stopped walking. Slowly, he lifted his head and turned it, so that he could look at Teddy. The corners of his mouth were pulled up, but it was more of a grimace than it was a smile.
“I don’t have to kill her, do I, Teddy?” he said. “You heard that man in there – she thinks I’m a murderer. So I don’t have to kill her, because she’s already gone.”
The boat that was Teddy’s mind was sinking – only half of it remained above the surface. It was a result of too much and too heavy cargo, and had his mind not been a permanent part of him, he probably would have abandoned it and jumped in the water by now. However, there was no way to escape his own thoughts, and the chances of them leaving him alone seemed low.
He ran all the way from the gaol to Mr O’Hagan’s office. He didn’t knock on the door, and so, he stumbled upon O’Hagan and Barrett in the middle of an intense conversation. A vein on Barrett’s neck was pulsating, and his cheeks were unnaturally red.
“You must know that I can’t forgive Terrance’s-“
The sound of the door opening interrupted Barrett, who spun around and almost knocked an inkwell bottle on O’Hagan’s desk over in the process. He ignored it and smiled contently at the younger man.
“So we’ve got our proof!” he said. “This is what we’ve wanted all along!”
“Proof?” Teddy exclaimed. “What proof?”
“Well, he practically admitted it, didn’t he?” asked O’Hagan. “Howells. He was planning to kill her.”
“Where the hell did you get that from?”
“Isn’t that why you came here?” Barrett asked. “To let us know that he’s ready for Azkaban?”
“No, he’s not! I only came here to ask about Dom. No one has seen her since yesterday. But I guess she stopped by, then?”
Barrett and O’Hagan exchanged a look. There was a twinkle in the Head Auror’s eyes as he nodded, patted O’Hagan’s shoulder and turned to Teddy again.
“No, she hasn’t stopped by. We just wanted to see what he would say.”
Teddy burst into laughter. The whole thing, the last week, it must be a prank. Everything that had happened since Uncle Harry’s retirement must have been a joke, or perhaps a dream.
“I’m glad you find it amusing,” Barrett continued as he raised his eyebrows. “I had expected a more negative reaction, to be honest.”
“I am laughing,” Teddy said, “because you must be joking. If that’s true… you’re just playing with his mind! It’s like you want him to be guilty!”
“Of course we don’t,” said O’Hagan sternly. “I think it seems more like you are not interested in saving your sister-in-law. We are.”
“So perhaps he’s not suited for the assignment after all”, Barrett mumbled, stroking his chin with his thumb and index finger. “Perhaps we should have him… replaced.”
O’Hagan straightened his back. “If you say so, sir…”
Barrett’s lips curled into a wide smile. “It’s settled, then! You’ll take over! Lupin, you are officially off the case. I’ll have someone drop by with a stack of papers first thing in the morning. As for right now… you’d better just head home.”
A/N: If you have any comments at all about this chapter, please share them with me in a review. I'd really love to know what you think about it.
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