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Chapter 8 : Flashback
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The photographers and reporters swarmed to the murder scene like bees to honey. Flashes from the cameras were becoming distracting and somewhat annoying, while the shouting was beginning to break the concentration of the few Aurors that were investigating. The Aurors attempting crowd control were starting to become overwhelmed as reporters from the Daily Prophet and Which Wizard were beginning to apparate in at an alarming rate. The department had done its best to keep the media away, because not only was the Prophet notorious for bending the truth, but they were also a damn nuisance. Those Witch Weekly sods were no better. It was hard enough trying to solve an almost impossible case without them shoving questions down the department’s throat.
“Mr. Robards, please can you tell us who the victim of this merciless crime is?!” A female reporter shouted, struggling to see over the heads of her taller cohorts.
“Is it true that there have been over three murders in the last month?!” Another reporter called.
“Can you give us a time of death?!”
“Do you reckon dark wizards are on the rise again?!”
Gawain turned to the reporters, a frustrated expression etched onto his face. “No questions will be answered tonight. This is a crime scene, and only the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and its subsidiaries are permitted to be on the premises. Now, clear out before I arrest every one of you!”
Mumbling disappointedly amongst themselves, the reporters and photographers put away their Quick Quotes Quills and cameras and began slowly apparating away. The Aurors were allowed a tense silence once more.
Draco had arrived just a few meters from the crime scene, a few straggling members of the press trying to get answers out of him. After shooing them away, he approached Gawain with a confused look on his face. “Sir?”
“Ah yes! Mr. Malfoy!” Gawain replied, planting a firm hand on Draco’s shoulder. “You said you wanted more field time? Well, here‘s your opportunity.” He motioned over to Harry and Ron who were kneeling over something Draco couldn’t quite make out yet. “Potter and Weasley will fill you in.”
Draco’s boss walked away, agitated, and muttered, “Damn Prophet vultures…” Stowing his wand in his trench coat pocket, he marched over to another set of stray reporters that were harassing a few of his coworkers.
“Have I missed much?” Draco asked as he approached Harry and Ron, his hands in his pockets and brows furrowed.
Without turning around to face him, Ron muttered in a miffed tone under his breath, “Well if you’d arrived on time…”
“We’ve only arrived a few minutes before you,” Harry assured him, standing next to Draco and giving him a welcoming pat on the back. “Brian Bindley, fifty-seven, owner of a small café just inside Diagon Alley. Jory already ran a background check, and the man’s clean. Not even a slap on the wrist.”
“I swear they just keep getting worse and worse.” Ron shook his head in dismay and leaned down to grab the corner of the cloth, pulling it up to reveal a severely mutilated body. Other than what little remained of the face, the whole body seemed to have been almost ripped to shreds. All of his bones seemed to have suffered severe trauma as they were all broken and caused the corpse to lie in an awkward position. The men’s faces were all contorted by the look of disgust and pity. Draco’s stomach started twisting in knots before he had to look away and examine a particularly brown leaf a few feet from where he stood. As many times as he’d seen a dead body, it never got any easier.
"Rather morbid, isn't it?" Harry winced, looking at both Ron and Draco in unease.
“Did that shiner come from your witness, Malfoy?” Ron asked in desperation to change the subject, taking a quick glance back while trying to hold back a grin and attempting his best impersonation of their boss. “We heard she was, as Gawain put it, rather spirited.”
“This looks like an animal attack,” Draco observed, ignoring Ron’s childish remark. “This should be one for the Beast Division.”
“Peters from Magical Creatures dropped by earlier and apparently this isn’t the work of anything he’s ever seen before. He said the scene was too clean for it to be a beast attack,” Harry replied, still trying not to focus on the body, while Ron continued snapping photos.
“What makes this clean?” Draco asked Harry in disbelief, raising an eyebrow.
Ron stood up, letting the camera hang from his neck and shoving his hands in his pockets. “The lack of blood and guts, supposedly. Everything except for his insides are in poor condition.”
“Alright, everyone!” Gawain raised his voice for all the gathered Aurors to hear. “Now that we're all here, the investigation can continue! You know the drill: owl your families to not wait up, because it’s going to be a long night!” A symphony of groans could be heard from the exhausted and sleep-deprived Aurors that were just tasked with extra work on top of their already extra work. “No-one works alone on this one, so Weasley and Jory will investigate to the south and east, Potter and Malfoy will go north and west. The rest of you, stay close and try to find any pieces of evidence you can!”
A thin mist hovered over the forest floor, swirling with each passing step Draco and Harry took. Trunks of trees stretched high up into the night sky with their leaves almost out of sight from where they stood at their roots. The tips of their wands were lit, but they barely produced enough light to see more than twenty feet ahead. All was quiet save for the breaking of twigs and crunching of leaves underneath their feet as they trudged on, surveying the area.
Harry gave a small chuckle and swept his wand to his left to illuminate the area. “This brings back memories, doesn’t it?”
Stopping to examine some markings on a tree that, after close examination, seemed to have been left by a stag, Draco furrowed his eyebrows in confusion and asked, “Memories of what?”
“Don’t you remember? The Forbidden Forest our first year at Hogwarts,” Harry reminded him, continuing ahead. The rustle of leaves in the treetops helped slice through the silence, and made him look up in caution.
Draco smirked as the memory flooded back to him of that night when he had plotted to get the trio in trouble, but his plan ended up backfiring. He remembered searching those woods with Harry and that disgusting dog Fang, throwing insults and threats Harry’s way. Merlin, he really used to loathe him. If he would have told his eleven year-old self that he was going to be working alongside ‘Saint Potter’ and that he would actually owe a debt to him, the little Malfoy would probably never have believed it. “Yeah, I remember.”
Save for the slight rustling of the tree branches above, silence washed over them once more, and they kept at the task at hand. For hours they searched in silence, hoping to find something for them to go off of, but they kept coming up empty handed. Looking over at Harry, the light from the tip of his wand glinting off of his signature glasses, Draco decided to swallow his pride and do what he’d been meaning to do for months.
“I don’t think I ever really properly thanked you, Po… Harry.” He felt guilty that he still couldn’t get used to using Harry’s first name.
Harry momentarily glanced over at him in perplexity, and then kept searching the forest floor. “For what?”
“If it wasn’t for you putting in a good word for me with Gawain, I would have never gotten this job. Considering the complete arse I was in school and the hell I put you through, I never expected-”
“We were kids, Draco,” Harry turned to him, a look of understanding on his face. “We’re both grown now, and we’ve both matured. Like I’ve told you before, none of us, the exception being Ron, hold anything against you. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Expressing gratitude wasn’t Draco’s strong suit, and the only response he could muster was a thankful nod and they both went on investigating again in silence.
The search proved fruitless, as both parties met back at the crime scene with nothing to show for the three hour long trek they had embarked upon. Notes were exchanged and everyone was obligated to take turns examining the body and the surrounding areas. This initial investigation was taking longer than normal to be done with, as Gawain wanted to make sure that everything was thoroughly reviewed, and every detail scrutinized to the point that it nearly drove Draco, and everyone else, completely insane.
“It seems we’ve done all we can do for tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” Gawain boomed, looking at the exhausted faces of all his employees. “I’ll see all of your bright and shining faces in…” he checked his watch and said gleefully, “six hours!”
Popping noises of apparition signaled the long awaited end of the night, and Draco gave Harry a lazy nod before he closed his eyes and felt the intense pressure of traveling miles in an instant, not opening his eyes until he felt his feet touch the ground and the pressure release.
The moment he did open his eyes, Draco’s heart stopped.
The house looked completely ransacked. The couch seemed to have been slashed, releasing the stuffing that made up the cushions. White cotton fluff coated the carpet and wooden floor of the kitchen and was mixed in with the papers and pictures that he was working on earlier that evening. Teacups, plates, and other dining ware were shattered on the kitchen counters and on the ground. All of the windows had been smashed through, the shards littering the floor. Knives were plunged deep into the white walls of the living room, and also stuck out of the overturned dining table that had the legs broken off. The dining chairs were reduced to mere splinters. Draco began panicking at the sight of a crimson liquid smeared across one of the kitchen walls and small puddles of it trailed into the hallway that approached the staircase. Wand drawn, Draco cautiously made his way through the ravaged first floor of the home, his pulse beginning to quicken.
“Synder?” he called. There was no response. Pieces of glass crunched underneath his feet as he carefully walked forward.
The silence persisted. Draco continued to follow the blood trail from the kitchen to the cupboard underneath the stairs, praying that what he would find in there would not bring him grief. A whimper emanated through the slits of the door, followed by a small cough. Throwing the door open, Draco revealed Anaxandra laying in a pool of blood, curled up in a ball, tears rushing down her face. Her hair was in disarray around her face, strands lying over her eyes and stuck to her cheeks by the dry, sticky red liquid. Her eyes were closed tightly and her teeth were clamped shut, letting out a louder moan of pain. Draco began to panic although he knew that in this type of situation he needed to remain calm in order to think clearly.
“Synder, what happened?” He asked frantically, kneeling beside her and gently trying to pull her arm away from her stomach. He could feel the sticky slippery of the blood coat his fingertips. She weakly refused and snatched her arm from his grasp. Now her whimpers were becoming sobs and she started to tremble. “Hey, it’s okay,” Draco said in hushed tones to calm her down, but her shaking persisted.
He attempted to grab her arm again, but again she refused, looking at him with pleading eyes and adamantly replying, “No, please no.” For a moment, her sobs and shaking had ceased and all that was left was heavy breathing.
The pool of blood was continuing to increase in size. Draco knew he needed to get her to St. Mungo’s, but she needed to cooperate with him first. “Anaxandra, I want to help you, but you need to listen to me.” Grabbing her arm once more, Draco gently pulled. With tear filled eyes she reluctantly moved it from her stomach. “Okay, now I need you to stand up.”
Her eyes shut again, and the crying continued. Slowly she began to uncurl, pausing every so often and letting out a pain-filled gasp. After seeing her midsection, Draco knew why. Three long, deep gashes started at the right side of her ribs and ended at the bottom of her left hip. He could tell that Anaxandra was beginning to black out by the reduced sobbing and the fluttering of her eyelids. Carefully, he wrapped her arms around his neck and slid one of his arms underneath her legs and apparated them both to St. Mungo’s.
4/10/2001 Holding House 7:44pm
Anaxandra crept down the stairs, listening intently to see if Draco was still in the living room. By the sounds of grunts and shuffling papers, he was tirelessly working. Carefully craning her neck around the archway to the couch, she saw him holding a melting ice pack to his face and photographs scattered on the coffee table in front of him. Thick case files were stacked on the floor with notes scribbled on the fronts. She watched as Draco threw a photo on the table and dropped the ice pack from his face, revealing the purple and blue bruise underneath his left eye that she had caused. He let his head fall against the back of the couch and his eyes close.
Carefully walking to the other side of the couch, Anaxandra sat on her end with a guilty expression on her face. The weight displacement alerted Draco to her presence and without opening his eyes he asked, “Here to mangle the other side of my face, Synder?”
She grabbed the almost-melted ice pack from his hand and put a freezing spell on it. “No, I’m here to apologize.” Draco’s eyes slowly opened and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Anaxandra put the newly frozen ice pack back into Draco’s hand. “I was out of line, and I’m sorry.”
An awkward silence came between them, neither of them knowing what else to say. The only noise that could be heard for that brief period of time was the sound of the plastic bag full of ice on Draco’s face and the crackle of the wood in the fireplace. Anaxandra looked at Draco with an apologetic expression as she noticed the size of the bruise on his face but secretly, she took pride in it. She could throw one hell of a punch.
“The throbbing ache of my face aside, I accept your apology.” Draco sat up straight and took the ice from his face, revealing the reduced swelling of the blotchy flesh underneath.
“Really?” She asked, surprised at his unexpected answer.
“People have forgiven me for much worse than a blow to the face, and you deserve no less.” Giving her an understanding look, he picked up another photograph to examine. "Who were you going on about anyways?"
Anaxandra let out a grateful exhale as a tapping sound had caused them both to look at the kitchen window where a rather large brown barn owl was perched with a note tied to its leg. Draco stood up and opened the window, taking the rolled-up note in his hands and unraveling it. His eyes moved rapidly over the piece of parchment before he folded it neatly and stuck it in his pocket. “I’ve just been called to work.”
Anaxandra watched as Draco threw on a jacket and wrapped his scarf around his neck. “Is everything alright?”
“Another body has been reported,” he sharply replied, straightening out his suit and grabbing his wand, “It’s just protocol- he asks that all of the Aurors be there immediately. I should be back in a few hours.”
Heaving a sigh, Draco flicked his wand and then disappeared.
Anaxandra was beginning to formulate new questions about Draco in her mind. Glancing to his spot across the couch, she noticed that his makeshift bed, consisting of spare bed sheets atop a couple of the couch cushions, a pillow, and white throw blanket, was still there. Even though she stopped him from telling her why he was there, she was dying to know. By the way he dressed in his fancy suits and expensive shoes and ties, he had to have a home of his own, if not a flat. Hell, the man could have a shack for all she knew, but he chose to sleep here. And what did he mean by ‘people have forgiven me for much worse than a blow to the face’? The man was an Auror: a big, bad dark wizard catcher; the doer of all that is good and right in the wizarding world. What’s the worst that he could have done? Kicked a daisy?
On top of the coffee table lay all of the photographs of the cases Draco had been working on. Photos of forests, alleyways, bodies, and faces were all mixed and skewed on top of each other with scribblings in each corner that indicated what photo went to which case. Reaching for a random picture, her foot accidentally grazed the tower of folders and sent them cascading down. The top folder had opened and revealed a myriad of paperworks which were now all sprawled on the floor.
“Oh, sod it,” she mumbled under her breath, stacking them back up again. Upon touching the first paper to her fingers, she realized that she could just read a few and Draco would never know. She could only recite the constellations so many times before she got sick of it, and there was nothing else to do in the house. She needed some sort of entertainment before going barking mad. Situating herself on the floor, her legs crossed and with pile of papers in her lap, she began her late night reading.
Location: Knockturn Alley
Date/Time: 24/9/2001 10:14am
Case #1467: Reported by Colwyn Burke, owner and inheritor of Borgin and Burke’s. Witness saw corpse in passing on his way to work. Body of Aster Lorant was found mangled in a side street. Victim suffered from post mortem head trauma. Cause of death determined to be from bleeding out due to major lacerations to the thigh region and neck region. Minimal amount of blood was found at site. Family has been notified. Further investigation required.
Anaxandra dug through the photographs to find the picture that was labeled #1467. Holding the picture close to her face, she frowned. The woman the file talked about was quite beautiful. Her chestnut colored hair was disheveled and tangled all about her face. Cuts and bruises riddled her soft, round face and there were deep gashes all across her body. The description in the file matched what Anaxandra saw in the picture and it almost sickened her to her stomach. She had seen some pretty sickly situations but very few matched the image she held in her hands. Putting both down, she picked up another paper and began reading again.
Location: Black Forest
Date/Time: 1/10/2001 1:52pm
Case #1470: Reported by Ingrid Larkin. Witness reported finding the body while on an excursion to research Erklings. Body was later identified to be Paul Greeves. Lacerations to both sides of the neck have been noted. Lack of blood at site. Head of Magical Creatures department is chief advisor on case. Ingrid Larkin has been detained for questioning. Wife has been notified. Further investigation required.
And for a few more hours, Anaxandra just kept reading, each case growing more gruesome than the next. She even took it upon herself to find all the photographs that matched each case, putting a face to the name on parchment. The profiles were probably the most interesting, but the most heartbreaking to read. The messy scribbles that were strewn across this page were what was left of the victim's life. This was what they would be remembered by. Maybe that’s what made it worse for her. When she dealt with things like this with her father and brother, they never had to identify each victim. Most of the time, there wasn't a victim for them to examine in the first place. She never had to imagine them suffering or imagine that they had families waiting at home for them, wondering why they were running late for dinner. There were many parents who would not live to see their children grow up, there were wives who would never hold their spouses again, but the bottom line was that there were people in the world who would lose a loved one forever.
Anaxandra froze. The lights of the house began to flicker. The night was calm, so it wasn’t bad weather that was causing it. She closed her eyes, allowing herself to focus completely on her hearing. All that filled her ears was silence for a few minutes before she could hear the low grumbling of a familiar growl coming from outside the house. The hairs on the back of Anaxandra’s neck stood on end. The growls seemed to have multiplied, and it was starting to sound like three sets of different animal-like noises were circling outside the house. Flashbacks of the night her family died began plaguing her mind and made her lose concentration.
Opening her eyes, she looked to the only window in the living room. Very carefully she made her way underneath it and pressed herself as closely to the wall as possible, making sure that she wouldn’t be visible from any of the kitchen windows. Her breathing was controlled, never gasping as she felt a large thump on the wall behind her. The thudding continued and Anaxandra realized the other noise that mingled with the blunt sound was the sound of claws digging in to the wooden siding of the house. She could hear the growls growing louder, and by the way the rumbles would echo from one end of the house to the other, she could deduce that these creatures were communicating. Anaxandra began to worry. The hardest battles to fight were the ones fought against intelligent opponents, and not only was she ill-equipped but she was outnumbered.
The window began to slowly slide open, and the deep gnarls became even more pronounced and sounded more excited. She kept her breathing steady, but her hands were beginning to sweat and the creature could probably hear her heart beating out of her chest. Three long black claws curled over the edge of the window sill and the creature began sniffing the air. It cautiously stuck its prominently large head inside of the window, taking deep inhales through its flat, almost non-existent nose. The thin skin was a dark shade of grey, and looked to be very slick like it had been doused with oil. Although she was looking at it from below, Anaxandra could tell that it had distinct teeth, a set of fangs on the top and bottom. It sniffed the air once more, and turned its gaze downward at Anaxandra. It had no eyes, but it turned its head to her exact position beneath the window, seeming like it was almost examining her before opening its large mouth and letting out a shrill roar.
The other two creatures burst into the windows, landing on the kitchen floor on all fours. They seemed to be humanoid in nature, but they were slumped over like they had lost the S-shaped curve of their spines. Judging by the fact that she was not yet ripped to shreds by their behemoth sized claws, she assumed they weren’t there to kill her, or they just liked to play with their food first. Their heads cocked to the side. Their wide mouths opened and long, skinny tongues hung out with each growl and scream. They too began sniffing the air before shrieking in delight.
Adrenaline was violently coursing through Anaxandra’s veins now. Her heart rate was shooting through the roof and her breathing was becoming unsteady. She had never taken on an enemy that she didn’t know how to defeat in an instant. Her extensive knowledge of weaknesses, strengths, and intelligence of various creatures was complete rubbish at this very moment.
They began slowly advancing towards her, their Neanderthal-like walking causing the floor to vibrate with each step. Now she had two options: stay in the house and fight these miscreants or jump out the window into the streets of a city she doesn’t know and endanger the lives of Muggles who still walked the streets late at night.
She would not run again.
The beasts let out angry guttural cries, standing on two legs as if ready to charge at her. Extending her arm towards the kitchen knives on the other side of the room, they began to unsheathe from their holders and hovered in the air until Anaxandra swept her arm across her body and sent them flying.
As if they could predict what she was doing before she had even thought of it herself, they leapt upwards before the blades could touch them. They hung upside down from the ceiling, digging their claws deep in to the wood. They clicked their tongues at each other before sending out a piercing cry that signaled the start of a brawl. Anaxandra leapt and bounded strategically throughout the room, sending as many offensive spells as she could think of at the creatures, but they were quick and her wandless spells were weak. Their lack of eyesight was made up for by their incredibly astute hearing. One step could direct them at her, so she chose her paths throughout the room wisely. Go in a straight line for too long and they could easily lunge at her, but zigzag too much and she’ll move slow enough for them to catch up.
Her spells kept missing the creatures by just inches, and they were beginning to close in on her rapidly. In desperation, she sent the dishes flying out of the cabinets, and the dining chairs went whizzing through the air as Anaxandra was starting to become fatigued from the constant running and dodging. The dishes smashed against the walls, and the creatures swatted the chairs away, leaving them in pieces on the floor. Her agile movements began to slacken, and her feet were screaming in pain as she ran over the broken pieces of glass and ceramic dining ware.
The battle continued until Anaxandra was almost running on empty. She stood in the kitchen with knives hovering round her, ready to be launched at any moment. Her breathing was labored and her knees were weak with fear. This was all she had left in her. One motion of her hands and she would throw the last of her arsenal at the creatures and the rest was up to fate.
And so the knives cut through the air, missing the beings by a long shot and sticking in to the overturned dining table. They clung to the ceiling, their mouths seeming to curl in to a malicious smile. Only one of them leapt in front of her, baring its fangs to her as if asserting its dominance while the others seemed to egg it on. It raised one three-clawed hand to the air, ready to strike her down. All of her fear, anxiety, and panic left her and all that remained was acceptance as the hand sliced through her midsection and left her doubled over in the kitchen trying to hold her insides in. An agonizing scream escaped her lips as she felt the tears of pain rush down her face. For whatever reason, the creatures became silent before looking at each other and leaping out of the broken windows in an urgent manner.
Anaxandra pressed her hands to her stomach and she could feel the warmth spreading to her shirt and hands. The loss of blood was making her dizzy, and she held herself up with one hand on the kitchen wall, leaving a red handprint smeared across it. Slowly, she tried to make her way to the stairs but she only made it to the entranceway of the dark hall when she collapsed. The pain was immense, causing her to cry out silently in suffering while desperately clinging an arm to her abdomen.
This is what should have happened that night. She should have fought valiantly before meeting her inevitable end. The only difference between then and now is that she wouldn't have been alone before.
She pulled herself in to the cupboard under the stairs, closing the door behind her and curling in a ball to slow the bleeding. This wasn't the way she imagined herself dying. It was always the thought of a painless death when she was old and frail that comforted her. Now here she was, stuffed in a dusty cupboard alone and in pain. A shaky exhale escaped Anaxandra's lips as she prepared to see her family just before she heard a muffled voice, and the door to her sanctuary underneath the stairs had opened.
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