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Chapter 10 : Ten: Into the Darkness
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“I s’pose he’s got those electric lights,” I say, grazing my hands over the walls until my fingers find a light switch. Electrically illuminated, the entrance of North’s home is quite charming, if a bit plain. The décor is tasteful and simplistic, and the walls are covered with black-and-white prints of scenes from Paris. “Well, this is nice. Not exactly the sort of place you’d expect a serial killer to live.”
“We don’t know that he’s a serial killer,” Remus reminds me, circling around the room. “From what his sister told me, he’s a perfectly ordinary bloke, works at a Muggle law firm.”
“I still don’t see why Moody wouldn’t let me come with you to talk to her,” I huff, walking over to a bookshelf and scanning the titles. All the titles seem very generic: cookbooks, books on gardening, encyclopedias. There are also several framed photographs, most of which show a skinny blonde boy holding up trophies and awards. “Something’s obviously wrong with him – he’s got far too many pictures of himself.”
“That’s hardly grounds to accuse him of murder,” says Remus mildly, disappearing into the kitchen. Judging by what I know of Remus’ personality, he wouldn’t normally be one for breaking and entering, but we’ve got an official warrant from the Ministry, so technically we’re not doing anything wrong. Moody rushed the warrant through the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for us, hoping we’d be able to find something incriminating in North’s house that’ll speed this case along before more innocent Muggles are killed. In the two days it took to get the warrant approved, Remus paid a visit to North’s sister, which didn’t yield any results.
“Anyway, Remus, you’re still on for dinner tonight, yeah?” I call, opening a door into what turns out to be a small bathroom decorated with a tasteful seashell motif.
From the kitchen, Remus makes a noise that sounds affirmative. I glance around the bathroom, quickly looking through the cabinets under the sink.
“And would you mind stopping by Devlin and Sneedley’s this week?”
“What’s Devlin and Sneedly’s?” says Remus. His voice is accompanied by the sounds of drawers being opened and shut, and silverware clinking around.
I roll my eyes at his naïveté. “The liquor store on Diagon Alley. I can’t exactly go myself, now the whole magical world thinks I’ve given up drinking, but I’m running low.”
“I think your definition of ‘low’ must be different from mine,” says Remus. “Give me a list, and I’ll stop by.”
“Thanks,” I call, making a mental note to do something nice for Remus in the near future. Maybe I’ll get him a houseplant, I’ve always thought it would be nice to have one in the kitchen. The trouble is that I’m honestly shit at plants, I remember to water them and everything but somehow they always end up dying.
The bathroom seems to be pretty much in order, no dead bodies in the bathtub or anything. There’s a small white cabinet on the wall above the toilet. Not expecting to find anything interesting, I lean over and pry it open. As expected, the top shelves of the cabinet are stocked with miniature bottles of shampoo, and bars of soap. My eyes drop to the bottom shelf – which turns out to be much more fun. There are about half a dozen small plastic containers packed onto the shelf, each full to the brim with brightly colored tablets. I grab one, squinting down at its label:
Livaflex, says the front of the bottle. The back of the label tells me that the drug is meant to treat depression, and that its side-effects range from nausea and dizziness, to paranoia and sexual dysfunction. I turn the bottle over in my hands, considering pocketing it. In the end I return it to its place on the shelf, and glance over the other bottles – which contain medications for conditions like anxiety and insomnia – before returning to the sitting room. On my way to the kitchen, something catches my eye: a book jutting out of North’s bookshelf at an odd angle. I reach over and pull it off the shelf, revealing a gaping hole in the wall behind it.
“Remus…” I pull two more books off of the shelf, then another three, letting them slip out of my hands to the floor. As the books fall away, they reveal another row of books – not housekeeping books with shiny new covers, but ancient looking, leather-bound books. The print on the book covers is almost completely indistinguishable, but I can make out one word: Arcana. “Oi, Remus!””
“Aislin, come here,” says Remus from the kitchen. Something about his voice sounds different – hoarse. Grabbing one of the books off the shelf to show Remus, I hurry over to the kitchen, where Remus is standing with his back to me, holding a large square of linoleum in his hands and looking down at a square-shaped hole in the floor. Taking a step closer, I notice the subtle but present, pungent smell that seems to be wafting up out of the trap door. It’s undoubtedly the smell of rotting flesh.
“The tile looked loose, so I pulled on it and it came right up. I’m guessing it’ll take us down to the basement,” he says, turning to face me. “This could be dangerous. Why don’t I go first, and you–”
“Come off it,” I say, rolling my eyes, “I’m going with you.”
Remus stares at me, his face grim. “Okay,” he says. “Keep your wand out.”
He kneels down on the floor, placing one hand on either side of the hole in the floor, and lowers himself slowly through it until I hear his feet hit the floor. As much as I admire his courage, I’m dead scared – so, tucking the book into my pocket, I slip my flask of Firewhisky out of my robes and take a quick sip before following Remus into the basement. I follow his example, slipping my legs through the trap door and lowering the rest of my body slowly through it, into the darkness, until I feel the ground scuff against the soles of my shoes.
The air in the basement feels strangely warm and sticky. Even in the darkness, I’m struck by a terrible sense of something being wrong.
“Lumos,” says Remus, and the immediate area is illuminated.
Looking down at my feet, it takes me a moment to realize that I’m standing not on a carpet, but on a mat of what seems to be accumulated filth. As I crouch down, casting the light of my wand over the floor, I can see that it’s mostly made up of dirt, hair, bits of fur, and small white bones. “Sweet Circe,” I gasp, standing back up as quickly as I can. “I s’pose that explains the smell.”
“So does this,” says Remus grimly, shining his light over one of the walls. The shape of a pentacle has been drawn over the wall in brownish-red, and overtop of it, pinned to the wall, is the skeletal corpse of an animal - a cat, by the look of it. Horror and nausea ripple over me. Remus walks along the wall, holding up his wand to illuminate more pinned-up animal skeletons, and strange symbols written in what must be blood.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say he has a knack for interior decorating,” I say weakly, my mind reeling. “What’s the point of it all, do you think?”
“No idea,” says Remus, turning to me. Even through the dark, I can see that his face is tinged with green – which is a bit odd, considering he’s a werewolf, and probably used to slaughter all sorts of innocent creatures on a monthly basis. “It looks like he–”
A door slams upstairs, cutting Remus’ idea short. His eyes go wide with alarm, and I motion for him to keep quiet. There are slow footsteps overhead, followed by the sound of another door opening.
“Who’s in my house?” says a syrupy, male voice from directly above us. My hair feels like its standing on end – is it just my imagination, or does this speaker sound like the man who was following me that night on Knockturn Alley? The speaker’s next question eliminates any doubts: “Has the Priestess come to play?”
I stumble backward, colliding with Remus, who grabs my elbow and draws me close to his body. “D’you reckon that’s North?” he whispers into my ear.
I open my mouth to reply, but I’m interrupted by the sound of laughter from upstairs. It’s the laughter of a lunatic – wild, unrestrained, and chilling. Then something drops through the trap door, landing on the floor with a sickening smack. Pulling me away from the crumpled form, Remus stretches out his wand, illuminating the figure of a dead goat, covered in blood, its tongue lolling out of its mouth. My head spins.
“Let's get out of here,” says Remus, his voice strained. His hand finds my elbow in the darkness.
“Apparating away from a bloody Squib,” growls Moody, banging his fist down on his desk. The noise rattles through his tiny (but meticulously neat) “Ridiculous. I would have expected better from you. You had a prime suspect – our only suspect – right where we wanted him, and you let him slip right through your fingers. He’s a Squib, for Merlin’s sake! What was he going to do, throw a saucepan at you?”
“We had no way of making sure that it was North in the kitchen,” says Remus, “The house clearly hasn’t been lived in for months – it could’ve been a random intruder, or even a Death Eater, for all we knew.”
“And we’re not Aurors, remember?” I add, crossing my arms sullenly. “We’re consultants. You sent us in there to poke around a bit, see if we could find some axes or something. Getting into fights with rampaging murderous Squibs was not in the job description.”
“Not to mention,” I continue, interrupting Moody, “The intruder was above us. He had a strategic advantage.”
“But you have the strategic advantage of using magic,” Moody points out, glaring at me. “As I was saying, North’s secret collection of books on arcane magic give us enough evidence to arrest him. But, once he’s arrested, we’ve only got three days to get our act together before we decide to charge him with the murders, or release him. I’ll put a couple of my Aurors in charge of tracking him down, but in the meantime you two’d better round up enough evidence to build a real case on, so he doesn’t get away from us again. That includes a damn motive. Got it?”
“I’ll talk to North’s sister again,” says Remus, nodding gravely.
“I’m coming with you this time,” I say, hitting Remus with my most piercing gaze. “I don’t want to hear any more of this tosh about how I’m no good with people, I’ve always gotten results in the past.”
“You’d better be on your best behavior,” says Moody, after a skeptical pause. “I don’t need any lawsuits.”
“We can search the house again, too, and talk to North’s neighbors,” says Remus, rubbing his jawline with one hand, a sign that he’s thinking deeply. “Maybe go back to the scenes of the murders and interview people again, their memories won’t be too fresh but there’s a chance they’ve remembered something since the Aurors originally spoke to them, someone suspicious they saw, or something.”
“Those are good starting points,” says Moody, nodding with approval. His eyes flicker over to me. “I see you haven’t got rid of that bloody tattoo. It’ll be the death of you, I swear it will.”
I look down at the markings on my hand. Madame Luminaire’s tattoo has grown so large that the letter F wraps completely around my palm and onto the back of my hand. Underneath my robes, the other letters run all the way up to my right shoulder. I’ve grown so used to its presence that I barely think about it anymore, and in a way I’m morbidly curious to see how large it’ll get if I let it continue to grow.
“I sort of like it,” I say, shrugging. It’s not exactly true, but I’ve never been one to resist a chance to get on Moody’s nerves. “Makes me look tough.”
“It makes you recognizable,” counters Moody. “It makes you about a thousand times easier to pick out of a crowd. That’s dangerous in your line of work. You’ve got to be able to disguise yourself, to blend in.”
“Again, Moody, I’m not an Auror,” I say, unfazed. “Anyway, Remus and I’ve got dinner plans, so if you’re done biting our heads off, I think we’ll be going.”
Remus glances from me, to Moody, his eyes slightly alarmed. He looks like a kid caught between two fighting parents, unwilling to disagree with either one. “Er, I suppose we are running a bit late,” he says, “but we’ll get an early start tomorrow, and check in with you.”
Moody takes a deep breath, and lets it out as a sigh, scratching at the gaping hole in his nose, which is healed over but still a revolting sight. “Right. Off with you, then.”
I jump out of the chair that Moody conjured up for me – it disappears as soon as my weight is lifted – and stalk out of the office without another word to the old troll. Remus stays behind to talk to Moody in private, and catches up with me just as I’m getting into the elevator. “That wasn’t very subtle,” he says, raising his eyebrows at me as cage starts to shoot toward the Atrium. There are two ancient-looking wizards in the elevator with us; they’re muttering to each other with their heads bent over a scroll of parchment so long it trails onto the floor.
“What, do you think I hurt his feelings?” I say vaguely. “I’ll bring him some flowers tomorrow, that should smooth things over.”
Remus scratches the back of his head, stuffing his free hand into his pocket. “I don’t think he was trying to bite our heads off. I mean, I’m not saying he was being fair, either. But you’ve got to remember, he’s dealing with a load of other stuff right now, the whole Auror office is up to their chins.”
“He shouldn’t take that out on us,” I say, annoyed. “We did a good job, found some evidence. Anyone would’ve gotten spooked with that bloody dead goat falling out of the ceiling.”
After a pause, Remus nods, shifting slightly closer to me. “It scared the hell out of me.”
“You?” I say, smiling. “But you were in Gryffindor.”
Remus laughs. “I’ve no idea why. I’ve never done anything brave in my life.”
I look up at him quickly. He’s smiling his usual, mild smile, but his shoulders are slumped. “Are you joking?” I say. “How about when you jumped into that dark, reeking basement? That was damn brave. I wouldn’t have been the first one to jump, not for a million bottles of Firewhisky.”
Remus’ eyes dart up to meet mine. Before he has a chance to meekly shrug off my compliment, as I know he’s about to do, the elevator doors slide open. Remus and I set off across the Atrium, dodging around clusters of busy witches and wizards, making our way toward the row of fireplaces. I’m almost painfully glad that our conversation got cut off. I’m shit at being nice to people and expressing my feelings and all that, although I suppose it’s easier with Remus. I look over at him as I climb into one of the fireplaces, wondering if he was just being modest, or if he really thinks he isn’t brave.
“Well, isn’t this nice,” says Marlene, her face positively glowing as Remus and I take our seats side-by-side at the table. Marlene looks wonderful – she’s wearing a set of cheerful, spring-green robes, and her shortish brown hair is done back in an elaborate braid. The most striking thing about her appearance is the enormous smile that flickers across her face every time she glances over at Johnny. Honestly, I’m happy for Marlene. I only wish that the cause of her happiness didn’t have to be the most pathetic excuse for a man I’ve ever met.
“Hi, Aislin,” says Johnny, his tone just a notch too light and cheerful. I can tell he’s still on edge about what happened in the basement, as am I. Small noises keep making me jump. “And you must be Remus Lupin.”
Remus nods, smiling warily. “You were a year or two above Aislin and I at Hogwarts, is that right?”
The day before last, Marlene popped by the flat and asked me to come to dinner at her flat, with her and Johnny. The idea sounded like it would be about as much fun as, say, sawing off my own leg, but I agreed to come along because I miss Marlene like hell. Remus makes the flat a bit less lonely, but he’s not around all the time, and anyway we’re not exactly best mates. He happened to be free tonight, so I asked him along to alleviate some of the excruciating awkwardness of the situation. In retrospect – I realize, watching him exchange pleasantries and small talk with the others – it might have been a poor decision.
Marlene’s flat is exactly how you’d expect it to be: every surface polished, every corner dusted, nothing out of its place. I’ve never been in her shower before but I’d be willing to bet ten Galleons she’s got her shampoo bottles all alphabetized. The dinner she’s prepared is equally impressive. There’s roast lamb with rosemary, greens, and a mountain of mashed potatoes. I’ll never understand how Marlene got to be a good cook, as she’s never glanced at a recipe in her life. I suppose some people just have a feel for some things, like how I have a feel for getting shitfaced and Moody has a feel for being belligerent.
“Everything looks great,” I say, gesturing around at the food. “Thanks for having us over, Marlene.”
“Thanks – dig in,” says Marlene, beaming. “We haven’t spent any time together in so long, so I figured it’d be nice to catch up. I s’pose you’ve been keeping busy, with your case and all, yeah?”
“Yeah, quite busy,” says Remus. “We’re starting to make nice progress, though.”
“We’ve been seeing your face all over,” Johnny tells me, his eyes large like he’s drinking me in with them, “Is it true what everyone’s saying about you, that you’ve given up drinking and all that?”
Part of me wants to laugh in his face for being a gullible idiot and a self-righteous prat, to tell him no, it’s not true, I haven’t renounced my heathen ways and I’m not dead yet, am I? Instead I shrug, and nod. “Yep. After all the messes it’s caused me, I figured it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Time to grow up and get on with my life, be productive, you know.”
Remus glances at me, but I ignore him, busying myself with the mashed potatoes. Looking impressed, Johnny nods and starts to give a little speech about how self-control is so important these days, and so on. I tune him out, shoveling food into my mouth, and trying not to let the thought of that horrible basement ruin my appetite. Even more than the stench of death and the corpses of those tortured animals, what’s worrying me is what the intruder said to us: Has the Priestess come to play?
I snap back to reality, and find everyone’s eyes on me. “Er, sorry?”
Marlene smiles. At this point in our friendship, she’s more than used to my tendency to get lost in my own thoughts for minutes, sometimes hours, at a time. “I was just saying, you’ll be coming to the wedding, yeah? It’s only a month from today.”
“Oh.” I frown. “I mean, I s’pose so. If I’m not too busy with work.”
“We can take a night off,” says Remus good-naturedly. “James and Lily would love to have you there, and the case will wait. If we haven’t solved it by then, that is.”
I shrug and nod, spearing a piece of meat with my fork. “I take it you two’ll be going together, then?”
“Yeah,” says Marlene, her face shining. Johnny reaches across the table and covers her hand with his, grinning a foolish, toothy grin. It annoys the hell out of me, seeing the two of them like this. I’m not jealous because I want Johnny to look at me that way – I never had feelings for him, and frankly it was a relief to be rid of the hopeless idiot. I’m jealous of them because they’re happy. They do all the things a couple should do, make dinner together and go to weddings and read sappy poetry, probably. It’s so simple and happy, and I know I’ll never have anything like it.
Marlene goes on interrogating Remus about the wedding – who’s invited from Hogwarts, has Lily picked out the bouquets for the bridesmaids, and are they going to keep living in London afterward or move to the country? I feel strangely disillusioned, sitting in Marlene’s comfortable flat, eating a hot meal and chatting about wedding plans, when somewhere in England, Kevin North is plotting his next murder.
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