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Chapter 12 : Twelve: Making Connections
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“Good morning, Mr. Cardall,” says Remus, pleasant and mellow as always. “My name’s Remus Lupin, and this is Aislin O’Keefe. We know the Ministry people have already talked to you, but we’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
Cardall’s fingers come out of his hair shiny with oil. He wipes them on his robes, grinning at the poorly disguised look of disgust on my face. I can count his teeth on one hand. “I know who you are,” he says in thick Cockney, leaning toward me. “That little drunk detective what everyone’s talking about. You’re prettier than you look in the papers.”
“It’s all for you,” I snap sarcastically.
“Mr. Cardall, are you familiar with this man?” asks Remus, holding up the picture of Kevin North from the Daily Prophet Missing Persons section. Cardall glances briefly at the picture, then returns to staring at me.
“Never seen him in me life,” he says. “The Auror scum what questioned me yesterday, already asked me all this.”
Remus glances at me, and I immediately know what he’s thinking. He wants to offer Cardall a deal: promise that the Aurors won’t charge him for selling Blacknewt Venom, if he’ll agree to tell us the truth about Kevin North. Moody’s given us the go-ahead to use this plan – but only as a last resort. I shake my head at Remus, sitting up a little straighter in my chair (which is really digging into my back). It’s my turn to ask the questions.
“So, you sell Blacknewt Venom on Knockturn Alley,” I say, staring straight into Cardall’s pale, slightly crossed eyes. “What else do you sell? We can’t use anything you say right now against you, by the way, it’d be hearsay.”
Cardall grinds his few remaining teeth as he turns this idea over in his head. “I sell everything nasty,” he finally says, with an awful grin. “Things to make you sick, things to kill you, things to drive you mad.”
“And, how long have you been working on Knockturn Alley?”
“Hmm,” says Cardall, counting on his fingers. “I s’pose it’d have to be…six, seven years, now. Why d’you ask, love? Taking an interest in me profession?”
Actually, the background questions are meant to get him talking and comfortable. Now that he’s lulled into a sense of security, I’ll go for the million Galleon question: “Do you remember the names of any of your clients? Specifically clients who purchased Blacknewt Venom?”
“Nah,” he says, shaking his head. “Nobody ever uses names. And nobody’s bought Blacknewt Venom off me yet.”
“What?” says Remus, his eyebrows knitting together. “But the Aurors found a large quantity of it on your person when they arrested you.”
“I’m not denying that I was trying to sell the stuff, mate,” says Cardall, his hand jumping back into his greasy hair. “But that’s all I was doing, was trying. I only just got my hands on it about a month back, haven’t managed to find any takers yet.”
Remus curses under his breath, looking frustrated enough to throw something. If Cardall didn’t sell the poison to Kevin North, then we’re wasting our time questioning him. And wasting time isn’t really something we can afford to do, not with Muggles turning up dead practically every week, and the killer more than likely to strike again. I rest my elbows on the table and rub my temples, trying to ignore the drumming of Cardall’s fingers and to think, damn it.
“I see you’ve met the old frog,” says Cardall, chuckling.
I blink at him, bewildered. “What?”
Cardall points to my wrist, where my unpaid bill from Madame Luminaire is still tattooed across my skin. “That mad old French woman, she runs a tarot salon on Knockturn Alley – at least, she used to. She used to give people them marks if they leave without paying,” he says, and adds as an afterthought. “I’ve got the antidote, nicked it from her shop right after she disappeared. I’ll give it to you for ten Galleons.”
“I only owe her five Galleons,” I say, annoyed at him but surprised by this turn of events. “And I won’t give you more than three for it. I’m probably the only person in London who has any use for it – you might as well get it off your hands.”
Cardall’s eyes narrow, but he reaches into a pocket of his robes and removes a small vial of chalky white liquid, and shoves it across the table to me. “Fine. Three Galleons.”
“Brilliant,” I say, smiling triumphantly, and sliding the money his way. I remove the tiny stopper from the vial, and swallow the potion in one gulp. It has no taste, but it burns down my throat, a thousand times hotter than Firewhisky. I cough and splutter and pound my fist down on the table, overlooked by Cardall’s amused eyes and Remus’ concerned ones. When the burning stops, I pull up my sleeve, and look down at my arm to find that the tattoo has vanished completely. “Funny, I’d almost forgotten what my skin looked like,” I say, rotating my arm to see it from every angle.
“Lovely skin,” comments Cardall, back to being revolting, “like porcelain.”
“Yeah, but we all know you’re the fairest of all,” I shoot back at him, standing up and smiling at Remus. “I think we’re done here, don’t you agree?”
“Yeah,” says Remus slowly, getting to his feet. But as soon as we reach the door, Remus turns back to Cardall, frowning. “Just out of curiosity,” he says, “where did you come by the Blacknewt Venom?”
Cardall grins his jack-o-lantern grin. “I nicked it from old Frenchie.”
“You’re telling me,” says Moody slowly, in his deadliest voice, “that you were stalked down Knockturn Alley in the dead of night, encountered the same stalker in Kevin North’s house, and you didn’t see fit to bloody tell me any of this?”
I shrug. “Didn’t think it was relevant. Your nose healing up nicely, have you been using lotion on it?”
The glower on Moody’s face tells me that he’s having none of my nonsense. “You’re not an Auror, so I’m not responsible for your behavior,” he says. “But I’d just like you to know that I find it astounding that you’ve managed to survive this long on the planet, given your blatant disregard for your own safety.”
“Actually, sir,” says the tall, square-faced Auror leaning against Moody’s bookshelf, “with all the attention this one’s getting from the press, I’m pretty sure the public would hold you accountable if O’Keefe were to die.”
For a moment, I actually expect Moody to breathe fire. “Thanks very much,” he says venomously to the Auror – who grins sarcastically, clearly used to dealing with Moody’s temper. Moody turns back to glare across his desk at Remus and me. “Look, O’Keefe: as much as I hate to admit it, Dearborn’s right. If you die due to your own stupidity, the Daily Prophet’s going to blame me. Even if you trip during one of your drunken stupors and fall down a well, that bloody Skeeter woman will somehow manage to make it my fault. Now, I don’t like you particularly, but I do like my job, and I’d like to keep it. So you’re going to start looking out for yourself. Aye?”
“Since when don’t you like me?” I say, frowning at this new injustice. “I mean, I know I’m not your top choice to grab a pint with, but I always assumed you had a sort of grudging respect–”
“Dearborn, round up Bolton and Peterson and start tracking down this French woman,” says Moody, interrupting me. “You’ll want to start by searching through her old premises on Knockturn Alley. See if there’s any clue as to where she might have gone.”
Dearborn nods curtly, and stalks out of the room, shooting Remus and me a disdainful look. I roll my eyes. I’ve helped the Aurors out with a couple of cases, but no matter how much I contribute, they’re still a load of elitist bastards who can’t stand the idea that anyone might be as good as they are. Dearborn is new to the Auror office this year, but he’s already managed to pick up their dickhead attitude.
“You’re wasting your time,” I tell Moody. “I’ve already been to her shop, it’s completely empty. Anything she didn’t take with her has been nicked by people like Cardall.”
Moody leans across his desk, pointing one of his thick, knobby fingers at me. “Don’t tell me how to do my job, O’Keefe. Let’s go through this again: the French woman draws the Priestess card during your tarot reading, then a stalker refers to you as the Priestess on Knockturn Alley and in North’s basement. Well, there’s an obvious connection between the tarot reader and the stalker.”
“And there’s the connection between Madame Luminaire and Kevin North,” adds Remus. “North almost definitely bought the Blacknewt Venom from her. It also explains his knowledge of tarot cards. All in all, it seems pretty likely that North is the one following you around, Aislin.”
“And why on Earth would he be doing that?” I ask. The whole idea seems a little far-fetched to me: after all, we don’t actually have proof that Madame Luminaire and Kevin North know each other.
Remus sits up in his chair, rummaging around in the pocket of robes. Then he withdraws a smallish, shabby book, which he drops onto Moody’s desk. It’s the book I found in Kevin North’s house, the one on arcane magic. Back when we were searching North’s house, I slipped it into my pocket and forgot to put it back before we made our escape from the basement. It’s written in weird archaic symbols, so I passed it off to Remus, who took Ancient Runes in our Hogwarts days. “According to this book,” says Remus, “the images on the tarot deck date back to ancient rituals from thousands of years ago, before we knew how to use wands to control our magic.”
“Yeah,” I begin impatiently, “we know that already, all the other rubbish books I read–”
“This one gets more specific,” says Remus, “I haven’t deciphered all of it yet, but it looks like in ancient times, the tarot images were used as a template for ritual sacrifice.”
“You’re saying you believe that a perfectly normal bloke started poisoning his way through Muggle London because he wants the gods to be pleased with him?” I snort. “Seems a bit far-fetched to me.”
“Not that kind of sacrifice,” says Remus, looking a bit wounded that he’s not being taken seriously. “The rituals were intended to channel magic to fulfill a purpose, sort of like spells or potions that we use today. Look…” He flips the book open to a marked page, and points down at a diagram that looks disturbingly like the Hanged Man card. “According to the runes, if you perform this sacrifice you’ll temporarily be able to fly. I think North is doing all this because he wants to be able to use magic.”
I open my mouth to argue, but then something clicks in my head. “Oh, fuck,” I breathe. “Remus, when we were in North’s basement, and there were all those animal skeletons pinned to the walls, all those pentagrams and weird symbols. Do you think…?”
Remus nods. “I think he’s been fixated on sacrificial magic for some time, now. The animals in the basement were earlier attempts, or practice for the real thing.”
Suddenly, I feel sick. I think of the horrible texture of North’s basement floor, caked with bones and gristle and all sorts of decaying things. It’s awful to think of him down there at his work: slicing; skinning; smearing blood over the walls. I can imagine the gleam of madness in his eyes, the sheer desperation to get it right this time, to be granted the most elusive, enticing prize of all: power.
And then there’s the other implication, the one I can’t bring myself to say out loud: if each of the tarot cards represents a sacrificial offering, and North keeps referring to me as the High Priestess, does that mean that I’m meant to be one of his sacrifices? I can tell by the grim look on Remus’ face that he’s reached the same conclusion.
“It’s a theory,” says Moody firmly, “but until you have more evidence, that’s all it is. Despite O’Keefe’s fuck-up, you lot have done some good work today. Go home and keep your heads down while we look for North and that French woman. And O’Keefe, do yourself a favor and quit trying to get yourself killed.”
“No promises,” I say, getting to my feet.
Over the next few days, by Moody’s order, Remus and I keep mostly to the flat. During the days, Remus continues his painstaking translation of Kevin North’s book of runes, while I re-read old witness files hoping to find some important piece of the puzzle that we overlooked before. It feels like torture to sit around the flat reading, when out in the streets of London, dozens of Aurors are on the hunt for Kevin North. During the nights, apparently encouraged by the way Sirius and I were getting on last night, Remus starts to invite his friends over more often. Sirius and Peter come over for dinner, and James and Lily join us afterward for drinks and games of Exploding Snap. I’m surprised to find that I quite like having them over: I don’t have any friends of my own, not now that Marlene’s been ensnared by Johnny, and it’s nice to have the flat be filled with the sounds of people laughing.
“Then there was that bloke, Keneally,” sniggers James on one of these nights, as he and the others fondly reminisce about their Hogwarts glory days. Lily’s sitting in an armchair, and James is planted on the carpet at her feet. “He was, what, two years below us? Remember when we convinced the little bugger he’d have to kill an Acromantula to pass his OWL?”
Peter, sitting in the other armchair, bursts out into a fit of uncontrollable, snorting laughter. On either side of me on the sofa, Sirius and Remus join in, though Remus’ laughter sounds slightly guilty. Lily rolls her eyes, smiling down at James. “And you were Head Boy,” she says, shaking her head, “shame on you.”
“I made a good Head Boy!” says James defensively, twisting around to fix Lily with a doleful stare. “At least I had a sense of justice - you’d throw somebody in detention for no reason whatsoever. For hexing a Slytherin, for example.”
“Who was Ravenclaw Prefect in our year?” says Sirius, turning to me. “McKinnon, was it?”
“Yeah,” I say, turning my face slightly toward him. He’s so close on the sofa that if I were to turn the whole way, our faces would be far too close for comfort. “Though she almost had her badge taken away in sixth year, after McGonagall caught her snogging some Hufflepuff in the Transfiguration room after hours.”
Sirius chuckles, leaning back against the sofa cushions. As he shifts in position, the edge of his knee touches my leg, but he doesn’t move it. “I remember you and McKinnon, you were peas in a pod. Walking around with your noses up at everyone, like just because we weren’t in Ravenclaw there was no point in bothering with us.”
“Oh, we did not,” I argue, “We were just shy. But of course you and James couldn’t wrap your heads around the concept of someone not wanting attention, so you convinced the whole school to think we were snobs.”
“If you’re trying to imply that James and I were a pair of attention seeking gits, you can get in line,” says Sirius lazily, bringing his glass of Firewhisky (a tall double glass, with one ice cube) to his lips.
“I wasn’t trying to imply anything: I thought I was being fairly straightforward about it,” I reply. It feels so simple and natural, this kind of back-and-forth. It’s a special dynamic between two people that allows them to argue for days on end, even weeks, but to come out of the argument liking each other more than ever. I used to have that dynamic with Marlene, and I realize with a lurch how much I’ve missed having a best friend.
“Oh, by the way, Aislin,” says Remus, leaning forward to cut into the conversation. “I’ve been meaning to tell you: I’m going to be going away for a few days, starting Tuesday. I thought I’d have someone stop by every now and then, just to make sure you’re all right?”
James and Lily’s playful banter has stopped, and the room has suddenly become solemn. I can feel Sirius’ eyes on me, I know he’s silently willing me to say something along the lines of No Remus, don’t go, there’s a mad serial killer out to get me and I really won’t feel safe without you around. But I can’t bring myself to hold Remus back. I believe in him too much.
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I say, reaching for my glass of Firewhisky. “I am capable of taking care of myself, believe it or not.”
The room seems to exhale. James goes back to fighting with Lily, and Peter produces a deck of Exploding Snap cards from the pockets of his robes. As we settle around the table to play, I feel lighter and happier than I have in months, and almost certain that I’ve made the right choice.
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