Chapter 14 : Fourteen: The Hierophant
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By three in the afternoon, I still haven’t heard from him, and I think the suspense might be driving me mad. I pace around the sitting room, alternately drinking whisky for relaxation and coffee for concentration. I despise Moody for consigning me to my bloody flat, when I could be out on the field, helping with the hunt for North. After all, I was the one who figured out the King’s Cross lead. Moody’s precious Aurors haven’t done a thing for this case, besides standing around looking pretty.
I collapse onto the sofa, my heart beating so fast and strong that it threatens to break a rib. If only Marlene were around to distract me with some stupid gossip article from Witch Weekly. If only Remus were here to say something soothing and intellectual, or Sirius to make some snide remark about my drinking habits. I wouldn’t even mind having bloody horse-faced Barnabus around.
As if in answer to my prayers, the fire suddenly flares up in the fireplace. I sit up, watching the emerald green flames leaping and licking at the inside of the chimney. Then a dark form comes to life within the fire, and before I know it, Remus is stepping out onto the sitting room carpet. His face is unshaven and his hair a mess. He looks exhausted, but he’s alive.
Remus hovers at the edge of the carpet, looking uncertain. Then I spring up from the sofa – all the tension releasing from my body – to throw my arms around his neck. I feel his muscles relax, and his arms wrap around my waist. I laugh, swaying from side to side, feeling like I did when I was a little kid, on those rare, happy days when my dad would come home from work sober.
“So, did you save the world?” I finally ask, breaking away from him but keeping my hands on his shoulders.
“Hardly,” says Remus. His hands fall away from my waist and he looks down at them a bit awkwardly, as if he’s not sure what to do with them. Then he looks back up at me with tired green eyes. “My cover was about to get blown, so I had to make a run for it. Total failure of a mission.”
I shake my head. “Just a partial failure. It would have been a total failure if you had been brutally murdered.”
Remus raises his eyebrows. “Right.”
“You look destroyed,” I say. “Why don’t you have a shower or something, and I’ll fix us some tea?”
“That sounds perfect,” says Remus, smiling wearily but gratefully. He disappears into his bedroom, and I practically skip off to the kitchen to fix the tea. As I set several knives to work chopping up fruit and buttering slices of toast, I realize that I feel completely at ease. It occurs to me that the reason I was so wound up earlier might not have had anything to do with the hunt for Kevin North.
A while later Remus emerges, freshly-shaven and smelling of shampoo. We have our tea sitting on opposite ends of the sofa, the tray of food sitting on the cushion in between us. I fill Remus in on the details of the Tarot Killer’s latest murder, on my interview with Evelyn North, and on the ongoing search for Kevin North. It’s very much to Remus’ credit that he listens attentively, even though he looks about ready to pass out into the fruit salad. His shoulders sag with the tiredness, and he keeps on rubbing his eyes so they’ll stay open.
“Well, the wait’ll be over soon,” he says, at the end of my vicious rant about the many injustices of Alastor Moody. “I know you wish you could be out there helping, but the Aurors know what they’re doing. They’ll bring North in to the Ministry, and we’ll get a nice confession out of him. It’ll all be over.”
I nod, but secretly I’m thinking of all the things that could go wrong. If the Aurors somehow spook North, if he manages to slip through their fingers, the repercussions will be huge and monstrous: the deaths will continue. I understand that Moody’s never seen me operate in the field before, so he doesn’t know whether I’d be a good fighter or a set-back to the team. But if North gets away again, and all the time I was sitting at home drinking tea, I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep at night.
“Speaking of which,” says Remus, “when all this is over, I’ll understand if you want me out of your hair.”
In my distracted state, it takes me a moment to understand what he’s saying. When it clicks into place, I almost drop my teacup in surprise. “Out of my hair?” I repeat, scathingly. “Don’t be so damn self-deprecating. You’re just about the only thing that’s kept me from going mad on this case.”
Remus’ eyes widen a little. “I just meant that–”
“I understand what you meant, you git,” I snap, interrupting him. “And the answer is no, I’d very much prefer it if you did not get out of my hair, thanks very much.”
“Right.” says Remus. He looks terribly uncomfortable, and seems to be actually blushing. “Well. I just thought, maybe once you had had the flat to yourself for a bit you’d realize you wanted it back.”
I shake my head, disgruntled. “You thought wrong. Just ask Sirius how well I did this week, without you around.”
Remus blinks. “Oh, did Sirius come around?”
I blink back at him. “Yeah, he did. I assumed you’d asked him to check in on me.”
Remus shakes his head. “I do know you’re able to look after yourself, you know.” We stare at each other for a moment, contemplating this phenomenon and its possible meanings. Then Remus clears his throat, and says, “That reminds me, though, the wedding’s next week-end. You’ll come along, won’t you? James and Lily’d love to have you.”
I spear a few cubes of pear with my fork, pop them into my mouth, and chew while I consider the question. I’m not afraid to see Sirius anymore, although it’d be awful if he were to show up with a date. Barnabus will probably be there, which is a bitter prospect, but if I ignore him for a bit on the pretense of mingling, there’s a good chance he’ll get off with some other girl, and leave me alone.
In a way, it would seem sort of wrong to be celebrating, what with eight Muggles dead at the hands of the Tarot Killer, and the Death Eaters on the warpath. A steady darkness is settling over London like a low-hanging cloud, or like a blanket pulled over all our eyes to blind us. But then again, maybe all this darkness means that we should be celebrating what little light we have left.
“Yeah, I s’pose I will,” I say, really meaning it for a change. “You know me – anything for champagne.”
Remus shakes his head, but he’s smiling. While I clear away the tea things, he picks up Kevin North’s book on Arcane Magic and his scroll of notes, and continues work on his translations. I wash everything up and then resume my pacing, tracing zig-zag shapes across the sitting room floor. Within twenty minutes, Remus has fallen asleep on the sofa. I’ve got to do something to keep from going mad, so I resolve to straighten up the flat. I scour the kitchen and the sitting room (cleaning quietly so as not to wake Remus), and then move on to my bedroom. The problem with my bedroom is that there’s so much blasted stuff everywhere, textbooks left-over from my Hogwarts days and broken sets of scales. I take a deep breath and roll up the sleeves of my robes, deciding that it’s time to finally get rid of all this useless garbage.
I pull everything out from the dark corners in the closet and under the bed, and begin sorting everything I own into two piles: keep and toss. The keep pile ends up consisting mostly of photograph albums, robes that still fit me, and any books that might be relevant to my future life. The toss pile consists of everything else: the empty ink bottles and scrolls of old notes from Care of Magical Creatures, the candlestick holders melted down to blobs of brassy metal, the many empty bottles. It feels odd to be sorting my whole life into two piles, deciding which parts of it to throw away and which parts to hold onto.
Sometime in the evening, Remus drifts into the room, yawning. “Are you actually cleaning?” he asks, dumbfounded, gazing around the room.
“Oh, bugger off,” I say, grinning.
Remus shrugs, standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets. There’s something strange about his face. “A message just arrived from Moody,” he says. “It’s not good news.”
“What?” I say, standing up reflexively.
“They got Kevin North,” says Remus. “They found him at King’s Cross and brought him back to a holding cell in the Ministry.”
Remus’s face is grim. “He escaped.”
“Ten minutes,” says Moody. “Dearborn left him alone in the holding cell for ten minutes, and when he came back he was gone.”
Moody is standing behind his desk, his back turned to Remus and me, staring out the tiny window of his office at the view of lush-pine forest. It’s a fake view, charmed onto the window by the Magical Maintenance crew. Moody office is underground, so the real view outside his window is probably of earthworms and dirt.
“But that’s impossible,” I say, a chill creeping like insect legs down my spine. “Full-grown Wizards can’t escape from the holding cells here. How could a Squib possibly…” I let the sentence trail off, glancing at Remus. I know exactly what he’s thinking: that maybe Kevin North isn’t a Squib anymore. Maybe he’s tapped into a kind of magic beyond what any of us have ever dreamed of, a dark and terrible power. The thought is enough to freeze the blood in my veins.
“That’s exactly what every confounded reporter in London is going to want to know,” says Moody, his voice a low growl. He turns his back on the window and sits down heavily at his desk. “One of my people let it slip to the Prophet that we were bringing North into custody. Now we’re going to have to explain that he escaped. We’ll be a laughing-stock. I might be fired. And Merlin knows what’ll happen to the Ministry then.”
“We won’t let that happen,” I say, my voice sounding much more assured than I feel. As much as I may complain about Moody and poke fun at his disfigured nose, the idea of the Ministry without him is even more chilling that the thought of North on the loose. “We’ve just got to control the damage. I’ve done interviews with Barnabus Cuffe in the past, he trusts me. I’ll ‘let it slip’ to him that we let go of North on purpose. I’ll say we suspect there are multiple murderers, so we’re going to keep him under surveillance until he leads us to his accomplices’ doorsteps.”
Moody’s dark eyes lock in on mine. “Not bad,” he says. “And that buffoon Cuffe is just stupid enough to buy it. Right then, O’Keefe, you’re on damage control. I’ve already got Aurors out searching for North. It shouldn’t be too long before we find him again.”
“Moody,” says Remus, “What if I was right, and North is...well, more powerful than we think he is?”
“It’s a possibility,” says Moody, “But there are lots of possibilities. Go home and go over the case again, from every angle. Try and see if there’s anything we overlooked before.”
Remus nods, getting up to leave, but I stay where I am, my arms crossed.
“Actually, I’m getting sort of sick of being told to go home and read interviews,” I say, back to being annoyed at Moody. “Maybe it hasn’t occurred to you, but every single step of progress you lot have made on this case was because of Remus and me. We’re the ones coming up with the leads, we’re the ones cleaning up after your damned Aurors when they screw up. I’m sick of sitting around, waiting for things to happen!”
“You’re not an Auror,” growls Moody. “I can’t just let you come skipping along on dangerous assignments, especially not when you might already be a target for the killer. And between you and me, O’Keefe, I’m sick of you acting like a bloody child.”
“I’m not acting– ”
Before I can finish my sentence, an Auror bursts into Moody’s office, red and out of breath. “Sir,” she says, staring at Moody with wild eyes. “There’s been a murder in Manchester. It looks like North again.”
“How could he possibly have gotten to Manchester this quickly?” roars Moody. He jumps up, tearing his overcoat off of its peg on the wall and throwing it over his robes.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to hurry, sir,” says the Auror. “He’s killed a wizard this time.”
It’s raining outside. As I approach the dead man in the dark alleyway, drops of water trickle down his face – he could almost be crying. Whoever he was, he was handsome: about thirty years old, with a strong, square jaw and a full head of chestnut-colored hair. He’s been propped up against the wall of a building, and wrapped up in a regal-looking red cape. A fake-gold headdress rests in his chestnut hair, and his right hand has been pinned up against the wall of the building, so that he seems to be waving to us.
“His name’s Sam O’Connor,” says the Auror who brought us here. “Writes books. From what we’ve gathered from his flat-mates, he doesn’t leave home often, apart from the occasional trip to London. Sort of a lone wolf.”
I kneel down on the cobbles, and gently pry the red cape away from O’Connor’s chest. The dark blue robes beneath are soaked with blood – and sure enough, when I rip them open down to the waist, O’Connor’s skin is dashed with several deep gouges. Forcing my eyes away from the mess, I look up at the knife that’s fixing O’Connor’s right arm to the wall. It’s long and thin and silver, slightly rusted, the sort of knife Hogwarts students might use to chop up ingredients in Potions class. The blade and the handle are splattered with blood, so it looks like it’s the same knife that was used to kill O’Connor. I get back to my feet and join Moody, Remus, and the Auror.
“Well, there’s a flaw in your North-has-superpowers theory,” I tell Remus. “If North was powerful enough to escape the Ministry, why is he still stabbing his victims to death instead of killing them by magic?”
Remus frowns, thinking. “He could see it as a part of the ritual. They’ve got to be stabbed, or it doesn’t work.”
I shrug. “Anyway – Moody, would you happen to know whether North had anything with him when he was taken in to the Ministry? A briefcase, or something in his pockets? Money?”
“He had nothing,” says Moody, his voice firm. “Dearborn and the others would have made him empty his pockets, and he wouldn’t have been allowed to bring a bag with him. It’s policy.”
“Okay.” I nod. “Well then, we’re going to have to come up with some sort of explanation as to how North got his hands on the cape, the crown, and the knife. He didn’t have them with him when he went into the Ministry, and he didn’t have any money to buy them with.”
“He could have conjured them,” says Remus quietly. “If he can use magic, that is.”
“Which is only a theory,” Moody reminds him. “I’d say it’s more likely North has an accomplice: someone who could have held onto this stuff until he needed it.”
“Madame Luminaire,” I say immediately. “She’s the one who gave him the poison. It only stands to reason that she’s also helping him with the murders.”
Moody nods. “I’ve already got people looking for her, but I’ll double the search.”
“Yeah, that’ll be a good move,” I agree. “We might also want to look into O’Connor’s trip to London, see if he might have done anything that would make him a target. Maybe…” I stop abruptly, my heart suddenly pounding. “Merlin. Maybe he had his cards read by Luminaire while he was there.”
“I’ll go and ask the flat-mates,” says the Auror. Before I can thank her, she’s Apparated away with a crack.
“He’s killing wizards now,” says Remus, as soon as she’s gone. “And with the link to Madame Luminaire… Aislin, you’re almost definitely one of his next targets.”
Moody’s jaw is set. “Be careful, O’Keefe,” he says. “I know you want to close this case. We all do. But it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to do that if you’re dead, aye? You’re getting restless staying in the flat, and I can understand that. But you’re going to have to lie low for a little while longer, just until we get North into custody.”
I nod. Remus and I take another look around the crime scene, and then pop over to the Leaky Cauldron for dinner. The meal is quiet. I know Remus is thinking about North, probably wondering whether he really has harnessed a dark magical force with his sacrifices. My thoughts keep drifting back to O’Connor, because the more I think about it, there was something off about that crime scene. Later, when I’ve had a glass of whisky and climbed into bed, it hits me:
O’Connor didn’t have a wand on him.
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