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Like Catching Smoke by dominique_fox
Chapter 6 : Six: The Second Scene
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 4


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I spend the rest of the weekend at Xavier’s flat, popping back to mine just once on Saturday morning to grab myself some necessities, including clean robes, shampoo, and a comb. I’ve had the odd shag since James and I broke up -- I swore off love, not sex, after all -- but never anything serious. So it feels very strange to find myself cozily nested in Xavier’s bed, sharing bowls of Galleon-Os and getting to know each other.

It’s scary, in a way. Scary to put myself out there, be honest and vulnerable. Every time Xavier asks me a question about myself, or goes in for a kiss, I feel my heart do this little fluttery thing that pisses me off immensely, because I thought I was done with all that girly heart-fluttering shit. But over the course of the weekend, I start to get used to talking about myself -- reminiscing about the terrible sandwiches my dad used to make us for lunch on the odd day when my mum wasn’t around to cook, living and breathing in the warm, safe crook of Xavier’s arm.

I learn loads about him. He’s a talker, Xavier. Not the type that feels the need to constantly brag about their every accomplishment, watching your face all the while to make sure you’re listening along with the proper expression of awe. None of that arrogant nonsense. He tells me about his family (he grew up with three brothers and two sisters, I’m amazed he got through his childhood without being driven off the walls), about how Quidditch was the first thing he ever felt like he was good at, about getting his tattoo.

And we get to know each other’s bodies. Sex is different with Xavier -- I feel like I’m learning something new, playing a different game, each time, instead of going through a memorized routine. And afterward, when we lie together in his bed, both of us huffing and puffing for breath, I feel this funny buzzing feeling from my head to my toes. I don’t know what it is, only that it’s electric, and addicting, and I want more of it.

I leave Xavier’s around 4 AM on Monday -- shirtless and messy-haired, he keeps his hands firmly on my waist until I’ve climbed into the fireplace, and ducks down to give me one last, long kiss before I go. I get home feeling as fizzy as a bottle of Butterbeer, but I’ve got to get a bit of sleep in before I go in to the Ministry, so even though I feel like skipping around the flat singing, I carefully measure out just enough Sleeping Potion, and hop into bed.



That fizzy feeling, whatever it is, carries me out of bed, in and out of the shower, and all the way to the Auror Office. What with all the stress of the case, and the additional annoyance of having to deal with Darren and Charlie’s increasingly distracting antics, it’s been a while since I’ve felt this good about going to work.

I pass by Ragnar on my way into the office -- he’s been cornered by a reporter right outside of the elevators. The reporter is a short, lizard-faced bloke with a ratty ponytail. He’s got his chest all puffed up as if he’s trying to account for the enormous height difference between himself and Ragnar with pure bravado.

“The people have the right to know the truth,” he’s saying as the elevator doors open and I’m shunted around by the various witches and wizards trying to get on and off of it. True to form, he’s got his notepad and Quick Quotes Quill at the ready. “It’s about time we got some answers.”

Ragnar frowns down at the journalist from his towering height. “When I feel like spilling my guts to you, Webber, I’ll Floo by your place for a chat,” he says dryly. “But for now, you should get going, unless you’d rather I remove you from the premises by force.”

I grin despite myself as I step by the elevator. I’ve never heard Ragnar crack a joke before, but I think I like this side of him. To by immense surprise, Ragnar catches my eye as I pass by him, and flashes me a brief, frazzled smile.

Wow. The smile looks good on him.

I duck my head and hurry to my desk to go over my case notes before the team meets up. I’m feeling bubblier than ever, because on top of everything else, it looks like Ragnar doesn’t completely hate my guts, after all. Maybe he’s just one of those people who comes off a bit harsh, but deep down he’s a really good guy who has a bit of a sweet tooth, and cries when he sees missing dog posters.

I review my notes, grab a cup of tea from the break room, and bounce into the meeting room feeling ready to single-handedly crack the Harris case, and prove myself as a worthy Auror. But as the door closes behind me, I look up at Darren and Charlie’s faces, and my buzz instantly falters. They’re wearing identical, smarmy smirks.

“Xavier Fioran,” says Darren, raising his mug in the air as if proposing a toast. “Nice work, Smith.”

I blink at them, my mind racing, struggling to figure out how Darren and Charlie could possibly know about me and Xavier. “What?”

“Ah, don’t be shy, now,” says Charlie, wagging a finger at me. “We were at Ogreman on Friday night, we saw the two of you hitting it off.”

“Hitting it off?” says Darren, raising his eyebrows. “That’s an understatement, if you ask me. I was half-convinced he was actually going to climb on top of you in the middle of the bar.”

My face flushes, and my buzz evaporates. For a split second, I wonder whether I should just keep my head down and ignore them -- like Ada told me, crossing these two could mean getting myself in trouble with people in high places. But then I decide that I’m too pissed off, or brave, or something, to care. “Yeah,” I tell them, trying to keep my voice cool -- to show them that they don’t have any power over me. “Fioran’s a total ride. We shagged each other’s brains out all weekend. Happy?”

Darren chuckles approvingly.

“Nice one, Smith,” says Charlie, nodding, like I’ve passed some kind of test.

Before I can figure out what to make of their mind games, the door bangs open and Ragnar and Ada stride into the meeting room, side by side.

“We’ve already discussed this,” says Ragnar gruffly, without so much as a good morning, “but I’ll reiterate: you lot are not to speak to any reporters. Under any conditions. They’re starting to get pushy, but we can’t afford to let any information get out until we’ve got this solved. Now--”

The door opens again, and Ragnar looks around. The gangly office assistant stands in the doorway, holding a parchment note in his hand. “Mr. Potter wanted me to deliver this to you,” he tells Ragnar in his usual, bored tone.

Ragnar strides across the room, swipes the note out of the assistant’s hand, and shuts the door on him. (Charlie and Darren cackle with laughter.) His eyes narrow as they skim over the note.

“Get your coats,” he tells us, without looking up. “It’s happened again.”



“We’ve identified the woman’s body -- she’s Heather Dawson, Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation,” squeaks the bug-eyed Auror-in-training. “As for the bloke, we’re not so sure. He doesn’t come up anywhere on the Ministry’s registry for wand-carrying witches and wizards. We were going to send someone over to see our liaison with the Muggle police, and then--”

“We’ll work out what the next steps are for ourselves,” says Ragnar gruffly, making the Auror-in-training go scarlet. When you’re doing your training, they’ll often send you out to crime scenes as a part of the immediate response team, so you can get some experience on a crime scene even though you’re not yet ready to get involved in an actual investigation. “Have the Healers come by yet?”


“Yeah,” says the kid, on a deep breath in. Either the crime scene, or Ragnar, or some combination of the two, is getting to him. “They found traces of skin, blood under both victims’ fingernails. Looks like it was a long enough struggle, could’ve lasted anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. They’ve pulled tufts of each other’s hair out, and scratched the hell out of each other as you can see. Ms. Dawson was killed by a blow to the head that fractured her skull. The unidentified male had a brain hemorrhage. Both have residual traces of dark magic on their brains.”

“All right,” says Ragnar. “Thanks, Quigley. You can head home.”

The Auror-in-training nods meekly. He reaches into a pocket of his robes, and presumably makes contact with his Portkey back to the Ministry, because the next second he’s vanished.

“Mad,” says Charlie, shaking his head. “Just mad.

“Have a look around,” says Ragnar darkly.

Heather Dawson’s house is a restored Victorian cottage, all done up with hardwood floors and art prints on the walls. Heather’s body is in the dining room -- she’s stark naked, slumped face-down over the elegant dark wood table beside two empty wine glasses, blood pooling out from the gouge in her head and onto the lace tablecloth. Her body is covered in bruises and scratches from her fight with the unidentified male.

A trail of blood smudges and droplets starts at the foot of the table, and leads out into the sitting room. The unidentified male apparently half-crawled, half-dragged himself toward the fireplace, and collapsed just before he could reach it. Like Heather, he’s naked. He’s lying face-down, one of his hands sprawled toward the jar of Floo powder sitting beside the fireplace.

We piece together the basics of the story. Charlie finds Heather’s and the unidentified male’s robes up in the bedroom, and also notes that the bedsheets are are rumpled. The sheets are clean, but there are makeup smears on the pillowcases.

“So, looks like the two victims had their wine down here, headed up to the bedroom for some fun -- and that’s where the trouble started,” says Charlie.

All down the stairway from the bedroom to the dining room, there are nicks in the paint on the walls. There are a few clumps of hair sitting on one of the steps as well. They must’ve fought each other all the way down the stairs, straight into the dining room. Then the unidentified male hit Heather over the head with a blunt object -- which turns out to be a bronze figurine of a unicorn. Darren finds it underneath the dining room table, covered in blood.

Finally, the male victim made a break for the fireplace, and had his hemorrhage just before he could reach it.

“Let’s follow up with the Healers,” says Ragnar. “Find out if dark magic could’ve caused the hemorrhage.”

Ada nods, scribbling this down on a notepad.

“Where d’you think he was trying to go?” says Darren, crouching down to look at the body. We all think.

“Depends whether he was still under the enchantment that put them both in this frenzy,” says Ada. “Maybe it’d worn off by then, and he was trying to go and get help. Or he realized what had happened, panicked, and tried to head home.”

“What if it hadn’t worn off?” I say, frowning. “We don’t know for sure that this enchantment is like the Imperius Curse. Maybe it’s not a mind-control spell, maybe it just turns the subject into a rampaging, bloodthirsty animal?”

“In which case,” says Charlie, “he could’ve been heading off to hurt someone else.”

“We’re getting too far into hypotheticals,” says Ragnar firmly. “Let’s focus on the information we have, and figure out how to get the information we don’t have. I’ll head to St. Mungo’s for a word with the Healers. Who’s going to run tests on the crime scene?”

“I’ll do it,” says Ada immediately, taking down another note on her notepad.

“Who’s going to work on identifying the victim?”

“Me,” says Charlie, raising his hand.

“That leaves Grimm and Smith on house calls,” says Ragnar. “Compile a list of Dawson’s associates, then split up and run the usual interviews. Make sure to ask everyone you talk to whether Dawson knew the Harrises.”

“Okay,” I say, nodding. The floating, bubbly feeling I had this morning is long gone. In its place is something sharp, and keen, and hungry. My heart is beating fast, ready to get to work.

“Good,” says Ragnar. “Reconvene tomorrow morning, usual time.”



The long day of house calls -- of prodding people ruthlessly for information even as they sob over the news I’ve brought them, of scrutinizing face after face for some held-back secret or murmur of guilt -- leaves me exhausted. As I clamber out of my fireplace, I’m thoroughly looking forward to ordering myself some Muggle delivery food, eating said food in bed, and passing out for the night.

I should have known there was no way I was going to get that lucky. As I step into the sitting room, Rose Weasley springs up from the sofa, where she’s apparently been waiting for me. She’s even made herself a cup of tea.

“I see you’ve made yourself at home,” I say, raising my eyebrows at her.

Rose does a fairly good impression of a guilty smile. “Hope you don’t mind,” she says, bobbing the teacup in the air. “I didn’t want to send you an owl, figured you’d just ignore it. We’re having dinner tonight at the Burrow -- you should come along. I asked Jasper, but he’s got a date with that witch from the Prophet, you know, whatshername.”

“Laudine,” I say, frowning. “What does he want with her? I thought you said she blew him off after their first date.”

“Apparently she popped by his place out of the blue,” says Rose with a shrug. “Had a change of heart. And you know Jasper -- he’d never say no to a woman that good looking,”

I roll my eyes, but my mind is working furiously. The journalists at the Prophet probably know who’s working on the Harris case. Could it be that this Laudine bird is picking things up where she left off with Jasper as a way to get an inside scoop on the case? Maybe she knows Jasper and I are mates, and figures I’m bound to let detail slip to him.

“Er, well,” I sigh to Rose, “I wish I could join you, but I’m really tired. You’ll have to send my regards--”

“Nope.” Rose shakes her head. “You’re coming. There’s no way I’m going to let you mope around here all night when you could come get a decent meal. Anyway, James’ll be there, so you’ll have a chance to take the mickey out of him for telling the nose man to keep his distance from you.”

Something twinges inside me, almost hungrily. I’m feeling worn-out, irritable, and stressed -- and actually, I think the only thing that I’d love to do more than sleep at the moment is bite James Potter’s over-inflated head right off his shoulders.

“All right,” I tell her, “I’ll go with you -- if you promise to start referring to Xavier by his actual name.”

“Nah,” says Rose, “I probably won’t do that. Go run a comb through your hair or something, okay? You look like you’ve just stepped off a Quidditch pitch.”

Rose follows me into my bathroom, and sits patiently on the counter, drinking her tea, as I comb my hair and rub some brightening potion into my skin. I feel like a big jungle cat getting ready to stalk its prey. It’s the same rush I feel when things are going well on a case. You think you’re going to have a nice, relaxing evening with your family, do you, Potter? Well, you’ve got another thing coming.

“So, did you spend the whole weekend shacking up with Xavier, or what?” asks Rose as we head for the fire.

“I did, yeah.” I grin at her. “Sorry, I know that’s strictly against code. But I think I like him.”

“You like him?” Rose makes a disgusted noise. “Fee, how many times do I have to tell you? The whole point is to go for somebody you don’t like at all, so you’re in no danger of getting tangled up in something messy. Saves time and energy for everyone involved.”

“And what if I’m okay with messy?”

“Well, it’s your funeral,” says Rose. She ducks into the fireplace, tosses her handful of Floo powder onto the ground, and yells, “The Burrow!”



The Burrow is bustling with Potter-Weasleys when I climb out of the fireplace after Rose. Albus and Harry are standing in a corner of the sitting room, debating something. Victoire and Hugo are sitting on the sofa -- they’ve charmed a ball of yarn to roll around the carpet, much to the befuddlement of Rose’s cat. James has got his girlfriend by his side as usual. The two of them are deep in conversation with Scorpius, but James looks up as I step into the sitting room, and I think I see his face harden slightly.

He doesn’t want to see me. He doesn’t want me to be here. Well, that suits me just fine.

Scorpius looks over as well, and sees Rose. A huge, goofy grin spreads over his face, and he practically jogs over to us, smoothing down his flyaway blond hair. “Hi, Rose. Hi, Fee.”

“Hey,” I say, with a smile. Rose just sighs.

“Can I get you a drink?” he asks us hopefully, like the big blond puppy he is. If he had a tail, it’d be wagging up a storm.

“Please,” I say. I feel Rose look over at me in surprise, but I don’t bother explaining myself. It’s been a tough day, and I want a drink. Just this once. Although, come to think of it, it seems like I’m always telling myself it’ll just be this once.

Scorpius fetches us a couple of glasses of wine, and we mill about with the Potter-Weasleys, chatting. It’s all very merry, what with the crackling fireplace and all everyone wearing their Christmas jumpers. My eyes keep flickering over to James, and every now and then I catch him looking over at me. Eventually, James’ mum emerges from the kitchen and asks him to grab her some parsley from the garden. James excuses himself from Evangeline’s side, and I sense my opportunity.

“Hey,” I mutter to Rose. “Go chat up Evangeline, will you? I want a word with James.”

Rose makes a face. “What are we going to talk about, our shared love of fluffy pink bunnies?” But she crosses the room dutifully and intercepts Evangeline, while I slip out to the garden.

It’s dark outside, and cold. I cross my arms over my chest, hurrying around the side of the house to the overgrown herb garden. James is standing with his back to me, attacking a parsley planet -- which seems to be fighting back.

I take a deep breath. I haven’t been an Auror for too long, but I know my strengths -- and interrogations are one of them. My team on the case I worked in Luxembourg were always siccing me on suspects. I think it’s got something to do with my physical appearance -- big, blue eyes framed with long lashes, gentle features, soft brown hair.

You’ve got to have a strategy when you go into those situations. But right now, I think I’ll just have a bit of fun. James shouldn’t be too tough to get a rise out of -- anyway, all I want is to fuck with him a bit, not to get any specific answers.

“Oi,” I say, walking over to him, “Potter.”

James looks around, peering at me through the darkness. Underneath his dark hair, his eyebrows furrow. “Smith,” is all he says.

“I wanted a word,” I tell him, leaning over the crooked wooden fence. “You fly with Xavier Fioran, right? I think he’s a Chaser for the Arrows?”

“Yeah,” says James, turning back to the parsley plant. “What, have you got a crush on him, and you want to know if he likes you back?”

I wish I could slap the sneer straight off his face. “Nah,” I say casually. “Judging by the way he fucked me this weekend, I’d say he likes me well enough.”

James’ face flushes, and I feel a savage stab of pleasure.

“It’s amazing what a difference it makes to be with someone who’s really, properly fit.”

“What do you want, Fiona?” snaps James, tearing a clump of leaves off the parsley plant, which swipes at him angrily. “Do you think this is going to make me jealous, so I’ll come crawling back to you, or something?”

“As hilarious as that would be, no” I say. “Actually, I was wondering why you told Xavier to leave me alone last week. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing someone who wasn’t jealous would do.”

James turns to face me. He’s thinking -- I can see it in his eyes. As we stand in silence, his expression relaxes, and his mouth contorts itself into something resembling a nonchalant smirk. “Do you think the world revolves around you, Smith?” he says in a superior tone. “Fioran’s my teammate. Teammates don’t date each other’s exes, on principle. It has nothing to do with my feelings.”

“With what feelings, now?” I say, raising my eyebrows.

“With…” James rolls his eyes. “I see what you’re trying to do. I’m not jealous, all right? I couldn’t care less what you or who you do. I just think my life’d be simpler without my teammate shagging my ex.”

“It seems like you care,” I say. “It seems like you resent having me around a lot, actually. All the theatrical snogging displays with your new girlfriend, the way you look away just a little too quickly whenever we make eye contact. Seems like you’re pretty upset, actually.”

“Will you shut up?” says James, his voice rising. “Do you want me to be honest with you? I’ll be honest. Yeah, you’re right, I don’t like having you around. I don’t think it’s right, you traipsing back in here with no regard for me or Evangeline -- do you know how uncomfortable it makes her, having you hang around with my family all the time? Like there’s no need for you to respect my space, no need to back off, just because you haven’t got a family of your own to be with--”

He breaks off suddenly. His neck’s gone bright red, and he’s crushed the parsley leaves in his fist.

I grin broadly. It didn’t even take as long as I’d thought it would to get James all worked up, just like I wanted. Maybe he’s particularly easy to mess with, on account of his extra-fragile ego. I’m not even bothered by his jab about my family, or lack thereof -- I feel triumphant, drunk with power. No matter how hard James tries to pretend that he doesn’t care what I do, from now on, the two of us will always know that I’ve got a handle on him. I can work him like dough in my hands, get him agitated, get him angry.

He stares at me, taking in the look on my face, and makes a disgusted noise. “Trying to get a rise out of me, were you?” he says savagely, pushing the garden gate open. “Well, I hope you feel good about yourself.”

He brushes a few leaves off of his jumper, straightens his glasses, and stalks away through the dim evening light.

...

A/N: Hope you enjoyed the chapter! Please review :) !!!


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