Chapter 8 : Eight: The Betrayer
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I smile blearily at Xavier, who’s sitting up in bed with a newspaper spread out across his lap, open to the Quidditch pages. “You always manage to wake up before me.”
“That’s because I’m an adult,” he tells me cheerfully. Grinning, he shoves the paper aside and rolls over so that he’s on top of me. I beam back at him, feeling practically like I’m glowing. Xavier and I had a deliciously cozy night in last night, cooking together, dancing around the flat, and shagging like animals. The more time I spend with him, the more I like him -- and he leans down to kiss me, I even find myself hoping that our fling will turn into something more serious. Rose and Jasper wouldn’t approve, obviously.
“Hang Rose and Jasper,” I mutter to myself between kisses, squeezing Xavier’s hard biceps and running my hands down his back.
“What?” says Xavier, pulling back a little.
“Nothing, sorry.” I stretch my neck to kiss him again, but then something catches my eye: The picture on the cover of the Daily Prophet. It’s a picture of Ragnar. He’s looking as surly as ever, and seems to be delivering some kind of speech. A cloud of foreboding settles over my good mood; I gently push Xavier away, and pull the paper toward me.
Dawson Case Investigation Revealed, boasts the headline. Ministry Insider Leaks Critical Details.
“Shit.” I drop the newspaper like an angry kneazle, and bolt out of bed. After all the times Ragnar’s reminded us to keep our mouths shut about the case, it looks like someone’s gone and spilled their guts to the press. I don’t know what this means for the investigation, but I’ve got a bad feeling about it all. I’ve already got my robes half-fastened when Xavier clears his throat, reminding me that I’m not alone.
“Er,” he says. “I take it you have somewhere to be?”
“Yeah,” I confirm, hurriedly pulling a comb through my hair and then twisting it up into a bun. “Something’s happened at work. I’d love to hang around until seven, but I’d better get in as soon as possible for damage control. Feel free to make yourself breakfast or--”
“Don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself,” says Xavier with a chuckle. “Come here for a minute, though.”
I shove my wand into my pocket and cross back over to the bed, where Xavier pulls me into a long, deep kiss. His tongue darts into my mouth; I can hear his breathing growing heavy. By the time I pull away, I’m almost dizzy.
“My little Auror,” he says, his breath hot against my neck. His hands slip up to the top fastening on my robes. “Sure you can’t linger a while longer?”
“Wish I could.” I push his hands away, grinning. “I’ll, er, see you around.”
“Yeah,” he says throatily, and winks at me as I turn to go.
Ragnar looks more like a lion than ever when he prowls into the meeting room, followed by none other than Harry Potter -- who, in contrast, looks calm and self-contained, although very serious. Ragnar storms into the room, his hair a mess, still wearing yesterday’s clothes. If I didn’t know better, I might think he spent the night at someone’s house.
He slaps a rolled-up copy of the Prophet down onto Charlie’s desk, making him jump, and glares up at the four of us.
“Which one of you.” he growls. “Which one of you was it?”
Charlie, Darren, Ada and I all stare up at him in silence. Though I have nothing to hide, my knees shake a little from the sheer tension in the room.
Mr. Potter stands in the corner of the room, his arms crossed, taking in the whole scene. I glance over at him, and our eyes meet: He nods at me. I’ve talked to Mr. Potter loads of times, and even gotten tipsy with him at Potter-Weasley family gatherings. Back when I was dating James, he used to tease me sometimes for my “irresponsible choice in men.” In all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him like this: So quiet and full of controlled, burning intensity. More than ever before, I fully appreciate the fact that he was the only wizard able to kill Lord Voldemort.
“I’m not going to talk down to you lot,” he says, stepping forward, and Ragnar moves aside to allow him the center of the room. “You already know that the consequences of this leak might be disastrous. The whole wizarding world now has access to vital information about the case -- information that could help the killer escape from us. Whoever was responsible for this breach, purposefully or not, will have to face the consequences.” He pauses, his eyebrows furrowing below his thin, lightning-shaped scar. “You all signed an agreement when you completed your Auror training. That agreement gave the Ministry permission to administer Veritaserum to you if we ever had a reason to think that you might have stepped out of line. I’m going to ask all five of you to report to my office tomorrow morning for interrogation.”
“You’re going to give us Veritaserum?” says Charlie disbelievingly. “All of us? Isn’t that a complete invasion of our privacy?”
“You signed an agreement, Holcombe,” snaps Ragnar from the corner of the room.
“They’re right, Charlie,” says Darren quietly, and everyone’s head turns to look at him. “We’re a team. One of us has fucked up royally, and that means we’ve all got to pay a price.”
There’s another long silence as all of our eyes dart around the room. Ragnar’s face is grim; Charlie’s outraged; Darren’s troubled; Ada’s anxious and pale. As much as I dislike Charlie and Darren, I can’t believe that even they would be stupid enough to leak information to the press. They did great work yesterday during the interrogation, and though they have a tendency to crack bad jokes at inappropriate times, they do seem to genuinely care about their jobs. They’re my team, all of them, and I want to trust them.
Mr. Potter clears his throat, his hands slipping into his pockets. “Fio -- er, Ms. Smith. A word?”
“Oh.” I jump out of my seat, wide-eyed. “Yeah, okay.”
I can feel the rest of the team’s eyes on my back as I follow him out of the room. My feelings are all tangled up and confused: Even as one part of me frets that I’m about to lose my job, another can’t help noticing how Mr. Potter’s hair sticks up in the back just like James’ does.
He leads me down the corridor and into an empty meeting room. “This will do.”
I follow him inside, and he shuts the door behind me.
“Fiona,” he says, his eyes locking onto mine. “If you were responsible for this, or if you have any information about it, I need you to tell me right now.”
“What?” I shake my head frantically. “I’ve no idea, I swear. I haven’t said a word to anyone, none of my friends even know that I’m working on this case.”
His eyes dig into mine for a second longer -- and then he relaxes, his shoulders dropping a little. I realize with a fluttering of my stomach that he might have just been using Legilimency on me. Does he not trust me? Not after all the years I’ve known him?
“I’m glad to hear that.” He sighs. “Ginny was worried sick about what the Ministry would do to you if… Well, that’s that.”
“What will they do?” I ask, thinking of the rest of the team.
“I don’t know.” He frowns. “The Ministry aren’t exactly famous for their forgiveness, though.”
When I emerge from the meeting room, I find that the rest of my team has already gone its separate ways. Charlie, Darren, Ada, and Ragnar are nowhere to be found. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with myself, so I wander around the department for a few minutes, then make myself a cup of tea and drink it at my desk, hoping that one of them will come and find me. But none of them does.
I could walk over to Ragnar’s office and see if he’s around -- but the idea of being alone in a room with Ragnar makes me wince. I’ve just ducked into the bathroom to buy myself some more time, when I hear a strange noise coming from one of the stalls. I frown, closing the door quietly behind me, and after a moment I recognize the noise as gagging.
Sure enough, a moment later I hear the sound of vomit splashing into the toilet.
“Hey,” I say, cautiously approaching the stall. “Hey, are you okay in there? I could call a Healer for--”
“Just leave me alone,” says a voice, through a series of violent coughs. “I’ll be fine.”
I freeze: It’s Ada’s voice. My heart starts to race before my brain has even processed what’s going on. It catches up slowly, like someone groping around in the dark. Did what just happened in the meeting make her sick? Could she be feeling guilty, anxious, scared? Could she be the one who leaked the details to the press? I think for a minute, then crouch down to check that the other stalls are empty.
“Ada,” I say as I straighten up again. “Whatever’s happened, it’s going to be okay.”
“No, it’s not,” wails Ada, through another series of loud, rasping coughs. There’s a minute’s silence, and then the door to the stall opens. Ada looks out at me with baleful eyes, her skin gone horribly pale. “Fiona,” she whispers. “I have no idea what I did last night.”
“What?” I reach out reflexively to touch her arm, just like I would do if Rose or Jasper were upset. “What do you mean?”
“I--” she hiccups. “I mean I actually don’t know. Ragnar and I stayed behind late, looking over interviews and stuff from the case. He Flooed out and brought back some sandwiches, and it was just the two of us in his office, and… I’m such an idiot!” Her hands fly up to cover her face as she bursts into tears.
“Ada…” I try to keep my voice calm and soothing, but it’s disturbing to see Ada like this. We’ve only been working together for a short time, but I’ve already come to think of her as a role model, a leader. She’s always so gathered and strong. “What happened?”
“I, I told Ragnar…” she struggles to speak between paroxysms. “He probably already knew, I’ll bet the whole office does. I told him I…”
She goes under again, but I know what she means. She must have told Ragnar that she has feelings for him. It looks like Charlie and Darren were right about that, at least, though they were clearly wrong to think that there was anything going on between them. I hold Ada’s arm tight, and after a minute she calms down enough to speak.
“He was really nice about it,” she says, wiping her eyes. “He said he wanted to keep things professional and I was a great Auror and, and, he thought he’d better be getting home. Oh, Merlin, it was humiliating.” She grimaces, looking up at me. “You must think I’m really stupid.”
“No, I don’t,” I tell her firmly. “I think you’re brilliant. Honestly, I do,” I add as she laughs miserably. “I wouldn’t have survived my first day if it weren’t for you. Come on, tell me what happened, and we’ll figure it out together.”
“I just…” She takes a deep breath. “I got really upset. I called a friend, went off to the Hog’s Head so no one from the Ministry would see me drinking. I got drunker than I think I’ve ever been, and I blacked out.” She closes her eyes, her face twitching a little, like she’s working very hard to stop herself from bursting out crying again. “Fiona, I blacked out for hours. I could’ve said anything to anyone. It could’ve been me, for all I know. I could’ve betrayed us all.”
“Ada, no.” I reach out and touch her other arm. “It can’t have been you. No matter how drunk you might’ve been, you just wouldn’t do that.”
“How would you know?” she says, shaking her head. “You hardly know me.”
“I know you well enough,” I say stubbornly. “Look, what’s going to happen is this: we’re going to come in tomorrow and do the Veritaserum test, and whoever it was, we’ll find out. Until then, there’s nothing we can do except get back to work and try to make sure the investigation keeps moving. Right?”
She smiles weakly. “Right.”
Ada and I spend the day shuffling through paperwork and looking through notes. Between the grim atmosphere in the office and the lack of significant leads, it’s almost impossible to keep a positive attitude. By the end of the day, we’ve gotten nothing done, and I’m exhausted from the effort of maintaining a calm exterior for Ada’s sake.
The truth is, I’m terrified. For all I know, Ada could’ve been the one. And if she was, and the Ministry gets wind of it, what will they do to her? She’ll lose her job and probably be blacklisted from the Ministry for the rest of time -- and that’s the best case scenario. She’s a far better Auror than me, Darren, or Charlie, and there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll all be lost without her. All I can do is hope it wasn’t her.
I decide to Floo straight to Xavier’s after work. He can hardly mind my stopping by uninvited, not when he did the same just last night. A dose of him is exactly what I need to rally my spirits.
Unfortunately, I didn’t plan for the sight that greets me when I step out of Xavier’s grate.
Xavier is lying face-up on the sofa, and there’s a woman on top of him. They’re both half-naked, and their hands are moving across each other’s bodies so fast they’re practically a blur. They straighten up as I step into the sitting room -- the woman gasps, reaching for a blanket to cover herself up. Xavier jumps up off the sofa, grinning a little abashedly, like I’ve caught him drinking pumpkin juice straight out of the jug.
“Hey, Fiona,” he says, moving toward me. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were going to come by.”
“I…” I trail off, staring at him blankly. I can’t understand it. After all the peaceful mornings waking up together, all the nose-kisses and really excellent sex, after I’d just started to hope that we might have a chance at a real relationship -- how can this be happening? “I’d better go,” I say simply. It takes all my Auror’s training to keep my breathing steady and my expression impassive. I turn back to the fireplace.
“Fiona?” I turn back. Xavier flashes a grin at me. “We all good?”
I let out a single laugh, and duck back into the fireplace. We’re far from good, but I’ve no desire to linger here and hash things out with Xavier while his half-naked friend watches us. I drop some Floo powder into the fireplace and call out Rose’s address -- and as I whorl off in a rush of green flame, I catch a glimpse of Xavier returning to the sofa.
I’m determined not to cry, but by the time the flames die down there are tears rolling down my cheeks. The stress of my day at work and the bitter sting of finding Xavier with someone else combine and completely overwhelm me. I stumble out of Rose’s grate and into her cheerful sitting room. It’s all done up in delicate shades of pink, orange, and yellow, and always reminds me of a sunrise. It’s empty, and I figure Rose must still be at work, so I settle onto the sofa to wait for her. I curl up against the cushions, my arms wrapped around my knees, and let myself cry.
“Oi, Weasley,” says a familiar voice from somewhere nearby. “I can’t find it anywhere, are you sure Dom doesn’t have it?”
The door to Rose’s bedroom opens, and I sit bolt upright, my heart positively stopping, as James Potter strides out into the sitting room. When he sees me, he stops in his tracks. His jaw goes a little slack, and his lips part as he stares at me. I can only imagine what I must look like, red-eyed and messy-haired. My instincts scream at me to leap off the sofa and get back to the peace and quiet of my own flat -- but I’m frozen, as if glued to the cushions. And despite all my training, I can’t stop the tears from coming.
James takes a few steps toward me, then stops again, his hand flying into his hair.
“Fee,” he says quietly. “It was X, wasn’t it? Xavier Fioran?”
I nod, half of me hating him, half of me wishing he would fold me into his arms. He hovers on the spot, his hand still stuck in his hair, his glasses sliding down his nose a little. Then he lurches forward another step -- then catches himself again.
“I, er.” He frowns, looking almost bewildered. “Rose just popped over to the Burrow to grab some dinner. I’ll, er… I’ll go and get her, will I?”
“Yeah,” I say thickly. My throat feels like it’s full of glue. “Thanks.”
He nods, and hesitates for one more moment before leaving me alone. The moment he’s gone, I collapse into the cushions again, sobbing. Of all the people who could’ve stumbled upon me at that exact moment, why did it have to be him? I think of the last time I saw him, when I confronted him at the Burrow. I don’t like having you around, he said. I’ve no doubt in my mind that he was barely holding back a smirk, just now. He’ll probably clap Xavier on the back the next time they see each other at practice, tell him he was stupid to waste his time on the likes of me anyway.
By the time Rose hurries into the sitting room and pulls me into her arms, I’m absolutely howling. She holds me for a little while, stroking my hair and assuring me that everything’s going to be all right. When I’ve calmed down a bit, she goes away to the kitchen and makes a pot of tea. I drink my cup slowly, taking deep breaths that gradually steady my hands.
“What did he do?” she asks me when I’ve finally stopped crying. I tell her all about it, occasionally pausing for a gulp of tea.
“Oh, Fee,” she says sympathetically, covering my free hand with one of her own. “Fee, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” I moan. “I mean, I actually started thinking that he really, properly liked me. And James! I can’t believe James saw me like this, he’s probably home now having a big laugh.”
“No!” Rose squeezes my hand. “I swear he’s not. He came straight to the Burrow to fetch me, I saw him. He definitely wasn’t laughing.”
I sigh heavily, freeing my hand from Rose’s to wipe the snot off my face.
“Anyway,” says Rose, “he’s taking the rest of the week off to go camping with Evangeline. He was just stopping by to get the tent off me. So you don’t have to worry about seeing him for a little while.”
“That’s a relief,” I mutter. I put my cup of tea down on the table and sprawl out across the sofa, closing my eyes. Today has been one of the worst days of my life, but at least I don’t have to worry about James Potter.
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